The other day I was grocery shopping and, being in a weekend mood, I dropped some of the soft science magazines into the cart. At the register, the guy in front of me (two glasses mixed pickles and a sixpack Canada dry) made a funny face. "You readin that?", he asked and pointed to a headline about Cannibal Galaxies!, "Ain't no readin for a pretty girl like you." My turn to make a funny face then. In a rather unsuccessful attempt to imitate his accent I said "What's the right readin then for me? - Playgirl?"
Mr. Mixed Pickles considered whether to be insulted or amused, looked at the tampons I threw on the register and decided on apologizing. "Sorry, Miss, just thinking." While I tried to figure out exactly what he might have been thinking, he added "You know, if you interested in that stuff, there's these people at the institute down on Bridgeport, they do all kinds of weird things there." Yes, I think. Right, all kinds of weird things.
Later I sat at Starbucks on King Street, scribbling notes on a pad, sketching a talk and trying to decide which equations to put on the slides. Somebody accidentally bumped into my chair, and I drew a long line across the paper. A blond man, maybe mid fourties, very pinkish face. Formal shirt, no tie, uppermost buttons opened. He looked at my notepad: "Whats THAT?!", sweat on his forehead. "Propagator", I mumble, "Gauge field. Momentum space." The sweaty forehead frowned at me. "Physics", I said. "Ah! Physics! Are you doing that for money?" - "No." I said. What was I thinking? You tell me.
He looked at me like I was an unsolved equation, then he saw my pen, Perimeter Institute printed on it. "You ARE doing that for money!" he concluded, triumphantly, much as my office mate when he's found that extra minus which got missing.
I had not much desire to speak to him, an aura that I know how to radiate very efficiently, so he nodded a good-bye. While vanishing in the back of the room he said "Very special place that institute."
Yesterday, I am at Starbucks again, sitting outside on what I am convinced is an IKEA table, when he comes by. He grins at me and my book, "Madame Curie!" he says, and tips an imaginary hat.