11 May 2009

The tourist

On a July day, a zillion years ago, long before I had children anyway, I was a walkaround character at Big Famous Theme Park.

It was part of a management training thing, dressing up in a 7-ft. tall penguin costume. It was a very long 15 minutes of my life, and oddly instructive.

While it was over 100F outdoors that afternoon, it was about 800 degrees inside the costume. That's why they don't keep you in it very long.

You can't see in those things. My view port was a tiny bit of mesh under the penguin's chin, which meant I could see down, but not much else.

Children mob you. As soon as you are out in the park proper, small creatures throw themselves at you, attach themselves to your legs, thrust books at you for your signature. Try signing an autograph book with a penguin flipper (wing?). It's not easy.

You're not allowed to talk. This is an important rule. You are mute. You wave, you act, but no talking.

It's very difficult to hear what's going on in the outside world. What you hear is your own heavy breathing, echoing about inside that monstrous head.

You taste your own sweat running down your face.

It's like living in a mobile Skinner Box, deprived of sensation and very much alone amidst the tumult of a summer day in the Busiest Place on Earth.

But everyone who was near you loved you, felt connected to you. For a moment, you, O Famous Penguin, were theirs.

The daughter and her BFF A. are out of school this week, and both decided they didn't want to go on the trip the school offered for travel week. Today, A. visited, and she and the daughter worked diligently on the little papers they're writing instead of going to Idyllwild. After working diligently for a bit, they consumed the last of my cookies with chocolate milk and then went out to play laser tag on stilts. Tomorrow, the daughter, A., her mother J. and I will trot off to Disneyland for the day. The daughter feels very hard done by because they almost never get to go to Disneyland, but I point out to her that my first visit was on my 20th birthday, so she's well ahead of me.

These days, Disneyland is not my birthday venue of choice. Last year, I was in St. Paul, and I had a blast, but the spouse was rather less than thrilled with my running off for the better part of a week by myself, and has this year planned the requisite birthday cake, as well as a trip on the 23rd to see the Angels play the Dodgers in Chavez Ravine, field level seats behind home plate. We'll be the ones in red.

This weekend, of course, Seminar Day at Caltech. I can never get enough Neurobiology. Game Theory. String Theory. Chaos Theory.

Not that I couldn't write a book on chaos theory.

If I'm lucky, I'll finally get that weekend out of here on my own at the end of the month. I need to do some research, and heaven help me, have some time to write with no distractions! But it's unlikely I'll get any further than Tucson until autumn.

That's when you see sparks.

Go listen to some good music: "The Tourist" from the album OK Computer by Radiohead.

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