Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Domino Effect

I work six hours a day at a publishing office in the summers. The day starts at 8. The first hour typically gets eaten up with “good mornings” and chatting with my coworkers. Our office is one big open room with lots of desks lined up against the wall. We frequently chat during the days about randomness, all in an effort to retain our sanity or stay awake. The next 3 hours creep by, slowly, like the last little bit of shampoo crawling out of the bottom of the bottle. For someone who during the semester is on her feet most all day chasing tardy papers, listening to sob stories or lecturing myself hoarse in front of a classroom, sitting for 4 hours straight is something akin to torture for me.
And then 12 o clock comes and with it my 45 minute lunch break. My steps are always a little higher when I come back from lunch because I know when I get back I’ll have only 2 hours to go. And because I know Dr. Bowman will be at the desk next to me.
Dr. Bowman who works as a writer in the summer months, comes into work after lunch. In the school year, he’s a political science and history professor—-and an all around know it all. He’s a middle aged man, refined and intelligent and gentle. And Dr. Bowman doesn’t talk—-he booms. Even his whisper carries enough percussion to bounce off the back wall of our open office. He has a head full of thick salt and pepper hair combed over neatly to the side. His forehead is pressed in a perpetual wrinkle, as if he’s always thinking hard about something, and his smile is tight, as if he opens his lips too far his dignity might fall out.
He drinks his coffee from a Minnie Mouse thermos, the only one he said he could find in his cupboard; yet this doesn't seem to perturb him. He smiled, "Eh, I told my wife, 'At least the girls will get a good laugh out of it.'" That's what he calls my coworker Faye and I: ‘the girls,’ even though Faye is over forty and I’m, well, I’m closer to being a girl than Faye is. But that’s just how he is-—there’s something classic about Dr. Bowman.
But what I love about the man the most is our afternoon game of ‘dominoes.’ It’s an interesting tournament, seeing that he doesn’t even know we’re playing. You see, some people enjoy setting up a row of dominoes and sending them tumble. Something about seeing how one thing leads to another fascinates them. And it’s the same for me. Only, I don’t play with dominoes; I play with Dr. Bowman's knowledge.
Dr. Bowman knows a little bit about everything: politics, science, theology, history, current events, you name it. Every so often, when boredom overwhelms me, I think of a question to ask him. Something simple, such as: “Have you ever been to Europe?”
I put down my pencil and throw an inward celebration when the game begins as he turns his chair toward me and crosses his legs. He proceeds to answer that he has indeed not been to Europe. But his answers are never as simple as yes or no. Oh, it might be that simple at first, but I wait. Because inevitably, he’ll pause to gather his thoughts, licking his teeth, as intellects do to bide time. But then somehow we end up with him hiking a mountain in North Carolina with his elderly dad. We go all the way around the world, with him being the tour guide along the way and me drinking in every word, as if he’s one of those kiosks at a museum that I can merely touch its screen and have it rattle off information.
Another day, I asked him what the difference was in amendments and changes to the Constitution. That conversation ended with a lecture on Congress's salary, Sam Adams, prohibition, a reading of the amendments to the Constitution, and somehow a reference to the Spanish Influenza of 1918.
An inquiry about what time he gets out of classes for the day can end with a philosophical discussion of the book of Nehemiah.
An innocent question of whether he’d ever been to Old Faithful took us to Hawaii where he had grown up visiting the Dole Pineapple factory as a boy.
I'm sure that he's the only coworker in the world who can take a conversation from clown phobia to regulation of health insurance in under 2 minutes.
I don’t know what I’ll ask him tomorrow. But I can’t wait to watch the dominoes just tumble away.
Sometimes I worry that I bother him with my random questions. But something about the gleam in his eyes when he’s giving me more information than I asked for lets me know that he sort of likes the break from his work too.
And that just maybe he likes dominoes just as much as me.

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