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Letters from an Ancient Mind

Unstable Molecules

So my father takes a long, measured sip of his iced tea, looks at me over the rims of his glasses and says, “I need you to write something for me.”

It’s about the last thing I’d expect him to say. Normally that over-the-glasses look is the prelude to something more along the lines of, “Your principal called this morning,” or “I’d like to know a little more about this young man,” or worst of all, “It’s time we had a little talk.” I find myself wondering if he’s been replaced by a pod person or something. Still, I take my good fortune where I can get it and, quite admirably managing not to dribble lemonade out of my mouth, I come back with a snappy, “Okay.”

Now he gets technical on me. The “I need you to write something” part I understood. Beyond that, he might as well be speaking fluent Urdu. There’s something about a correspondence between a guy in the fifth or so century and a guy around now. I don’t think I want to know what they have to talk about, let alone how they got the letters back and forth. I understand that Mr. Fifth Century buries his letters in a pot in the ground. Dad says he buried them in Turkey, where he lived. I seem to remember they’re always digging stuff up there, so it sounds all right to me. Now, Mr. 21st (or 20th, I guess) Century sends his to Mr. Fifth Century by means of a complicated set of quantum mechanical equations. I get a brain itch just figuring up from down in these things. And it’s my job, since these equations can’t be printed properly by the publishing guy, to explain them to all of you, the readers. And he’s telling me this over a Balboa Burger and lemonade in an airport café. Is this family great or what?

So here’s my explanation. After a careful examination of the facts I have concluded—unstable molecules. Gotta be. Just like in the comic books, right? How does the Human Torch’s costume keep from burning up when he bursts into flames? Unstable molecules. How does the Invisible Woman’s costume turn invisible when she does (and only when she does)? Unstable molecules. How come the Incredible Hulk’s shirt rips and falls off when he turns into the Hulk, but the 98-pound secret identity and the 500-pound Hulk have the same pants size? Unstable molecules. So you want me to explain how Joe Blow from Kokomo sends his letters 1500 years back in time? Two words: unstable molecules. And that’s all you’re getting for a Balboa Burger. I’m holding out for the Frisco Burger.

R. M. Hendershot


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