Careers in Science: Dysteleology

The dysteleologist stands there on the sidewalk, sharing his peanuts with two crows. It turns out crows like honey-roasted peanuts.

The dysteleologist thinks, the chances of crows taking over someday are slim, but if they do, I’ll be in good shape (he shares his sandwiches with them too, in part for this reason and in part because he enjoys their surprised expressions when someone is kind to them).

The dysteleologist has a house and in a rear corner of the yard stands a shed and the neighbor ambushed his wife the other day to complain that the shed was diverting rainwater onto his, the neighbor’s, house and making the walls damp. The dysteleologist does not know if this is true or if the neighbor’s house is just damp because it is a rickety piece of shit, but he resolves to take a look at the situation on the weekend and tear down the shed if necessary, if a gutter won’t fix things. He took a walk through the yard this morning and looked at things and was slightly appalled at the hillbilly look his yard had to it and thought he would have to get this all cleaned up before the neighbor got someone from town hall over to inspect things, because really.

The dysteleologist regrets that he is not wealthy enough to move somewhere without neighbors.

The dysteleologist had a talk with his daughter on a hand-held picture-phone yesterday, too, and for a brief instant it felt as if he were living in the brighter future he and everyone else had once been promised, long ago, back when all this shit going on now was just getting started, invisibly, like a seed buried underground, or mold spores dividing on a sandwich.

A brighter future with picture phones and 3-day work weeks and free health care and leisure and stuff like flying cars.

And of course jet-packs.

The dysteleologist’s daughter was in Glasgow after presenting a paper, preparing to take a night bus to London. He told her if she sees any men with bloody meat cleavers, she should cross the street.

Ach, the future.

Careers in Science: Skeptology

Upgrade tower?


Insufficient resources to upgrade. You require gold. Attack kitten?


You were slain by kitten. Restart?


Welcome, Level One Mage. Choose a direction: North, South, East, West.


The kitten (assuming it is a kitten, assuming that there even is such a thing as a ‘kitten’) has advanced from shredding leather furniture (assuming leather furniture exists) to removing art (what is ‘art’?) from the walls. Not that it was the skeptologist’s favorite painting, but still it is unacceptable behavior.

Assuming there is such a thing as behavior in this universe, if this universe is real (what is real?) and that it matters.

Although it is April, it is snowing. The skeptologist writes his daughter a note instructing her to shovel the sidewalk in his absence and drives his other daughter to the train station. On a snowy day such as this, it is good to take the train rather than drive into town.

The skeptologist’s daughter is not wearing a hat so he stands between her and the wind and examines the snow in her hair while making wind-breaking jokes.

Muskoxen do this, he tells her.


Yeah. Up in the mountains in India, Nepal, Mongolia, someplace cold. The herd stands around their young, horns pointed in, asses out to the elements to protect the young and keep them warm. I guess their asses are the least-important part to them, and the young the most. Maybe when a wolf comes or a yeti, they turn around and point their horns outward.

Snow has melted and the skeptologist’s daughter’s head is sparkling with thousands of small water droplets, assuming this is even real, their surface tension holding them into their droplet-shapes, surface tension stronger than the capillary action that would cause the water to flow along the hairs to which they adhere. She has her hair up in a bun against the elements and with her pale skin and long eyelashes briefly has the skeptologist wondering how he ended up with such beautiful daughters.

Assuming beauty is a real thing, and beautiful a real category.

The skeptologist buys a monthly train pass at the station when he arrives, having lost his daughter in the crowd somewhere.

How do you know everyone else in the crowd has a mind such as yours? You do not. Applying an analogy, you can figure since they act roughly as you do, they have roughly similar minds, but in fact they do not. You are the only one with a mind, the rest are zombies.

Except me. I have a mind.

The woman at the rail pass counter is friendly. The skeptologist is in a good mood, if a mood is a real thing.

The skeptologist is excited by the thought that the class of things that must be perceived whole, such as the idea of a “sphere” or “darkness” or “light” can extend to more “complicated” phenomena such as “remembering what you had for dinner” or “droplets of snow on your daughter’s hair” and life bursts into a whirling chaos of poetry, becoming relatively less similar to a game in which he suffers from a chronic shortage of resources.

The skeptologist’s subway comes almost immediately, as does his bus after that. He has to stand but that’s alright.

The skeptologist walks in the snow for a little bit. He is careful not to fall down. He has slipped on ice twice this winter and fallen on his hip. It makes him think about his father’s aunt who went to the doctor for sore knees and left the hospital with a new hip she didn’t know she had broken. This makes him think about Game of Thrones, and how, although people beyond The Wall sometimes fall in the snow, they do so only because they are running away from something, such as a White Walker, or trip on a root, and never just slip on ice. The skeptologist figures it’s probably just as well he doesn’t direct Game of Thrones, and he also figures George RR Martin probably lives somewhere warm and has little ice-walking experience because if he did there’d be more slapstick in his books.

The skeptologist, aware that no one won the main prize in the lotto yesterday, still checks the lotto website to verify that he was not among those who won the second-tier prize. After that he works, in order to eventually upgrade a tower or two.

Careers in Science: Ktenology

The ktenologist is driving down the highway with his daughter. They are driving instead of taking the train because the ktenologist is going to a  play with his wife after work and would probably miss the last train.

The ktenologist’s soul is heavy because he did something wrong the day before while trying to install an Ikea lamp in his other daughter’s apartment and now only her refrigerator and one electrical outlet work.

He had resisted installing the lamp for a long time, until his wife threatened to get an electrician to do it. Then he had driven over with his father-in-law, who has a better understanding of wiring and they had tried to install the lamp. His father-in-law is a wonderful man, but he has Alzheimer’s and was unable to find his glasses at the apartment, so the ktenologist had tried to do the wiring with the abovementioned results.

A day wasted, and now an electrician has to come anyway, and who knows what he’ll have to fix.

“You take what you get in this life,” says the ktenologist to his teenaged daughter.

“You get what you take in this life,” says his daughter.

The ktenologist pats her on the leg and just drives for a while, thinking, this kid is going to be okay.

Careers in Science: Barology

The barologist does not study bars, nor does he think this is funny.

Some jokes are always funny, no matter how often you hear them, some are funny once, and some are tragic because they are so lame; these latter jokes are also known as Dad Jokes by some, and are best avoided.

One day, the barologist is standing there getting yelled at by his wife for something, and it dawns on him: I have slipped into an alternate universe, one where my wife is made at me for reasons unknown.

After that he devotes thought to alternate universes, and their implications.

There are alternate universes that are full-fledged universes, and there are those that are circumscribed; small eddies, looped-off instants, some only a second or two long, some a few seconds or minutes (rarely) that can be visited and revisited.

An example: the moment when the barologist and his daughter, who have been moving furniture, tilt up her heavy wardrobe, which they have moved into her living room, and the barologist is squatting there with his end of the wardrobe above his head, wondering if they will succeed in lifting it – that moment of not-knowing – will he get a hernia? Will his strength fail and it crash back down on top of him? Is he strong enough? Should they give up? Perhaps it is density that creates such looped-off alternate universes, because when the barologist thinks about it, the moment is dense with wondering, and not-knowing, and daring, and ultimately dropping all thoughts and fears and just lifting it, and the feeling of accomplishment when it stood.

The alternate universe the barologist is thinking about is about three seconds long, and he finds himself back in it now and then, squatting with a heavy wardrobe at arm’s length above his head.

Or, another one: a lady on a beach in Hawaii. The barologist is about 12, bored in front of his hotel, sitting in beach grass up the slope of a rather steep sandy beach, when a wave crashes right onto the lady and takes her white bikini, and her tan lines underneath are just as white. This is connected with two more seconds on the plane home the following day, when the boy barologist recognizes the woman, now fully dressed and on her way home too and he wonders if she recognizes him and what she is thinking if she does but she probably doesn’t.

Or, a blond woman standing naked in her upper-storey window as the barologist walks to work. Or, the barologist getting off a bus and slipping on the ice and falling on his hip and people asking if he is okay and the wind is knocked out of him and he says thanks, I’m fine, and limps offstage as fast as he can.

Or, et cetera.

The barologist wonders if it is too late to become a scientist of alternate universes.

Careers in science: Helioseismology

She is quiet.


They drive down the road at night, the helioseismologist is tired and his daughter isn’t talking.

She just got off work after a long school day and she is 15, and the helioseismologist understands there are a million reasons why she might not be speaking, and a million more he cannot imagine, never having been a 15 year old girl himself, only fearing them or admiring them from afar.

That’s all you can do with a 15 year old girl, fear or admire her. Or love her, as in this case.

The helioseismologist drives through drizzle and night and freeway traffic, someone always going somewhere and he is thankful like you wouldn’t believe for this girl, and for her sister, and for their mother. He is thankful for his brother and sister, and for his mom and dad, and his uncles and aunts. The helioseismologist is thankful for his grandma, and for his grandpa he never met. And maybe his other grandparents he never met, and all his cousins. And other friends and relatives, past and future.

The helioseismologist is thankful for his painting gear and his music gear, for his writing pads and his yoga mat and his big, big bed. He is thankful writing was invented, and clothing and agriculture, poetry and the Internet.

The helioseismologist is thankful for other people, and the idea of artisinal anything, although he prefers the idea of doing simple things well – making soups or fruit salad, or bread.

The helioseismologist is thankful for meditation and mass production, the scientific method, flowers, sunrises, sunsets, meteorological phenomena in general, and something else he forgot. He is thankful for symbioism, mitosis and meiosis, virii, bacteria and interesting parasites.

He is thankful for singing and crossword puzzles, weight-lifting, and cross-country skis. He is thankful for massage, kissing and cutley.

The helioseismologist is thankful for stars and kangaroos and hedgehogs, normal hogs and olives both black and green, his garden in the back yard and the houses he would build some day if he had the money, the houses that would approximate his beautiful heart.

He is thankful for these and many other things, but he  would still like to talk to this girl, his daughter, the way they used to before they both got so tied and busy and whatever else.

The helioseismologist thinks about patting her on the leg; a love tap, his father called it.

The helioseismologist pats her on the leg.

Careers in science: ichnology

The ichnologist is trying to edit ten years worth of blog posts into some sort of readable manuscript.

It is harder work than he expected. “Gosh, I used to be a jerk,” he thinks. “Why didn’t I realize that then? And why did anyone read my blog?” he wonders.

Then he finds a ten-year old blog post in which he wrote about a trip to the United States during which he realized what a jerk he was.

The ichnologist is sitting on the sofa joking with his teenaged daughter. He reserved a table at a restaurant for the two of them and the person on the phone had trouble with his name, and finally used his first name instead and when they went to the restaurant there it was, his first name on a little sign on the table. Now the ichnologist and his daughter are trying to find the perfect name to use when reserving tables.

A name that is funny, but possible enough so that the people at the restaurant would still use it.

The ichnologist suggests Eierklammer, which is possible – Klammer is a name, after all.

Dr. Eierklammer, says his daughter and they laugh.

At a cabin in the mountains, the ichnologist’s wife screams in the middle of the night and wakes everyone up.


She hears mice. But no one else does, because her screaming stopped the mice in their tracks.

Mice, mice on the roof. Ceiling. Whatever. Coming out a mouse hole under her bed. Mice in the luggage.

The ichnologist is hard of hearing, he never hears mice. But then, later, reading on her bed one afternoon, he hears them, thundering across the ceiling.

He wonders are they mice or rats? Or some other, medium-sized forest fauna?

The horses are nowhere to be seen, he thinks, crossing the field to the cabin late one night in the pitch dark, coming back from somewhere.

Then he hears it – something thundering his way in the darkness.

What is it, many tiny things? A bunch of medium-sized things? One or two big things?

There in the dark, he knows the answer: Yes.

Careers in Science: Selenology

What is the air speed of a swallow?

Tired of quoting from Monty Python and the Holy Grail to his teenaged daughter on their commutes into town, the selenologist orders a DVD online. When it comes in the mail, he opens a couple bottles of Radler, which he calls Kinderbier and watches it with her.

He tries to give her some context as she churns through information on her smartphone while watching and talking to him.

“When I was your age, we could do only one thing at a time. We had to get our information from books and our movies in cinemas.”

“Ja, ja.”

Here in Castle Anthrax, we have but one punishment…

“We watched this movie over and over and recited it and watched it until we knew it by heart.”

He looks at the box. “This was made in 1975. Thirty-seven years ago.” He repeats the word thirty-seven several times at different speeds.

“Thirty-seven years ago, the world was a different place. Telephones still had rotary dials, anyone could change a headlight bulb, and I was exactly your age. Okay, roughly. One year older maybe. But without your grace. Anyway we went to movies, mostly. Luis Bunuel, Monty Python, whatever. Different things.”


None shall pass.

She laughs a few times, this makes him feel better because he didn’t remember the movie being this slow.

“Geeze. Thirty seven years ago, time moved differently. In my memory, the movie doesn’t drag on like this.”

The status update his daughter posted two minutes ago has seven likes and two comments.

Your father smells of elderberries.

“I have to watch Sound of Music someday, too. Being American and Austrian, and living in Austria, I mean.”

“Totally. Like, you’re like a trifecta or something, only without whatever third element would make it a trifecta.”


“Forget it.”

“Anyway, this movie is engraved on the brains of a generation. I wanted you to see it so you would understand.”


I’m not dead yet.