Friday, July 19, 2013

Jack and Red part V - Pariah

This is the fifth in a series of blogs chronicling an expedition into 'space' with Jack Pynesapp and his granddaughter Red. You may want to read these in the proper order by skipping to episode 1: [ click here ]

Jack Jr. must have succeeded in appeasing Gwen's worries because the very next afternoon Red came running across the yard to meet me.

I was busy cleaning up the mess J.J. and I made when we cut up that tree.

She gave me a hug and said; "What's up Grandpa?"

"Hey, Red. I thought you'd forgotten about me or something."

"No, Grandpa, I've just been busy."

"Well, get busy and help me pick up these twigs - would you please. You've got a much better back than I do."

Red grimaced as she looked at how many twigs and small branches were laying around. I thought she was about to complain but she only sighed as she bent down and started picking up sticks.

"I guess I've worried your mom a bit, huh."

"Oh, don't worry about Mom; she's okay. She's just afraid I'll become some sort of social pariah or something."

"A what?"

"Pariah, you know, outcast, avoided like the plague."

"Pariah, huh?" I said. "Spell it."

"P-A-R-I.... I don't know how to spell it." she admitted. "It's Mom's word. Ask her how to spell it."

"That sounds like your Mom." And I though. " I'll bet she does know how to spell it."

"So," I continued, "do you think you're a P-A-R-I-whatever?"

"Aw, no way, grandpa. The kids I hang with are all just as weird as I am - if not weirder - so we get along just fine."

"Just one of the nerds huh?" I suggest.

"Nerds? - grandpa, " she said indignantly, "we're not nerds. That's a whole n-other group."

She thinks for a minute and then adds; "No, no, we're pretty cool - you know?. We're just busy doing our own thing. We're not obnoxious or stuck up or anything like that. So, everything's cool. "

"Oh, so you're one of the 'cool' kids?"

"No way! No grandpa, we're just normal kids - like I said."

"Okay, okay. Well, I'm glad to hear it."  (As if there were such a thing, I think.) "Not that you can't be different," I continue, "but you know how kids are."

"Yeah, grandpa, I know how kids are - I am one, you know."

"I know."; I laugh; "But I have to keep reminding myself of that."

"Whatever, grandpa."; Again, I've embarrassed her.

By now I'd finished raking up the sawdust from cutting up that tree. And Red had finished picking up all the bits of brush and loaded them in the wagon. She climbed on the 4-wheeler and pulled the wagon over to the pile of branches that JJ and I made the other day. We unloaded everything onto the pile . Both of us were lost in our own thoughts and we pretty much worked in silence. It only took a few minutes to unload and then I climbed onto the wagon and rode back to the garage. Red likes to drive and she's good at it so I let her.

This gave me more time to try to think up some more experiments. I'm afraid that I hadn't been doing my homework so I was going to have to try to fake it - a little bit...

"Want a soda?" she asked.

"Sounds good." I said. "I'll buy - you fly."

"What?" Red looked at me like 'what?'.

I said, "Yeah, get me one too and I'll meet you on the back porch."

Red ran into the house and for the sodas and then plopped down on the chair next to me.

"I get it Grandpa, that's cute."

"You've never heard that?"


"Hmm, it's just an old saying."

"Yeah," she said with a wry grin, "I have to keep reminding myself that you're old."

"Yeah, whatever."

We both laughed.

"So, grandpa, what's the plan for today? More brainstorming?"

We both look out over the back yard.

"If you want." I said. "How 'bout - today - you decide. "

"Okay, " she says brightly, "How 'bout today let's go for a longer walk. Like maybe down the snowmobile trail where the train used to run."

"Hmm, strange you should think of that." I say suspiciously. "Have you been talking to your Dad?"

"No." she said. "I heard Mom and Dad talking about it. That's all."

"I told your dad that it was a story for another time. This story is about our adventure. This one - yours and mine."

"Yeah,  I know. He said something about that."

"Ah-hah, so you were talking to him about it."

"No, no, no, I just..."; She pleaded. She paused for a few seconds as if searching for words. Then continued (in a more subdued note); "I just overheard him say something like that to Mom - is all."

"Oh, and when was this?"

"Last night when he was trying to convince her that I wouldn't become a pariah."

"You overheard?"

"Yeah, hard not to. They were pretty loud there for a while."

"Oh, really? What else did you hear?" I pried.

"Nothing else." she insisted. "Just that you and Dad used to like to walk along those tracks, and all."

"That's it?"

"Yeah, that's all I could make out."

"But, what's wrong with that, I wonder?"

"Yeah, I was thinking the same thing." she said.

I wasn't convinced that Red had told me everything but I didn't press the issue. After all, I wasn't telling her everything either.

"But they must have figured it out in the end," I said, "right?"

"Yeah, I guess so. They seemed fine this morning... " she said, "and I'm here now so they must have."

"Well, I'm glad to hear it." I said. "And, as always, I'm glad you're here."

"Yeah, I know, so I can help you clean up the yard?" she said with a playful grin on her face.

"No, no." I protested. "Well - maybe a little. But it's nice to have someone to talk to - and someone who likes to go on walks."

[ Dear reader; I feel a little guilty for taking you on this little detour but it's only because now I understand just how important public perception is and you just can't ignore it and still expect to stay out of trouble. That much I've learned. And I understand how Gwen feels as well. Really. ]

Red didn't say anything for a minute. She had a troubled look on her face and was deep in thought so I waited.

Finally she ventured; "Grandpa jack?"


"What did you and Daddy, uh, 'brainstorm' during your walks?"

[I guess we're not done with this quite yet, folks.]

Then I said to Red; "Red, like I told your dad, that subject is for another story. That subject is for another day. This is our story - our little adventure."

"I don't see what would be so bad about telling me." she pouted.

"Red, for one thing this is obviously a sore spot with your mother."

"But, I won't tell her we talked about it," she said, "I promise!".

"I know that, Red. But I can't take the chance. You'll just have to trust me on this one. I promise you that someday I will tell you all about it."


"I said I promise and I do."

"Pinky swear?"


"Pinky swear."; She said in exasperation. "Like you've never heard of that."

"No, what is that?"

"You and I touch pinkie fingers and you swear to it. And remember, you're never allowed to break a pinky promise."

"Okay, if that will make you feel better."

We touched pinkies and I promised to tell her all about J.J.'s and my 'adventures' -- someday.

"But you know, Grandpa," She added slyly, "a railroad track running into the distance is a classic way of thinking about perspective."

"There are no longer any railroad tracks on that snowmobile trail." I countered.

"Anyway." I continued "I think we're a bit beyond talking about mere perspective now."

We both thought about this for a minute and then I said; "Red?"


"Nice try. kiddo."

"Thanks Grandpa."

She sighed deeply and we both sat quietly for a while and looked at the shed.

She finally broke the silence; "So Grandpa, are you ever going to tell me why you stopped the other day as we walked towards the shed. You made it sound so important. What's so important if it can wait so long to explain?"

Wow, I'd forgotten all about that. So I guess I'm off the hook on the homework front. What a relief.

I said; "Well, we stopped there because we could stop there. It's that simple.".

"Well, duh! Of course we could. But why is that such a big deal?"

"It is a big deal." I insist. "But it's also a subtle point so it's one we tend to overlook in our day-to-day lives."

"I don't get it."

"No, look, we originally decided to walk to the shed. Right?"

"Okay, right."

"And if we had kept walking in that direction we would eventually have run into the shed. Right?"

"If you say so."

"That's right. And at that point we would no longer have the option of NOT going to the shed. The shed would have made that decision for us. And at the same instant, the shed also made the decision - for us - as to when to stop."

"That's silly, Grandpa. The shed can't make decisions. To do that, it would have to be able to think. And, I don't care what you say, sheds can't think."

"Of course, you're right. You caught me. I shouldn't have used those words. What I'm trying to say is that when we are far away from the shed it is small because it is just one of a whole bunch of options that are available to us in case we happened to want to go somewhere else besides where we currently are."

"Oka-y-y-y." She didn't sound convinced.

"Look, " I said. "As we sit here, the shed is small because it's just one of many future possibilities that are available to us. Because we live and move in 3-dimentional space, we have the choice of moving around in this space. We can see all the possible places we can move directly to from our current location. Notice that I said 'move directly to'. That's important because even though there are many things places we could go that are behind the shed, we cannot go there directly from where we are now because the shed's in the way. See?"

"You're saying that if we can't see it, we can't go there?"
"Not directly there, no."

"So, since we cannot go there from here, we cannot see what's there from where we are over here."

"But, we can go there. All we have to do is go around the shed."

"Yes, of course we can go there but we don't know that for sure until we get to the shed and look around it."

"Okay, so why is the shed small?"

"Because it has to fit in this space with all the other possible places we could go to from all the way back here." I said, "The more choices we have the smaller they have to be in order to fit with in with all the other possibilities."

"Okay, I get it Grandpa."

At this point I wasn't even sure if I got it. But I was willing to press on if she was.

"But that doesn't explain why we stopped?"

"I'm getting to that." I said. "When we stopped the shed was much bigger, right?"

"Of course. We were closer."

"Yes, but that also meant that the shed dominated more of our potential choices for places we could move directly to from where we were. You could say that it reduced the possible futures from which we could choose. And because there were fewer futures for it to share our space with, there was more space available for it and therefore it grew proportionally in order to fill that space."

"It actually grew." She said doubtfully.

"Yes. You see, if you have the same amount of space and - assuming that the space that's available to us never changes - then if you reduce the number of things that fill that space, then something has to give. Right? The things that remain must get bigger in order to fill the space you have. If it doesn't then you're left with a vacuum. You know that nature abhors a vacuum."

"Ab - what?" she said.

"Abhors, like it really hates it - like it will do anything to prevent it."

"Nice word, grandpa."


"Well anyway," I continued, "so if we hadn't stopped when we did we would have run into the shed and at that point it would have become the only possible future available to us in that direction. And therefore it would have filled the space completely."

"Okay, grandpa,", she said slowly - thinking this thing through - "what you're saying is that as we sit here looking at the shed and everything else around it, we are actually looking into the future?"

"I guess you could say that." I had to think for a minute. "Yes," I said finally, "I guess that's what it is. We're actually looking into the future. Pretty cool huh?"

"Yeah, I guess it's pretty cool." she admitted, cautiously.

Ah, she's the skeptic. Good for her, I thought. Don't believe it just because I say it.

"I've gotta think about this, Grandpa."

Just then her cell phone beeped. She checked her messages.

"It's mom." she said. "She's coming to get me for soccer practice."

"When's your first game?" I asked.

"Saturday at eleven."

"Where is it?"

"At the high school soccer field."

"Can we come and watch?"

"Of course you can, Grandpa."

A car horn honked from the driveway.

"She's not coming in?"

"No, I think we're a little late."

"Well then get out of here." I said playfully.

"See you at soccer, Grandpa." She yelled as she disappeared around the corner of house.


[ Click here to continue to part VI ]

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