Not exactly TMZ on PZ
While on tour in the Golden State, PZ Myers was resilient enough despite minor jet-lag to hoist a few brews after his talks. Smiting ignorance and prejudice can be dry work.
I tagged along to two of the post-presentation chat sessions. The chosen venue after the Sacramento City College talk was the Fox & Goose, which bills itself as a “public house” in the British style. (That's right: a “pub.”) It was a slow evening when we dropped in. PZ and a dozen other people gathered around some shoved-together tables and kicked back for some casual conversation. (No, we did not array ourselves in the manner of Da Vinci's “Last Supper.”)
During the course of that colloquy, PZ off-handedly made two shocking revelations. The first was his youthful rebellion against his father's carefully mapped-out plans for PZ's life. PZ, you see, was destined to be a ... refrigerator repairman.
You can easily imagine his father's horror when PZ threw it all over in favor of going to college. Even worse, PZ became a hardcore academic, ending up as a tenured professor. While it seems that his family eventually became reconciled to PZ's academic bent, his father never quite understood why PZ tossed over a sure thing like major appliance repair for the uncertainties of university life. Instead of associate professor of biology at the University of Minnesota, PZ could have been Refrigerator Repairman—but it was not to be.
All habitués of Pharyngula know that PZ is a prodigious writer (except, perhaps, for the book he is always supposedly finishing up). It's not surprising to learn that he is also a prodigious reader. Of course, we know this because we see his reading as the grist for his blog's mill. However, there's more to it than that. PZ is a big fan of science fiction author Iain M. Banks. In fact, he's also a big fan of Iain Banks, this latter being the name that Banks uses for his non-sf novels.
I lean toward the Culture novels myself, my favorite Banks work being The Player of Games, one of the few books I have read multiple times. PZ expressed a fondness for the semi-notorious Wasp Factory and its sociopathic protagonist. My Simon & Schuster paperback copy of The Wasp Factory includes on its back cover such paeans as “One of the top 100 novels of the century” and such slams as “A literary equivalent of the nastiest brand of juvenile delinquent.” I rather admire the cheekiness of running negative comments among the usual positive blurbs.
(Shocking revelation of my own: My copy of The Wasp Factory is brand new. Despite an assiduous search through my bookcases, I find no trace of the white-covered edition I see so clearly in my mind. And paging through the new copy leaves me befuddled, since the story seems only vaguely familiar. Have I forgotten it or have I never read it? Both are hard to believe. The book is now on my “read soon” stack and I'll see whether Frank's nefarious adventures ring a bell.)
PZ and I were not the only Banks fans present. One of the other attendees offered his opinion that Banks wrote scenes that were impossible to turn into movies. (An attempt to turn The Player of Games into a film foundered several years ago.) PZ disagreed. He suggested that the scene with the Eaters in Consider Phlebas would make for a very nice horror movie.
He's probably right, but you wouldn't want to be munching popcorn during that episode (“we are the Eaters, the Eaters of ashes, the Eaters of filth”).
The venue for the post-talk gathering after PZ's Sierra College presentation was BJ's Restaurant & Brewery in Roseville. The contrast with the Fox & Goose was dramatic. BJ's was crowded with patrons and PZ was accompanied by a much larger entourage. Long tables were pushed together to make enough space for the dozens of people in the party.
I got to sit close enough to PZ where I was able to get his autograph (like the geeky fanboy that I am). He observed that we carried closely matched Moleskine pocket notebooks, including the same quadrille rule (no mere lined paper for us science types!). He also complimented me on having neater handwriting than his, but PZ also pointed out that he takes notes in multiple colors and has a Moleskine customized with the Seed Media Group logo. Point to PZ.
I was suitably abashed, of course.
Creationist Robert O'Brien eventually showed up and was wedged into a tight space next to a cadre of Sierra College students. He got to hear them explain to me how Sierra College differed from the neighboring American River College. The recently ousted right-wing ARC student government had campaigned with a strong anti-gay plank in its platform, pandering to the homophobia of its Slavic immigrant base. The candidates ran a fearmongering campaign that claimed that militant gay activists were trying to take over the student government.
“At Sierra College,” said one of the students, “that's exactly what we did!”
I congratulated them on realizing the worst fears of the local bloc of right-wing, anti-gay, creationist extremists.
The anti-gay O'Brien did look a little uncomfortable, although I have to give him credit for a good poker face.
PZ's phone rang later in the evening. He saw that it was the Trophy WifeTM and dutifully said he had to take the call. After he chatted with her about his connections for his trip to the United Kingdom, PZ's companions all yelled out a greeting to his distant spouse.
We were heard in Minnesota.