Tag Archives: charlottesville

Writing prompt: create a vacuum day

Time: 10 minutes. Click here to go to my list of prompts.

“Create a vacuum day” (Inspired by this list of silly holidays.)

 

“Aren’t you the asshole that wiped out Charlottesville?” the woman said, spotting me from across the diner. She walked over.

“Well, technically no, it wasn’t me,” I rubbed my arm. I felt eyes study me from all around.

“Your work then. Whatever. I didn’t think I’d ever see you in person, or at least not without a fake beard.”

“I’m not ashamed of what happened,” I said. “Regretful, yeah, but not ashamed.”

“How do you work that out? Wiping out thousands of homes and businesses because you did something stupid?”

She looked genuinely curious. I was used to being berated. But maybe she would understand. I launched into the speech I’d recited in my head so many times. The speech no one ever let me speak. “Have you ever seen a vacuum chamber setup? A real, scientific one? For trying to create nothing, the suckers are enormous. And chock full of specialized equipment, like pumps that can literally be destroyed if they have to push thousands of atoms rather than tens. Frankly, I thought it was all a mess. I thought I could do better,”

She cocked her head to the side. She looked like she thought I was nuts, but she didn’t look angry.

“It was a wild idea,” I continued. “So wild I didn’t tell my advisor. But I didn’t need to tell him, I had the materials to get it done on the cheap.”

“Yea, yea, yea,” she waved her hand. “You decided to make a black hole in one instead, I watch the news. And trust me, no matter how you tell that part, it won’t sound clever to someone who lost a house to it.”

I looked away. “I can’t do anything about that now. I ran simulation after simulation that looked fine. I still don’t know what happened.”

“You got it wrong.”

“I really don’t think I did,” I said. “And I’m not afraid to be wrong—really, go find my undergraduate biology professor. I don’t have any data, it all got destroyed, but something other than just a black hole happened that day.”

She frowned. “You got it wrong. Apparently you are afraid to admit it. How sad that you can’t even see that.”

She walked away.

“Excuse me,” an elderly woman with a colorful scarf said from a booth nearby. “I can’t help but have overheard your conversation. And I have a theory about what went wrong that I’ve entertained for a while. Are you willing to try to reproduce your experiment?”

 

Uriah P. Levy: American badass and savior of Monticello

Uriah P. Levy was the first Jewish commodore of the Navy. He abolished corporal punishment in the Navy. He was the subject of six court-martial trials, a navy record. He bought Monticello after Thomas Jefferson’s death; he and his nephew preserved it for us today. When I ran across his story, I couldn’t believe I’d never heard of this remarkable man.

Levy ran away from home at age ten to sail, but returned home at 12 for his bar mitzvah. He fought in the War of 1812, and was imprisoned by the British. He chose the navy over more profitable merchant work; he knew the discrimination he would face, but felt an obligation to serve, for his country and for his fellow Jews.

In 1816, an anti-Semitic crewmate named Potter challenged Levy to a duel with pistols. They walked twenty paces, then Potter fired and missed. Levy had tried to talk Potter out of the duel; he fired into the air. Potter would not be placated. Four more times, they reloaded, Potter missed and Levy fired into the air. On the sixth round, Levy killed Potter. He was eventually found not guilty on charges of dueling and exonerated in his court-martial hearing. He had five more court-martial hearings in his career, each for incidents fueled by anti-Semitism.

Levy bought a decrepit Monticello in 1836, ten years after Jefferson’s death. In that day, Jefferson’s defense of religious freedom wasn’t held in high esteem; in 1840 a visiting Episcopal clergyman called Monticello a “fitting monument” to Jefferson. Levy’s family had fled the Spanish Inquisition in Portugal. He repaired the house and purchased land that had been sold to satisfy Jefferson’s debts to rebuild the estate.

Levy’s first commission in the navy was the first ship in the navy without floggings for discipline. Levy played a role in the passage 1850 anti-flogging bill in Congress.

Upon his death in 1862, Levy willed Monticello to the American people. His will was broken, and the property was divided amongst relatives. Monticello fell into disrepair. Animals were stabled in the house.

In 1879, Levy’s nephew Jefferson Levy bought the house. He restored it, and sold it to a memorial foundation in 1923. The 1943, the navy commissioned the U.S.S Levy.

I had never heard of Uriah Levy before I found his name in an essay, even after living in Monticello’s shadow for six years and attending Jefferson’s university. He bravely served the country even when his country didn’t serve him. His is a remarkable and American story, and we should tell it more often.