Entry 15.0 “The Heart and Other Mighty Places”
The presentation began as follows: “The human heart has chambers, walls and spaces designed with clear function and purpose. The mightiest of chambers, boasts the power to pump blood throughout the entire body.” In front of the classroom, a three-dimensional hologram of a blood-filled veiny heart, the size of some of my shorter classmates, rhythmically pulsated. It filled with more blood and continued to pump and pulsate, pump and pulsate. The rhythmic beating was accentuated by a subwoofer hidden somewhere in the room that I could inexplicably feel in the deeper recesses of my throat.
I can quote the presentation’s opening words because they were the last thing I heard before I lost consciousness. I woke up staring at the shoes of my middle school classmates with my left cheek firmly planted on the green tile floor. A string of saliva stretched from my mouth as I picked up my sideways head to a chorus of laughter and applause. (No, kids are not nicer in the future.) After I was upright again and sitting in her office, the school nurse “helped” the situation by remarking, slightly under her breath, “At least now you can rule out a career in the medical field.”
The metaphorical heart, thankfully depicted in a less graphic way, is also attributed to being something vital to self. Though it’s been clear to scientists for centuries that the qualities previously assigned to the heart rightfully belong to the brain, the heart (aided by songsmiths and poets) has retained its figurative reign as the source of human emotion. In my time, it is still quite possible to “break someone’s heart”, to be “young at heart” or to continue to list these idioms “to my heart’s content.”
One of the most elusive of these tropes may be the act of possessing “heart.” For example, “He played every note with the technical precision of a master, but his performance lacked heart.” This statement begs the question - who is truly qualified to grant “heart” or take it away? Opinions and tastes vary, and what one person may feel deeply, another has every right to dismiss outright.
This is true in every creative field, but I’d imagine it would be significantly magnified when one’s work is literally part of a city’s skyline and is required viewing for thousands of (maybe slightly disgruntled) daily commuters. I’ve heard that the critics of architecture are harsh. In one breath they will give credit to one structure for being the crown jewel of an entire city, and, in another breath, brazenly wish a “distasteful” one to fall to rubble. I once heard a quote that went something like this, “Brave architecture is a heartfelt conversation through time with strangers who either wish for your walls to fall today, or stand forever.”
It’s unclear if architecture critics were consulted on the plans for the “Go for Lunch” diner built here on the planet Valseidon. Even if they were, not even the most arrogant of the bunch would dare say that the mid-century modern malt shop lacked heart. It’s warm-colored, unlikely-angled, overhanging roof might’ve once started as an idea to keep folks out of the rain, but ended up with a huge hole right through the center. The hole was to allow the passage of two intersecting steel support beams, or rather, “lift-off flames” that mounted a gigantic vintage rocket well above the diner’s functionally unnecessary butterfly roof.
Affixed under the rocket, a neon sign glowed, “Go for launch” with the “a” in launch permanently (purposefully) burnt out. “Go for launch” was the final declaration spoken by the NASA launch director, after a myriad of system checks, when a rocket was safe to finally lift off.
I could go on for much longer describing the gem-colored neon tubes that framed the oblique lines of the diner’s façade. Or the star-shaped lights that whimsically meandered up the rocket’s support beams like luminescent ivy, but I know that I have to get to the point: “Why did someone build a diner from another age on another world?” I had some theories…
As human beings, we long for that in which we are deficient. These deficiencies almost always manifest in our art. Is it possible, now that the “final frontier” of space has been conquered, that we collectively crave a time like that of the space-race, when the stars were just out of reach? Or could it be that the diner, with its trophy-like rocket, was some kind of historical souvenir that we ironically erected to congratulate ourselves on our current achievements, while smirking at our fledgling past?
Joe O’Rourke, the diner’s owner, couldn’t confirm or deny either theory. He told Kiye and me that his father hired the architect when he was a kid. Then he shrugged and backed into the kitchen on a singular mission to get our burgers out hot before the rush of Moonlighter pilots arrived. It didn’t surprise me that this was their hangout. It was so obvious, but also, so right. I have to say, it made me smile.
I found that I could get Joe talking a bit more when I brought up topics that didn’t involve architecture or philosophy. With a glint of admiration in his eye that I’ve only seen in fans who truly revere their home team, he told me that the weekly ritual went like this:
The first pilot to fill up the energy-collecting tanks of their massive hot air balloon-like vehicles would lead the race back to the hangers. Each pilot knew that their energy payload was crucial to powering the colony, so only after all remaining protocols were satisfied, would they head out to the diner. Once there, the victor would place their helmet upside down on their favorite table. One by one, every subsequent pilot to enter, as a show of deference, was required to throw in at least enough credits for a decent meal. This kept the winner eating well for a couple weeks, but the more coveted reward, he admitted, was cashed through bragging rights and social prowess.
While Kiye was explaining why dipping her fries in her chocolate shake was a perfectly normal thing to do, I couldn’t help but dream about being the first Moonlighter pilot to proudly approach the diner, helmet in-hand, after my winning run. Just a sliver of Muse, Valseidon’s largest moon, would light my victorious approach and reveal low-hanging clouds saturated by the implausible marriage of alien sky and neon. Just beyond the iridescent spectacle, though, would be the mellow glow of something like old halogen lights inside the windows. They would warmly reveal the walls and the tables of a place out-of-time that lovingly harkened back to an idealistic age of jukebox music, big dreams, and patriotism. Joe would have my “usual” ready for me, on the house.
A place like the “Go for Lunch” diner raised the question, “Why do certain places contain so much of the illusive psychological treasure we call, heart?” Is it embedded within the architect’s blueprints, or the interior designer’s welcoming nostalgic decor? Is it born from its traditions, or meaningful rituals and celebrations?
I speculate that the answer is, yes. Yes, to all of the above, but also something more. Something random and unrepeatable. I live in a time when all of the most brilliant buildings throughout time have been analyzed, dissected, and reduced to mathematic equations and algebraic formulas. One would think that with all of the collective knowledge we’ve achieved, every building added to our skyline would be a triumph. Not so. This was proven by a gray, nondescript skyscraper (the headquarters for Pinnacle Nth on Valseidon) which loomed high over Joe’s little diner. Though it represented the state-of-the-art, and just the price of the colossal window at its summit likely cost more than the profit “Go for Lunch” will ever amass, I had no desire to go there.
I clearly remember the first two sentences of that middle-school presentation right before I passed out. They said, “The human heart has chambers, walls and spaces designed with clear function and purpose. The mightiest of chambers, boasts the power to pump blood throughout the entire body.”
Now when I think of those words, I don’t feel faint – in fact, I don’t associate it with that experience at all. I think of the walls and spaces where my heart resonates. I think of the first time I tried a fry dipped in a chocolate shake with someone I cared about in a small, but mighty chamber.
I hope these walls stand forever.