The summer before my senior year of college, I spent far too many of my waking hours in the basement of the state natural-science museum, rarely leaving, even for meals. During my lunch break, I sat eating red licorice under the yellow orb of a desk lamp, turning pale and flaccid as a mushroom.
“You need something with some damn nutrition to it,” my boss, Bill, would say, jabbing a thick finger at me as I chewed plasticky chunks. But he had a MoonPie with Sun Drop for lunch himself, so my eating habits felt like an act of solidarity.
Bill was a geologist whose Twitter handle was @DrRocks and who played in a prog rock band on the weekends. I was his summer research assistant, having taken the job with little idea as to what it would actually entail but knowing it was the least popular option each year on the university’s summer work board. Mostly, I’d taken it as a sort of punishment. I wasn’t a geology major; I’d taken one class as a freshman to fulfill a science requirement: “Rocks for Jocks,” people called it. As summer drew near, though, I’d allowed myself to imagine some possibility of adventure: the geologist and myself, hiking over hillsides together, delving into hidden seams of mineral deposits, plundering the earth, the jumble of ruby and kyanite and hiddenite in my hands like cool, disinterested eyes. By the end of such a summer, I’d find myself strong-legged and sun-browned from the fieldwork, restored.