The Theory of Gravity

We’re descending Pershing where spring is early. The sour grass and ice plant have bloomed courtesy of the rain, and the resulting palette is fuschia, yellow-green. It’s my favorite and clashingly neon combination. The aloe should sprout soon, too, adding vermillion to the mix.

We’ve established that Daddy likes the song on the radio—not because Daddy has said so —but because Cayden has employed a particular logic in determining this.

“Do you like this song?”

“Yeah, it’s one of my favorites.”

Cayde smiles, self-satisfied, and talks fast as he always does when rushing to a point.

“I know because you said you like every song by Interpol and this is Interpol so I know you like this song.”

He smiles and looks left out the backseat window.

The transitive property: ‘If a=b and b=c, then a=c.” Logic, as we pass plants where bright flowers spring from otherwise grey under-leaves.

The military hospital is in view to the right and across the canyon. A few weeks back, when returning home from the a.m. school drop-off, I was vigorously waved up Pershing by a battery of white-gloved police officers. The news was reporting a live shooter in the hospital basement. Traffic was stopped in the canyon by black and white cars and red flashing lights. The otherwise ascending traffic, the line of cars headed up Pershing, was hurried up the hill—go go go.

“Thanks for taking me to school early,” Cayde says. He has plans to meet his friend before the bell because, as Cayde announces, “We’re writing a book.”

I’m proud, therefore punctual.

“We want to publish it when we’re done.”

The view of the hospital recedes. Turns out, there was no shooter in the basement. Later that day, after the police cars dispersed, the only shooters were the guys with tripods and telephoto lenses set up on Pershing’s west edge, innocuously shooting the hospital for news that didn’t exactly happen.

“I think you told me, Cayde, but what’s your book called? ‘The Theory of Gravity’, right?’

We’re at the stoplight, at the bottom of Pershing and waiting for green. Cars are turning left into the canyon and toward the hospital. I’m thinking of last night’s Florida primaries, which were disappointing. The canyon’s name, incidentally, is Florida: simple Spanish for ‘flowered’. Cars turn toward the brick hospital where the basement was found empty of spent shells, but where there was still resonant fear. The transitive property, kinduv.

At the stoplight, and by the still-dormant aloe, is a guy with a hand-lettered sign saying, ‘Anything can help.’

“Yeah, but I think we might change the name,” Cayde says. “Maybe just ‘Gravity.’

“Why’s that?”

“Well ‘theory’ just means you’re only thinking of something, that you don’t know something.”

“So what are you sure of then?” I ask, curious. “What’s your book about?”

We’re driving through the green, and I have to swerve the car slightly because there’s a CalTrans truck with lights blinking, a group of orange-vested workers jumping off its trailer and tossing hazard cones into the street.

“We’re writing about why the earth has more gravity than the moon.”

“That’s cool. I like the ‘Theory of Gravity,’ though. It’s a good authorial title, “ and I say ‘authorial’ Alistair Cooke-like, amusing myself, knowing Cayden doesn’t know how I’m being funny. I click the blinker to turn left, signaling a drive up the B St. incline.

“Well, ‘theory’ is like ‘hypothesis’ and I’m positive there’s more gravity on earth than the moon,” Cayde insists.

Cayde’s assured of something. I try and explain the scientific method to him while driving up B St., past the reconstructed houses in this fast-gentrifying neighborhood. The windows on the delipadated Victorians have recently been un-shuttered, and suddenly there are ‘For rent’ signs.

“Well, a theory’s means more than a hypothesis. You start out with a hypothesis, and then you do your experiments, and it becomes theory. You know—the theory of gravity, evolution. Theory’s something just short of fact.”

Changing gears on the uphill, I ask: “So why’s there more gravity on earth?”

We’re halfway up B, and in some strange loop, the CalTrans truck reappears from a cross street, still cordoning off lanes with signs and cones.

In the rear-view, Cayde’s hair is in his eyes. “Well, because the moon has no atmosphere.”

“What’s that got to do with anything?” I test him. If this is going to be a published work, there needs to be peer review.

Finn speaks up for the first time, otherwise having been pretzeled in the back-seat, feet by his ears.

“Thing!” he yells, “Tzing!”

“Because there’s no oxygen on the moon, Daddy,” Cayde says matter-of-factly.

I continue to test him as we drive past 21st: “What does oxygen have to do with physics?” (What does this have to do with breathing?)

There’s a liquor store on the corner of 22nd and we’re pulling to a stop at the top of the hill.

Cayde frowns. “Oh, yeah.” He mumbles, “Physics. Inertia. Momentum.” He counts on his fingers. He’s too smart; I worry.

There is the coefficient K and we’re at the top of the hill.

(When Cayde was three, we sat in a splintery jungle gym in the backyard, and the sun hadn’t set. There was a chalky white moon, halved, on the horizon above the yucca tree. It was the Children’s Moon, the premature moon, which kids can see before the sunset.

‘You see that?’

‘It’s pretty’).

What does physics have to do with anything, or with the new ‘Rent’ sign in the window.

I see a jet way high, too high. I get nervous seeing the contrails, a vessel above the clouds. The higher the plane, and the smaller the plane, the more anxious I become.

I kiss Cayden when dropping him off.

“Love you, Kid.”

“Love you, Daddy!”

Driving home, and past the hospital, there are no white-gloved officers. It’s nice being on land, but the news is still and always bad. I bypass Florida, the sourgrass and the iceplant, the news on the radio less than the flowers.

“You remember that Einstein was righter than Newton?”

(I can’t believe I’m saying this to an 8yo)

But, Cayde says, “Yeah.”

According to the theory of gravity, mass displaces everything, like a round object dimpling a swath of fabric. Gravity isn’t a pull, not a push, but a weight.

It’s unbelievable: on the way home, I have to re-arrange my route. The CalTrans guys are still grinning and tossing cones onto the street, spring-heeled and leaping from the flatbed. I have to go down 16th instead of the big hill, turning past the chain-links where there are no cones, just a simple downhill coast, where I turn at the bottom, not having to stop once.


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