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June 17, 2024

Victory Highway (Part XI)

By John Trindle

Cambridge, OH 000472

Mark's sleep was dreamless, but short. He awoke at 4 a.m. with no hope of getting back to sleep. He turned to the television for solace.

It only picked up three channels. One was full of infomercials, another religious programming, and the third was a local access channel, rerunning a three hour Cambridge City Council meeting from last month. Mark was in video hell.

*Click* "It slices, it dices, it juliennes fries!" *Click* "And thus spake the Lo-ord unto Joshua..." *Click* "In the matter of the budget recommendation of the subcommittee..." *Click" but wait, there's more!" *Click* "Step forward to receive salvation..." *Click* "The subtotal of the line items reflects..." *Click* "Now how much would you pay?" *Click* "Dig down deep, and ask yourself, How much can I pay?" *Click* "...how much would we pay?"

How much indeed. Mark had not paid for his crimes, by going to jail, but he was paying now. Four hours sleep in the last 48, and who knows how little before that. He yawned and blinked at the television.

*Click* "The new Abominizer 2000 with rebound action!" *Click* "I say *heal*, you can get up and walk!" *Click* "As a point of order, the amended seconded motion must be moved, seconded, and voted on by a quorum of the voting members..." *Click* "Fast, fast, fast, with inexorable results" *Click* "Hello again, Mark."

Mark blinked a bit more empatically this time, and saw on the television, in snowy but nearly living color, Nick.

"That's right, it's me again. Told you we'd be with you every step of the way from now on."

Mark noticed that Nick, in a red polyester blazer/suit with tasteful rhinestone and ermine trim, sporting a new hairstyle which resembled a fluffy grey helmet, was flanked by Jack and Natasha, both wearing choir robes. They hummed a tune vaguely redolent of gospel and blues as Nick spoke, occasionally bursting out with "Testify!" "Amen!", and "Tell it like it is, brother!"

Nick continued, in a sing song manner reminiscent of Jesse Jackson, "You are down [uh huh!] Down and disgusted! [yeah!] Down and Dirty and Disgusted and crawling like the Snake himself, back in the Garden of Eden [Amen!] You keep on crawling. But you don't know why. Through the mud and the muck and the mire. [Tell us why!] You keep on crawling. Oh why, oh why? It's cause you got Hope! [Say it ain't so, Brother Nick!]"

"You've got the wrong guy. There is nothing to hope for."

Nick replied "Yes you got Hope. And it's killing you. You still got Hope. To drag you through. And it's nasty and vile. And Eeevil too!

The organ swelled, and the bass and drums kicked down into a fast gospel intro vamp. Nick picked up a hand mike, and the camera dollied back to reveal the whole stage. There was a 50 person choir, three rows on a tiered platform, dressed in robes. The men had their hair slicked down with something like but entirely different than Vaseline. The woman were heavily made up, hair pulled back in the style of the Robert Palmer girls from the "Addicted to Love" video. The main stage lights faded and a follow spot hit Nick.

The band, off to the right side of the screen, consisted of a bass, drum kit, guitar, and Hammond B3 organ. Mark couldn't quite make out the players, as their faces were in darkness, but he could see their hands flash as their white gloves picked up the light reflected from the floor around Nick's spotlight.

Nick nodded to the band, and the intro vamp came around to start the song.

I know you got Hope! [you got that hope]
You've got Faith too! [you got that faith]
You think that Life [think that life]
Will change for you [change for you]
Well Mister Mark [Mister Mark]
I've got some news [got some news]
It's almost over [nearly done]
You're about to lose [gonna lose]

You're Dead and Gone but you Don't Know It Yet HAH!

Nick started a dance routine, spinning, splitting, and generally all over the stage. The choir picked up the call portion of the singing.

You got that hope [hah!]
You got faith too [good gawd!]
You think that life [singit!]
Will change for you [yeahh right!]
Well Mister Mark [That's you, asshole]
We've got some news [Up to the minute!]
It's almost over [nearly done!]

Nick slid across the stage on one knee, head bowed, and sang "You're Dead And Gone but you Don't Know It Yet Hah!" The music halted.. Nick gasps for breath and sweat drips from his brow.

A split second later, the choir and band startedback up at full speed. A stagehand brought out a cape and draped it over Nick, but he leaped up, casting it aside. He began dancing again, more spectacularly than before. Backflips, full splits, running a short way up the proscenium. He made his way back to stage center in time for the finale.

You're Dead and Gone but you Don't Know It Yet [hah!]
You're Dead and Gone but you Don't Know It Yet [that's right]
You're Dead and Gone but you Don't Know It Yet [you're nearly done!]
You're Dead and Gone but you Don't Know It Yet!

The band flourished, and the song was over. The stage lights came up, and Mark could see that the instruments were played by... how odd. The lights were up, and still, the only thing he could see was their white gloves. They hung in the air for a second, and then fell to the ground, bass, guitar, and sticks landing with a cacophony of sound.

The camera zoomed in on Nick, Jack, and Natasha. Nick was grinning, and Jack had a smirk of his own. "Sleep tight, Mark, " said Nick and he laughed. The picture faded. He didn't notice that Natasha, in her thick makeup and pulled back hair, had a single tear rolling down her cheek.

Mark awoke, the remote in his hand, and the television screen full of static. He glanced at the bedside clock. 6:30. He groaned and rolled out of bed. Another beautiful day in the neighborhood.

He showered, brushed his teeth, packed and headed out. It took several minutes of bell ringing to tear the clerk away from the Today Show. As he waited for her to puzzle out how to process an American Express charge, he rummaged through the brochures.

"Hopalong Cassidy Museum...", he thought. "I wonder if he's related to Neal Cassady from Kerouac's book. No, maybe not. Geez, there were a lot of glass museums here. Whatever. It's not like I have anything else to do."

Mark breakfasted on Burger King drive through fare, a bacon egg and cheese croissanwich, minidanishes, orange juice, and coffee. He remembered this was his traditional yard-sale-day breakfast, and felt a pang of nostalgia. At least today he wasn't hung over as well. Then he drove to the Cambridge Glass Museum.

He took the tour, trying to get lost in the depth and pattern and color of the lamps, perfume bottles, bowls, candlesticks, and drinking glasses. He remembered one day in Richmond, when he and Laura were biding their time waiting for a friend's wedding. Still hung over from the bachelor party the night before, Mark was concerned when they decided to visit a glass art shop. Some of the pieces were over $2500! They oohed and aahed and laughed at the very idea of such fragile items in a house with two dogs and two cats, not to mention two teenagers! He chuckled as he remembered the rowdy wrestling matches Jeanette and her boyfriend used to get into, and what they might mean to a $2500 vase.

The items were delicate and whimsical, ranging from swirls of abstract color to primitive pioneer style art. Beautiful, and delicate, a metaphor of the popular conception of romantic love. It required special care, and could be shattered in an instant.

When Mark thought about it, though, he realized that the metaphor was more accurate than people thought. Glass was a common substance, but commonly misunderstood as well. Even the fundamental nature of glass was in question. Was glass a liquid or a solid?

Of course, the immediate answer was "Solid, you twit." However, some science textbooks from the middle 20th century taught that glass was an extremely slow moving liquid. The problem stemmed from the fact that there was no clear solidification temperature for glass, that it was molten, and the cooler it got, the more viscous it got, until it appeared to stop moving. Most solids which could be melted had a transition temperature, where the solid would suddenly crystallize. Think of ice, for example.

In fact, water and ice was part of the problem. Transparent items are rare in nature, and so are associated in the mind with each other. Water was clear, and a liquid. Ice is not generally clear, though it can be, but it is obviously crystalline and solidifies at zero degrees Celcius.
Glass has no crystalline structure... it is an amorphous solid. It's hard to tell an amorphous solid from a very, very slow liquid, in terms of molecular arrangement. In order to explain this scattered arrangement, the textbooks would say "like a liquid".

The last bit of proof the Glass Is Liquid crowd would point to was Old Windows. Windows in old buildings had panes which were not the same thickness throughout. In fact, the panes were usually thicker at the bottom than at the top. "Aha!" shouted the Liquidators, "Over time the glass has flowed down to the bottom of the pane."

Well, of course, the problem with this idea is the time scale. If glass really did flow fast enough to explain the variations in thickness in some windows, it should flow fast enough that older windows would have left their frames long ago. The real explanation is probably that the window makers would, sensibly enough, put the thicker end of a glass piece toward the ground.

Glass windows used to be blown, like a bottle, but then flattened out. This caused the outer edges to be thicker than the middle. Modern glass is floated on a layer of molten metal, and so, like a layer of oil over one of water, it is of equal depth or thickness all the way across.

The other myth about glass is that it is fragile. Naturally, we've all broken glass in our lives, so it's a natural, common sense conclusion. However, what we forget is that the glass we encounter in our daily lives is incredibly thin. If you cast glass in the same proportions as wood or metal, you find that it is quite strong (but very heavy). It is, in fact, on the order of durability of its main ingredient, silica.

Materials are strong in different ways. Some can support a great deal of force when pulled, but not when compressed. Some can resist bending, some resists the sliding stress known as shear. Some materials are strong in multiple ways, but are extremely heavy or have other undesirable traits when used by themselves.

People learned, over time, to use multiple materials in an object under stress, with different characteristics which complemented each other. These combinations of materials were called composites. Fiberglass is probably the best known one, consisting of strands of glass, immersed in epoxy resin. The glass fibers support force in tension, and the resin keeps the fibers immobile, preventing them from flexing and breaking. The result is lighter and stronger than either glass or epoxy resin by itself.

"Love is indeed like glass," Mark thought. The popular version of romantic love was like the rare crystal goblet, beautiful but unsupported, subject to shatter at a touch or a note sung at the right frequency. The really successful versions of love were more like fiberglass... strong, light, and resilient, with the glass strands of attraction supported by the less glamorous epoxy resin of tolerance and accommodation.

"And if you get the mix wrong, it falls apart," muttered Mark aloud. He and Laura had the mix nearly right, though it wasn't a set up and forget arrangement. Periodically, they would have arguments and discussions, air-clearing exercises which served to patch and recoat the relationship. It was a lot of work. But it was worth it.

Mark realized his wife and kids weren't perfect. He had been building them up as perfect in his mind, but at that point they ceased being real people, and became mere sketchy representations. It was a lot like the glass sculpture of a family he was looking at now, mother, father, a boy, and a girl, sitting on a pier fishing. The boy had just caught a fish, and was in the process of netting it with the help of his father, while the girl was not quite yet aware that she was about to catch a much bigger one.

He drifted through the rest of the museum, not seeing, thinking. The few other patrons idly wondered what his purpose was here, if he wasn't going to look at the exhibits. Finally he shook himself back to the present, and headed out to resume his journey.

Article © John Trindle. All rights reserved.
Published on 2003-07-28
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