An Old Woman, a Rubber Band, and a Nuclear Bomb

As they shuffled slowly into the cafeteria/common room, she was already sitting, hunched over, at her usual table in the corner by the window. She didn’t even look as the others sat in groups. Some were bragging about their grandkids while others complained of the cold. A middle aged bald man followed them in and walked to the front of the room. He waited a few moments for the chatter to stop.

“We have a special surprise for you today. Instead of our weekly sing along, some students from the community college are going to spend the day with us.”

The chattering started up again as half a dozen community college students walked into the room. Six tables were occupied, including the old woman in the corner. The administrator paused momentarily and then started showing the students to different tables. He came to the old woman’s table last with a twenty year old boy. He had studiously shaggy hair, glasses and a scarf.

The old woman glanced at the pair before turning to look out the window. The administrator said, “Agnes, this is Matthew. He’s going to visit with you for a while.” As he turned to leave, he mouthed, “Good luck,” to Matthew and scurried off to another table.

Matthew looked at Agnes while Agnes looked out the window. “So. . .,” Matthew started, “What is it like here?”

Agnes didn’t answer or even look at Matthew. Matthew sat down in her line of sight. Agnes shifted to look at the table with the utensils. “Do you like sports?” Matthew asked. “I used to watch the Sox with my grandmother.”

Agnes didn’t answer. Matthew started again, “It’s hot in here.”

“I’m cold,” Agnes mumbled. “Take off your scarf.”

Matthew fingered his scarf, but didn’t remove it.  “I’m in my third year,” Matthew tried again.  “I’m a poli sci major.  Most of the people here are sociology majors.  I want to go into politics, but I think it’s important to understand the issues.  A lot of poli sci majors never take any other classes.  But, really, how can you talk about disarmament without taking history classes or social security without talking to retirees?

“I mean there’s just tons of important issues out there and I need to do something about them. Look at Iraq and Ukraine. We can’t just let this stuff continue.”

Agnes kept looking at the utensils. “I’m sorry,” Matthew said. “You can’t be interested in that.”

Agnes glanced briefly at Matthew. “May I have a rubber band?” she mumbled.

“I’m sorry?”

“Please, may I have a rubber band,” she said, at the same volume as before.

“I’m sorry, I can’t hear you.”

“A RUBBER BAND!  GET ME A RUBBER BAND!” she screamed.  Matthew stood up nervously and walked over to the administrator.  The two argued briefly and the administrator gestured to the door.  Matthew went out.

Agnes stood slowly and walked towards the utensils.  The administrator approached and said, “Now, Agnes, you can’t yell at people and it’s not time to eat.”  Agnes didn’t acknowledge the administrator.  She picked up a paper bowl and a pair of chop sticks before returning to her seat by the window.

Matthew returned with a red rubber band.  He handed it to Agnes as the administrator walked over to their table.  “Agnes,” he started, but Matthew interrupted with, “We’re fine.”

Agnes looked Matthew in the eye and mumbled, “Thank you.”  Then she looked at the administrator and said, “Ssss.”

The administrator shook his head and walked away.  Matthew sat down as Agnes pulled a bobby pin out of her hair.  She used the bobby pin to poke a hole in the bottom of the paper bowl.  She picked up the rubber band and put it between her teeth.  She pulled on it until it snapped.  She tied one end of the broken rubber band to the bobby pin.  Agnes lifted the bowl in her right hand and the loose end of the rubber band in her left.  She poked the rubber band through the hole on the concave side of the bowl, switched hands and pulled until the bobby pin was flat against the inside of the bowl.  She put the bowl upside down on the table and picked up the chopsticks.  She separated the two and put one down.  She tied the loose end of the rubber band to the thin end of the chopstick.

“What is that?” Matthew asked.  Agnes ignored him again.  She lifted the chopstick with the rubber band end up and placed the other end on the rim of the overturned bowl.  She rested her left hand on the bowl and pressed the rubber band against the chopstick with her right index finger.  She plucked the rubber band with her left middle finger while rocking the chopstick forwards and back.  She started humming a note a little lower than what the instrument was making.  She relaxed the rubber band until they matched.  She hummed a note a fifth above the first note and pulled back on the chopstick until those two notes matched.

Matthew’s mouth was open slightly as he watched Agnes. Agnes continued rocking the chopstick between the root and fifth while humming softly. Her voice was both low and high. The notes were true, with an edge, a bit of rasp.

She paused. Matthew leaned forward, but closed his mouth. After a moment, Agnes started a simple baseline: root, root, fifth, root, root, fifth, two eighths – slightly swung – and a quarter. Matthew looked around. He was the only person paying attention to Agnes. He grinned.

Then, Agnes started singing. Her voice was soft, but clear, “Everybody’s talkin’ ’bout the nuc’ler bomb/but nobody’s talkin’ ’bout when Jesus comes/When Jesus comes/he’s gonna hit ya, he’s gonna hit ya/like that nuclear bomb.”





A Pyramid Scheme, Juice Fasts, and D.I.Y. Electrical Engineering

“I don’t want to go to jail.”

“You’re not going to go to jail.  It’s totally legit.”

Kerri shrugged.  “It sounds like a pyramid scheme to me.”

“It’s not a pyramid scheme,” said Erik.

“What’s a pyramid scheme?” asked Jen.

“It’s when you recruit people to join something for a fee, and that fee keeps getting funneled to the people at the top and the base keeps getting bigger and bigger, but the people at the base keep getting less and less money while the people at the top keep getting more and more money.”

“I think that was a run on sentence,” said Jen.  “And it sounds like a pyramid scheme.”

“It’s not a pyramid scheme.  What she failed to mention is that in a pyramid scheme, the people don’t get anything for their money.  I’m offering you something for your money.”

“And what is that exactly?”

“An opportunity.  I’m the only person in the world who is an expert at both juice fasts and D.I.Y. electrical engineering.”

Jen stopped him.  “How do you know you’re the only one in the world?”

“Come on,” Erik replied.  “Those are both odd things to be expert at.  What are the odds that anyone else is expert at both?”

“He’s got us there,” said Kerri.  “But, why do we care that you’re a juice fast/do it yourself electrical engineering expert?”

“I thought you’d never ask.  Who is interested in juice fasts?”


“I was going to say rich, bored housewives, but OK.  And who is interested in D.I.Y. electrical engineering?”

“Poor people.”


“Out of work electrical engineers?”

“No. Husbands that want to get away from their wives.”

“How do you know all this?” Jen asked.

“All of what?”

“All of it.  How do you know about juice fasts and electrical engineering and who likes what?”

“I just know.”

“No.  No one ‘just knows’ about juice fasts and D.I.Y. electrical engineering.”

“I’d rather not talk about it.”

“Then I’d rather you leave us alone.  Do you really think we’d invest without details?”

“There was a girl.”

“Ah.” said Kerri.  “Now it makes sense.  She broke your heart, took everything, and now you’re looking for a quick buck.  Is this the same scam she used on you?”

“What?  No.  This isn’t, she didn’t scam me.  She was great. It was me. She was worried about her appearance, even though she looked great, and since I wanted to be supportive, when she got into juicing, I got into juicing. She lost a ton of weight, and she was still great, but I didn’t find her attractive anymore. I didn’t want to hurt her feelings by saying anything, so I started spending more and more time in the shed tinkering with electronics. Before I knew it, I was obsessed. I barely noticed when she left.”

“Are you hitting on me?” asked Kerri.


“Are you hitting on me?”

“No. I just figured some good should come from my suffering. I. . .”

“Next!” shouted the woman at the counter.

“That’s me,” said Erik. “I need an answer. . .”