Sunday, June 26, 2022

Not Even Not Zen 261: Biomythography - Note 33, Stopping for Roadside Accidents

Biomythography - Note 33
Stopping for Roadside Accidents

There I was, sitting in the back seat of a sports car with two pretty girls. Unfortunately, I was fifteen and I couldn't drive. My swim coach sat in the front with a pile of his coaching gear by his side. Otherwise, he would have sat me next to him, away from the young women. He seemed to consider himself a chaperone of sorts. He kept the conversations mild.

As he pulled through a stop sign, I hardly noticed. Brenda was sitting next to me, both of us in swimsuits although I had pants on over mine and she had a towel draped over her shoulders. I wasn't looking forward or backward but sideways. There was some sort of noise behind us while the girls were telling me something.

"What was that?" said Andy, the coach. He glanced into his rear view mirror.

"What was what?" I turned to catch his gaze. His eyes had gone wide.

"Look!" He pulled onto the shoulder and hit the brakes. 

When I turned, I saw parts of cars lying all around the intersection behind us. There were other pieces of debris, too. After a second or two, I realized that most of the debris was people. I was looking at human bodies. 

Andy fumbled with the latch for a second. His arms trembled. He got out of the car and focused on me.

"You're a lifeguard," he said. "Do you know first aid?"


"I do, too. Come on, let's get over there."

For a minute, we walked from body to body. Andy was careful to not make me touch anyone although I took pulses off of two wrists without asking him if I should. We tried to rate the severity of each person's bleeding. He was relieved that I found pulses both times I checked.

I noticed a small body, a long ways away from the accident but in the middle of the road. After looking back at my coach to catch his eye and nod, I started toward it.

"No!" he yelled. "Don't touch the kid."

After his shout, I took another look. In a second or two more, I understood what I was looking at. The unmoving form was a toddler who had been ejected out the front window of his parents car. I couldn't see the face. I didn't see the chest moving. No breathing. 

"But ..."

"I'll do it in a minute," he said. "But there's no blood there. I don't think we should do anything except stop bleeding. We don't know enough. The ambulance is on the way. They can do the serious stuff, all right? Do you know how to make a tourniquet?"

"Yeah." Technically, that was true. I'd made bunches of them in Boy Scouts. I'd even participated in a first aid relay race where I tied on two tourniquets in a hurry.

"Go back to the car. Bring out some towels."


"We have someone trapped in her car. I'm going there next."

Back at the coach's sports sedan, the two girls I liked so much refused to give up their towels. 

"You're going to get blood on it?" one asked.

"I guess so." It had never occurred to me anyone would refuse. I started rummaging through my swim bag. "That's the idea."

"Use your own."

When I returned, I had a towel too large to make a tourniquet, another one just the right size, and a cloth scouting belt with a military-style buckle adjustable to any length. At the direction of my coach, I went to the heaviest bleeder, who was still unconscious, and tried to make a tourniquet with the too-big towel. After a minute or two, I got the leg tied off. I'd done it exactly as I'd been taught in scouts. It looked about right. I felt sort of surprised. 

"Can I help you now?" I called to him.

"No." My coach had kept talking with me off and on as I worked. It became apparent he didn't want me to see the body of a swim team parent even as he tried to help her. She sometimes moaned or fell quiet, as if dazed. Sometimes she spoke to him in a whisper. Her main problem was that she had been pinned by the crushed door of her car. Her legs were trapped inside the crushed steel and a sharp edge of it had cut her deeply. When I heard her voice, I could hear the pain in it. 

The accident response in me had triggered my willingness, even at my constantly-contrary age of fifteen, to follow orders. Here I was, executing the instructions from a swim coach who I teased mercilessly for being so nice to me, nice to the parents, nice to everyone. Now he seemed like he was doing everything right. A sort of respect for him was blossoming in me. But I didn't have time to think about it.

He kept saying we didn't know enough. Of course, he was right. When I asked if I should put a tourniquet on another person lying in the road, an unconscious woman, he made sure I meant on her arm.

"Okay," he said. "I really hoped the ambulance would be here. But she's bleeding? I remember her. Lots of blood."


"And it's her arm. Go ahead."

By the time the ambulance arrived, I had finished the second tourniquet. I had kept direct pressure on the wound, too, until it stopped bleeding. Hands on hips, I paced in a wide circle and looked for something else to do. The coach insisted that I had to avoid doing anything I didn't know well and we both realized it meant not much more. The bodies on the ground, except maybe the child, were breathing. We had made sure they wouldn't bleed out. He had me watching for tongue-swallowing or other emergencies. When the ambulance crew got out of their vehicle, my coach did something extra nice. He told the men to come talk to him. He sent me back to his car. In that way, I suspect, he meant to protect me from the crew yelling at me if I'd done something wrong.

Back at his car, I stalked the ground outside the doors. After a few minutes, one of the girls apologized for not giving me her towel. I kept marching back and forth, watching the adults handle everything. All the time I'd been working, I'd been oblivious to them but some of the swim team parents had walked out into the traffic to prevent anyone from running me over or hitting the coach or the bodies on the street. I saw a team mom who I had thought of as ditsy standing in the middle of the road as a traffic cop. She was giving directions and talking calmly with someone who had gotten out of his car to stare aghast at the scene. 

I'd been in car accidents before. I'd witnessed collisions. This was the first time I'd done anything about anyone being hurt. The incident still didn't make sense to me. But I admired the parents who had taken charge. They'd known what to do. 

Although I had no way of foreseeing it, helping accident victims was going to become a habit. Getting into the practice was, for me, a product of the times. During the 1980s and most of the 1990s, there were no cell phones in cars. There were only bystanders. When you saw an accident, even on the other side of the road, you pulled over to help. You had to. At the least, you needed to check on whether anyone had driven off to make an emergency call from the nearest payphone. 

"Not yet," is something I heard many times. "I meant to."

In some of those cases, the only thing I did was peel out make the ambulance call. If traffic wasn't too bad to make a return, I would let everyone know. Otherwise, if I couldn't come back, they had to trust me to do what I said. Surrounding most accidents were traffic jams, so there was a lot of trust going on.

Once, after an accident next to a mall in Hadley, Massachusetts, I helped the driver get out. We stared in fascinated horror as the underside of his car started to catch fire. The flickering orange flame began to spread. We looked at each other and backed away. I walked him to the nearest payphone and he made the emergency call himself. I waved to him and marched onward to the girl waiting in my car.

A year later, on a bridge to Northampton, I came across a car that the driver had managed to turn over onto its hood. She was stuck inside. But she said she wasn't hurt. After a couple of careful pulls, I managed to open the bent metal of her door. She popped her seat belt. (I remember being slightly amazed that she was wearing one. It wasn't usual at the time.) Careful not to hurt herself, she emerged with help from another bystander, who lifted her to her feet. Since we were at the foot of the bridge next to a gas station, someone else had already made the emergency call from a payphone. But she was glad not to be upside down for any longer, she said. 

A lot of times, there were four or five other folks trying to help the victims. The first person on the scene usually would be the one coordinating us. That one would say something like, "Can you search the floor of the car for her wallet? It's not in her purse." It would become one of my chores. Sometimes a bunch of us would sort through items the driver wanted saved from the trunk. Or we'd re-package groceries and commiserate with the victim about the eggs or the tomatoes. 

You had to leap in to help. A lot of people did. It wasn't everyone. There might be two hundred people watching from the traffic jam and only five of us commiserating with the victims of the accident. But I think in all cases, if there weren't enough helpers, others got out of their cars to join. 
That's the way people are. 

The situation is better now, faster and safer because everyone has a cell phone. But I'm glad I had the experience of needing to help and of seeing other people pitch in. There seems to be less reliance on strangers now and more reliance on the professionals who, after all, respond faster than ever. 

But I'm glad I got to know this part of how people are.

Sunday, June 19, 2022

Not Even Not Zen 260: Biomythography - Note 32, The Telltale Heart Part II

Biomythography - Note 32
The Telltale Heart, Part II

In the morning, I got up with the dawn. My window didn't face east. Nevertheless, light crept in. I didn't need to go to work because it was a Saturday. But I felt motivated. I put on my backpack with gym clothes in it. It had been a week since I'd practiced Tang Su Do. I'd promised my teachers that I would keep up with the katas and one-steps.

"Hey," to my surprise, there were a couple other people in the gym, a guy and a girl. When I walked through the open doors and glanced around, it looked like they were running laps. Above us, I heard distant, metallic clanks. They echoed. Someone was using the universal weight room. "Mind if I take the corner next to the pool?"

"Sure!" the guy shouted. "We're set up at the other side."

"Thanks." Belatedly, I realized he was one of the students from the Shotokan karate class. I had watched his class but it simply wasn't Tang Su Do. It wasn't right for me. The kicks and punches all instilled the wrong reflexes for my style. Even a traditional Tang Soo Do class would probably have seemed weird since my instructors had customized our forms.

My body needed a warm-up before all the kicks. After a few push-ups and sit-ups, I ran through a series of martial arts stretches. Then I started the forms. First kata, second kata, third. Eyes closed, I took a meditation break. When I felt fresh and calm, I began the fourth kata.

Two steps in, something went wrong. My body died. But I was standing. Although I didn't move, actually couldn't, my awareness increased. The back of my head seemed to expand. My spine felt warm. The ligaments around my elbows strained. Everything fell quiet.

The blood in a human body makes a noise. I'd hardly ever noticed that before. Now I noticed. Because it was missing.

My heart was silent.

As I listened for my heart to re-start, I felt my body collapse. I blinked. The karate guy and his girlfriend were standing over me. My head had fallen all the way to the floor, it seemed. My heart kick-started with a racing sound. It sounded so loud, I could barely hear anything else. Inside my chest, it revved like a galloping horse or a dam bursting to release a flood.

"Fine?" The guy above me in his white t-shirt started to smile. I became aware that he had been talking.

"Are you all right?" asked the woman next to him. "Why did you fall?"

The smile on the guy's face started to fade.

"You're not okay," he said as he reached out for me. I stretched toward him. Something felt wrong with my arm. It wouldn't lift far enough. He grasped it. "Wait. Don't stand up yet."

My legs weren't obeying me. I'd felt this way before when my body was exhausted from long workouts. Push, push, push, and eventually my legs and arms would resist the push. They would refuse. For a moment, this felt like it. My mind refused to accept the horrible rebellion, the limbs giving up. My built-in reflexes from athletics pushed against my dead extremities. After a second, my right leg kicked out. Then my left.

The horrible flooding in my ears receded a bit.

"You're cold," he said. "But you were sweating a minute ago."

"You fell down like someone shot you," the woman said. "I thought you might have broken a tendon."

When I let go of the fellow holding my arm, he let go, too. My hands went to my sides on the polished, wood floor. I tried to turn and press myself into a sitting position. The effort would have knocked me down if I'd been standing.

For a few seconds, I sat, panting. My mind went back to a scene in the doctor's office when I was a teenager. I'd had pneumonia. The clinic had taken an x-ray of my chest. The films of my session arrived while I was sitting in a chair on a white tile floor in a salmon-painted room with my doctor and my mother. The doctor smiled for the assistant who handed him the packet. He snapped the films up onto the whiteboard one-handed. He leaned back and frowned. He crossed his arms. His mouth fell open.

"Your heart is too big," he announced. He closed his mouth and seemed to recover.

"That's good, right?" I laughed.

"It's really, really big and heavily muscled." He did not laugh with me. He did not crack a smile. "Um, you're young. You're an athlete, right?"

"Swimming and karate, I guess."

"Do you do lots and lots of it?" His eyes searched the images of my chest.

"He's not ready for the Olympics," my mother explained. "But he trains with a national group. There are some Olympic swimmers in his lanes."

"Maybe it's normal." He stepped away from the x-rays. He nodded to me more like he was reassuring himself than anyone else. "It's probably normal. Still, some people with big, muscular hearts have been having heart attacks. They're young, too."

"Oh, what's doing that?" asked my mother.

The doctor seemed reluctant to guess. Eventually, he mentioned 'drugs' as a factor. There had been a former college basketball player in the area whose death had made the news. I'd read a couple of articles about him myself, and I knew he died playing basketball on a playground. The doctor said he felt that stimulant drugs and large hearts didn't mix. That player was one example. The doctor knew others.

"That's not a good combination," the doctor told my mother.

The death of Len Bias was three years in the future when I lay on the gymnasium floor. But there had already been a different basketball player who had died from snorting cocaine and from playing his sport not long after. He'd had a large, muscular heart. Like in my x-ray.

There I sat. After a minute, I felt better. I rose to my feet.

"Wait, wait!" the couple next to me shouted. Too late. I stood and started looking around, hands on my hips, trying to judge my embarrassment level. At the top of the cinderblock walls of the gym, next to the universal weights, stood a young man staring down at us. He had noticed, too. I had no idea how. But he stood on the balls of his toes, hands on the rail, and watched me with sweaty concern.

There was no one who had come in to play basketball yet. That was good. The plexiglass-backboard hoops raised and lowered on a crank. The one behind me to my left had been down in playing position. I wasn't on a playground but I was on a basketball court, a weird parallel with my thoughts. I had fallen twenty feet from the hoop. Funny.

"Can you walk?" the woman next to me said.

"Probably." I paced a few feet. My legs trembled. I almost fell. I stopped, turned, and tried again. I walked back and forth. Already, I felt stronger. Good.

"You should go to the doctor," the karate student advised.

"Well." I didn't like the sound of that. My gaze went to the clock on the wall. It was five minutes before seven. The nurse's office didn't open until noon, I thought, on a Saturday. "I don't think they're available."

"Go anyway," he urged.

For the moment, I decided to walk home to my dorm room. Along the way, I rested. I got more rest later. All the rest of the day, my physical improvements continued. By dinner time, my body felt nearly normal. Only a few close friends had noticed my weakness. Two of them, Thomas and Liz, urged me to go to the nurse. But it was a long hike and I didn't feel up to it. After dinner, my strength returned but the medical office had closed for the evening. We had only one nurse for the whole campus, after all. I promised Liz I'd go the next day to make certain I was fine.

The next day the nurse said that all my vital signs looked fantastic. I was in great shape.


In retrospect, I never took legal or illegal drugs without people around me doing them first. That pattern didn't come from any conscious choice I made. It seems to come from my instinctive level of trust (or mistrust). If no one is dropping dead, how bad can it be? Everything - alcohol, coffee, marijuana, tea, tobacco, prescription medicines, just everything - has fit the same social pattern of my life.

My friends in college kept telling me I acted the same under the influence. No matter how much alcohol I drank or pot I smoked or whatever, my behavior stayed the same. Maybe it was due to my secular buddhism or stoicism. Regardless, hearing the judgment so often affected my attitude. I assumed that, because I didn't care about the drugs, they weren't affecting me. After all, everyone kept saying so. But blood chemistry is different from behavior. The whole time, every drug and piece of food I ingested was doing whatever it did in me. The chemicals weren't paying attention to people's opinions.

I've used some recreational drugs, like coffee, in a medical way to stop asthma attacks. I've also inadvertently overdosed on coffee and benadryl (both vasoconstrictors) to give myself bloodflow attacks that resulted in literally blinding headaches. (I couldn't see clearly and needed to lie down in the dark for a few hours.)

When I get criticized by my friends for not trusting that a drug isn't having an effect, I have reasons for my attitude. When I regard legal drugs, like coffee, as if they need to be controlled, it really comes from the same reasons. And yet I still fall prey to social accommodations.

It would be smart to say that I stopped doing cocaine after a single, serious event. For a couple weeks, yes, I did. But it was a drug that seemed to be everywhere around me. My friends and girlfriends said I should do more. So I did. Dozens of times. I had the day-after reaction again, too, twice more. And still, for the sake of friendships and socializing, I kept going.

Sunday, June 12, 2022

Not Even Not Zen 259: Biomythography - Note 31, The Telltale Heart Part I

Biomythography - Note 31
The Telltale Heart, Part I

Our dorm room walls had been painted a shade of off-white, which was a color that captured every scuff mark. Our furniture was made of pinewood. It felt heavy, boxy, and fragile. But it was modular. You could fit it all together to make different room settings. That aspect may have been limited by the ugly materials but it was still smart. Students got creative with the furniture. Some brought in art for their walls. Some of their rooms looked good.

My room didn't have art, not even a poster. It would not have won design awards. I cannibalized the cabinets, shelves, and nearly all other surfaces to make desks. I liked having lots of writing and drawing space. I grabbed extra bed pieces and turned them into more desks. I had a cassette player for music, which I sat on the back of one of my desks and ran more or less continuously.

That was the setting in which I met women. Some of them, anyway.  

"You're not taking advantage of me. I'm offering." One of my friends, a beautiful girl from down the hall, walked in to offer me a sample from her stash of drugs. She often made gifts to me. I felt awful about them.

"Are you sure?" I asked.

One of the ways I felt bad was that I didn't like drugs. I had gone sober for a year and I was getting back to small amounts of alcohol. I didn't drink coffee because it was too strong. After a while in college, I felt willing to smoke pot if everyone else was doing it but only enough to make other people relax around me.

"It's a trade," she insisted.

For another, I didn't like her drugs in particular. One of her favorites was cocaine. Another was cocaine and heroin together. She had switched to it on the advice of her dealer. 

"There's a difference in price." My hands spread out wide to my sides, a pleading gesture. She knew I was right. What I brought to parties was nitrous oxide. It cost pennies.

"I can afford it," she said.

But the most important reason I felt awful and confused was my huge crush on her. I'd met her the previous semester in my quantum mechanics class. Now, at age twenty, she made me wobbly in all sorts of bad ways. Somehow, my timing with her was always off. When I offered to take her out on a date, she backed away. When I gave up, she approached. She physically chased me at times, usually when she was stoned or drunk.

Sometimes the turnaround in her attitude was so quick that I would lean in for a kiss and she'd dodge. I'd apologize and leave. She would show up at my room a minute later bringing drugs to share with me. All in all, it was confusing.

"Hah! This is so dumb, it's great!" she shouted when we traded hits of nitrous oxide. Laughing gas, no real surprise, made her giggle. She handed me her deflated, green balloon. I wrapped her fingers around the stem of the next balloon, an orange one I'd filled for her.

"It's silly," I admitted. After all, that was the point.

"Hah! Woo!" She took a deep hit, one right after another. "I'm seeing colors this time. Is that supposed to happen?"

"Are you dizzy?"

"I don't know. I'm sitting down." She started to rise. Her hand slapped the back of the chair as she took half a step and tripped. She steadied herself. "Yes. Wow, I'm tripping."

"Colored lights means slow down," I decided.

"Aw, no fun." She pretended to pout. She sat and folded her arms. Then she burst into laughter.

A few weeks into the future, she would push her way into my room while drunk and naked. It could have been a breakthrough moment for us but actually, it wasn't. She had probably made the decision based on the theory that I wouldn't be able to resist her. Under normal circumstances, it's true that I found her irresistible. But that time she got herself so drunk that anything besides emergency medical procedures seemed out of the question. I did, in fact, resist. A few minutes into her visit, after I wrapped her in one of my blankets and she was trying to explain herself, she started throwing up. So that's how it would have gone anyway if I had welcomed her with more enthusiasm.

On this particular night, she plied me with cocaine. Since I was hoping it would lead to something more interesting with her, like kissing, hand holding, or almost anything, I agreed.

"This is the best stuff," she asserted. "It's pure."

"Sure." I'd heard that from her before.

"This time I got it before he cut it."

"Okay." That probably wasn't true but I wanted to trust her.

Unfortunately, after she used up half of her cocaine she seemed to get nervous. She announced that she wanted to go for a walk with me. That sounded worthwhile, I thought. She took me by the hand. The body contact felt reassuring, almost promising. She pulled me down the hall and out the door. 

Her spontaneity gave me hope. At night under the stars, we walked hand in hand for a few minutes. Then her hand got sweaty. She pushed me away. Usually, I was the one who got sweaty. It was weird to realize it happened to girls, too.  

We walked through nearly half the campus, which is eight hundred acres in total. That meant we hiked a few miles through fields and woods, across roads, along the bank of a tiny stream, and in the grassy alleyways between buildings. We stumbled together in the dark. She held my hand again, for a while, until she seemed to feel awkward about it. She talked for most of the time, hours of talk, sometimes about quantum physics but also about her family, which made her nervous and she tried to explain why. I listened, answered her questions, and occasionally ventured opinions in response to her ideas on physics. She was taking an astronomy course, too, and after she mentioned it, she laid down on the grass near the campus apple orchard. She pulled me down with her but she froze up when I tried to kiss her. After I backed away, she relaxed. She took my hand, pulled me closer, and pointed out stars for twenty minutes, giving them the names she'd learned and asking me for physics opinions.

After a few hours, we said goodnight, which seemed a shame but gave me some hope, too. She squeezed me in a brief, awkward hug outside her room.

Since I wasn't tired, I did school work for a while. That is, I tried. Mostly I thought about the walk with her, which had made for a friendly but frustrating evening. I felt like we might be close to romance. Maybe. If I could be patient with her swaying between "I hate you and I hate myself" and "you're great and I like you," I would get to find out.

But it was a crush. I knew myself enough to know there was nothing I could do about it. I was helpless for a few months or until she started kicking puppies for fun. Although I didn't trust myself entirely in that case to not pretend to like kicking puppies. 

Sunday, June 5, 2022

Not Even Not Zen 258: Biomythography - Note 30, Infinite Light in a Box

Biomythography - Note 30
Infinite Light in a Box

"You can't do it," Richard said.

"Well, I want to try." I put my hands on my hips and wished I'd brought my light box. Then I could show it to Richard and maybe he'd understand. I'd made a drawing for him with a good pencil on his elementary school lined paper. I'd tried to show him the angles of the light rays.

"It's impossible." He leaned closer for emphasis.

"Light is particles. It bounces. And it bounces off mirrors." My drawings weren't finished but I was sure about the concept. Since light bounced between mirrors, I could shut the door of the box at any time and capture the light that was inside. The photons would keep bouncing around off mirrors until I opened the box.

Something was wrong with my box, though. It never seemed to capture light in a way I could detect. The problem might have been in my detection method. (It was: open the box in the dark.) The issue might have been in the tape and mirrors. My mother wouldn't let her eight-year-old son cut up her mirrors to fit exactly into the box. There were gaps between the reflective surfaces.

Actually, I wasn't sure how to cut a mirror. One of the neighbors was a rock collector. He had a diamond saw. I wanted to try that. My next idea was to break a bunch of mirrors and tape the shards together.

"Mom!" Richard called. "Tell him it's impossible."

That was unfair. Calling a parent into the debate was like bringing in a tank against the infantry. But I was ready with my description and my drawings. I was sure my ideas matched with what I had read in physics articles. Richard's mother, Mary, kept saying something had to be wrong. To her irritation, I kept insisting the principles were fine.

"It won't work," Mary said. "I can't explain it in terms of photons but I'm not going to argue about it anymore. I know someone who can. John!"

She called her husband over. Now it was Richard and two adults against me. But I was sure I was right. I had been reading about photons all year. John, a tall and normally quiet man, ambled over.

"Tell him that this is impossible," said Mary. Richard added extra 'impossibles' for emphasis.

"Well, let me hear him say what he's trying to do, first."

For the third time, I tried to draw it. I described the light box and the basic idea of photons bouncing endlessly off mirrors until I released them.

"There are a few things wrong with the experiment," he said. Maybe he suppressed a chuckle. It was only for a second and, if that's even what it was, he kept it muted. Rather than growing scornful, his voice grew extra careful and gentle. "For one, did you know that mirrors aren't perfect?"

My eyes widened. Whatever he was getting at, I knew it had never occurred to me. Mirrors reflected light. I knew they did.

"Lightwaves aren’t particles or at least they're not just particles. But never mind that. You do understand a lot of what you've read. The problem is that, even if photons were exactly how you think, your box would fail because the mirrors can only reflect a percentage of the particles each time. I don't remember what percentage it is for standard, consumer-grade mirrors but it doesn't matter. Even if you capture eighty percent of the photons each time, that still means you're losing twenty percent. And the light bounces so fast. You're losing all of the light in less than a second. In less than a tiny fraction of a second, even.”

"It's impossible, right?" Mary said. Richard nodded. "Just tell him that it's impossible."

"Well, hate to say that because there are a few labs trying to do this sort of light capture right now." He couldn't keep from showing a twinkle in his eyes. "They have better equipment than cardboard and mirrors. Even the best scientists couldn't do it with that. So with the tools you've got, I'm sorry, it isn’t feasible."

I felt slightly crushed but not as much as I might have been. Mostly, I felt confused by the word ‘feasible.’

"But this is a really good experiment to try," he continued. He spoke as if he wanted to get that part in quickly before I lost heart. "There is a team at University of Maryland using specially focused lenses to coax light into a circle. They've got that part done. What they really want to do is something you mentioned, too, and that's to isolate a single photon. They haven't achieved that yet but they think they're close.”

He went on to say that it was a very interesting problem to a lot of physicists.

“How do you capture light?" He rolled his shoulders, less than a shrug but definitely a gesture of uncertainty. "It’s difficult.”

John Price, as usual, seemed a bit like someone else had dressed him but he didn't mind. He was always well put together and yet seemingly indifferent to his clothes. This time, he'd worn a plaid shirt that didn't look like something he would pick for himself. It was too busy and too bright. The sleeves were short, though. The fabric was light and he looked comfortable on the warm day as he explained photons for a few minutes more.

He talked about light being a wave and a particle both. I wasn't happy with his ideas. How could light be more than one thing? That didn't match with the binary logic my father was teaching me. And what did it mean for a fundamental particle to be a wave? At no time in the discussion, though, did he make fun of my cardboard box with mirrors taped inside.

John said there was nothing wrong with my detection method of opening the box in the dark.

"If a box like that could work, you'd see a flash of light." He half-shrugged again. "Or maybe it would happen too fast and it would be hard to see but that part is really not bad design."

The most critical thing he reiterated was that I was trying to solve a multi-million dollar problem. Other good experiments might be done with my limited materials. If I thought of those, I should do them.

“Anyway, aren’t you worried that breaking mirrors could cause bad luck?” His voice took on a teasing tone but still with gentleness.

“No.” That sounded like something one of my uncles would say. But I hadn’t thought of it.

“Oh, that’s good.” He nodded to himself.