Thursday, June 7, 2012

Hipster Cool Toast

In good news, two nights ago, I and Peanut encountered Peanut's arch enemy, "the white dog," and for the first time since their vicious fight, the two didn't bark at each other! Both owners, me and European guy, smiled in surprise, and I'm hoping this is a lasting change.

In other good news, a bakery called The Bread Lounge just opened one block away from my loft! Plunk right there in the middle of industrial warehouses, I can now get some fresh baguettes, assuming they're not too hipster cool to make boring baguettes, and also assuming they don't sell their baguettes for anything over five bucks. I'm hugely excited.

I also finished reading The Buddha In The Attic, which I'll talk about soon, and I've started The Tiger's Wife, which--dammit--is as good as everyone says it is.

I'm moving forward with Everybody, still letting the premise develop in my mind and still waiting to see if I have enough love for the story to stick with it. Yesterday, I started introducing some characters:

Two lines formed. At the south entrance were the students, the postdocs, the professors, the occasional technicians and administrative assistants; they stood along the trimmed edge of the central lawn where commencement was held every year in June, between the behavioral biology building—also named after Beckman—and the Baxter building, the only building on campus where the humanities were taught. At the north entrance, leading in from the parking lot that ran along Michigan Avenue, were the friends of the campus, the wealthy alumni, the professors emeriti, President Chameau himself and his wife, who earned her Ph.D. in neurology while winning several regional beauty pageants along the way. The crowds began to mix in the lobby: the T-shirts and shorts, the sport coats and ties, the glistening gowns and diamond earrings, the hoodies and red-rimmed cat-eye glasses, the draped shawls, the overstuffed backpacks, the perfume, and the faint odor of dimethyl sulfoxide and tetramethylethylenediamine. The guests mixed and then naturally separated again under the golden drapes of the auditorium, where everyone over sixty migrated to the front rows and everyone under thirty moved toward the back. Those in between decided where they would be based on their own social graces and whether or not they planned to sneak out again if the presentations ended up being boring, and if the speakers ended up not being the stars that everyone said they were, but nothing more than the average overly ambitious researchers like they themselves had been not too long ago, the ones who had scrambled for their publication in Science, or Nature, or PNAS before applying for jobs, the ones who had taken pictures of dissected burritos or Volkswagons half-submerged in mud to serve as humorous metaphors for their research, which—when they were completely honest with themselves—was not brilliantly divergent from what they had learned from their mentors, but was simply a variation on a theme, a natural progression based on the truly brilliant ideas of their academic ancestors long since dead.

The most impatient audience members, the ones hoping to be disappointed, sat on the edges of the rows, grudgingly swinging their legs to the side when anyone asked to slip past them for one of the central seats. Among these was Dr. Raymond Bernard, thirty-nine, recently tenured and high on funding. He had earned the reputation for being a renegade during the summer biology retreat in Arrowhead, when he attended the poster session, sweat-drenched from a mountain bike ride, barefoot and with his muddy socks slung over his shoulders, as he interrogated the wide-eyed newbies on their preliminary data.

There was Dr. Wallace Ashbright, with his gray hair and his gray cashmere sweater and his gray slacks sitting with his hands in his lap in the center of the seventh row, not speaking to anyone unless he was spoken to. Possibly the most celebrated mineralogist in the world—his name assigned to a mineral he had discovered himself: Ashbrightiite—he had recently lost the wife he had proposed to over forty years ago with an onyx he cut himself. It had been a brain tumor. Wallace’s heart still bubbled and boiled over at unpredictable times, like yesterday, when he cried as he was putting his breakfast plate in the sink because he saw the crumbs from his toast slide down onto the wet, scratched basin. In her last year Anita had forgotten how faucets worked, and how buttons worked, and how to stop the car before it crashed into the garage door. Since her funeral, Wallace had thrown himself into his research, for the first time in his life working, not out of love, but out of the need to not think about love.

There was Dr. Stanley Chong, who lost seventeen pounds since he accepted the assistant professor position in chemistry last summer. President Chameau had set up no such seminar for him or either of the other hires his year. Stanley had quietly moved west from Harvard, buying a Craftsman house in Pasadena within walking distance from the campus with his wife, Lily, and eight-month-old son, Charlie, without asking for any of his colleagues’ advice. When he remembered, he ate his lunch alone in his office—usually rice and sautéed bean sprouts or pea shoots or zucchini blossoms and whatever meat Lily had decided to marinate in soy sauce and poach. More often these lunches sat forgotten in his mini refrigerator while he read and strategically planned experiments that he would be able to perform with his one and only lab member, a volunteer undergraduate with blue hair who went by the name of “Minty”.

The seats were filling. The good positions were taken, and now pairs and groups of late attendees were having to split up to get anything that was still available. President Chameau buttoned his coat with his long fingers and stepped slowly up the stairs to the stage. His smile was bright. His smile was French. He put his hands into his pockets and peered over the edge of his bifocals to the two men and one woman sitting in the front row.

“Ready, my children?”

The woman laughed and threw up her hands. “As ready as we’ll ever be.” This was Dianne Farro, the newest new recruit. She had quickly become Chameau’s favorite because he detected in her a fearlessness, a recklessness, that he believed all great scientists required...

What's Peanut eating? Chicken and strawberries.

8 comments:

  1. I like "His smile was French." I like a lot of this. I'll say more, maybe, in a bit.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Scott, that's probably the one line that feels like a leap to me. It goes against my typical rules of logic, but I like it too.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Maybe that's why I like it: it's illogical near-nonsense, but it sounds right after "His smile was bright." It brings to mind Maurice Chevalier and old films. It prepares the "my children" line well.

      Delete
  3. Aww, I want to keep reading! This is great stuff, Davin, as you pull in more and more tension with simply beautiful descriptions of characters. I also love that you added "variations on a theme" in there. :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Ha! Well, I'm dedicated to putting fish, monarch butterflies, and some reference to the GF in my stories...I'm not sure if the variations will be something I keep doing though!

      Thanks for saying those nice things, Michelle!

      Delete
  4. Okay, I thought I was coming over for a quirky little blog post, and you throw down this?

    I loved reading this passage, Davin. It is rich with details, but not details for the sake of detailing. Interesting, compelling details.

    It's wonderful.

    I liked the French smile, too, and quite a bit. But my favorite line is this:

    "Since her funeral, Wallace had thrown himself into his research, for the first time in his life working, not out of love, but out of the need to not think about love."

    Yes.

    The quirky intro matter was fun, too. I'm now genuinely curious about whether they have baguettes and, if so, how much they cost.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I keep wondering if my gads of readers will just find these drafts boring, but I put them up anyway. Thanks a lot for reading it, j a zobair! It makes me feel great that you like it. The line you picked out is probably my favorite too. I think with this project I'm going to have a challenge finding the balance between writing out people putting dishes in the sink (my usual, preferred topic) and people actually doing things that have impact (something I tend to avoid).

      It's been two days now, and I still haven't made it to the bakery. Tomorrow morning, I'm going!

      Delete
    2. I get that, but when you write about someone doing the dishes it reveals interesting and important things. Purposeful details. Not gratuitous details. I'm glad you like writing about people putting dishes in the sink, because I like reading it.

      Get thee to the bakery!

      Delete