Chapter 2: Two schools of thought
...... Sitting at a table in Snack Bar with Wolfgang and kids he didn't know, Kip fixed his attention on Dr. Linda Hopcroft. The parents were gone and Kip felt on his own now--independent, free to make most of his own decisions. It felt exciting but also frightening. This isn't camp. This is important.
...... He more watched than listened as Linda Hopcroft paced the front of the room. She'd gotten all the kids to introduce themselves and then she'd given an orientation talk about the school. With her luxurious brown hair, pale blue eyes under long lashes, white skin and a cute nose, she was beautiful.
...... She went on to explain that roughhousing in the subdorms wasn't allowed, nor was throwing water balloons out the window. She also explained why no one was allowed to receive money from home; ESAP would give each kid an allowance every week--so he could buy things in the Amdexter school store, or buy un-healthy food at Snack Bar. And if a kid needed to be punished, his allowance could be docked. Kip wrinkled his nose, realizing why his parents had sent him off to school without any pocket money--so he wouldn't be above the law.
...... "Your physics and math classes will be taught by me or by...." Linda Hopcroft stopped pacing. "What should I call him?" she said softly, as if to herself.
...... "Dr. Ralph?" one of the kids called out.
...... She chuckled. "Yes. Dr. Ralph. And I guess that makes me Dr. Linda." She pointed at the boy. "You're who, again?"
...... "Charles Yang."
...... "Charles, then," she said. "Come up to the front of the room. We're going to do an experiment."
...... The boy looked around with a nervous smile.
...... "Don't worry," said Dr. Linda with a laugh. "I assure you, no boy will be hurt in the performance of this experiment."
...... As Charles came forward, Dr. Linda said, "Everything in physics is probability." Then, with an exaggerated air of mystery, she pulled a deck of card from her jacket pocket. She shook the deck from its box while looking toward the door as if afraid someone would burst through it. "Cards are forbidden at Amdexter," she said at a whisper. She turned to Charles and held forward the deck in her palm. "Okay then. What are the odds that the top card is a...two of diamonds?"
...... Charles stared at her as if he thought it was a trick question. "Are there any jokers?"
...... "Then it's one out of fifty-two."
...... "Excellent!" She picked another random kid. It was Wolfgang. After asking him his name, she again turned to Charles. "Now put your hands over your ears, turn around, and pretend you can't hear what we're saying."
...... Charles giggled and then did so.
...... Dr. Linda showed the bottom card in the deck to Wolfgang. "It's a king," she said in a stage whisper. She had Charles uncover his ears and turn back around. "All right then," she said, looking at Wolfgang. "What are the odds that the top card is a two of diamonds?
...... "One out of fifty one," said Wolfgang, resolutely.
...... "But Charles says it's one out of fifty-two." She turned to the other boys. "Who's right? Wolfgang or Charles?" She asked for a show of hands and, if voting could determine right or wrong, Wolfgang was overwhelmingly right.
...... "But," said Dr. Linda, "What if nobody saw Wolfgang look at the bottom card and what if Wolfgang fell asleep in class before telling anyone? Who's right then?" Before giving the kids a chance to answer, she went on. "Okay. That's enough for now. You can go off to your subdorms now and unpack and fight over who gets the top bunks."
...... "Wait a minute," said Charles. "Aren't you going to tell us the answer?"
...... "No," she said with a shake of her head. "In fact, I'm not going to tell you if there even is an answer. I want you to think about it." While the kids exchanged puzzled glances, she went to the door. "We'll have more of these little gedanken sessions from time to time. Just watch for the words gedanken today on the blackboard." She put her hand on the door handle. "Oh, wait! I forgot. Are any of you guys allergic to cats--or just don't like them?"
...... Again, the boys exchanged puzzled glances. But none of them objected to cats.
...... "Good," said Dr. Linda after a few seconds. "Ralph...Dr. Ralph and I are also your dorm parents. And Paradox, our cat, likes to wander at night. If you leave a door open, he might just wander in and go to sleep on your bed."
...... "Awesome!" said Kip.
...... "Oh, I get it," said Wolfgang. "Schrödinger's cat, Paradox."
...... "I'm impressed." Dr. Linda pulled the handle and held open the door. "All right, then. Off to your subdorms now."
...... As the boys stood and started for the door, Dr. Linda held up her hand. "Remember," she said. "You are Feynman School boys, but you're Amdexter boys as well."
...... "So?" said Charles.
...... "So, since most of your classes are over there, you should go to all the Amdexter orientation activities tomorrow. Get to know the kids. Sign up for sports and clubs. Arrange for music lessons if you want."
...... "What about the convocation in the chapel?" said Kip. "Do we have to go to that?"
...... Dr. Linda took a few seconds before answering. "You ESAP kids are excused from chapel. But...but tomorrow, it might be good if you went." She paused a few seconds more. "Tomorrow it'll be more of a school ritual than a religious activity."
...... The parents, when they'd arrived, had
ferried luggage from the parking lot to the dorm storage room. Now the boys
took the footpath from the classroom building to the dorm and then, carrying
their luggage, trudged up a flight of stairs to their subdorms. No one took
the tiny elevator. For Kip, it would have been a sign of weakness.
...... The second floor was divided into ten subdorms surrounding a common area. Each subdorm, a residence for four boys, had its own door, but no lock; there was privacy, but not too much of it. At one end of the dorm commons, there was a door with a lock--the entrance to the dorm parents' apartment. At the opposite end were the shower room and lavatories.
...... As Kip and Wolfgang struggled under their baggage, Wolfgang said, "I think the correct odds are one out of fifty-one."
...... "I don't know," said Kip. "What if Melvin the Martian had zapped us to sleep and then looked at the top card and saw it was an ace and then went away in his space ship. And then we woke up without knowing anything had happened. And...and then his spaceship exploded into a zillion bits. Are the odds zero because Melvin knew what the card was?"
...... "Well...." Wolfgang slowed his pace. "I don't know." He stopped in front of the door marked eight. "Maybe.... Maybe the odds are different for different people."
...... Kip giggled. "That would be odd."
...... "Hey," said Wolfgang as he opened the door. "This is a pretty nice place."
...... "Yeah," said Kip. "And it smells nice, too--like new car smell."
...... "My dad says you can buy new car smell in a spray can,"
...... Kip followed Wolfgang inside.
...... The subdorm had two bunk beds and four small desks, each with its own bookcase and lamp and padded rolling chair. The subdorm also had a sofa and a round table--a smaller version of the tables in Snack Bar. And there was a window overlooking the Dalambertian. From it, Kip could see across the quad to the Amdexter dorm.
...... They chose their beds: Wolfgang took a lower, and Kip took the other bunk's upper. Kip claimed a desk, took a small clock radio from his luggage and set it on the desk. As Wolfgang started to unpack, Kip set the time, hunted for and found a classical music station, and started to set the alarm. "Do you know what time do we get up in the morning?"
...... "7:20, but you don't need an alarm." Wolfgang pointed to a small speaker in the corner of the ceiling. "A chime's supposed to go off to wake us up."
...... "I'd rather wake to music." Kip set the alarm to 7:19. "And of course, there's the Beethoven rule."
...... "The what?"
...... "It says that I'm allowed to be late for breakfast or even for school if the clock radio comes on with a Beethoven symphony. I love Beethoven's symphonies."
...... Wolfgang laughed. "Who created that...rule?"
...... "I did." Kip shrugged. "Unfortunately, my old school didn't recognize it. My mom wasn't exactly thrilled by it either, but my dad says it's an eminently reasonable rule to live by." Kip idly pulled open the desk's top drawer, and laughed.
...... "What's the matter?"
...... "There's a deck of cards in here." Kip pulled out the deck. "If we don't learn enough physics to become physicists, I guess we'll learn enough probability to be good poker players."
...... Kip glanced at Wolfgang. "I wonder what this gedanken stuff is all about."
...... "Gedanken means thought in German."
...... "Oh." Kip tossed the deck back into the drawer, then unpacked his laptop and centered it on his desk. While Wolfgang took books from his luggage and meticulously arranged them in his bookcase, Kip turned on his computer and went to the ESAP webpage. "Oh, good," he said. "There're instructions on how to set up our school e-mail accounts."
...... "You know," said Wolfgang, "I think I'm going to like it here."
...... "Me, too." Kip made a face. "If only we didn't have to take Latin."
...... Wolfgang laughed. "My dad says it's good for you. He says it builds character."
...... Just then there was a knock at the door. "May I come in," came Dr. Ralph's voice.
...... Wolfgang and Kip exchanged glances, then stood. "Yes, please," said Kip.
...... Dr. Ralph walked in and had a boy with him. Both of them carried luggage. "This is Paul Robinson," said Dr. Ralph. "Another roommate for you. Paul came by bus. And our school isn't exactly at the hub of the universe." He urged Paul inside, then set the baggage he carried down on the floor inside the door. "I had to drive to Georgetown to pick him up."
...... "Hi," said Paul shyly.
...... "Hi. I'm Kip."
...... "I'm Wolfgang."
...... Dr. Ralph said his goodbyes and started to leave. "Ah," he said, stopping and turning around. "Paul, I'm afraid I'll have to confiscate your cell phone," he said. "School rules."
...... Paul stiffened.
...... "Not to worry," said Dr. Ralph. "Free phone calls home are part of the deal. You can call from here or from a private phone booth in Snack Bar."
Paul visibly relaxed.
...... "Where's the fourth kid?" said Wolfgang, abruptly.
...... "What? Oh. Subdorm-8 has only three."
...... "Only eight subdorms, then," said Paul. "Eight times four minus one. It's like, thirty-one kids, total?"
...... Dr. Ralph nodded, then said he'd let everyone get acquainted, and then left.
...... Paul was friendly and open, and easy to make friends with. The three chatted as Kip set up his e-mail account and Wolfgang sorted out his library. Paul chose his desk, claimed the other upper bunk and began to unpack.
...... While waiting impatiently for his e-mail client to configure, Kip's eyes sought out motion--Paul's unpacking. Kip wasn't from a wealthy home; his parents always talked about money when they thought he wasn't listening. But Paul clearly was even less well off. His school clothes were clean and new, of course; the school paid for all that. But his casual clothes were sort of shabby and his laptop was from the stone age.
...... Kip heard a beep and snapped his eyes to his computer screen. "Hey!" he said in surprise. "I've already got mail."
...... "Spam?" said Paul, looking over from his desk.
...... Kip read aloud the subject line. "The DEX. The weekly e-mail voice of Amdexter School."
...... "Spam," said Paul.
...... Kip opened the message. "It starts with a welcome from the headmaster."
...... Wolfgang glanced up from his unpacking. "Ours or theirs?"
...... "Theirs," said Kip. "Ours is called the Chief Teacher." He turned to Paul. "But we call him Dr. Ralph."
...... "At the party," said Wolfgang as he shelved his final book, "Dr. Ralph he told my parents he doesn't like Chief Teacher. He'd rather be called Chief Scientist. He said he thinks all of us kids are sort of junior scientists."
...... "I like that," said Kip. "Chief Scientist. That's what I'm going to call him, then."
...... "Me, too," said Wolfgang.
...... "Yeah. Fine with me." Paul leaned back and put his feet up on his desk. "Well," he said, "does the headmaster have, like, anything interesting to say?"
...... "He says:"--Kip scrolled the message to the top of the screen--"As we begin a new academic year at the Amdexter School, I welcome most warmly the new and returning boys, and also their teachers and the staff. Blah blah blah." Kip scanned for content. "Ah, here we go.... Further, I extend a special welcome to the boys, teachers and staff of The Feynman Elementary School for Advanced Physics."
...... "Thank you. Thank you," said Wolfgang.
...... Kip went on. "You could scarcely fail to notice the three buildings on the site of the old soccer fields. These buildings comprise the Feynman School. Why, you may ask, are these buildings a separate school? Well you may ask. The Feynman School's Chief Teacher--"
...... "Chief scientist, he means," said Paul.
...... Kip chuckled. "The Feynman School's chief scientist, Dr. Ralph Hopcroft, told me that some of the ideas in modern physics are so strange, that even the best physicists cannot truly comprehend them. However, the physicist, Richard Feynman, thought that if children were exposed early to the concepts of theoretical physics, they might grow up having no problems at all with those concepts. Dr. Linda Hopcroft, also a teacher at the Feynman School, went on to say that an anonymous benefactor, a physicist who made a fortune in Silicon Valley, wondered if this would indeed be the case."
...... "A physicist making money," said Wolfgang. "A strange concept."
...... Kip glanced at Wolfgang and read on. "It happened then, that this benefactor decided to found a school to test the idea. But, not wanting to re-invent the wheel, he chose to ally his school with an established and prestigious institution. I am happy to report that he chose our Amdexter School."
...... "Prestigious?" said Wolfgang.
...... "Another word for snotty," said Paul. "Snotty, imitation British."
...... "The Feynman Elementary School for Advanced Physics," Kip went on in an exaggerated British accent, "which we'll call the F-School for short, will provide its students, all third-formers, with mathematics and physics instruction. The Amdexter School, the A-School, will provide all the rest."
...... "I don't like that," said Paul. "A-School and F-School. Makes it sound like we're retards."
...... "And third form," said Wolfgang. "Why couldn't they just say sixth grade?"
...... Kip dropped the accent and read more. "The F-School boys wear the same uniforms as the A-School, except for the emblem on their school-caps and that they wear grey shorts rather than our brown. The F-Schoolers will partake in almost all of the activities and traditions of the A-School. In virtually all regards, they are no different than A-School boys. Now, I'm sure you're curious about our carousel."
...... "Their carousel!" said Wolfgang. "I thought it was our carousel."
...... "It is our carousel," said Paul. "Dr. Hopcroft...I mean Dr. Ralph, said so."
...... Kip read on. "When the Bridge Point Amusement Park closed down, the..."--Kip stumbled over the following word--"aforementioned...anonymous benefactor bought the carousel, one of the very few in the country still running, and had it moved here. In addition to providing a source of enjoyment, the carousel will also be used as a teaching aid for the F-School boys." Kip hurried toward the end. "Blah, blah, Next year Amdexter boys will also take math and physics classes at the F-School. Babble babble babble. I'm sorry about the loss of the soccer and baseball fields and the bleachers. Soccer will now be played on the far playing field as soon as we can get, babble babble. I wish all of you the best of success. Babble babble."
...... Kip looked up from the screen. "That's all." He left his laptop on, but abandoned it to do his own unpacking. Gradually, the conversation turned to how they'd fit in at the Amdexter School.
...... "I hope it won't be like my old school," said Wolfgang, "where everyone was sort of dumb and talked about baseball all the time."
...... "I like baseball," said Paul in a voice both defensive and hurt. "I like it a lot."
...... After a few seconds of silence, Kip said, "My father's a baseball nut." Kip laughed, sort of on purpose. "He says it’s a communicable disease and he can't understand how I didn't catch it."
...... "Is that how you caught it, Paul," said Wolfgang, "from your dad?"
...... Paul looked down at his hands. "I don't remember my dad. Mom, like, divorced him when I was little."
...... "Gee, that's really sad," said Wolfgang.
...... "Last year," said Paul, "during the World Series, I was going down the street and there were these men looking in a store window. A TV was showing one of the games. And there was a speaker over the door so you could hear it. Well, as I walked by, there was a double play and the men got really excited. One of them saw me and asked if I thought the third base runner was really out. I guess he thought that since I was a kid, I had to be crazy about baseball. Back then I didn't know anything about baseball. But I pretended I did. The man...all of the men talked to me as if I really mattered." He paused a few seconds. "And then...and then I got really interested in baseball."
...... "Well, catch this!" said Wolfgang as he lobbed a rolled up pair of socks in a high arc that grazed the ceiling.
...... Paul fielded it almost without looking at it. "There are a lot of numbers in baseball," he said. "Defensive and offensive statistics. Pitching stats. James tracking stuff. I like memorizing numbers. One of my hobbies is memorizing things."
...... "Wolfgang memorizes star names," said Kip. "He knows the names of most of the stars in the sky."
...... "I know the names of all of them," said Paul. "All the real names. Not the stars with only Greek letters or numbers."
...... "Is one of your hobbies astronomy?" said Wolfgang in an eager voice.
...... "No. I just like to memorize stuff."
...... "Why?" said Kip.
...... "In third grade," said Paul, speaking with the easy familiarity that comes of being roommates, "there was a motto over my school's assembly hall. Knowledge is Power. I saw that motto every day."--Paul tossed the socks back to Wolfgang--"Well, we weren't rich like a lot of the kids in my school. All I had was that people said I was smart. I thought the only way I'd ever get stuff was, like, by the power of knowledge. So I wanted to learn everything."
...... "So that's why you memorize stuff," said Wolfgang.
...... "Knowledge is power," said Paul. "Once in science class, the teacher put a formula on the board and plugged in numbers. There were a couple of multiplications raised to a power. He reached for a calculator but before he keyed it, I told him the approximate answer. He looked at me, like, funny. Then he used his calculator and then asked me how I did that."
...... Kip nodded to show he was listening.
...... "I told him I'd memorized a log table. You should have seen the look he gave me. I saw him mouthing 'you memorized a log table'. Yeah, I really impressed him.
...... "Impressive." Kip glanced at Wolfgang. "You may have to give up your king of the geeks card."
...... Wolfgang looked startled. Then he laughed. "Actually I do have a geek card." He extracted a wallet from his pants pocket. "At least that what my dad calls it." He took small, glossy, white card from his wallet and extended it toward Kip. "I've put everything important on this."
...... "Everything?" said Kip in an amused voice as he took the card.
...... "I printed small with a micropoint pen."
...... Kip scanned the tiny engraving-like numbers and formulas. "Geez!"
...... Paul pulled the card from Kip's hand, peered at it for a few seconds, then with a look of disdain, passed it back to Wolfgang. "I've already memorized most of this stuff."
...... "Pi to sixty places?" said Wolfgang.
...... "To a hundred."
...... A soft chime rang through the dorm. "Lights out in fifteen minutes," a voice called out.
...... "Geez!" said Kip, checking his watch. "It's only nine-fifteen!"
...... "At home," said Wolfgang, "my bedtime is nine."
...... "That's a cool watch," said Paul.
...... "A consolation present for me coming to ESAP." Kip held up his arm so Paul could ogle the timepiece.
...... "My consolation present is going to be a night vision scope," said Wolfgang.
...... "For spying on people?" said Paul.
...... "No. Of course not." Wolfgang sounded offended. "It's for astronomy. If you look at the night sky with a night vision scope, you see a zillion stars. It's like carrying around a really big telescope." He turned to Kip. "I've wanted a night vision scope for almost forever."
...... The boys got ready for bed and when lights out came, got into their bunks.
...... "It's dark," said Paul, softly.
...... "Often is at night," said Kip.
...... "I mean," said Paul, "like at home, when I went to bed, I could always see light under the door."
...... Suddenly, a circle of light hit the ceiling. The beam came from Wolfgang's bunk.
...... "Hey," said Kip. "You brought a flashlight."
...... "Yeah," said Wolfgang. "My dad said I'd packed the way I would for a long camping trip."
...... "Scout knife, compass, and flashlight?" said Kip as he reached into the little compartment at the head of his bunk.
...... Wolgang laughed. "Exactly."
...... "Me, too!" Kip pulled out his flashlight and switched it on. "Vuzh!" He engaged Wolfgang's beam and the two of them fought a battle of light on the ceiling.
...... A third light, Paul's, joined the fray. "Take that!"
...... After a minute or so of lights and sound-effects, Kip said, "But I didn't pack extra batteries." He switched off his light. "I surrender!"
...... Paul switched off his flashlight as well, leaving Wolfgang's light in sole possession of the ceiling.
...... "When I was little," said Wolfgang, playing his fingers over the beam, "I used to be afraid of the dark--because of the monsters. So my parents let me go to sleep with a night-light on." He paused. "And after that, I used to be afraid when there was a light on in my bedroom when I went to sleep." He switched off his flashlight. "I got the idea that there were monsters outside in the dark looking in at me, and I couldn't see them." Nobody said anything, and Wolfgang went on. "And after that, I started to like the dark. In the dark, the monsters wouldn't see me when they looked in the window. I liked looking out when I was in the dark. And then I discovered astronomy."
...... "And then there were no more monsters," said Kip, sleepily.
...... "No," said Wolfgang. "Not at home. I don't know about here."
...... Kip laughed, but Paul said "What do you mean?"
...... "Well.... Big crowds of people sort of scare me. I don't like the way bunches of people behave when they're all together. Sometimes I think a big crowd of people is a monster."
...... "I think drunk people are monsters," said Paul, softly.
...... "Zombies," said Kip.
...... "Well," said Wolfgang, punctuating the word with a squeak from his bunk as he rolled over. "Good night, guys."
...... They said their good-nights.
...... After a minute or so, Kip spoke into the darkness. "Is it okay if I leave the door open a little?"
...... "Why?" said Paul. "For the light? It's dark out there, too."
...... "So Paradox can come in if he wants to."
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