It’s a rainy day and I’m thinking about my father. He was a gifted pharmaceutical research chemist with encyclopedic interests. I can see him now, so many evenings when I was growing up, sitting in an arm chair pouring over a random volume of the Encyclopedia Britannica. Voracious reading fed into a game he played with his good friend Lou Marino which particularly terrified me.
The game was this. First they’d imagine a nuclear war or some other holocaust which reduces the few survivors to Stone Age level. And here I am, listening to grown up talk from another room, not liking the game one bit. We get all the details of the devastation. The next step is to imagine the minimum number of their friends and colleagues needed to recreate modern science and technology. My father would “do” chemistry (with what tools I don’t know). Astronomy also, and mathematics. Lou, a fine engineer, would manage other tasks, creating electrical supply, designing bridges and so forth. They added a physicist, medical doctor, metallurgist biologist, etc., looking for people with multiple skills (since there isn’t much food, remember). Or maybe the game was a sort of Fahrenheit 451 and the object was simply to designate people who could keep a mental archive of all that was lost.
“You’re scaring the kids,” my mother and Mrs. Marino would complain, to which the general answer was, “They can understand a hypothetical conversation.” Not really, or rather, “hypothetical” for me blended seamlessly into reality. Funny that a fiction writer was never part of the rebuilding civilization group. However, now that years have mellowed the memory, it’s a sweet one, really, two friends passing lazy Sunday afternoons telling stories.