Caribbean Stories

The Day Time Machines Went Kaput

1. A Sign for the Times

WHY WOULD THE PHYSICS DEPARTMENT hold their orientation for new research assistants in the auditorium of the School of Management? To address this question properly one must examine the broader circumstances attending the situation, its context. Otherwise, by ignoring pertinent factors, one will most likely be wrong, appearances of correctness notwithstanding. That is a cardinal rule for problem solving in general and effective decision making in particular, especially when formulating strategy, but let me stick to the posed question. I will give you a context in the form of a story. Contexts are generally subjective appreciations and can therefore be numerous and quite varied. They are typically given in narratives —stories— some of which are more complex than others. They span everything from brief accounts to elaborate expositions to dense technical specs, as well as virtually unreadable, chart-filled reports and cryptic mathematical equations. But worry not, mate; regardless of the symbols employed, all are stories just the same.
    Here is context: I first posed the above question as I walked down Beacon Street from my dormitory on Bay State Road to the Boston University School of Management. Correction: the proper term for the brownstones at BU is residence hall. Propriety is big around here. This is Boston. Note that most of the context you have gained so far is implicit, generated by your own neurocognitive system depending on your specific knowledge and experiences about Boston and colleges and the such. Context is not the same for everyone. Here is more: Beacon Street cuts diagonally into Commonwealth Avenue at Kenmore Square. Red Sox fans know the place well. Comm Ave is the main artery connecting the BU campus, running parallel to the Charles River. Yes, this is the famous ‘One if by land, two if by sea’ body of water, which, as you can see, was not a sea at all. Darned Yankees: lexically impoverished.
    What? Get outta here.
    SMG, or School of Management as denoted by BU’s three-letter codification scheme, sits at Comm Ave close to Kenmore Square. Nope, ‘SOM’ belonged to the School of Medicine back when we were CBA. That changed to MED but they call themselves BUSM. (They don’t know how to count.) Yep, I’m a student at SMG, a senior majoring in management, but you would have figured that out on your own: I talk like a management geek. Manufactured to exacting specifications. Now, why would an SMG senior be interested in Physics’ RAs? Well, Physics invited me to join their latest project, along with many other non-physics majors from all over the university. I suppose they’ll explain why they shunned their own issue —their intellectual progeny— in the orientation, which is where I’m headed to now. Wait, guinea pigs! Could it be that… Nah, these people are clean. One would think.
    You would think they’d orient their new RAs in their own facilities, I mused on, mostly for a lack of something more interesting to think about while ambling to the gathering on a sunny September afternoon. Here is where a highly trained, analytical mind honed by years of arduous, disciplined study at this respected seat of higher learning comes into play. Sounds peachy keen in principle, but in reality I’m stuck with what I’ve got. No big deal. I’ll just do managerial analysis by the numbers, methodically. See my tuition dollars at work. First, one has to come up with a list of possible alternatives to evaluate. Let’s see. They, Physics, may not want us non-physicists in their premises. Just because. Can’t be too egalitarian in academia, you know. Or they may have chosen SMG for its super convenient location, with the Green Line streetcars stopping right in front, just about. Ah, but Physics is located in the Metcalf Science Center just across Comm Ave from SMG. So they, too, have the same Green Line streetcars in front. But SMG has a swell auditorium with a classy lobby-cum-atrium to boot. So do they, I am told. Dang! Textbook analysis is getting me nowhere. So much for putting theory into practice. What the heck, they probably had their auditorium already booked for something else. Dumb analytics.
    Whoa! Person of significant interest at one o’clock.
        «CNS, cute gal detected coming out of the BU bookstore.»
        «Roger. Activating steroid hormonal subsystems.»
        «Targeting chick.»
        «Coordinates fixed. Locked in on target.»
        «Request target approach clearance.»
        «Cleared to approach. All systems go. Cleared to engage.»
        «Engaging target.»
    “Suzy, hi!”
    She looked to her left and flashed a warm smile. “Oh, Chris, hello.”
        «Roger that.»
    “Looking fine.”
    “Thank you”, she grinned, beaming.
    “Got some books?”
    “Got some coffee.”
    Got what it takes: pleasant personality, easygoing ways, friendly disposition and smart. Cute is just frosting on the cake. Turns out that Suzy is also on her way to the Physics orientation. Lucky boy, Chris. Lucky boy.

Posted:   17 Aug 2014
Revised:   1 May 2015

 Image credits:

"Kenmore" by Henry Han ( Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons. Date: 1 Nov 2011

"Boston at sunset" by Robmyskis. Released into the public domain via Wikimedia Commons. Photo date: 12 Sep 2007

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Green Jelly Legacy Icons courtesy of Icons Etc via

Topical trivia:

The BU bookstore (operated by Barnes & Noble) has the CITGO sign atop its roof. The C-IT-GO sign is visible beyond the outfield at Fenway Park, where Red Sox fans can see the baseballs go when batted out of the stadium as home runs.

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