“That was quite a lesson the other night.” Zach showed up at Em’s dorm room in his freshly laundered best no brand jeans and Red Sox hoodie over a no message t-shirt. He had on his dancin’ shoes, a pair of ancient black high top Keds. They were headed out to a club to listen to a band.
“It was fun. Really, what I told you about the straw, it wasn’t all that far off from what I wrote in my notes, what the P said in class. I spiced it up a little bit, and of course the decreased distance between us and change in resonance frequency of my voice probably did a lot to elicit the apparent hormonal and physiological responses that it did. That and my oily leg in your hands.”
She grinned at him.
“Fun? Jesus, you go from fun and spice to science and rationality so cold it could kill any kind of fire and confidence a guy might have building up and them go right back to an image of the water on your leg in like, half a second.” She rather kerflutzed him, and he’d not been kerflutzed by a woman in a very long time.
“The leg and foot massage was really nice. I liked it. A lot. It rather turned me on, that’s why I decided to tell about water in that fun little way. Your independent variable elicited a response.” She grinned at him again. “Did you like it?”
He laughed, shaking his head.
“It was pretty fucking hot. I’m not even quite sure what you did, some kind of voodoo thing or something. You never even touched me, not really.” He was still basically standing in the doorway, and she was several meters away at the kitchenette counter.
“And I can tell by the attention you pay to things like my feet that you’re probably a very nice and careful lover.” She’d switched quickly to that less playful mode. “But it’s important to look at all of the responses that your independent variable bring about. Some might have confounding effects on your interpretation of the data. Human subjects are touchy.” She smiled again, the Mona smile.
He’d have to start thinking about those response variables, how to categorize them. They seemed to perhaps be continuous and not discrete variables. And undoubtedly there were a gazillion interactive effects to consider. He loved and hated mathematics. And so far his efforts in playing scientific method with Em left him confounded, clueless, at least to some degree. As he understood it from some of the grad students, that was often the case.
“Shall we go?” Em came out from behind the counter wearing a pair of old 501s and a pretty wool sweater, her hair down around her shoulders. Her dancing shoes were a pair of scuffed up old suede black boots, her cool weather dress up shoes.
“You sure you’re going to be able to get into a bar?” Zach was looking her over appreciatively. She looked great, but also young, and this was a college town. The bouncers were pretty tough.
“Sure. I’ve got Aunt Jeannie’s driver’s license. She never drives. And she’s really my aunt, daddy’s little sister, only five years older than me. We look enough alike and I never flinch with it.” She pulled out the license. Sure enough, it was pretty good. He’d let it slide for sure, especially if she stared him down. She had a pretty good way with non verbal communication.
The walk was a fairly long one, but the night was cool and clear and the harvest moon was blazing as they made their way across the old New England town.
“Proffo P. started right on in talking about language this morning.” Em started in, taking a second to synchronize her walking and talking pace. “The term organic. To the chemist it’s about CH bonds, to the grower about bureaucratic regulations and the USDA, to the folks back home on the farm it’s about systems ecology and biodynamics, and to two people talking about education, it can be me describing mine to you in a way that has nothing to do with any of the other definitions, not really.”
“That’s how language is sometimes. When I think of organic though, I do think ‘alive’.” Zach was good with using imagery in language. “That’s pretty consistent, right?”
“Not at all! Nylon and PVC are organic compounds, at least in terms of their chemistry. So are most of those things that Monsanto makes. Plastic is totally organic. That’s why language is so important. Gotta be careful when the lawyers get ahold of it.” She really was quite cynical for one so young.
“You know a tomato is a fruit, right?” He asked, just in case.
“Well duh. I grew up on a farm.” She was, indeed, a little offended.
“Well legally, it’s a vegetable. Did you know that?” He offered it up as a bit of a challenge.
“You’re kidding, right?” She hadn’t known.
“Well duh, I guess you did grow up on a farm. Hey, you didn’t grow up in a barn, did you? My grandma used to ask me that all that time!” She was no longer smiling, so he thought he’d change course.
“Well, as a matter of fact, I did.” Lips at flatline, first time he’d seen that one. Not good.
“Oh. How was it?” He smiled at her, that really irresistible little boy smile.
“Not too bad. Quite nice, really. Uncle Bob is super handy, and he apprentices lots of the young guys. It’s place full of love. There are several old barns converted to living space there. They have all the amenities, nice wood stoves and big tubs and great hearths and kitchen spaces.”
“Sounds great. No, tomatoes were really legally declared vegetables once upon a time for trade purposes with growers south of the border. We have a much harder time producing tropical fruits here, so we’re more open in our trading with fruits. We like to tax vegetables differently, because we can produce them more easily up here. So the law says screw the botany of it, a tomato is a vegetable.”
“And the USDA comes up with a set of rules that mean something is organic. For the most part, it’s a good thing, at least it deals with things like pesticides and herbicides and GMOS and hormones, and it certainly has grown up during my lifetime.” Food production had been huge at the commune; learning how to do it in harmony with the land was not easy, and required as much sound knowledge as hard work. Emily knew her stuff. “But even that’s not enough, not over the long term. The way we produce and distribute food has to change pretty drastically.”
“Did you learn all this in class today?” He was teasing her a little, getting her back on topic. They’d agreed that the best way for her to learn her stuff was to talk about it after class. They both liked it. A lot.
“No, silly, I learned all that the hard way. I did my homework.” She took a breath as they rounded the corner into town. “Today we basically learned about how big, complex organic molecules like carbohydrates and proteins are built from smaller, simpler subunits. We learned about carbon backbones and the functional groups that give different kinds of organic molecules their structural and reactive characteristics. We learned about polymerization and hydrolysis reactions. We learned about monomers and isomers and sugars and polysaccharides and storage carbohydrates and structural carbohydrates. We learned about lipids and hydrophobic and hydrophilic regions of molecules, and fatty acids and bent tails and straight tails and glycerol and oils and fats and waxes. We learned about cell membranes. We learned about steroids. Or at least she told us about all of those things pretty hastily. I’m glad I read those chapters first.”
“What, you mean all three of those chapters in one class?” Zach had done the reading; he liked reading. He found he was getting it, to, kind of like the structural aspects of chemistry. The functional parts he wasn’t quite as sure about yet, even that giving up and accepting of protons or hydrogen ions or whatever it was that pH was all about wasn’t quite clear to him.
“Yup. She said she likes to spend more time on proteins and nucleic acids, because of enzymes and ATP and DNA and all that fun stuff. She seems to really be into the proteins, although she does keep emphasizing that it’s all one big system.”
“What is?” She’d lost him on that one.
“Life. Whether you’re talking about a cell or a body or a community in a town or the biosphere, it’s all one big system, all a bunch of nested subsystems, from molecule to planet. It's also all online, in a PowerPoint.”
“Wow. I like that. All of it, in a PowerPoint. And what do you know, we’re here. Is our lesson over for today?” He offered his arm as they headed for the door. She took it.
“Well, gee Z. I thought maybe you’d teach me how to dance.” She smiled up at him. “I’ve got to warn you, I’m pretty bad at it. I’ve never been much of a follower.”
“There’s a few easy rules to dancing. Number one is, you gotta kind of like the music, it’ll call to you. Number two is, you look for a beat, usually it’s pretty easy to find, and try to move to it. Number three, and most important, have fun. If you can’t find a beat, that’s okay, as long as you’re having fun. Even if you don’t like the music, it can still be fun. If you’re not having fun, well, you probably shouldn’t be dancing. I find even if I’m not always having fun right away, eventually the dance itself grabs me and fills me up.” He actually bowed as he offered the chair he’d pulled out for her. The table wobbled a bit and the floor was a little sticky, but the place had atmosphere. And a funky rock jazz blues band that made music they more than kinda liked and a beat real easy to find.
They had fun.
Studying with Emily was becoming a totally organic education. He got what that meant now, he was learning.
Linda Brooke Stabler, Ph.D.