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The Essay
Show #293
Time Sheep
David Gunn

Exactly one hundred years ago today, on December 30, 1900, snow was falling for the 30th consecutive night onto Pökelnasegletscher, the "pickle-nose glacier" of Austrian Alps folklore. German physicist Otto Lummer was asleep in a cabin at the galosh of the glacier dreaming for the 29th consecutive night about time sheep, those wool-producing ephemeral ruminants whose positive and negative electrodes allow them to effect trans-temporal journeys. In nearly each dream, Lummer was cast in a different role. One night he was a schizophrenic meteorologist arguing both the pros and cons of the amino acid rain controversy at a sheep dipping seminar. Another time he was a data chain smoker in a room full of flammable punch card ruminants who looked on as a sleeping focus group attempted to count the sheep, but then promptly awoke. On still another occasion he found himself mired in unethical nosalectomies performed by Cosmetic Surgery By Gumby haberdashers. On the night of the 30th, however, he was playing shepherd to a flock of time sheep as they danced in and out of focus en route to parallel universes, a role of minimal interaction. Hence, he was able to observe much of what the sheep were doing to effect their trans-temporal journeys. And when a large chunk of the glacier above him calved and crashed down nearly at his front doormat, startling him awake, Lummer still had enough presence of mind to recall one crucial detail before it fleeted.

That dream tendril presented a solution to a blackbody radiation enigma that had stymied him for more than two years. A blackbody, of course, is a hypothetical object that absorbs all of the energy that falls upon it, with the exception of time sheep. The sheep's wool -- really a hard-as-nails bran-scented integument that seemed to reflect time and space -- had in the dream been harvested by time travelers to break the shackles of Universal Constant Time. Whenever one of the sheep tried to converse with another, the cartoon caption "T = W³ + B/GR" appeared over its head. Intuiting that T stood for the time sheep, W for wool, B for blackbody and GR for the glacier's radiation from a previous experiment, Lummer plugged the formula into his two-year old equation and stood back. Not quite far enough, it turned out, as a silent but powerful explosion sent him, his cabin and much of the surrounding galosh into temporal flux, a condition that would one day wear with honor the badge of Algonquin Hole. After some semblance of stasis returned to Pökelnasegletscher, Lummer tempered his experiment by reducing the amount of W, the successful consequence of which allowed angular momentum to exist on a subatomic level, forming the basis of quantum mechanical theory, as well as a really effective antacid.

Two months earlier, another German physicist, Max Planck, had propounded the Inflationary Universe Theory which dealt with blackbody radiators -- cooling devices in then-new automotive engines which absorbed any water or other fluid that circulated as a coolant through them. While Planck was on the right track -- "At any specified temperature, a blackbody emits the maximum energy obtainable from any radiator because of its temperature alone" is the first constant of Heisenberg's Law of Blackbody Radiation -- it took Lummer's paradoxical rebuttal in "Herbewegende Hosen; Kosmische Tanten," written in that strangely limerical meter, to aim the scientist in the direction of what would ultimately become Planck's constant ... and, the main ingredient in an over-the-counter stomach acid neutralizer called, strangely enough, "Beano."

"There once was a parson named Pucker," I read on the Floating Pants and Cosmic Aunts dust jacket, which I find by the door in the tunnel I have just re-entered. It had been stuffed inside of a conch shell that looks like it had frequently during its post-aquatic life played a cameo role as doorstop. As I continue to read the blurb, the words seem to ebb and flow in the Focus Department, making concentration difficult. Then, as I had done hundreds of times as a child for whom the rebuke "No!" meant classical Japanese drama, I hold the conch shell up to my ear. But in place of the ocean, I hear the faint strains of Saber Dance, however with seagulls chirruping the xylophone line in parallel fifths. I put down the shell. I still hear the music, off in the distance, counterpointing the sound of a scuffle at the far end of a peat-lined corridor that involves at least one wing flapping, a stiletto boot, and a bathtubful of radioactive balalaikas, women's size 7. The thought of the balalaikas suddenly drains me of all of my energy, and I slump to the ground, my arms, feet and conch shell splayed in a kind of inverse akimbo which, with my head homing towards Puyallup, approximates a shape that's a disturbing cross between a baby grand piano and a distant dog bark.

While puckering parsons and radioactive balalaikas may not make up the bulk of this 293rd episode of Kalvos & Damian's New Music Bazaar, we think today's motley melodic mélange will compensate nicely, a word that doesn’t come immediately to mind when considering the munificently musical menus of Kalvos.