Thursday, April 09, 2009

The Last Five Letters of "Stable"

When my grandmother, June, grew too forgetful to live alone any longer, we packed up her Kenwood mansion. Most of it went into a dumpster. Some of it went to Goodwill. The real treasures were scattered among members of the family.

My cousin, Perley, gave a home to June's dining room table where we had all eaten countless dinners, including the first turkey dinner after the advent of microwaves, that, yes, had been cooked in the microwave. It came out looking like a dead baby. This is not the kind of centerpiece that puts you in the mood for Thanksgiving. Picture that Norman Rockwell painting. Now replace that delicious golden, brown turkey with a pinkish, grey corpse. That, my friends, is microwave turkey. It is also an example of one of my grandfather's famous experiments.

My grandfather, Eddie, was actually a successful scientist. And June was actually a successful cook, left to her own devices, but Eddie insisted when he bought that microwave that she try cooking the turkey in it. Scientific method, you see. You can hypothesize that a nuked turkey might be bad, but you can't prove it until you actually try it. The dead-baby-turkey was a gastronomic failure, but a scientific success. It proved the hypothesis, you see, and that was all that mattered to my grandfather. June, on the other hand, wanted the Norman Rockwell painting of a turkey and a family eager to share it. Therefore, her table is the kind of table suitable for a big family and a vast spread of delicious food.

Meanwhile, there was another table that we moved out of that Kenwood mansion. This was Eddie's wackadoodle table, which came to live with me in my duplex, and which has been the source of endless frustration - and some amusement - since it arrived.

You see, Eddie always had shy graduate students in physics working with him on the science. At some point, he came up with a brilliant idea. His students weren't sharing their results. They could all be sitting at the same table, working on the same problem, and none of them would be working together on the problem at all.

OK, let's step into Eddie's brain for a second.

Problem: Shy physics nerds don't share their data with the guy next to them.
Solution: The table will share it for them.

He took a round solid oak table, and he sawed off the top of the table. He installed a spindle and some ball bearings, and voila! The entire table top became a lazy Susan. Now, if that guy on the other side of the table had a break-through all you had to do was clutch the edge of the table, give it a yank, and his work would come orbiting around to you. It seems brilliant at first. Of course, everyone else also loses his work to the guy sitting across the table, but this was not a concern of my grandfather's. After all, those guys probably needed to collaborate more anyway.

I'm not sure how well the shy-science-guy-table worked with the shy science guys, but I can tell you that it was crap as a dining room table. First of all, somehow, in the sawing off of the table, my grandfather lost about half a foot. Half a foot really matters when you're sitting on a chair at a table.

Second, imagine happily eating your dinner when your friend decides that she would like the butter which is sitting at your left elbow. It seems tempting for her to spin the lazy Susan a retrieve the butter, right? Yeah. Except then your plates all spin away with the table, and you wind up with someone else's half-eaten meal in front of you. And the butter is way over there, instead of right at your elbow where you left it.

And, so, now let's step into Alex's brain for a minute.

Problem: Table is too short and the lazy Susan technology is actually a Bad Idea
Solution: Prop up the table top on blocks, so it can't spin and it sits a little higher.

It kind of worked. It worked well enough that I got to live with a handsome oak table for a couple of years, and it didn't spin. It was always precarious, though. My friend, Anders, pushed himself up from the table more than once, tilting the entire mess off of its blocks, before he caught himself and righted the table. Little kids do this almost every time they eat over, unless their parents happen to remind them gently, "So, remember kids, you're at Alex's house, so DON'T TOUCH THE TABLE."

Anyway, I tell you all of this, because Perley called me on Monday to offer me June's table. I gleefully accepted, thinking that my days of catching food before it falls off of my unstable table might be over. And now here I sit at the Norman Rockwell table. And off in the other corner of my dining room sits the other, odder table, staring at me in its too short and nerdy way. How will I ever convince anyone else to take it from me?