Science has taught me so much. The other day I was hanging out with a bunch of scientists. They told me they just figured out how to solve the majority of the world’s energy problems. The only problem was, as one of the scientists was explaining to me her proposal, she was talking way too fast, and at one point she said the word “gas,” and I don’t know if it was her accent or if she just misspoke, but it sounded a lot like she said “ass,” and so I started laughing. She got all upset because I was laughing way too hard.
It wasn’t even that funny. But you know how sometimes you’ll be listening to something really boring, something that just keeps going and going and going. It was a long speech, and it’s kind of my fault because, I don’t normally hang out with scientists, so I thought, OK, I’ll immediately introduce myself to everybody and then I’ll jump right on in with the heavy science questions. I read the paper enough to know what makes the headlines, and here I was, asking the scientists something about the Higgs-Boson and hydrocarbons and hydrofracking and hydrocortisone and I could tell that the group was impressed, here I was, a total science layperson that somehow had his finger on the pulse of contemporary science.
But I blew it. I gave out this misrepresentation of myself and it bit me. I tried really hard to look her right in the eye, to make a face of deep concentration, not at all betraying that I had no idea what she was talking about. I’d make a face every now and then as if I were somewhat confused, I’d bring my finger to the air like I might interrupt her for some clarification, but then I’d act as if whatever she had said just clicked in my brain, and that now I got it, and so I’d lower my finger, relax the expression on my face somewhat, and nod slightly, like saying, “Ah, yes, I see,” without saying anything at all.
But you know how scientists are, they just keep talking and talking and talking and talking like oh my God this is so interesting, and I haven’t even begun to get warmed up here, I can’t believe you haven’t taken a seat yet because this is only the introduction and once I get this projector running we’re going to be busy with Powerpoint presentations for the better part of the afternoon. And pretty soon I found myself focusing almost entirely on me, on my reactions to what she was saying, on my carefully dramatized facial expressions, and once I realized this, that I had completely lost any sort of grounding in whatever she was talking about – and what was she talking about? It felt like such a long time ago – I started getting self conscious, not just about my face and my facial expressions, but also my breathing, my blinking, my posture. Was I giving anything away? Should I have at any time added anything, like a question, an “Ah, yes,” but verbally? Was I expressing confusion when I should have been expressing understanding, or vice versa?
But she didn’t stop, and she didn’t look at all bothered, so I assumed everything was going along swimmingly. In fact, I don’t think she was even talking to me at all at this point. She was kind of looking at me, but looking through me. And maybe it was hard to tell because the more she lectured, the more it became obvious how engaged she was in the sound of her own voice, in her huge lofty ideas, about whatever it was that she started talking about in the first place.
So here we were, her talking, to me, but not really, and me, standing here, listening to her, but not at all, and not even for her sake, because she was on a totally different plane of reality, her body at this point merely a vessel for the pure science running through her brain and out of her mouth, completely oblivious not just to my face, to my expressions, but to everything, my posture, possibly my existence. Me, I was at this point focusing solely on making sure that if any of the other scientists were watching us, because I’m sure they’d have been at one point themselves an audience to this woman’s lecturing, they’d look at me and think, goddamn it, that guy sure surprises us, so engaged in what she’s saying, so clearly grasping everything.
But I wanted to make a break for it. The whole thing was getting exhausting. My facial expressions felt like they weren’t even working anymore. I was stuck in my head to an extent that I couldn’t even tell what kind of a face I was making. And just as I kind of tried to get back to the sound of her voice, to maybe find a way back into the conversation, to ask her to clarify something, to change topics subtly, something more on my level, something about TV maybe, that’s when it happened, that’s when she said “ass,” I’m sure of it, or, I was sure of it. I was sure enough that I didn’t stop myself from laughing at all, a big laugh, abrupt. She stopped talking. Nobody else laughed. Everybody looked uncomfortable. I was definitely uncomfortable.
“Sorry,” I told her, “I thought you said ass.”