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For All Nails #22: Mangia!


Palo Alto FN1, California, USM

16 March 1972

It was an Italian family dinner and it wasn't, Anna thought. Her aunt and uncle had chosen the menu in her honor, it seemed: pasta, local frutti di mare, the promise of tiramisu. The quality was excellent, if the olive oil on her bread was any indication. Apparently there were olive trees all over the PMU campus and they pressed their own. She wouldn't dare to say it at home, but the local wine was also excellent -- perhaps even better than her family's Italian imports and certainly far above anything from the CNA.

But it was clear that when her father and uncle left Italy before the Global War, Dominic settling in New Orleans and Giuseppe in San Francisco, their paths had diverged in many ways. Anna's family spoke Italian some of the time at home, bought food at Italian markets, belonged to Italian social clubs and a mostly-Italian Catholic parish, and paid close attention to the unhappy story of comtemporary Italy. These Dimaggios lived in a huge city, with almost as many Italian immigrants as New Orleans or Novidessa FN2, but could now have come from anywhere. Aunt Norma Jean was Anglo, as they said here, and her older cousins had married a Pole, a Jew, an indigena FN3, and a Hispano in that order. Anna tried to imagine her family's reaction to a potential non-Catholic boyfriend.

At least Aunt Norma Jean kept to one family dinner tradition. Anna had been seated next to the most attractive unattached man at the table, Tony's friend Bobby Contreras. He was certainly easy on the eyes, and on the ears as well -- time to get into the conversation.

"So Bobby, you're at the University as well?"

"Professor of Mathematics and Electrical Engineering, if you can believe it. I was here for my first degree -- that's where I met Tony and sort of joined his family. I was in grad school in the CNA, actually -- ever heard of Champlain, in the NC?"

"Oh, yes, they're usually quite strong in cricket, though not the last couple of years. Wasn't it cold?"

"You get used to it, though your school would have been better for the weather. UNO, right?"

"Yes, the other university in New Orleans besides Nelson, as they always say. But the undergraduate teaching is very strong, and the law school even better. It's older than Nelson, too, founded FN4 back in 1844 -- kept going through the war, too. Nelson was 1876."

"Well, that's got us beat by a bit. It's worse than that, because we try to avoid using the original name..."

"Bernard Kramer Junior University, right. This Mercator Scholarship I'm going to start next fall used to be a Kramer Scholarship as well. It couldn't have kept that name all the way through the war..."

"No, Palo Alto University from 1931 to 1962, when we were renamed for a Guadalajara police captain whose son had greatness thrust upon him."

"Rather than being born great or achieving greatness? I'm glad the English classics are alive here, but isn't that a dangerous sentiment?

"Oh, in the long run we blow with the wind here. Despite what you hear, you can say pretty much anything you want until you try to organize a political party. Who knows, something could happen and we'll rename everything again, right down to Vincent Mercator Dimaggio over here."

"Ah yes, the other 1951 baby in the family -- a good name for the year, I suppose. Actually I dearly hope something doesn't happen. Technically, I'm stranded here until they open the border again. I called about the tickets and couldn't get an answer."

"I expect it will work out -- I was over on your side of the line for the last dustup in '69, visiting my advisor in Burlington. The airports opened in a couple of weeks, and I had to register with the police. I don't think this is going to be much different, though from the sound of it we got lucky it wasn't much worse. Someday we'll find a way to train soldiers to read a map, I hope. My advisor had this idea for a little radio that could pinpoint you anywhere in the world by talking to a space platform..."

"I can just see it -- we spend billions of pounds putting up a space platform and they spend their whole time looking for lost travelers?"

"Plenty of government projects don't make much more sense than that, believe me. Though I wish we scientists had as much help here as your side gives them. You wouldn't believe how often I have to rely on equipment back at Champlain to test out my ideas. I'm working on instruction schemes for calculating machines now..."

"Instruction schemes?"

"Yes -- you take some big job, like doing the accounts for a company, say. Then you've got to break it down into little jobs that a calculating machine can do, like adding up two numbers. There's a theory that any kind of calculating job at all can be broken down into little enough jobs. But you know what we say about theory?"

"Tell me."

"In theory, theory and practice are the same, but in practice they're different."

"Sounds just like legal theory and legal practice. So is the problem doing the breakdown from big jobs to little jobs?"

"That's actually not too bad. Mechanical translating itself seems to be one of the few things machines are good at. No, there's two problems. One is that when you're done, you just have too many little jobs to do. I think that there's some simple problems that you can't do without a number of steps that has zeros going on for pages, but I got bogged down trying to prove it and switched over to this scheme business. Actually the biggest problem is deciding exactly what you want. You know how in the law, you're supposed to be able to tell exactly what set of facts are supposed to lead to exactly what outcome?"

"Of course, that's just Lincoln's theory of legal positivism -- the law is a promise by the state to do certain things under certain conditions, nothing more or less FN5."

"But you know far better than I that you can't list all the possible conditions, and can't list all the consequences. There's always some kind of ambiguity, so they pay you and someone else to argue about what the law should really mean, and some judge or jury gets to decide."

"Actually I'm not that likely to get into a courtroom. I've got the law degree, but in our system that's only the first step toward being admitted to the bar. There's a few women who've done it, but I'm not sure it's really worth it to join a club of stuffy men who don't really want you. That's a big part of why I'm coming back in the fall, actually."

"To practice on our side? Our courts'll listen to anyone who makes sense, and to a lot of people who don't. Andy Jackson said that any intelligent man ought to be able to hold any office of state, including lawyers and judges FN6."

"He had a point -- maybe they could replace the unintelligent ones we've got now. But no, I want to study the USM legal system for two years, but then there's a lot of possibilities. There's obviously a need for diplomats right now -- maybe Foreign Service. I like academics, but you can't teach law without being out there for a while. There's good internship programs now in the GG's palace that are open to women. The main thing is to be out in the world, changing things. And to see more of the world! You know, this is only the second time I've been in Mexico, and the first time was only to Lafayette FN7 -- everyone goes there sometime for the music."

"Ah -- if you like the Cajun stuff there's a club you have to go to in San Francisco. This band has a mixture of East Jefferson roots and indigena music -- Los Muertos Agradecidos, they're called. I liked the music in the CNA, don't get me wrong, I went to the Montreal Choral Music Festival every year, but these guys have soul... what are you doing tomorrow night?"

"After I register with the police, I was going to tour the campus, but my evening's still free --"

"Let me be your tour guide. And I'd be happy to buy you dinner in San Francisco..."

This man moved fast, Anna thought. Not to say that was a bad thing...


David Mix Barrington


(Forward to Someone in Nancy.)

(Forward to Be Sure to Wear Some Flowers in Your Hair.)

(Return to For All Nails.)

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