Here is the next installment of your weekly Mondays With Muddy. From Beatrice Allen Page’s unpublished manuscript, Landscape With Figures:
” There was one advantage to going to that cocktail party yesterday afternoon. As the room became more and more crowded and the decibels began too rise, it shut out the sound of popping firecrackers, even though the shrill voices made me feel as if I were being stabbed with pointed icicles.
That’s an ungracious remark to make. It was a nice party really and most of the people I met were very cordial to me. The fact is I just don’t like big cocktail parties, particularly when I don’t know anyone.
I would like to overflow with fondness for all my fellow creatures but I can’t pretend that I do. When someone says to m, ‘I like people,’ with the implication that all activities not directly involving other human beings are at best feckless and at worst selfish, I always begin to feel inferior and wonder if I lack a real capacity for warmth and friendliness. Maybe I do, although I prefer to think it’s just people in the aggregate, not individuals, from whom I tend to hold aloof. There were several people at the party I’m sure I’d have enjoyed talking with if we had not been under the compulsion to make small talk and could have eased into a genuine conversation without being assailed by a barrage of sights, sounds, smells and other people interrupting us.
Be that as it may, I suspect that many person who say with that complacent air, ‘I like people, ‘ really mean ‘I like people to like me.‘
That is perfectly understandable but what is odd is our need to impress others. No doubt it stems from our desire to be loved and we seem to think if we impress others enough – whether by our looks, brains, our achievement, our money, our courage, our wit, our charm or whatever – they will be compelled to love us.
There were are least two exceptions, though, to this attitudinizing at yesterday’s party: two men engaged in a discussion of such absorbing mutual interest that they were clearly oblivious of what kind of impression they were making on each other or anyone else.
They were standing on the edge of the crowd and m back was toward them so that I did not notice them at first. Two very nice women, somewhat younger than I, with their husbands in tow, had just introduced themselves to me and explained that their parents had been friends of my parents and reminded me that I had dated the older brother of one, and Don had taken the other to a Yacht Club dance once. One of the husbands remembered me, too. His face seemed totally unfamiliar but as soon as I got his name I was able to attach it to a gawky adolescent boy who had been too young to interest me at the time since I was at least two years older. It was while I was trying to mesh past and present and get myself oriented that two words uttered by a male voice rose up out of the general hubbub around me and riveted my attention: ‘quantum jump.’
My ears are still sensitively attuned to two things. No matter what I am doing or what competing sounds there are around me, I believe I hear any bird singing within ear range and pick up any reference made to dance.
In my ignorance of physics I had never heard of a quantum jump until a few years ago, and my immediate reaction at the time was that it was possibly a new leap worked out my some inventive dancer or choreographer, Baryshnikov perhaps. Even yesterday I instinctively jerked my head around; the two men behind me didn’t look in the least like dancers. They were not nearly as old as I, and they looked much more like physicists which, of course, they were, as I soon found out by eavesdropping on the conversation although it was completely over my head.
Later, when I found myself standing alone for a few moments, I watched them with fascination and a little envy – they were so thoroughly and enthusiastically caught up in their subject. I love to see people with such a passionate interest in an impersonal subject, whatever the subject may be, that they are totally unself-conscious.
Before I left, I was introduced to one of them. He’d had his talk out with his colleague by then and was trying to make his way toward a platter of shrimp. He obviously had no wish to stop and chat with me so I just asked him bluntly: ‘What’s a quantum jump?’
He looked surprised but explained it to me briefly and politely. It had something to do, I think, with an electron jumping from one orbit to another with a liberation of energy, whatever that means. There are times when I wish I’d gone to college.”