Pictures of ?

“One lives in the hope of becoming a memory.” – Antonio Porchia (1886-1968

A strange item among my mother’s remains:
A manila envelope labeled, in a bold print scrawl,
“Pictures of ?” askew on its container,
starting roughly at a level where an address might be
and heading upwards toward where a stamp belonged.
Neither an address nor a stamp are here,
just the scrawl begging for some resolution
not found during her life, except when she acquired it—
the pictures—contained within,
secured with a metal clasp common to these envelopes
(is there a company that makes these pliant fingers
meant to bend, while the other digits grasp the sallow weave
in a death grip, protecting both mysteries and the irrelevant
with the same reverence, a clutching finger and thumb
expecting to be pinched away and hoping all the same to remain
in place?).

Bent away, the clasps don’t break, they yield and reveal
pieces of cardboard holding tight to a well-shot black-and-white
of “?,” a young man in a well-tailored double-breasted suit,
right hand in pants pocket, left hand dangling, fingers curled in
towards the thigh, photographer’s imprimatur low in the right-hand corner:
“Rice,” then “Montreal,” an artist’s signature and culture
cut into the print in a practiced, stylish statement
of artistry, ownership, pride,
enhanced on the reverse by “Rice Studio Limited—For Duplicates No.”—
and then the number “73356-7” on a stamped line, followed by “Montreal, Can.,”
all in an oval, except for the penciled numbers,
graphite as durable as the ink upon which they sit,
a good seventy or eighty years since they were placed there with care
by James Rice, or an assistant (who knows?),
but in the hopes that “?” would call now and then and order
one or two, maybe more, for his family, friends, the people who knew him,
knew he was not a question mark on a manila vault,
but a young guy in a new suit, looking a distance past the querying lens,
past whatever immediate future he faced into a time when everyone he knew
would welcome him back into their homes, into their rituals
of waking, working, eating, sleeping, speaking of life and its hardships,
partnering with the people he cared for,
living an anonymous life in the presence of everyone else.

And here he is again, sitting (this time), in the same studio,
but in a uniform of some type, a left shoulder patch with the word
“American” embroidered into a rectangle, an ellipsis into other,
unknown words, fading off into a past of service to some endeavor.
The young man smiles deep into the lens this sitting,
peering past the convex glass clenched in its mount,
his face, shoulders, arms, and chest contracted into a pinpoint of light,
then inverting, blossoming, and arriving at the emulsion
for sufficient time that the chemicals capture a part of his soul
within whatever device the photographer wielded,
into whatever film was selected for that man, that day,
for another fine portrait of an unknown fellow—
a fresh enlistee? on leave? duty fulfilled?—
smiling with confidence that good things were yet to come
or had already treated him with the kindness he deserved.
Like so many young men before and after these “Pictures of ?,”
this one has gone into the pantheons of memories
held by other people who, in their turn, have disappeared
among all of those hundreds, thousands, millions, and billions
who were everything they hoped they could be
or nothing they ever expected to become
or most usually, I suspect, something in between,
when a photo or two was planned and stored, perhaps forever,
perhaps for those who knew them,
perhaps for those who would wonder someday
who they could have possibly been,
and will we all fade, not like an indelible photograph,
but like a memory held precious by those near
and forgotten, like our own births and deaths, by the rest of the world.

 

Create

Natty

Uniform

Distant

It is a remote possibility that someone will see this and know who this is. I did an image search using several image search engines and came back empty. The photographer (I believe the same photographer took both) was James Rice who is well-known in Canada and in Montreal for many portraits of hockey players (or so I discovered in my searching). I have no reason to believe that this guy was a hockey player, but aside from a suspicion that he served in the “American… (maybe Red Cross?),” I haven’t been able to find an identical shoulder patch that confirms this. Anyway, dear readers, puzzle away. If you know something, please share your knowledge below. I hope the fellow and a long and happy life.

Shall We Rehearse?

I’m hungry! I’ll just stop up here and grab some breakfast…

I read much of my daily news on the Associated Press utility (when did “app” become a word? Honestly!) on my “smart” phone, which is not intelligent in itself, nor is it dressed well, a sharp pain, or brisk. It is definitely well-designed, but if I never turned it on, it would just be a well-designed chunk of glass, plastic, metal, and some exotic elements used in specific and increasingly clever and minuscule ways. I like this thing and it’s AP utility principally because I can invoke it when my attention flickers from whatever entertainment I have chosen and catch up on what others are doing with their lives.

A few days ago, by which I mean Friday, 19 May 2017, I noticed a headline in the “Most Recent” tab of the utility that piqued my curiosity, to wit:

Police: Body dumped along Texas road after hearse stolen

Okay, I may have said to myself, I will press my finger against the plastic membrane that protects the glass screen of my hand-held computing device and read more about this “Most Recent” news. It was a very brief piece, readable by you, dear reader, by clicking on the link above, which goes only to the apnews.com website and not down any ratholes of internet mischief, but I will summarize the story for you.

The driver, employed to deliver a recently deceased person from a location more closely associated with their demise to a funeral home selected, one assumes, by relatives of the decedent, found themselves in need of sustenance. And lo! there was a McDonald’s restaurant ahead, so this driver (I have not determined their gender, nor is it material to our story) pulled into the parking lot, exited the vehicle, and ambled inside to order some victuals (I’m going to pretend I know that it was breakfast on their mind as it was around 5:30 AM when the hunger struck our protagonist). As they perused the gleaming menu, ensconced in yellow plastic, as they watched and waited for the bleary-eyed, caffeine-fueled workers to fill orders for other supplicants at this purveyor of food-like items, nefarious deeds were being executed in the parking lot.

A person” (so says the news) entered the driver-side door of the hearse and, finding that (1) it was, in fact, thrumming away in neutral and/or (2) had the keys in the ignition and was waiting to be ignited, threw the gearshift into “D,” and drove away with the material remains of someone lying in repose on a gurney in the portion of the vehicle designed for this purpose. Approximately 90 minutes later, a passerby noted a corpse-like object supine on a gurney “on the side of” or “in the 6000 block of Dick Elliott Road.” A brief search of today’s (22 May 2017) news shows no indication that the hearse has been recovered, although the supine individual (gender not available to me) successfully completed their journey to the funeral home.

I am a curious person and this story raised several questions regarding the behaviors of at least two individuals of whom we know very little: (1) the hearse driver and (2) the hearse thief (an updated version of the more antiquated Texas vocation of horse thief).

Here are my questions, although I leave it to each of you to place them in a sequence of importance that you find most appealing:

  1. When a hearse driver is hungry, is it ever appropriate for said driver to stop between receipt and delivery of a decedent to allay the hunger?
  2. Is it appropriate for a hearse driver to stop for a meal whenever they are actually driving a hearse… regardless of contents other than themselves?
  3. Is it not possible that the mere presence of a hearse at a restaurant of any description (barring for the sake of argument fuel stations that have restaurants inside) may raise thoughts among those dining inside (or in the parking lot outside) that the driver is in the process of treating a decedent with less care than is warranted?
  4. Do individuals engaged in the act of sating their hunger want to think about hearses and their contents whenever a hearse driver thrusts that option before them?
  5. In areas of this nation, perhaps elsewhere as well, it is considered courteous to pull over and wait for a funeral procession to pass, whether that procession is performed by horses and carriages, by people on foot, or by a line of cars with their headlights on. If a hearse is involved, isn’t it already a procession marking the end of a life, and should that procession lead through a restaurant parking lot? Ever?
  6. Is it ever a good idea to leave (1) the engine running (either for convenience or temperature control) and/or (2) the keys in the ignition, and/or (3) the vehicle doors unlocked when the driver exits the vehicle whether for a stop at a restaurant or a restroom (in this context, “rest room” is fraught with other meanings)?
  7. If one finds themselves in a parking lot and sees a hearse sitting there, hears the engine chugging away in neutral, sees the driver exit the vehicle and do nothing to secure the vehicle, why does this bit of happenstance, of utter serendipity, turn into a perfect occasion to hijack the hearse, regardless of its contents?
  8. Was the person who jacked the hearse out that morning hoping to find a hearse to purloin or did it just seem like a good idea at the time? A better idea than, say, completing the more probable mission of having a bit of breakfast at the “Arches?”
  9. Having stolen the hearse, what would make the newly ascendant driver take a quick look in the back, notice that they were not alone, and decide that having a passenger in the hearse—a vehicle intended for the transport of supine and lifeless passengers—spoiled “the game” and the passenger had to go, but the hearse could remain with them?
  10. What was it about the 6000 block of Dick Elliot Road that seemed like the right place to pull the hearse over, place the transmission in neutral, exit the vehicle, walk around to the rear of the vehicle, open the large tailgate door with the glass window and pleated draperies, pull the gurney out with the individual in place, leave them “on the side of” or “in the” road, close the tailgate, return to the driver-side door, enter the vehicle and drive off?
  11. Where is the hearse? I mean, we are not talking about a white 2005 Chevrolet Cavalier, a car that must populate the roads of Texas and the U.S. in general in multitudes. The missing “car” is black, probably recently cleaned and polished, with large windows, curtains (! – this alone makes it rather rare amongst vehicles), and quite possibly the name of the funeral home etched into the window glass or painted on the doors. How hard could it be to find this vehicle? It’s been three full days and half of today and it is still out among the other hearses of America!

Those are my questions. There are probably other questions, but those are mine. Astonishingly, stealing hearses seems to be a “thing” here in the U.S. While finding the exact story I read from the AP utility, I found several other such stories:

Thieves steal Ohio hearse, dump corpse, leave note

Family chases down man who stole hearse with relative’s casket inside

If hearse-thievery is going to happen, perhaps Mumbai-based Lunatic Koncepts has the solution:

Is THIS driverless hearse the future of funerals? Bizarre transparent coffin beams hologram of deceased and plays their favourite song

I’m hoping that spontaneous human combustion will visit me in my last seconds and relieve me of these worries.

Adrift

Unmoored

Farce

Final

Featured image by Aalborg Stift

Imprints

I bear the imprints…

I bear the imprints,
deep and broad,
of the strap he wielded
with his words.
Sliced into the dura mater,
dribbles, runnels, rivulets,
channels course and creep
through each thought,
trenching a path for patterns
in actions and deeds,
written and spoken
verbiage like locusts
cutting through wheat,
leaving grain and chaff
alike fluttering in dust.

Like most elders,
he lunged at shadows,
wraiths imagined,
yet real to him,
he fought reflections,
crisp, bright fragments of light,
the blood he drew,
at times thick, dark,
often a spiraling vapor,
figments flecking amber,
in motion and frozen,
always a mystery—
to him and me—
their intent or effect
never known, not to know.

Each time he spoke,
it was a choice
between speaking at all
and regretting the attempt,
carefully selecting each word
from his enormous intellect,
then stumbling forward,
reflexively placing his hands
before his face
so his nose and brow
would go unscarred.
His discussions about
the burdens he shouldered
during an accomplished life
an example to us all
of feet poorly placed
on a gravel fundament
shifting in dry sand
on a dim and windy day.

Gray

Pattern

Featured image by James.mcd.nz

Space/Time

In a place without time
there is no story to tell

In a place without time
there is no story to tell,
all persons, places,
firm and free,
transfixed and stubborn
in the silent still.

That which would move
does not flinch a fiber,
those who would try
cannot move a muscle,
particles that spin and bounce
do neither in their torpor,
rusted through the core,
the rust can creep no more.

Motion needs time
to step through its dance.
Time needs motion
until the clock stops.
Think of one,
you’ve set them both
racing towards
a distant goal.


This thing popped into being while I was reading the sixth “brief lesson” in Carlo Rovelli’s Seven Brief Lessons on Physics. That sixth lesson is titled “Probability, Time, and the Heat of Black Holes.” The tiny thing I’ve presented above addresses the unimaginable and, thus, is a paradox.

Timely
Continue reading “Space/Time”

I’ve misplaced my spectacles!

To lose or not to lose, that is the question….

I’ve misplaced my spectacles, where have they gone?
I’ve looked on two tables flanking my chair,
I’ve checked on my desk where I place all the mail,
I’ve scanned the floor where they might have escaped,
gotten down on my knees to see if they lay
masked by a book that fell when I slept,
I’ve picked up the chair to see if they crawled
away when they fell off my nose when I napped,
I grabbed up an article I forgot that I’d read
and threw it away, but the lenses weren’t there,
I peered in a box that once held a mouse,
not one with fur and whiskers and feet,
but one with buttons and lasers and wheels,
I searched in the kitchen, on the stove, in the fridge,
I considered the cabinets—why would they hide there?
But they weren’t where they should be,
they could be anywhere!

I went to the bathroom and glanced at the sink,
the toilet tank cover didn’t hold them at all,
I gazed at the tub, but I don’t wear them to bathe,
I viewed where the ointments sit in a row,
I ogled the t.p., stored in its stack,
the rolls stayed silent, the glasses weren’t there.
I went to the car and checked over the visor,
I scoured the floor, even under the seats,
I got out a ladder and went up to the roof,
the gutters were filled with debris, not eyewear,
the whole roof was bare of spectacles too.
I called nine-one-one and they laughed in my ear,
I tried four-one-one and they hadn’t a clue.
I asked my neighbors if they’d seen them around,
they seemed quite concerned, a bit alarmed,
but had not spotted the glasses at all that day.
I finally gave up and went back inside.
They were where I had left them, where they belong.

Gone

“Have a Good Day”

“Have a nice day!”

“How is the day treating you?”

Sometime in the last few years, I worked out a response for these greetings, at least between me and people who know me a little. I’m sure I would just get looks of bafflement from those who don’t.

“The days are all the same. It’s what you make of them that matters.”

A day, after all, is just a block of time we’ve stitched together to help us make sense of our lives. Twenty-four hours and most of us experience day and night, each of which has very specific characteristics in the amount of light, temperature, humidity, winds (aka atmospheric convection currents), and all of the creatures attuned to these variations.

If we weren’t endowed with the minds we have, we would just do the things that kept us living until inevitable mortality swept us aside. If I was a worker bee (I’d have to be a drone as all worker bees are females, but stay with me for the moment), we would spend our days searching for nutrients for the drones, our queen, and her spawn. Over our 4 to 5 week lifespan, if we were tasked with nectar gathering, we would gather enough nectar to create one-twelfth a teaspoon of honey, but we would never sleep. A colony of 50,000 to 60,000 workers would gather about 4,000 teaspoons (about 5.2 U.S. gallons or 19.71 liters) of honey in the 4-5 weeks, followed by other workers and so on.

apis-mellifera
Apis mellifera (all rights reserved J.K. Lindsay)

But we are not bees, nor will we ever bee (ahem… pardon me). While we are both social creatures, we think about our days in ways that would have the worker bees tied in knots, wondering whether it wasn’t time for a break from the constant business of keeping the colony alive. If we were a drone, a male bee that loses its sex organs when it mates in flight with the queen, dying afterward, we might reconsider that last coital flight, binge-watch another season of Que Sera Sera on the BBC, eat honey and bee bread until we could no longer move. If we were a queen bee, we would have been chosen—seemingly at random—from huge numbers of female larvae and fed royal jelly throughout our lives. We would lay 1,500 to 2,000 eggs per day and live four to five years (instead of the 4-5 weeks a worker lives), although our production of eggs would fall after the first two years. But if we were intelligent and could make choices beyond those typical of queen bee-dom, we might give up producing so many eggs, cutting back to a mere 150 to 200 over one year and then having some fun for the remaining years.

Some of us (the >7.475+ billion of “us”)—by no means all of us, unfortunately—get to choose what our days hold for us, but every day is the same, every day is just twenty-four hours of minutes and seconds. Whether we have a “good” day or a “bad” day depends on where we live, our class, ethnicity, gender, religious beliefs, education choices, genetics, lifestyle choices (by which I mean what we choose to put into our bodies (salted corn chips or fruit? vegetables or meat?)). If we are female and live in a male-dominated society with fundamentalist religious beliefs of any type, our education choices are probably limited by what the patriarchs say is possible within the context of their realm. The men define the realm based on their view of what “God” (this is in quotes because in this context, the notion of “God” is suspect) would accept and they have inferred that women do not need to be educated beyond an ability to speak, do chores, and raise a family. Of course, in some of those societies the men hold themselves to strict practices as well, but that doesn’t keep them from inequitably limiting the choices of others.

There are a lot of these inequities in the world, inequities that block some from the rights that others enjoy without question. Because of the barricades constructed by some, a day may be a period in which survival may or may not happen, in which whatever rights are allowed are further limited by detention (at home, in prison, at work). The day looks on in its unblinking way, seeing and not-seeing all the lives that are lived within it, providing its amoral interval in which we can make choices or have choices made for us.

But the days are fine, thanks.

What will you do today?

Year

Happy Localized Temporal Flux!

Which is briefer – Planck time divided by infinity or its inverse?

As I write this soon-to-be-anachronistic piece, it is already the “new year” in various places around the world. For instance, in Hong Kong it is 12:04 A.M on Sunday while it is only 11:04 AM Saturday here (east coast U.S. time).

The truth is far more complicated and far more interesting to consider.

First of all, there is the notion of sidereal time—time relative to a fixed star‘s position. It is used by astronomers, who cannot rely on our own sun’s position as our positional relationship to it is not fixed. As a matter of fact, starting in the 19th century it was noticed that the “fixed stars” are not fixed either. They are just distant enough that they are far more fixed than our local star seems to be. All sorts of calculations can be sorted out to use a non-fixed distant star or bright astronomical object as relatively fixed, but I neither understand these calculations nor would you (I suspect) find them particularly interesting. So, the bottom line is sidereal time is in constant change here on earth. If I am standing shoulder-to-shoulder with you, we are in different sidereal times. Sidereal time has no respect for time zones. Time zones are useful in that it would be a nightmare to discuss the time it actually is if we were not to bunch time together in chunks like we do.

Second, time is not really measured in chunks like hours, minutes, and seconds. One really has to consider the fastest event in the universe to consider time more accurately, if not more usefully. The shortest time is the calculated Planck time, which is 5.39×10-44 seconds (in other words there are 1.9×1043 tP in one second—roughly 2 followed by 43 “zeros”—an incomprehensibly large number of events on the “standard human time scale (SHTS).” It is the amount of time it takes for a photon in a vacuum to pass through a Planck length, which is also very brief, distance-wise.

planck-time-equation
I’ll just let you go to other sources for more information, m’kay?

The thing about Planck time is that it is a time derived from a physical standard calculated by Planck, so although useful for physicists, there’s something a little incestuous about the whole business. Various elements have layers of electrons probabilistically scooting around their nuclei at mind-bending rates of speed, while also changing their quantum energy levels from their lowest energy levels (aka ground states) to a variety of higher energy levels. These electronic transitions have been studied and are variously known to behave themselves in very dutiful ways. As they are in constant motion between energy levels and motion takes time, even on the atomic scale, the distances and times are very tiny. Cesium atoms, for instance, experiences 9,192,631,770(±some variation) transitions between energy levels per second. The atomic clocks based on this cesium transition are so accurate that they are calculated to lose only 1 second in 100,000,000 years (one hundred million years!) or so.

Part of the work that scientists do is involved in never being satisfied with a “good enough” answer; they are always looking for increased, accuracy, precision, measurement stability, always looking for a more refined “truth” than that which has been understood before. If you were a professional runner, for instance, and you just achieved a personal best, you would not go home, pop open a bucket of ice cream and settle in for the rest of your life. The next time you ran, you would try to better your personal best. Same with scientists, except the standards are set by nature and the tools we have to achieve better outcomes are constantly in the process of improvement.

Cesium has been the standard for measuring seconds for some years now but has just been displaced from its throne by an ytterbium-based atomic clock that “ticks” 518,000,000,000,000 (518 trillion) atomic events per human second. This allows a crazy level of stability that makes the mere 9 billion mark previously set by the cesium atomic clocks seem like sundials. The following video is a National Institute of Standards and Technology scientist discussing this improvement on video, along with explanatory text.

https://www.nist.gov/news-events/news/2016/11/nist-debuts-dual-atomic-clock-and-new-stability-record

If all of this weren’t disconcerting enough for you, these atomic clock scientists have found that time varies with altitude as well. In experiments using aluminum atom atomic clocks, they have been able to demonstrate that these variations in time have an effect with each foot of elevation, meaning that our feet are in a different time zone that our heads (does this explain clumsiness? it’s at least a better excuse than “I can’t walk and chew gum at the same time!”). Over a 79-year lifespan, the difference would only amount to about 90 billionths of a second, but it is there all the same.

https://www.nist.gov/news-events/news/2010/09/nist-pair-aluminum-atomic-clocks-reveal-einsteins-relativity-personal-scale

The whole point is that while we usher in the new year, we might give pause to remember that what we are celebrating is a not entirely accurate astronomical event. The earth has orbited around our sun for the past 365 days and will start that process again. In the meantime, sidereal time and atomic time—and Planck time for that matter—are all moving at rates that we can’t even comprehend unless we’re practicing the science of measuring—and improving—on atomic clocks and the electronic quantum transitions that are involved. From a practical standpoint, the next time you look at a second hand on a clock or watch a minute pass, consider the atom and all the changes it has gone through in that time. Consider that, as the earth rotates and precesses on its axis each day, we are each in our very own time zone. In fact, various parts of our bodies are in various time zones, particularly if you’re measuring our relatively enormous selves in Planck lengths.

So, Happy New Year! We have orbited our sun at the rate of 67,000 miles per hour—or if that seems too fast to you, let’s just say 19 miles per second—over the past roughly 365.256 days and yet, knowing these underlying facts, we will all count down to midnight in the enormously large seconds increments “ten-nine-eight-seven-six-five-four-three-two-one-happy-new-year!” and 6.144 hours later, the new orbit of the earth around the sun will start.

Not to be a party-pooper, but…

Renewal

Hopeful

Featured image

P.S. My introductory excerpt is not a serious question, it’s just a bit of good-natured trolling…