“Hey Artie, put up that new toy bin by the front entrance.”

“Right, Mr. McGee,” I said.

Rrrrrrr…goes the pallet jack as I set down a bin full of plastic knick-knacks made in China and head toward the back room to grab another I once again hear on Walmart radio…

“She wore a raspberry beret, the kind you find in a secondhand store. Raspberry beret, and if it was warm, she wouldn’t wear much more.”

I almost shed a tear as I hear this lost hit from the Hindu Love Gods like I did a couple of days ago. Nostalgia is a funny thing. It is triggered by an image, or even more likely just a feeling of not the past, but of an idealized past, the past as we wish it could have been. I had never actually heard that version of the song before this week, but it was as though I was a teenager again living in a world full of promise.

Don’t get me wrong: my life was always a shit sandwich. I don’t have any fond memories of that time. My good times begin now that my son is up the river and my father is taking a dirt nap. But back then, I had passion to do something worthwhile with my life and I was willing to defy the will of all who would assert authority over me. My college grades and my subsequent work history proved myself a failure to achieve jack shit. Here in the present day, reality might be better, but the illusions are gone. In the past, I could pretend fantasy was reality. I think that is the meaning of nostalgia; the desire to return to a time when a suspension of disbelief made bullshitting oneself easy.

As I set down another bin brim full of toys before the register set so ankle-biting kids could look at them while pestering their parents trying to check out, I see Gus through the open front door having an argument with someone.

“Ma’am, you can’t go in right now, we’re closed,” he said.

The woman who, as she turned around the corner, was not only going in through the out door, she was not wearing the required face diaper, and all this being done after hours. It was as if Gus wasn’t even there. All of those rules he had to enforce, but how was he supposed to do that? He knew damn well what could happen if he actually touched the woman, so all he could do was yell. It’s amazing how many rules can be broken by simply not giving a damn. When there are so many rules governing the minutiae of life, including the enforcement of these rules, just saying “to Hell with it all” can be a great life strategy.

As she walked into the hallway in front of the registers, I recognized her instantly. It was the same woman who was babbling in the parking lot two days ago. Gus recognized her, too. He followed in close behind.

“Hey Artie, it’s the crazy lady from a couple of days ago. I’m going to call the cops to take her away. Do you mind making sure she doesn’t get hurt,” Gus said to me.

“Um, lady. I’m not sure what you’re doing or if you can understand me, but why don’t you just sit here on the bench while I get you some help. Maybe you can ask Artie with the pallet jack over there if you need anything,” Gus said to the woman in a stuttering, panicked tone as he dialed 911 on his cell phone.

The woman did not sit on the bench but continued to stand around and stare off into space. She was wearing a bikini. Out on the beach, under the glare of the sun where nobody is watching anyway, that is not a big deal, but under the fluorescent lights of the Walmart, it is clear that a nearly naked woman is prancing around. The younger guys to the left of me stocking the pharmacy can’t stop staring. At my age, I still notice her beauty, but it’s just not that exciting anymore. She had a strange robustness in her features; if she wasn’t so beautiful, I would have guessed she was a tranny. I guess that is what originally set me off about her as different.

She said to me, “Do you like my hat? I got it at the Goodwill next door.”

I was aghast. I had not even noticed her hat until now. I was even more surprised she was both willing and able to talk to me. I replied, “So I guess you do speak English.”

She said, “I guess so. If that’s what you call it. Do you like my raspberry beret?”

This was getting freaky. Did she just hear the same song? No. She was not even in the store when it was played. She couldn’t have heard it. Even if she did, how could she have got that hat so quickly? It really was a raspberry beret. And she says she got it at a secondhand store. What is this shit?

“Sure, it’s great. Where you from?” Not knowing what else to say.

Y’ hup ah Atlantis. H’ mgep ya ph’nglui ah’ehyeagl. Y’ need hafh.

“What the devil?” She’s gone back to gibberish.

“Hey, Artie, the cops said they would send somebody as soon as they could,” Gus said to me.

“Look, Gus, you look after her; I really need to get this shit done ASAP.”

“Okay, where did she go?”

“She is standing right…there?” I said as I looked and nobody was there. Just like last time, she vanished.

“Where did she go, Artie?”

“I don’t know. Motherfucker. She was right there about 30 seconds ago.”

“Jesus Christ, Artie! You lost her. You had one job to do and you fucked it up.”

“Damn straight I have one job to do. It’s getting this shit on the floor and not babysitting the wandering crazy lady. Now, she probably just bolted out the other door, or maybe she just went to the bathroom. You’re not the FBI and she’s not some fugitive you need to catch. If she tries to steal something, you can get her on the way out if she’s still here. Other than that, I don’t think anything else really matters.”

Just as I was driving the pallet jack to the back, I was approached by Jason, who was ogling her from the top shelf of the pharmacy department. He said to me, “Who was that hot babe who just walked in?”

“I don’t know. It looks like she’s gone now,” I replied.

“Geez, tell me about it. I was looking at her and she just dissolved into the light like some movie,” he said.

“Whatever, I’ll tell McGee when I go back.”


“Sam, what on Earth just happened?”

“I am not quite sure, Clint. Right now I can only speculate.”

“Well, Sam, there are 13 stones in that circle, and just a few minutes ago, there were 14, and did you see that woman a couple of minutes ago?”

“Yes, Clint, I saw her.”

“What is happening?”

“Like I said, I am uncertain.”

We walked up to the stones and walked around them. There seemed to be nothing that wasn’t there a few minutes ago except for the 14th stone.

“What’s your prior probability of there being nothing in that spot where the 14th stone once was?” Sam asked me.

“I’m not sure. What could be there after the stone vanished?” I replied.

“I think it’s very low. Somebody wants us to find something there.”

“How do you figure that?”

“If you see a character in a video game pointing to something, is that not an indicator something is there?”

“Okay, Sam, now you’re taking your own metaphors too seriously.”

“Am I? You saw that woman, too. What was she doing, and more importantly, where did she go?”

I was not sure what to think. It was as though all of my prior probabilities based on how I thought the world works were just incinerated. I had no more grounds to form any conclusions about anything. I just stared into space with my mouth open.

Sam said, “Do you think the 13 remaining stones is a coincidence?”

“I’m not sure about anything at this point.”

“Well, could the remaining 13 stones indicate bad luck or misfortune?”

“Is that what you think that could mean? Given that this woman seems to have the power to vanish into thin air, don’t you think she could tell us whatever we needed to know?” I replied.

“I really don’t know,” he said.

We go up to the space where the 14th stone was missing and look into the hole where it once was. We examine the hole and we both see something. There is a strange glow coming from the corner. I jump down. Sam tries to warn me about getting too close, but I don’t care. According to his own beliefs, we are already living in cartoon land anyway. I look at an object of shape and color such as I have never seen. I pick it up. Whatever it is, it isn’t an Anasazi artifact. If I was to describe the color in one word, I would say it was green, but the truth was it was beyond words. I hand it to Sam. He looked at it and said, “It’s in the shape of a Klein bottle.”

“What’s that?”

“It is a three-dimensional object with no edges. It is one smooth surface that is continuous. If you were small enough to get inside this hole, you could walk smoothly around the whole surface.”

I look at the object and put my finger in it. The surface was translucent at times, so I could see my finger inside it. I understood what Sam was saying. I didn’t understand anything else. We have made an archaeological discovery that could get us into Smithsonian Magazine and it appears to be only the beginning. At any other time, I would be aghast at my own failure to follow proper protocols; I just touched an artifact. I am so glad that neither my colleagues or students are here to see me.

Whirrrr…went Sam’s cellphone.

“Clint, it’s the wife. She’s concerned. We have to go back now. I’ll try to start to figure out what the Klein bottle is tomorrow.”

A couple of days later, I get a call. “Hey, Clint, I think I have something. Why don’t you come over to our house and check it out?”

“All right, Sam,” I reply. “I hope this is good; these adventures you have me going on are taking time away from the gin binge I want to enjoy before I have to start looking for another job.”

Sam laughed and said, “I think you’ll be interested in this.”

I drive to Sam’s house and knock on the door. His wife answers. “Hi, Clint, I just got home myself. I think Sam is in the basement. He’s been working obsessively on this project of his ever since he’s been laid off. I am starting to get worried.”

“He called and asked me to come. I hope I’m not intruding in on a tense situation here.”

“No, Clint, it’s all right. I’ll show you downstairs.”

“Thanks, Tracy.”

When I get down to the basement, Sam has his computer running a program that looks like several columns of numbers. The artifact is sitting on the table and there are some kind of sensors attached to it that are jacked into the computer.

Sam says, “This is a GPS program sans the graphics. I need to keep as much RAM as free as possible.”

“What are you doing?” I reply.

“It might be hard to explain. What do you know about quantum mechanics?” he said.

“Quite a lot for a history professor. Some of it from talking to you,” I reply.

“Now, I know we’ve talked about how photons were discovered with the photoelectric effect.”

“Yes, that’s how Einstein actually won the Nobel Prize. He showed that in order to dislodge electrons from atoms in a metal, you needed light of a certain threshold frequency. If below that frequency, no electrons will be dislodged. Einstein concluded that light must come in packets he called photons whose energy was proportional to their frequency. I actually understood that applet you created. I hope your students did, too.”

“What if I told you that photoelectrons can be modeled using a continuous energy source based on the probability of that source reaching a certain power?” he said.

“Then I guess Einstein would have been wrong,” I replied.

“So would that show photons aren’t real? We can observe them in experiments.”

“Okay, where are you going with this?”

“Like I said the last time we met, what do we mean by real? I’m sure you also remember how we discussed that particles are in fact waves?” he said.

“Yes, and you also said they don’t even need a medium,” I replied.

“Yes, that is because all particles are non-localized and indefinite. The wave function continues until we interfere with it. What we see is what physicists have called, for lacking better vocabulary, ‘the collapse of the wave function,’” he said.

“Yes, and that is what the uncertainty principle is all about. We can never know the location of an object until we measure it, but to do that, we must disturb it so we must calculate probabilities where it is,” I replied.

“We cannot see, hear, taste, or touch the wave function, yet we can use it to predict everything around us, but after that, our ‘reality’ hardly behaves like a wave function at all. What happens to the wave function when we look?” he said.

“Well, Hugh Everitt thought the universe splits every time the wave function collapses. Is that what you discovered?” I replied half-sarcastically

“No, I conclude that Everitt was indeed wrong. We are not splitting the universe, but our interface turns the wave function into something we can process, like a compiler processing machine language code. Let me show you.”

He points to the computer screen.

“You see those numbers? Those on the right are GPS coordinates. Those in the middle are timestamps. Those on the right are calculations for the wave function as processed by our friend right there,” he said while pointing to the artifact. “Notice that most of them are all the same.”

I nod.

“Now, when we call up the time and location of where we were a couple of days ago, we see the last column is different. A different part of the wave function was accessed in that time and place.”

“This is a lot to digest,” I said.

“A lot for me, too. It’s getting late and I’ll see if my shiksa goddess has cooked anything for dinner.”

Tracy was walking downstairs as he said that and she replied, “Your Shiksa goddess is the only one who still has a job around here and she’s too tired to cook. I hope you’re looking for a job, or are you hoping our teenage son’s coding skills will support the family after he gets back from computer camp? I just came down to tell you I was about to call Grubhub.”

“That’s great,” Sam said. “Be sure to order something for Clint, too.”

“Okay,” she replied.

“Any idea what that artifact does?” I asked Sam.

“Well, I think it might be like the source page for a web site. On a source page, you can view the code, but are powerless to change it. Notice the shape of that thing. It is a Klein bottle. The surface encounters no edges. It is in fact one surface, but notice how it has to intersect itself. In four dimensions, a true Klein bottle with one continuous surface can exist. What we are looking at is the three dimensional projection of that shape. Just as a man confined to a two-dimensional surface would see a sphere passing through his plane as a circle,” Sam said.

“Do you think there might be another ‘plane’ where we could actually control the code?” I replied, not quite knowing what I was really asking.

“I don’t know,” Sam said.

Just then, the artifact changed its color from greenish to a highly polished mirror.

Ding-dong the doorbell rang. It was the Grubhub man.


For all installments of “Raspberry Beret,” click here.

Previous installments:

  1. Part 1