February 12, 2002

An American Tragedy

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Dusk — of an autumn night.

One late evening, ten-thousand years ago, a pack of humans lay on a patch of cucumber-green grass still damp from that morning’s dew. The juicy smell of fresh foliage permeated their heaving nostrils, and a flock of birds dispatched from a nearby tree as if expecting confrontation. A naked berry patch stood in the fading sun as a lone wolf’s cry pierced the comfortable silence. Two men came trudging through a nearby forest, each holding an object of conquest. The group immediately took interest.

One man, a frail hunchback with large laughing eyes, brought a pile of dry wood. From the pile, he carefully selected one short and pointy, yet sturdy branch and began screwing it into a flat piece. As the sun crept behind the low trees, a soft, gray cloud spewed from his work, and suddenly wild orange matter burst forth from the wood. “AHA!” the young man cried in pure amazement. Tears poured onto his cheeks as his conquest of wood grew complete. The group, however, was only slightly amused and turned to the second man.

This man carried only a coconut and a short hollow log. He wedged this log into a thick tree, with the hollow side upwards, just above where his hands could reach. He then stepped back, flashing a smile at his heartbroken and unsuccessful companion. He picked up the wet coconut, sprinted to the hollow log, wagged his tongue, leapt into the air, and dunked the ball into the hole. Needless to say, the group hollered with delight.

Thus sports forever established itself as the ultimate entertainment for humans, and science as the ultimate boredom.

But imagine if science had won on that fateful day, 10,000 years ago. Imagine a group fascinated with fire rather than this primitive basketball. What a different world we would live in today . . .

Meet Glyde Criffiths. Glyde fathers several illegitimate children. He drives an Escalade and dates a supermodel. He owns two posters, one of a flexing Linus Pauling and the other of an X-rated Marie Curie in a bikini. A still unopened Space Jam movie poster, starring Edwin Hubble, leans against a corner. White jerseys clutter his bedroom floor as do models of Benjamin Rush, Hahnneman, and Bob Koch. His desk is full of blunted pencils and empty notebooks. A laptop graces his nightstand. His homepage is set to uselessknowledge.com. His neck holds a gold chain with a diamond-studded fish at its end. He wears only Air Wright’s. His polyester suits are all the rage.

Young kids look up to Glyde. They strive to enter his profession, but most know they will never make it. Some are forced onto basketball teams, others are relegated to badminton.

Criffiths recently signed a $251 million contract to the dismay of his colleagues. He makes billions just from his ‘Got Milk’ commercials. Economic experts have anointed him as the first trillion-dollar man. Recently, his sequencing abilities have come into question. He has been accused of hoarding No-Doze and potassium tablets. His trash-talk is boundless. “I flow like a faucet and sting like a hypodermic needle.” He takes vitamins. His agent is David Falk – a reputable man who also represented James Watson, Francis Crick and Barbara McClintock.

Glyde’s T.V. is on, turned to the Olympiad. The Science Olympiad.

Glyde Criffiths is a laboratory technician.

Dusk, of a summer night.

A pack of humans lies on a patch of cucumber-green grass still damp from that morning’s dew. The putrid smell of machinery permeates their heaving nostrils as a stream of sludge flows past them. A lone bird sits on a lone branch — afraid to move, afraid to fly, afraid to breathe. A naked berry patch stands in the dim, fading sun as a nuclear power plant whistles in the distance.

A lone man trudges forth from a junk yard, tossing a coconut to himself. He is struck by a meteorite and dies instantly. The coconut falls helpless to the side, and sinks into the stream.

Archived article by Sumeet Sarin