A cloud is made of billows upon billows upon billows that look like clouds.
As you come closer to a cloud, you get not something smooth but irregularities on a smaller scale.—benoit mandelbrot
July 4, 1973. I’m the guy driving the blue Ford Pintowith the flammable hatchback and white vinyl top,a top which will give me cleaning fits for the next ten yearsbefore it turns gray and I sell the car to a woman who will claim,“A Pinto saved my life!” Lucky for me,she will be broadsided and not rear-ended in her combustible enginesoon after my buddy Bob (that’s him in the passenger seat)and I celebrate college graduation with this trip to Maine.
But we have far to go.
That’s Indiana in the background.
You can tell it’s Indiana by the number of cars with Indiana plates.Otherwise, it looks a lot like Illinois:corn, soybeans, Howard Johnson’s.
I’ve seen every highway in the United States by now, and they all look alike to me.
In 1975, Benoit Mandelbrot will noticethat if you break certain geometric shapes into pieces, [End Page 483] the little pieces look pretty much like the big shape.And if you break the little pieces into littler pieces,the littler pieces look pretty much like the little pieces. And so on …He’ll call the shape a fractal.
The road from Saint Louis through Ohio is a fractal.But I don’t know that yet. It’s still 1973.Benoit is at IBM, busy figuring,as Bob and I exit I-70 into a small Ohio town that—with the exception of the parade we suddenly find ourselves wedged in—looks like all the other Illinois, Indiana, and Ohio towns we have exited into.
This time Bob is driving.That’s us behind the fire truck.
And that’s the melody from “American Pie”carried haltingly by the trombone sectionin the marching band behind us.
On May 19, 1979, I will stagger through mile twenty-sixand step onto a quarter-mile cinder trackwith about fifteen other straggling runners: a kind of sad parade.
“Ah, ha, ha, ha, stayin’ alive, stayin’ alive,”
a cruel loudspeaker will singas I limp across the finish line and into a canvas recovery tent,where I will notice a slender, fair-haired girlrecovering from her run with the aid of a cigarette. [End Page 484] The beautiful girl will not notice me.
But in this parade the Buckeye girls who line the streetcan’t seem to get enough of Bob and me, cheering wildly,wildly waving as we pass—the two of us doing our best parade wavesthrough the open windows of my Pinto, in return.
Clouds, snowflakes, certain animal-coloration patterns (a leopard comes to mind),broccoli, cauliflower: fractals all.
Lungs, pulmonary vessels. Galaxies!
That’s Bob and me on top of Cadillac Mountain,stuffed with wild blueberries we’ve consumed along the trail.We’re looking at Maine’s coastline.In a few years I’ll learn it’s a fractal, too,along with ocean waves parading toward shore.Lightning bolts. Also fractals.
But I won’t be thinking about that either—after we descend Cadillac Mountain and the rain and lightning start for realand we realize no way will our pathetic little tent protect uslike a cozy bar in Bar Harbor and a beautiful girl or twowho can’t wait to take us to their cozy home from a bah in Bah Hahba would.
What a magnificent coastline! [End Page 485]
Here are some things I remember from that night:
1.) driving into Bar Harbor in a downpour;
2.) naming lobsters (Larry, Louie, Lonnie, et cetera)
swimming in a restaurant tank;
3.) watching paramedics revive a cook who inhaled
while priming a propane cookstove with a rubber straw;
4.) eating lobster (Larry) for the first time;
5.) deciding never to name another meal;
6.) walking into a bar on Mount Desert Street
and seeing a slender, fair-haired girl smoking a cigarette—alone;
7.) noticing the...