Steamboat Springs I have yet to carve my nigh three-week vacation into witty and poignant anecdotes, but I did return with several mental souvenirs -- less tangible than a pile of seashells, but collected in much the same way.
Examine them at your leisure.
Theory No. 1 is the most beautiful idea I've heard in a long time. It's called "The Size and Shape of your Universe."
The theory was developed by a 17-year-old boy who left a note for his parents on the dining room table and disappeared for a road trip across the country with a journal. (The greatest ideas of our generation are tucked away in closets, written in bus-ride and coffee-shop journals.)
I heard about the size and shape of my universe at 10:30 a.m. on a weekday. It had been a late night, and I had plans to sleep in. My friend, Peter Dugas, leapt into my bed, shoes on, at 7:30 a.m. ready to go out for breakfast. My eyes opened long enough to see him laying there, then closed again.
For the next couple of hours, I was in that heavy place between dreaming and consciousness. I opened my eyes again at 8:30 and again at 9:30. Pete was still waiting.
Each time I woke up, I had this thought: "If the universe is expanding, are my options also expanding?"
At 10:30, I was finally ready to wake up so I asked Peter whether my options and the size of the universe were related.
That's when he told me about Dan Bretton's famous (at least among Cheverus High School graduates) theory.
Listen: In order to calculate the size of your universe, multiply the number of years you are going to live by the speed of light. That distance marks the farthest reaches of the universe that you will experience in your lifetime. If you are going to live 80 years, a star 80 light years away sends its glow into space at the moment of your birth. At the moment of your death, 80 years later, the light from that star reaches your retina and your universe comes to an end.
Theory No. 2 is middle-age insanity.
By measuring the exponential decline in my own mental health from the age of 18 until now (29), and by watching the decline in the mental health of my friends over the same period, I can only conclude that there are not so many years between myself and crazihood.
I further theorize, that if it is happening to me, then it is also happening to the rest of humanity. Our sanity is a racing hourglass, a swirling toilet bowl.
By multiplying the number of years by the ratio of cards left in my mental deck and applying the math to the rest of all y'all, I can say that 95 percent of America will be crazy by the age of 40. If you can make it to 40 with your sandwich intact, you've made it.
Also collected: A new appreciation of marriage.
It came at the very beginning of my journey. Before I got on a plane for Maine, I segued down to Tulsa, Oklahoma, for my grandparents' 50th wedding anniversary. I spent the weekend listening to my grandmother's memories and looking at the photos of her 18-inch-waist wedding dress.
I've always said that marriage is the first step into an infinite tangle of mediocrity, but as I watched my grandparents greeting guests and smiling at each other across the room, I thought of all they had been through together, and for a fleeting moment, I stopped making fun of the institution.
A new band:
Since I moved here, my musical exploration has been whittled to the bands that find their way into Steamboat's venues. That's why I probably was drooling when I discovered the Boston band, Neptune, on the last day of my vacation.
It was a lot of screaming and dissonance, but it was neatly layered chaos that drew me from the back of the room to the front. I was glued there, barely moving, a wind from the speaker ripping at my cochlear hairs.
The lead singer is a metal smith and his band, he said, started as a sculpture project. Every instrument was a scrap-metal, thrift-store collage as complicated and strange as the experimental music that came out of them.
Now you know.