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Stephen Lee Pattern Recognition

“Hang on a sec, I’m gonna pour another real quick.” “…” “Ah, give me a break, I know for what might as well be a stone cold fact that in all likelihood you’re sitting on some vine-covered terrace on your nth glass of wine with nothing better to do than stare at like the Eiffel Tower off in the distance somewhere.” “…” “Well, I’m sorry about your view. But the point is that I’m hypocritical enough for the both of us, okay, so you really don’t need to, no listen you really don’t need to be like that, my shop’s closed, we’re both up late, and I’m gonna be drinking regardless of whether or not you’re scoffing at me over the phone all night.” “…” “Well who cares about time zones? I’m one thousand percent positive that everyone else in Dover starts drinking at six p.m. too.” “…” “No no the state is Delaware. But yeah, the bars here open at like nine A.M. Welcome to America. Anyway it’s like what I was saying before, about telephones. It’s like that, it’s like how you know how no matter what differences a father and his kid have, they almost invariably and inexplicably end up answering the phone in the same exact way? You know what I’m talking about, I can literally hear you rolling your eyes

not all of us are lucky enough to have a father who had an uncontrollable and extremely debilitating phobia of picking up the phone.” “…” “Okay. you’re free to answer however you wish. but in his own weirdly calm way.S.’ And so on. Congratulations. well. for whenever he or my mom was away that he wrote down on this ridiculously nice stationary and kept it by the phone. Something along the lines of ‘Hello. That’s how my dad answered the phone. Not flip out flip out.. the first few times the phone rang while he was around he picked it up and made me listen to the way he answered it. He used to kind of flip out if I answered less formally than that. anyway? It just hit me that I haven’t actually seen you in person since your year at Colombia. And may I ask why? Pause.A. you have reached the Reed residence. may I ask who’s calling? Pause. like for a secretary or something. whenever you get here. Every single time I’m about to pick up the phone I think to myself. ‘okay this time you are going to say a fully-enunciated ‘Hello. it’s just one of those things. to take mental notes or whatever.’” but I subconsciously—is it subconsciously or unconsciously?—I just always answer with “mmmyellow” without even realizing it.” 2 . and before we got our first answering machine he made this kind of script for me. But listen but the point is that after he wrote that out. Hold on just a moment. You’re going to fit right into the U. and he would always start with ‘mmmyellow’ and I don’t know if that’s just how I thought the phone had to be answered or if it slowly seeped into my vocabulary over time or what but I can’t for the life of me say anything else when I pick up.whenever I do the ‘mmmyellow’ thing. I don’t know. Where does our glorious nation fit on your travel schedule.

whenever you get here.” “…” “What does what mean? Disillusionment? Look. Right.A. guy.’” “…” “Well. you’d know what I meant. Okay so here’s what happened.“…” “After Bruges? Never heard of it. now that I think about it. if you spent the first ten years of your life in a Dover suburb named Shady goddamned Space listening to your pops talk about the greatness of The American Dream and the importance of hard work and all that jazz pretty much 24/7 and watch as he does a complete 180 attitude-wise and turns into an alcoholic recluse who made whatever book he was reading into the room’s fifth wall. or something so the whole disillusionment thing doesn’t hit you all at once.” “…” “Oh. huh? No idea what’s even in Belgium. Right. Where’s that?” “…” “Belgium. Sorry. I’ll tell you what happened but hang on a minute while I get a refill. Anyway. 3 . Okay. I don’t mean to say this in some highfalutin way but just make sure it’s a nice big popular city like New York or L. give me a call and I’ll fly out to wherever you are so you don’t have to be subjected to Dover.” “…” “You there?” “…” “Okay so where was I. It basically means ‘pretentious.

so I asked him for some help with the project. Not too badly or anything. since elementary school doesn’t really do that kind of thing. then did Quebec have science fairs? With the tri-fold boards and everything? It doesn’t matter. and she came back once in a while but for about six months it was just me and my dad. did Toronto have science fairs?” “…” “Fine. I’m telling you. But the point. the first one that I had ever been a part of. whatever. I’d like to point out. we had this science fair where every kid comes up with a stupid hypothesis like ‘does Miracle-Gro work better than water alone. y’know. First one I had ever been a part of. Not one. right. At the time I had missed the first week of school because I had strep throat. and I was just completely clueless. guy.’ unable to really fully catch up with them.’ stuff like that. I was getting decent enough grades. but just in general—like that week that I missed somehow displaced me very slightly in time. Anyway. I was in the sixth grade and our school had an annual science fair. she had temporarily moved to Georgia to spend as much time with her mother as possible before. you’re just moving so sluggishly. But yeah so I had this project that I had to come up with an idea for.When you were in like junior high. My mom usually helped me with my assignments. so I was falling behind. just behind the big group of ‘everybody else. We came up with this idea—and 4 . Like how when you need to run away from something in a nightmare but you can barely even stumble forward. I don’t know. In my entire middle school career I never saw one single baking soda volcano.’ or ‘can you really tell the difference between Pepsi and Coke. but this was around the time when my grandmother was in the hospital with pancreatic cancer—real nasty shit. Hard to explain. for some reason. Not a lot of hope when someone gets slammed with that.

My ideas were bush league and if his kid was going to be doing a formal science project then it was going to be done right. Caterpillars I think. But you get the point. he knew that it was just an eleven year old’s science project but he had this weird perfectionist thing that would just take over sometimes. like when he started growing tomatoes in the garden by the side of the house every plant had to be exactly two feet away from any other plant. welcome to America. Jim Beam. Like soda and coffee and whatever. Needed to refill. But so then anyway.” “…” “Damn right it’s a cliché.of course I mean he came up with it. my ideas were too juvenile for him. Forgot how long this story was. The point is. I’m drinking whiskey. like how bad they were for your teeth. right. he spent entire weekends looking out the window and muttering ‘that’s not right’ and then going outside to make slight adjustments to his rows and columns of tomatoes.” “…” “Sorry. he came up with this idea to test how corrosive certain beverages were. What isn’t? I mean aside from the Eiffel Tower being in view I was right about the wine thing. My pops. Where was I?” “…” “Oh. right?” “…” “Doesn’t matter if there aren’t actually any vines. and they were all arranged in perfectly straight rows. we drink whiskey here. which mostly got eaten by pests anyway. Hold on a minute. And apparently eggshells 5 . the project. and they were all staked at exact 90 degree angles perpendicular to the ground.

I wouldn’t be surprised if he was the first person to pioneer the baking-soda toothpaste movement. orange juice. Whenever he cooked ribs for dinner he’d keep a little thing of floss next to his plate. his nicest glasses. always floss. I think it was because he smoked so much. those were his big things. I think. the man was big into dental hygiene. Although now that I think about it I don’t remember if we actually used orange juice. Never slump. he’d be in the kitchen taking these ridiculously intricate notes on the pH level and structural integrity of the shell and Christ I’ve never met anyone who even knew that many synonyms for 6 . I always wondered about that. and water. why he chose his nicest glasses. and took daily notes on like how much they had deteriorated. And this man’s notes were fucking forensic-level. something he read in some textbook. Coke. So we filled the glasses. that was just another thing about him. the one in the coffee had weird patterns of blotchy brown stains.” “…” “Oh. coffee. the ones he brought out whenever one of his coworkers came over— we filled them with Coke and Maxwell House Original Blend or whatever.are a lot like human teeth. as a matter of fact —everything I observed about the eggs. let’s see. I don’t know. Then Pops’d get home from the plant and while I’d be off watching. stuff like that. as a control. really self-conscious about the stains. The one in the Coca-Cola was getting flimsy. too. and submerged the eggs in them. So we poked holes in a couple of grade-A jumbo sized eggs and filled some of his whiskey glasses with. Hill Street Blues or Hawaii Five-0 or whatever godawful reruns were on. Posture and flossing. I’d come home after school and the first thing I’d do was I’d write down everything I observed—I was reminded to write it down by another note on that ridiculous stationary.

just so we wouldn’t get penalized by the judges for sloppiness. I assumed. Well Hill Street Blues wasn’t as formulaic as hold on why are we talking about this. I was proud of it. Trash. and if I made a typo and covered it up with liquid paper then at night he’d—I don’t think he knew I knew he did this. just checking. after we figured out which was worse for your teeth and pasted the conclusion in the corner.‘brown. procedure. he’d retype the entire thing. Let me focus on this for a minute. we buy one of those cardboard tri-fold boards and he helps me type up all of the data we gathered on my mom’s ancient typewriter from her old job. and I won the school’s local science fair. which was basically just this thing where all of the winning projects from 7 . I remember. we’d cut them out into perfect rectangles and rubber cement them onto the board underneath the Polaroids of the eggs that we took and honestly. mostly. in all honesty.’” “…” “Cop shows. Does it matter? Anyway long story short. she told me she stole that from the office when she got laid off. conclusion. actually—okay—okay so anyway long story short. the crappy little tri-fold board actually looked pretty goddamn good to me. So—well let me top this off real quick. and as a reward I got to move on to the county fair. by the end of the project. We cut out every section— hypothesis.” “…” “I think it was the Coke. but that typewriter was just so goddamn loud late at night. are you even paying attention or are you just occasionally asking about little details you hear while you zone out?” “…” “Sorry.

and that entire time he sat there listening to me with this big satisfied grin on his face. and the winners of that got to move onto the state fair and there were scholarships that were being given out and so on. is the thing.every school in the county would be exhibited in this big like convention center type room at some fancy-ass hotel. with the big tri-fold board in the back seat. And by that point I had built up this ridiculous armor of like pride and cockiness that kids get sometimes when they win at anything. “ “…” “No it did matter to him. the kind that puts more stock into developing good habits and values than material things. the entire time I was bragging to my dad about how great my project was and how I was going to get a scholarship and become a paleontologist. which I think says a lot about kids in and of itself. where was I. I guess. though. as if I had come up with an unbeatable retort to whatever his argument was that couldn’t be refuted in any way whatsoever. But no the scholarship was definitely a big part of it. I even quote unquote “won” an argument that I was having with some kid at lunch one day by telling him that I got the Dover Junior High Science Fair blue ribbon. like it was a big deal—I literally cringe every time I remember this—and the thing is the kid really did shut up after that. It was about as big of a deal as a dumb science fair project could be. and looking back on it now he probably didn’t care about the scholarship as much as he did about the fact that his kid finally was reaping the benefits of a good work ethic. But sorry. but yeah on the way to this county fair. since we weren’t exactly doing swan dives into swimming pools filled with gold doubloons or anything. learning the value of hard work and persistence and et cetera et cetera. It’s just that he was that kind of man. Is someone else there with you?” 8 .

it fell off and shattered into a million pieces. like as soon as I stepped through the big double-door threshold of the convention center with my shitty little cardboard project and mason jars containing rotten eggshells.“…” “Oh. We’re talking projects that invited the viewer to I guess just accept that some kid who hasn’t even lost all of his baby teeth yet can program and wire an LED lightboard to sync up to the notes 9 . and that mask of confidence or arrogance or whatever you’d call it. Huh. I didn’t know they had Pizza Hut there. crunched into dust under the other kids’ fancy shoes. it fell off almost immediately. probably because I hated them so much. or siblings majoring in Civil Engineering at MIT. or fucking something because there is absolutely no way any child could have come up with some of the shit I saw in there. There were project titles like “Salt Bridge Over Electrified Waters: How Electricity Changes pH” and “Measuring the Speed of Moving Objects with Stroboscopic Photography” and “Divide and Conquer: Proving Pick's Theorem for Lattice Polygons. hang on—so we get there. You know what the really fucked up part was? There couldn’t have been a single original project in the entire room. And the kids were all wearing half-windsors or these dweeby little bow ties and there wasn’t a single other tri-fold cardboard display anywhere in the entire building. these kids who were eleven or twelve years old and wearing like Allen Edmunds for Christssake. So—topping off again. At least not one that isn’t already on the road to being a fifteen-year-old grad student anyway.” “…” “I don’t know why I remember them so vividly. and you could tell just by looking at them that if these kids’ parents weren’t actual scientists themselves then they had scientists under their thumb.

next to some little WASP. But anyway we found our designated spot. and when they finally got to around to us the looks on their faces were what I imagine people would react like if someone literally brought a knife to a gun fight. and yeah I know that my dad helped me out with my project too but I was still taking notes and typing things up when I wasn’t watching police procedurals. Might have to double-check that later. So anyway. like a to an actual Barry-Lyndon-style duel. It was absurd. me and my dad stand there in front of what is comparatively the most embarrassing project in the entire convention center. I think. who had surely all by himself used high-strength magnets to create a simple motor that powered a small fan. And then we just had to keep standing there like we were going down with the ship until the judges gave out the ribbons and trophies and scholarships to all of the most brilliant developing minds of my generation. watching the judges smile and nod and scribble on their clipboards as they snaked around the a Huey Lewis song.” “…” “Um…White Anglo-Saxon Person. it didn’t require willful suspension of goddamn disbelief to think that an eleven year old kid made it. and they were at least polite enough to ask a couple of basic questions like “where did you get the idea for this project” that I shamefully murmured through before moving to the asthmatic kid that—who I would like to point out as an aside was positively strip-mining his nose the entire time—that by this point I had developed a complete and irrevocable hatred for. It wasn’t literal. it wasn’t like this. and the whole time I barely even looked at the judges or the stage the award ceremony was on or even at my dad. and who had a bad nose-picking habit and asthma. I just basically meant some snot-nosed rich kid. I was just looking at 10 .

slumped against the driver’s side door. just letting it drag along the ground behind me. and he spent the entire rest of the drive in silence. Jesus. guy. like that exact second that the final words of congratulation were pushed through the judges’ teeth. to be honest.” “…” “I know. basically ruining it. topping off again. It wasn’t a very good day for either of us.” “…” “Really? They’re these plastic cameras that are maybe ten bucks for like twentyfour pictures. I think I might have told my dad that I hated him. you usually get them for traveling. something like that. So then as soon as everything was over. and when I got in the car I spent maybe the first five or ten minutes of the hour and a half long drive telling my dad how much I hated science fairs and the asthmatic nose-picker and school and eggs and even I think him. I’ll top this thing off as much as I damn please. and the one time I looked up the asthmatic nose-picker was accepting a 2 nd place trophy and he had this infuriating smile frozen by the flash of a disposable camera. Hold on. and he was smiling as if he actually did something that was in any way impressive. I’m kind of surprised you don’t have one. I know. 11 . chain-smoking with the window rolled down.” “…” “In one ear and out the Chuck Taylors and waiting to leave and be in a place where I didn’t have to be on display as the kid with the worst project in the entire world and where people weren’t presented with awards for basically nothing other than being financially stacked. I grabbed my project and stomped outside holding it by the corner.

It was just too stupid to not do it. bootstrap-type self sufficiency and a hard day’s work and all that. seeing what basically amounted to my first ever experience with the true spirit of The American Dream or whatever. I mean he liked to read. I don’t ever really remember the old man as being an avid reader before that. I read something somewhere about how owning a secondhand bookshop almost guarantees you a life of commercial failure. it affected him too. and even when my mother returned he spent most of his free time in the den. I’d probably just have to say that it’s nothing more than I couldn’t resist the idea of opening up a secondhand bookshop named ‘Reed Books’. like. He sort of withdrew. I guess it’s like the telephone-answering thing. Psychoanalytically or whatever. since in the end it was just a middle school science fair project. right? Although if I was really pressed for an answer. But anyway I’m not saying that that was why he changed. who in the world are 12 . but throughout high school whenever I’d come in too late at night after doing the typical irresponsible teenager garbage I’d always end up going into the den and take his empty glass to the kitchen after dog-earing the page of Dostoyevsky or whatever he was reading before he gave in for the night. slumped in his chair. Never really got into that stuff. I don’t know. But I guess for a guy who spent basically his whole life since the age of sixteen getting by on nothing but basically pure willpower. drinking whiskey and listening to Neil Young and burying himself underneath mountains of books. all of the things he built his life on. but I’m sure it’s probably part of it. promise.I’m almost done with the story. A few weeks after that my grandmother died. to see all that end up in such a trainwreck…it. If anything. ” “…” “Well I wouldn’t really say that’s why I own the book shop.

The funniest things in life are always the things that you can’t tell at first whether or not they’re funny or just really scary.” 13 .these people who pilot these financial death-ships. I don’t know.” “…” “Anyway. I guess. Welcome to America. that’s it. it was funny to me.

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