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FOLIO is a magazine of strange, comic, and strangely comic words and pictures published from 2006 to 2009. For back issues please contact the_folio@hotmail.com.

Issue No. 16, Models of the Universe - Physics for Perverts

by Holly Jensen

Abs0lute Zero

He calls Fun Girls USA when he can’t sleep, which is every night.

“Hey, baby,” she says. “My name’s Ella. What’s yours?”

“My name’s Van,” he says. “And that’s even the truth.”

“I’m so glad you called, baby. I was just lying in bed all by myself.”

“What do you look like?”

“Well, let’s see, I’m twenty, I love making new friends, and—”

“I’m clairvoyant,” he says. “Is that the word?”

“You think you can read my mind, baby?”

“I know I can.”

“What am I thinking right now, baby?”

“You think I’m some rabid weirdo.”

“That it, baby?”

“You want to get me all worked up and then leave me alone. I wish you were here in my room. I bet you smell nice. Do you wear perfume? Do you like it when your roots show? Do you have blue nail polish? Your voice sounds like you have soft skin.”

“I do, baby.”

“I bet that’s one of the ways you get them. They touch your skin and—oh—their little bird hearts flutter. It’s like a fairy tale, but with blue nail polish.” He sniffs and clears his throat, coughs wet. His voice is tight and he’s talking too fast. “What if you actually made me feel all right?”

“I wanna make you feel good, baby.”

“I wanted to be an astronaut,” he says. “For about a semester. I was reading that Wolfe book. But that’s how I am. If I’d been reading ‘Rikki-Tikki-Tavi’ I’d’ve wanted to be a mongoose. What do I know?”

“I don’t know, baby.”

“I didn’t stick with anything more than a semester. I appreciate the specialization of the mind. Some people spend their entire careers studying turtle ears. And bee dances. And how the prairie grasses have sex, right? It could go on forever. It does go on forever. You know how it is.”

“Forever and ever, baby.”

“Atta girl,” he says.

“You like forever, baby?”

“There are certain things I like, yeah. Only a few. There’s only so many likeable things in the world, you know? But let me tell you what happens when things get cold.”

“You can tell me whatever you want, baby.”

“That’s right. You’re right.” He sounds surprised. “So, the unit of measurement here is degrees in Kelvin.”

“Kelvin, baby.”

“As in, room temperature is three hundred degrees Kelvin. This room, for instance. Or your room, even. And the sun? That’s five thousand degrees Kelvin. And absolute zero is zero. You follow?”

“Zero is zero, baby.”

“That’s right. As my ex would say, damnwell right. You ever heard that? I hadn’t. I thought, optimistically, that it was an affectation. But I was terribly wrong. That’s something that happens. Historically,” he says, “I am mostly wrong. Though I bet you are, too.”

“Think so, baby?”

“What if I wanted to kiss you on the mouth? Would you even like that? Hold on. I have another call.”

She hears him set down the phone, hears a clink and a long soft sound, like sighing.

He picks up the phone. “You still there?” he says. “That’s a horrible question to have to ask.”

“Yeah, baby,” she says. “That was quick.”

“Quick call, sure. Yeah. It was my neighbor, my neighbor friend. He’s says we’re going out on the town tonight, he’s gonna get me some girls. He has powers.” He laughs. “Listen to me. Cause let’s cut through the bull, right? What I really want from you is ears. You think you could handle that?”

“I could do that, baby.”

“Ah. That is so, so good-hearted of you. You know what that is? That is Christ-like. And what was I saying before?”

“You were naming the temperatures, baby.”

“As you approach absolute zero, strange things happen. You don’t even know.”

“Tell me, baby.”

“You think there’s three states of matter, that’s what they tried to teach you. And by ‘they’ I mean the school marms. Solid, gas, and liquid. But there’s a new state of matter. Named condensate. We invented it, although it wasn’t on the front pages how you’d think. ‘By the way, new state of matter created. Just thought you’d like to know.’ ”

“Something like that, baby.”

“When we get toward zero, the atoms, heretofore represented as the usual dots—the dots from science with marms—begin to cool and slow and stretch. The dots become waves. They get so stretched out they overlap. They get confused. They forget whether they are themselves or their neighbor. It’s got to be frustrating. You follow?”

“I think so, baby. They’re discombobulated.”

“That’s exactly it. You’re right. Here’s chapter two.”

“Chapter two of what, baby?”

“Technology marches on, and this scientist decides that she should shoot some light into this condensate. Can you believe it? Just like a woman,” he says. “This particular condensate was, I think, described as cigar-shaped, if that helps. This scientist wants to see what happens. Like, for fun or some other lunatic concept. None of which makes the papers. Needless to say.”

“Needless to say, baby.”

“Or at least it didn’t make The Intelligencer. Where are you right now? Never mind, I don’t want to know. Now listen to me, because the light did not stop, as it does when you shine a light at a wall. Instead, the light, shot at this brand new state of matter, slowed—and I quote—to the speed of a bicycle.”

“For real, baby?”

“Light like a bike,” he says. “I wouldn’t lie to you. Would you lie to me?”

“Never, baby.”

“You know that people used to think cold was a thing? Imagine walking around in the winter feeling burdened by all the cold. Do you understand what I’m saying?”

“I understand, baby. Strange things, burdens.”

“Where are you?” he says. “Never mind. Never mind.” He coughs. “The books I read I get secondhand, like a decent human being. You know, like I wouldn’t be caught dead in one of those—well, they’re not really book stores, are they? They sell cupcakes and calendars. Easy targets.”

“Gift certificates.”

“That’s right,” he says. “I buy books from places that smell like mold. You can feel the spores in your lungs. Listen to me. It feels good, it feels damnwell good. And the floors creak. You know what I mean? The books I like, somebody’s already read them. They’ve already been between somebody else’s palms. Someone’s marked them up before, someone’s beaten them up a bit. The books I like, people bracket parts and write in the margin, ‘Joke?’—question mark, question mark, question mark—underline. That kind of book.” In a soft voice, he says, “If I wanted to push you down, would that be okay?”

“That’d be okay, baby.”

“Now I feel stupid,” he says. “And you’ve got whatsit, you’ve got culpability. Listen. You know what that means?”

“What’s wrong, baby?”

“Culpability,” he says. “That’s one of them BBC words.”

“I like talking to you, baby. You know what I’d wanna do if you were here right now?”

“You talk to me like that but no one’s really here. No one, and not you, either.”

“I just wanna make you feel good, baby.”

“Well, god,” he says. “I fell for it, didn’t I?”



“Because our universe isn’t the only universe,” he says.

“Sure, baby,” she says.

“One hundred years ago this would be mad raving. Now it’s fact cosmology,” he says. “This idea of parallel worlds was silly and spooky, but it kept coming back, stranger and stranger. Like that one cousin at Thanksgiving. Know what I mean?”

“Yeah, baby,” she says. “Weird cousins.”

“When they talk about these particles existing in more than one place at a time, they use the verb flit. To flit. In and out of our world. In and out of existence.”

“Flit, baby.”

“There are infinite versions. In one, I’m in the space station, fixing space toilets. In another, we got hitched and you’re loading the dishwasher. I’m upstairs, fixing our earth toilet.”

“Sounds like fun, baby.”

“It’s the way the world is. It’s the way it might be. They think we live in a neighborhood where gravity is weak. This is true. Hold up your hand.”

“I can do that, baby.”

“Well, aren’t you sweet? They think that somebody else has the rest of our gravity. Hoarding it. The other verses in this multiverse.”

“Right, baby. Verses.”

“And if there’s life, it might be right by us, clinging to its own little membrane. Listen, you know what a stranger is. Life in the other worlds could be passing by us, this second, and we don’t know.”

“Yeah, baby?”

“We’re ghosts to one another.”

“Yeah, baby?”

“A life of theirs would be unimaginably different from ours. Even from yours. New chemistry and new laws. Maybe all we have in common is this gravity. It might be all that binds us to our branes,” he says. “Cause explain to a two-dimensional person what three dimensions are like. Go ahead. Try.”

“So what do they matter, baby?”

“Hell, explain me to you. No. Fair question. Does this have anything to do with you? We might be too stuck to our branes. We might be too, I don’t know, devoted. Is that what I mean?”

“We keep an eye out, huh, baby?”

“We hunt the hell out of it. But this other life, whatever life, it’s tricky life. Looking for it is playing badminton in the fog. We get four dimensions. Left-right, up-down, forward-backward, time. But the string theorists count ten.”

“What are they, baby?”

“It’s hard to imagine, the next step. I don’t know even what your life is made of,” he says.

“Like seeing a new color,” she says. “Right, baby?”

“Do you like to be called names? How many miles away are you? Have you ever met up with someone you talked to on here in real life?”

“What do you think, baby?”

“Um,” he says. “So, these other vicious cosmologists were arguing over whether there are ten or eleven dimensions. To them, it meant everything. The string theorists and these supergravity folks. One version of the universes versus another version of the verses.”

“It’s a real bar fight, huh, baby?”

“Now they think this eleventh dimension is really real and is a trillionth of a millimeter from every point in our world. It’s nestled against our cheek, they say. They say we’re wrapped in it.”

“Cozy, baby.”

“You’re only thinking about cozy. Maybe you should hold on to the kitchen counter.”

“I can do that, baby.”

“Then they said there’s another universe on another brane at the opposite end of the eleventh dimension.”

“In the back forty, baby?”

“This is where Lisa Randall comes in. She’s important, so she was born in America. She climbs rocks. She thinks about why gravity is so weak. She wears rock-climbing shorts. I either saw her or I dreamed her, and, either way,” he says, “shorts.”

“Sounds sexy, baby.”

“Gravity is leaking from this eleventh dimension. She can calculate this. By the time gravity gets to us, it’s faded. We get the drippings,” he says. “Everyone’s excited. Hawking—that bitch—said there wouldn’t be mysteries after they were done with the world.”

“He said that, baby?”

“The universes move through the eleventh dimension—this aura hung up on us—and move through it like waves, one after the other, as orderly as an ocean. Then the scientists began to wonder what would happen if two waves crashed together. And they decided that was how a universe gets born.” He sighs, says, “Once she chugged the entire bottle. We got back into it and she was sloshing around like a water balloon. This woman was an R. Crumb woman. What was I saying?”

“The big bang, baby?”

“Is when parallel worlds hit in the eleventh dimension, right. And this is true: the lumps of the universe—the stars, dirt, spoons, and you—are from the wrinkles and the ripples of the branes.”

“Wrinkles, baby?”

“We coexist. We flit together. Isn’t that everything? Kaku—he’s got a head of hair on him—said the universe is a bubble in an ocean. I’m almost positive I saw Kaku ice skating. On a show? Either way, it was remarkable,” he says. “That’s why I remarked.”

“Got it, baby.”

“You ever ice skate?”

“Not yet, baby,” she says. “But I like to try new things.”

“With frilly swimsuits and glittered tights and razor boots,” he says. “Now parallel universes are popping up in everyone’s equations. Cause who doesn’t love a winner? Listen, Duff says it best. Physics is all fads. Fickle as a little girl. No offense.”

“None, baby.”

“And nobody wants to be stuck with our four measly dimensions.”

“So, baby,” she says. “What’s the fifth dimension?”

“I don’t know.”

“What’s the sixth?”

“I don’t know.”

“What’s the seventh?”

“I can’t remember,” he says.

“That’s all right, baby. We can talk about anything you want.”

“What this means is that if we understood everything in the universe, we would understand only our universe.”

“Yeah, baby,” she says. “It’s a problem.”

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