Tuesday, October 6, 2009

The Hungarian Chemist and the Chair of the Board

by Elizabeth Milligan

Prompt from a writing class: A dialogue created by combining one side of two random conversation. In this assignment, one is from a random meeting at a car dealership, the other, a meeting in a private home.



He looked to be in his late 70s or early 80s. He was over six feet tall and rangy with bright and intense brown eyes, unusually small and beady. He smiled a lot and his smile was relaxed and genuine. Although his jacket was cloth, it was not tweed or corduroy and it did not have elbow patches – clothes often associated with academia. His slacks were not rumpled. His dyed black hair was combed back from his forehead. The strands of hair were longish and the haircut was short, neither severe nor styled.

She looked to be in her late 40s or early 50s. She was about five feet, seven inches with blue eyes, a clear complexion, dark arched eyebrows, and straight blond hair streaked with gray and white and held back with a scarf. She too smiled a lot and her smile smiled relaxed and genuine, also. She wore tailored clothes, had the poise and demeanor of a successful prosecutor or talk show host, and the easy charm of a kind and secure person.


He said:

Like all of the Jews living in Budapest in 1945, my parents had been rounded up by the Nazis and shot. My grandfather had been a great war hero in World War I, but that did not do him any good. Between my wife and me, we lost thirty-six family members. I hate Hungary. They say that the only thing Hungary is good at is always being on the wrong side of a war.

She said:

Do have some tea or coffee, my husband is English so tea is very important in out house. Scones, fruit, and peanut free truffles are on the table. Please help yourself.

He said:

I used to swim, play soccer, ski, climb, and more. You know, one time I was through with studying for the day and it was such a beautiful winter day and I went skiing – by myself. Let me tell you how I got the wind knocked out of my sails. I had just skied down a very steep hill and I was very proud of myself and then looked backwards and saw this 12 year old boy skiing the same hill and so fast and as he came down the hill, he picked up each red flag! That cut me down to size alright!

She said:

Now, we need two or three questions for a letter to the membership. What do you think? OK, it sounds as if we want to ask this and this and this. OK? Now, I seem to recall that a speaker has been lined up for a meeting, but just in case this is not the case, I was thinking that Michael Thompson might be good. What do you think? OK then, does anyone know Michael?

He said:

My wife is a very good psychiatrist. She went to the University of Pennsylvania. We have been married for 63 years. Do you know the secret to a good marriage? It is the three “C’s”: Communication, Consent, and Compromise.

My wife and I are very different in a way. She believes that everyone, no matter how miserable, deserves empathy. I do not. If I do not like someone, I do not talk to them.


She said:

I will contact the person who I believe may have already lined up a speaker for the next meeting, and if she hasn’t, then I will e-mail you so that you can call Michael. I realize that he will want to be paid, but we haven’t any money for that. What we can do is promise him an audience of independent schools and publicity.

He said:

Do you know why things dissolve in water? Let me draw you a picture.

She said:

Oh yes, have you seen these triptychs of my boy? The photographer captured those darling conspiratorial expressions and poses after he asked them to think of a time that they would never tell their mother about! The eldest is going to Harvard next year. My younger son is a junior at Groton.

He said:

You know, not all of the music of Mozart and Beethoven is good music. For example, Mozart’s 21st Concerto and Beethoven’s 4th are very bad. Mozart’s 20th is good, though. But you need to listen to the performance of Rudolf Serkin and the Philadelphia Orchestra. Liszt was not very good. One good thing by him, however, is Music According to the Sonnets of Petrarca.

She said:

One day, when I was showing one of my sons the steps to swing dancing, I asked him to show me how to grind. I had no idea what that was. Well, he looked at me in horror and said, “Mom that is NOT something you do with your mother!”

He said:

You know the commandment that says thou shall not kill. It does not say that. It says thou shall not murder. I know because I have read it in Hebrew. Now, if I had been a Catholic, I would be a priest today since I grew up hearing the Latin Mass and I know it perfectly. I am a very serious student of the Jewish religion because we have paid with our blood. So much, over thousands of years. And I am a quiet Jew. The most beautiful city in the world is Jerusalem. Everything is there and so much history next to so much new. Now, you really should read the Old Testament and certainly Ezekiel and the Dry Bones. It is beautiful.

She said:

Excuse me while I put the dog in the garage so that we are not bothered by his barking. I don’t know what has got into him!

He said:

Oh, another good piece of music is Boccarini’s Nights of Marguerite. Also Edward McGee’s Indian Sonnets. And Wellington’s Victory and Consecration of the Horse, St. Stephen’s Overture.

She said:

So, we hope you will join us as Membership Chair for the next year. As you can see, this is a really great group!

He said:

Would you like to write down my name?

[And he writes] Geza Szonyi.

She said:

Do have some of the truffles. Please take some home. Now, who would like to go out for lunch?

He said:

You know about Malaria. It was wiped out in the US and the Panama Canal in the early part of the last century via constant drainage, netting, and lots of quinine (he pronounced it ‘queeneene’). It could be wiped out in Africa, too. The formula for it is very simple. [He draws me two pictures of cells and he points excitedly to two little circles within one cell.] See these two little circles? They are the answer. But nothing will be done about it. The governments in Africa are far too involved with themselves. It is not at all in their interests to eradicate malaria.

She said:

I am afraid that I can not stay long at lunch since I am having thirty for dinner tonight for another board I serve on.

He said:

Do you like jokes? Here is a joke about how a Biologist and a Chemist look at DNA differently. Biologists look at DNA and talk about the beauty of its structure. The chemists look at DNA and say: “Yeah, four compounds. What’s the big deal?”

She said:

Now drive safely. This morning’s dusting of snow can be deceptively slippery.

He said:

Now, you have plenty of material with which to write a story about me. [And with a mischievous sparkle] And you don’t have to be nice!

Elizabeth Milligan ©2009

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