Kathy and I are sitting on the deck at the back of the house.
It is a wonderful, early evening — quiet, the birdies barely tweeting, no one revving a Harley engine to trumpet his manhood, no goofball thrashing the calm with a mega-horsepower weed eater. It is temperate; a mild breeze is blowing.
Or, so I think.
We are eating dinner: oven roasted, wild-caught salmon, ratatouille, and a mixed salad with grilled-cheese croutons, the idea for which I copped from one of my favorite food writers, Mark Bittman. It’s simple: make an extra-cheesy grilled cheese sandwich (high-grade bread and top-shelf melters only, please), let it cool, cut it into croutons. Doused with a citrusy vinaigrette in the company of greens, cucumber, olives, carrot, tomato, etc., these beauties are carbolicious.
We’re having a swell time, eating a fine dinner, drinking a southern Rhone blend, engaging in loopy southern Rhone-inspired conversation.
We touch first on the subject of the manner in which personalities and tendencies track from our beginnings — how we carry psychic and intellectual baggage loaded on our backs at the starting gate. From there, we move briefly to genetics and the nature/nurture question (always entertaining for those of us who really don’t know what we’re talking about). Cowed by the specter of causality, yet entranced by the puzzling texture of a life lived flush with turns and very few straightaways, we make our way to the topic of God — at least as far as Kathy’s part of the conversation goes. Me, I studiously avoid the pretense of giving you-know-who a name or gender, much less assuming any kind of knowledge of what is obviously unknowable.
From there it is a short hop, skip and jump to this:
“You know, I agree with you, to an extent,” she says. “We out-talk our information when we attempt to say we know a whole lot about God and the design and purpose of all that is.”
Himmm, she is finally admitting a point I have made repeatedly. “Glad to hear you agree. There are some things too complex to pretend to comprehend. To paraphrase Wittgenstein: Of those things we cannot speak, we must remain forever silent. And I find those who speak too quickly, loudly and confidently of such things generally have a salary involved; they have to blow gas in order to get paid.”
“Speaking of things that are hard to comprehend, I was reading an article in Smithsonian magazine that deals with black holes. They are pretty darned sure that such things are out there, you know.”
“Saw one in the late sixties in an apartment on East Third Street in the East Village. If I hadn’t had a firm grip on the couch, I woulda been pulled in and disassembled at the sub-atomic level.”
“Don’t be a smartass. There are astrophysicists who think there is a black hole at the center of the Milky Way galaxy.”
“Good thing we’re not too close; it could ruin dinner.”
“The universe is magnificent, beautiful; and to think we only encounter what we can detect with the limited tools we possess — our senses and their technological and mathematical extensions. Even what we detect is mostly beyond our ability to fully comprehend, no matter how enormous our egos. We can only respond with awe.
“And there’s more,” she says. “We know so little about this creation, this universe, and now there are people who theorize there are multiple universes, coexistent universes. Perhaps an infinite number of universes, all existing now, in different dimensions. How can you wrap your mind around something like that?”
“Well, it’s kind of difficult, considering we’re drinking this southern Rhone blend, but do you think that means there is another me, for instance? Existing now, in another universe?”
She wrinkles her brow, then kicks the idea engine into hyperdrive. “Maybe. Yes, maybe.”
“Do you think the other me’s are doing the same things and getting the same results, simultaneous to my doing them? Or is there a chance the other me’s are doing the same things, with different, perhaps better results?”
“Well, I mean, do you think there is a chance other me’s are realizing different results when they make something like these grilled cheese croutons, at the same time I make them? You would think this is going on, if we accept the reality of infinite universes. I cooked these croutons a little too long, so I’d like to think at least a couple of the other me’s got them perfect. And, maybe a few me’s burned their croutons, thus making me look a lot better on the interdimensional scorecard. And, I would love to think that, somewhere, in another universe, or universes, other me’s, when they seek a certain pleasurable resolution to an evening …”
“Oh, no, don’t go there. I think all the you’s, perhaps an infinite number of you’s, are probably the same kind of frightfully limited creature you are. And I think all of you, the infinite you’s, meet with the same result when you seek a pleasurable resolution to an evening.”
“The same, bleak result?”
I get to thinking as Kathy strolls inside to whip up a couple root beer floats: If there are many universes existing simultaneously, could it be there is a divine game occurring in which, say, a multitude of me’s are created simultaneously, in identical conditions, each with a measure of free will? Each could, theoretically, make different decisions, and be set on a course by conditions that vary in accord with the effects of the actions of other free beings. What if each me is tracked, and the results recorded? What if an infinite number of game elements begin the process at an identical starting line but, with the first causal touches, the first choices, the first nudges this way and that, each begins to find a peculiar track — but each, nonetheless, heads for the same temporal finish line?
Surely the theological tax collectors, with salaries drawn for reinforcing orthodoxy, would posit there is a reward of one kind or another at the end of each “me journey” — a wonderful time awaiting should the results be pleasing or “correct,” a terrible time if they are not correct.
But, what if we don’t allow salary takers and their economic and political mandates to shape the scene, refuse to allow them to inspire fear in order to dampen our imaginations and ensure our compliance? Our thoughts are unfettered; so, what then of the game?
What if, for example, these simultaneous activities in multiple universes are akin to an incredibly complicated horse race in which the originator deliberately ignores foreknowledge of the end result? Entirely possible, considering an omnipotent entity, by definition, could guarantee its own ignorance. You would think an omnipotent entity would want to be surprised now and then; otherwise the boredom would be crushing.
And, what if there is the equivalent of a cosmic Sports Book at which bets are made and results tracked?
Hmmm. Simultaneous beings and processes in multiple universes as a Vegas-like amusement for you-know-who or, admit the thought if you dare, an infinite number of you-know-whos.
What a Sports Book that would be.
And, as we gamblers know all too well, a Sports Book is nothing without snacks.
So, not only could there be a cosmic Sports Book at which an infinite number of you-know-whos wager on an infinite number of horserace-like simultaneous existences of their own creation, but snacks are required!
What a joint!
What to have?
Right off the bat, given the flavor of these considerations, I would suggest primo pastrami on dark rye, a serious schmear of dark mustard, the meat thickly cut, hot and juicy right out of the steamer. You-know-who(s) would probably appreciate this. As well as a supernal knish or two.
Burgers? Big ones (of course) with an infinite number of possible toppings. I can see there might be a problem (just might be) with the cheese and flesh combos, but you-know-whos should have the choice. If anyone can violate their rules and get away with it, it should be them.
Fries, twice-cooked in duck fat?
How about chicken schnitzel sandwiches? With a warm potato salad — fingerlings cooked fork tender, cut in thick disks, dressed with tarragon vinegar and olive oil, a couple boiled eggs cut up and tossed in, the whites firm, the yolks somewhat gummy, a bit of chopped shallot and garlic, some capers, salt, pepper. Oh, yeah.
OK, I can hear some of you: “There is no way you-know-who, or an infinite number of you-know-whos need to eat and drink while hanging out in the Cosmic Sports Book. To assume so is to project your pathetic human circumstances on to an imponderably big screen. You-know-who(s) needs only manna. Anything less would be an insult.
In that case, I think a hefty dose of manna, tossed in a blender and mixed with seasonal berries, some tequila and a bit of pineapple juice, then shaken with ice and served in a tall glass will do the trick. Garnish with a slice of lime and one of those colorful umbrellas …
With a schmear, of course.
I realize I’ve had a sip too many of the southern Rhone blend. It’s time to go to bed. So, I bid you, dear readers, a fond good night.
And to the infinite me’s: sleep tight.