Ahoy, everyone. I know it’s been a little over a moon since my last post and, to my shame, I’m still working on my review of the seminar I attended at Piper’s church last month. There have been countless strands of in the meantime, accumulating momentum and culminating in the magnificent Open House service we held two Sundays ago at Morning Star’s new location on Kishwaukee and 3rd. Members of six churches attended and pastor friends from the area spoke, inaugurating our ministry at our new home midtown. Approaching Advent, I am reminded of Isaiah 62:12 wherein God promises Zion, “And you shall be called Sought Out, A City Not Forsaken.” The comraderie manifested in Sunday evening’s service, the plentiful reminders of God’s sovereign placement of our assembly into our new building, and the rededicated commitment of so many gospel ministers to the humble exclusivity of heralding the Lord Jesus cause me to apply that text to my own new home. Riding off of that high, I’d like to offer you all a smash hit from wayback (prompted by that night’s madcap cookie deliveries with ma bru Andrew Kischner) to whet your appetite until the forthcoming seminar expose.
Years ago in another life I studied Studio Recording Technology at Madison Media Institute in Wisconsin’s lush capital city. It was my first educational experience following the four year cacophony of high school. MMI was a technical school and thus never granted the dorm experience most of the twenty- and thirty-somethings I hang with fondly recollect. I met a host of quizzical, Lewis Carrol-esque characters during the course of my career there: Jacoby, the impish synth-pop devotee who sorta looked like J. Wellington Wimpy with huge, black glasses and a dyed black, shoulder-length combover; Paul, the Carhartt-sporting grindcore fanatic who hated the Beatles but loved recording break-up calls from ex-girlfriends; Steve, the Genesis-obsessed Ichabod Crane lookalike with a thousand nervous ticks; Rob, the screamo vegan with the Bob the Builder backpack; Chance, the redneck Miles Davis aficionado; and… Ted.
Ted was a weird dude. It seemed like he exclusively wore New Found Glory and Thrice t-shirts and quite possibly the same tattered blue jeans or khaki cargo shorts week in and week out. His battle-scarred nouveau punk uniform contrasted shockingly with his immaculately unspoiled, white K-Swiss shoes. Involuntary memories of wondering how the Smurfs kept their footwear spotlessly clean spontaneously arose when Ted entered the room. With his meticulously primped emo coiffure, he looked like he belonged in New Found Glory! Ted was always monumentally enthusiastic but it was well nigh impossible most of the time to pin down what exactly he was so exuberant about. It certainly wasn’t the technical aspects of the trade we were all studying- Ted didn’t exactly take to science, neither in abstraction nor in particulars. History also evaded him- he never could remember who Philo Farnsworth was or why anyone should give a rip. Alas, he also wasn’t that great at wrapping mic cables, either. “This is for roadies!” I remember him shouting one night during a cable wrap drill. “You’ll be lucky if you make it even that far!” Professor Travis sharply retorted. Typically Travis was as cool as Miles Davis lounging in a meat locker, but if memory serves correctly, Ted was rife with disparaging comments regarding the minutiae of studio upkeep that night. It was also one in the morning, so nerves were already frayed at that point due to having been working on the same project (a hip hop group with a brass section?) for eight hours straight.
One of his pet phrases was, “We’re sitting on a gold mine, guys.” He typically was in one of those maniacally enthusiastic moods of his when those words were uttered. I recall one particularly frigid day at school when Ted meandered through the campus’ front doors, encased in what appeared to be an entire snowbank. He shook the permafrost deposit off of his track jacket (I’d make another snide comment about how we wasn’t that smart, but I was wearing shorts everyday at this time, so I’ll save the hypocrisy for another anecdote) and made his way to the break room where I was studying for a final with Paul, Jacoby, and the usual band of misfits. “Hey, Ted,” a chorus of voices muttered, briefly glancing Tedward to acknowledge his existence.
“Guys!” he chirped in his odd, prepubescent alto. “I was just getting out of my car, and dude- it’s super cold! And I thought, ‘Man, wish I had some gloves or something!’ So I grabbed my stuff for Studio tonight, and it just hit me- what if we made gloves with headphones built in? We’re sitting on a gold mine, guys!” He grinned, glancing at each one of our circle for approval.
Almost without exception, an awkward silence would follow the exposition of whatever brilliant new scheme he had concocted. I think we all wanted to allow him the opportunity to salvage his steadily sinking capital by saying, “Just kidding! I know that’s totally stupid- I just wanted to brighten your day with some zany humor,” or something along that trajectory. Alas, that day never came.
Jacoby shattered the eldritch still of our astonishment by posing the obvious question. “Why not make ear muffs with headphones instead?” All eyes turned to Ted, who took Jacoby’s advice as constructive criticism (which it wasn’t) rather than as a snarky riposte (which it was) and meditated upon the wisdom of his suggestion. “Yeah, yeah… That would probably work too,” he admitted, clearly clinging to his original glimpse of Eureka profundity, “but you know these babies would sell!”
Anyway, all of that was background for this story. As I mentioned earlier in this account of Ted, he wasn’t that hip to science. To be fair, if you’re not all that great at connecting the dots within the context of conventional, everyday reality, you’re probably not going to be very quick on the uptake with regards to relativity. That doesn’t mean, however, that the incident I’m thinking of wasn’t epically hilarious.
We were in our Audio Concepts class one evening late in October when Professor Dave (who insisted that we call him Uncle Dave*) was lecturing on the properties of sound waves. After a discussion of the principles that define every type of wave, he turned to the specifics of the sound species and compared the speed of sound (1,126 feet per second) to the speeds of Olympic runners and jet fighters. He then offered the classic example of sound’s sluggishness compared to the speed of light by highlighting how in a thunderstorm you see the lightning strike before you ever hear the thunder. We shouldn’t be surprised, he said, seeing as how sound’s speed pales in comparison to light’s 186,000 miles per second.
“That’s really fast,” Ted whispered in an awed tone, as if peering over the very precipice of our universe.
“You got that right, Teddy Boy!” Uncle Dave shouted excitedly. “The speed of light is the universe’s ultimate speed limit- nuthin’ but nuthin’ breaks that law, my son!** Even light from the Sun has to take its good ol’ time gettin’ to us here- did you know that, my son?”
Clearly this was news to Ted. “How long?” he asked sheepishly.
“We are eight light minutes from our Sun, so you tell me, Teddy,” Dave challenged. Gears began to turn, stopped, backed up, slowly started over. “Eight minutes?” Ted offered.
“Bingo!” Dave bellowed, mimicking the sound of laser fire and wildly flailing his arms in a motion meant to imitate the ion cannons in The Empire Strikes Back.*** “In fact, whenever you look at the Sun, Teddy Boy- and I bet you do- you’re actually seeing what it looked like eight minutes ago.” Seeing the confusion on Ted’s face, he clarified: “Because there’s no instantaneous transmission, you dig?”
Ted pondered upon the implications of this for a suspense-packed stretch of time. “So… We don’t know what’s happening to the Sun right this second?” he asked as if dreading the answer he already knew.
“Wham-o!” Dave yelled, firing another ion cannon burst. “There are signs of life in Teddy Boy’s skull after all!” Ted fidgeted uncomfortably in his seat.
“So, you’re saying if the Sun just… blew up right now, we wouldn’t find out for eight minutes?” Ted inquired. Uncle Dave ratified Ted’s shot in the dark. “Correctamundo, my son.” A queasy quiet fell upon the room like the silence before a storm’s fury.
Cue paradigm shift.
“Guys!” Ted shrieked, struggling to push his chair out from the table. He fought to stand up, knocking over books, headphones, binders, ultimately his chair itself in his panicked frenzy to address us all. “We could be dead right now and we wouldn’t even know it!” he cried out in stark, raving terror.
Ted never really lived that incident down. The absurd hilarity of that episode was abated somewhat, though, when he dropped off the face of the earth for three weeks afterward. We all had out theories as to what had happened or what his whereabouts were. Some thought he had switched majors to Astrophysics, others thought that maybe he had a nervous breakdown and decided to disappear off of the grid. No one heard from him or knew where he was. We all suddenly found ourselves living in a Ted-less universe. Just before Thanksgiving break, though, he resurfaced at last. I asked him where he had been.
“Ah, you know. Just had to unwind for a couple days, you know?” he answered quixotically as though there was nothing bizarre about his disappearance into the heart of darkness. There are some mysteries this side of the veil we will never comprehend.
Ted truly is one of those mysteries.
*Yeah. He was a weirdo too.
**He did the “My son” bit a lot. And please, please, please note the delicious irony that in this past year we have discovered a particle which appears to do this very thing!
***Uncle Dave took a liking to me and always called me Ion Control for this very reason. Again… we were nerds.