I was never glamorous. Nirvanic bliss never found me. You take me near a rock pool, I drop shit in it.
It is in this elegantless, oafish vein that I discovered compartmental shutdown via sausages. Hey, the Buddha didn’t choose the Bodhi Tree. He just happened to be sitting under it. I just happened to be sitting under the stars and sausage lengths are what I use to measure distance between stars. This may or may not be why my tenure at Caltech remains suspiciously “under review”. NASA, on the other hand, totally cool with it.
From where I’m lying, and I like the fact that I hesitate to wonder if the ‘view’ is different anywhere else on earth, there are two distinct constellations. Traffic Light and Roundabout. It occurs to me that being the brightest fucking set in the sky, some schmuck may have already spotted them before me. Probably someone French who lives in an oil painting, has a small pointy beard, is now super famous and telescopes he may have touched fetch close to a million at Sotheby’s, all in the name of the creative genius that is ‘getting there first’. Christ, they probably named the sets after him. What a douche.
But then, what if my set isn’t his set? What if I’m the very first person to have clapped eyes on them? Get my point? This is glorious. If I were a fifteen year-old boy, this is totally the kind of shit I’d be pulling for my date because doesn’t it just make me seem so deep? And sensitive. Not like the other guys. Also the encouraging of gazing into the night sky is probably quite good in terms of deflecting attention away from acne and whatever else it is fifteen year-old boys try and cover up.
So listen up, kids. Give your parents a bit of time to themselves and do that cool thing where you pick a part of the night sky. Any part. See the stars? Now keep looking. The longer you look, the more appear. That’s what The New Scientist generally refers to as an optical illusion except here I think it might be real. Or not. To be reviewed once I get to Caltech.
Since these are my stars and this is my goddamn class, we have, as it stands, (i) Traffic Light. (ii) Roundabout. To find Traffic Light, you will need a map. We will not complicate ourselves with who is or isn’t facing Due south. If you want to know if your’re facing the right direction, look down at your feet. If they are at the foot of the deckchair and not the head, you’re spot on. Now. Angle your head to the right then up about 30 degrees. You will see two bright stars about one kabana apart and a further third, a jumbo vienna from the second.
Roundabout can be found about four saucissons from Traffic Light. Five stars, vaguely in a circle. DEFINITELY NOT A HECTAGON. In the middle of these, I have decided, lies a whole further solar system and my god, when whatever Apollo they send up there finds it and everyone finds out I was right all along, I’m telling you, toilet rolls I have touched will be fetching seven figures. Primary school teachers will love me and Simon Singh will have a fatwa out, my tear-stained name barely legible on the backs of the pages and pages Amazon sent back. No-one wants to hear about your cosmic radiation, even if it does have a defrost setting. You are the background. Nor do they want infinite parameters designed purely to fuck with your head because some clown decided a three-dimensional world wasn’t ‘full-bodied’ enough. Three? No. There must be ten. Or is it eleven? Let’s just say, how long is a piece of string.
And people win Nobel Prizes for this shit.
The solar system within Roundabout is solid. Five walls propped up by the five street lights that form its skeleton. Everyone knows the system ends there and if you want to be irritating and curious and need chromodynamics, there is a colouring book with a full set of freshly-sharpened Caran d’Ache at each lamp and little bowls with spoons for your quark.
In the middle of Roundabout– really, this is stellar stuff, there is, you guessed it, a roundabout. It takes you places you want to go, via a shuttle bus. You can go somewhere or nowhere. It’s up to you. Both it and the button you press to hail it are electric because this solar system actually has some fucking self-respect and isn’t filled with planets hell-bent on destroying themselves.
There are shops and cafes along the route and you can get orange juice and it doesn’t matter how late you get there because time hasn’t been invented yet and when it is, it will be relative. That is to say, if you are early, you can be relatively early. To whatever degree you wish, really. There will always be opportunities to be early again. Or late. And that is what is known as the space-time continuum. The space where you are right now. Take that. Then take the the time you imagine it would take you to get to where you want to go. That possibility doesn’t just occur once in the instance you would employ it. It continues. Forever. Theoretically meaning you can plan to go somewhere and imagine doing it once. In the same amount of imagined time it would take you to complete that journey, you can do it a thousand times over. Without ever going anywhere. You can literally just sit there playing Candy Crush Saga and without lifting a finger, you’ve done the shopping, picked up the kids from school and been to the Post Office. Amazon Prime is rubbish compared to this.
Because you might have kids and kids have simple minds that revolve around two things; high fructose corn syrup and “stuff to do”, Roundabout has a play area to encourage more of the stuff and less of the syrup. This isn’t in any effort to fight some obesity epidemic. You weigh less on Roundabout anyway. Not outer space less, or there’d be nothing to hold the lamp-posts down, but somewhere between that and whatever it is you weigh on the Moon.
Again, you don’t need to worry about trivial things like when to drop the kids off or how long they’ve been in the sun without a hat. The sun in Roundabout has its own fucking UV filter. Sunscreen is money poorly-spent. Spend it instead on entertainment. At the Boson Park! The Boson Park is like a water park. Slides and funnels and chutes and all the things that go really fast and kids want to do over and over then never revisit until somewhere around their early thirties when jumping on bouncy castles suddenly becomes acceptable again because you work in digital marketing and once went to Shoreditch.
Again, no time means no queuing. I mean, there is a queue- I am still British, it’s just that in Roundabout, standing in it is of no bother and as a Brit, I find it strangely refreshing to have nothing to complain about. You queue to get your ticket, wait at the safety barrier and when the light turns from solid green to flashing red, you’re good to go. The forward propulsion of your feet advancing here is what is known as galactic redshift.
The ride itself is multi-faceted. There are tunnels. Bridges. Aquaducts. Vents. If you get lost, you can find small Sharpie-drawn squares that help you find your feet. These are known as Poincaré points. Anyway, you’re never fully alone in Boson Park because everywhere you go is propelled by particles made of hundreds and thousands. Since there are hundreds and thousands of them, no-one will notice if a few go missing. Incidentally, in the way linguistics can just be so quaint sometimes, isn’t kind of sweet that the French for hundreds and thousandsis “Nonpareils”- literally translating as not the same. Have you looked at those things? Ever seen anything more the same?
If you’re a bit older, you equally have the opportunity to eat off platelets, but these can take up to six weeks to replace if broken. To avoid breaking them, you can stick them to your tables using gluons. Things are really quite laid back in Roundabout, though. You can break stuff if you want. It doesn’t matter. We’ll cover that somewhere in the second half of the first semester when we get to antimatter.
I should however stress that antimatter is not a mentality you want to instill on your offspring. Raising a child to think that nothing they do matters is precisely how humanity landed itself up the kinds of shit creek for which compartmental shutdown had to be emergency-injected. While adulthood follows the trajectory of major to minor life crises with, for some reason a Galapagos evolution of spinal fluid in camels rendering them hypersensitive to straws and straws alone, kids are the reverse. Little shits become big shits. Ten year-old thugs called Kevin who really truly firmly believe that an empty soda can belongs “wherever it lands”. Yeah, fifteen years down the line, you have my word. Drunk-driving. From his girlfriend. To his fiancée. No insurance. Zero shits given. Just the kind of Copernican Egocentrism I’ve ensured, for the right reasons, forms the base theory at Roundabout.
It’s so very ordinary. Doesn’t even have a Waitrose. The world doesn’t revolve around it, but my god is Roundabout fucking special.
©Rebecca Cukier, 2016