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Sunday in the Park

My son is a scientist. He works with lasers and polymers. That’s all I’ve learned to say about his research. I have no earthly idea how he spends his days. But the university pays him to be there in a big building, working with fancy machines.

As a parent, he brings science into the day-to-day life of his toddlers. Which means, when I say something imprecise, say I call an ape a big monkey in a storybook, he corrects me. Not in a mean way, in a matter of fact, we-tell-the-children-specific-names, way. This includes correctly stating pasta names, rather than carelessly saying, we’re havin’ spaghetti. Or naming a sweatshirt, a sweatshirt — not put your jacket on.

This is not entirely foreign. After all, as a child of the ’60s, when my children were growing up, I was very big on giving them the precise names for their private body parts. They learned to repeat these with charming lisps, at full volume, in restaurants and grocery stores. To the horror of my elders, I might add and the mild amusement of myself.

I’d like to say I don’t how my son got to be the lovable but odd character he is. I’d like to say that, but really, I have a pretty good idea.

All this was in my head Sunday while I took a full day to stay in the house, concentrate on finishing whatever might be readable in the Salt Lake Tribune and most all of the New York Times. I segued to a couple of magazines and then I grabbed a novel I was halfway through and proceeded to finish that. I broke up my stormy day, read-a-thon, with a long, long, bubbly bath.

Here is where the story turns weird.

I like to say I’m an aficionado of fine bath products and while I do appreciate those, I am rather indiscriminate when it comes to enhancing the tub experience. Give me bubbles and scents and oils and colors and I’m so happy. My friends know this and so for gift-giving occasions, I generally end up with a variety of products for my time in the tub. But my time in the tub this winter has rarely been lengthy or leisurely. I step in weary, steam a bit and fall into bed to sleep. A bath in the middle of day, under the natural light of the skylight, is a rare treat.

So I dug around in my basket of bath treats and pulled up a lovely square bottle filled with lavender-scented liquid that promised bubbles and I squeezed the sides and watched the magic happen. Into the tub formed the most amazing shapes, not round bubbles or even oblong bubbles, the result was something I had never seen before, boxy bubbles. Bubbles with defined sides, a series of connecting lines. Hexagons, I told myself, rather proud I had remembered the word from the toddler’s wooden shapes puzzle of last weekend. Hexagons, my son would be so proud I thought, and then I looked again at the bubbles. They weren’t exactly hexagons, I didn’t think so anyway. I tried to remember how many sides that would be. Five sides? Six sides? Eight sides? Oh dear, the charming geometric shape was now a puzzle. Octagons, pentagons, I was focusing on the bubbles too much, so I took the empty plastic container and pushed it under the water to release the very last of the concentrate. Bubbles came, fountain-like out the top, spilling in an iridescent flow like a volcano erupting. Those strange square-sided bubbles.

This suddenly led to a meditation on the bubble. Is it the shape that defines it? A circle? A sphere? A hemisphere? Or is it the hollow space formed by a gas or a liquid? The water was very warm, close to hot and the bubbles were releasing their scented perfume all around and the sun was streaming in from the skylight and I was so relaxed and so lost, it was minutes before I realized the empty plastic container had bubbles trapped inside. And the interconnecting shapes were now the stuff of honeycombs. Inside the container was a pearly-looking maze of square-ish shapes that had formed something else altogether, in a pattern that was known to the laws of physics but was a wonder to me.

And this is what happens to us this time of year. When the mad, mad rush of winter is slipping away but parts of the seasonal weather remain. We are teased with mornings or afternoons of blue skies and sunshine and the snow melts from the places in the yard that are warmest and little green shoots appear. Even the purple and yellow of the crocuses. And then the white comes back and hides the color and the wind whips and the cold returns. And Mercury is in retrograde, the moon passes in front of the sun in the middle of the day, and we become restless, restless in a way city dwellers can’t possibly understand.

And we make plans to leave. Maybe just to the desert, a few hours away by car. Maybe to a beach that requires a plane to transport us. Or maybe the poor man’s vacation, a pile of books, that cannot only take us anywhere in the known and unknown worlds but to times in the past, times in the future. And times and places in the present that are so far from our lifestyle they might as well be a kind of science fiction.

I am just now cooking up a getaway for spring. It will be someplace warm. And I will bring new books to double down on my getaway gamble. New books and new bubbles. Because for the most part, I don’t care where I stay but I do care greatly about the bathing arrangements. There needs to be a tub. That is as precise as I want to get when I get away on some future Sunday from the Park


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