“What do you know about glass?” asks Tom Waits.
He’s resting his elbows on one of the kitchen countertops we got from JM Lifestyles Heaven that are made from concrete carefully stained, sanded and embedded with the occasional nail or rivet to give a convincing impression of being reclaimed plank wood but with the benefits of increased durability and ease of cleaning. He is peering through the window at a small contingent of angels flying in formation somewhere over Jeff Buckley’s property. Or maybe he’s just staring at the window itself. I wouldn’t doubt it.
“Nothing, really,” I say, cracking open a bottle of this new Isopure lager that Ryan (Reynolds) turned me on to, which is both 5.2% ABV and delivers 12g of pure, high quality whey protein isolate to my impressive and symmetrical pecs and almost insultingly sculpted delts. I cock an eyebrow at my wife, Rosario Dawson, who is standing radiant in the light from an adjacent window, idly thumbing an intricately carved ivory brooch she bought at a fine arts fair in the carving district and regarding Tom with a mixture of restrained awe and wary confusion (but also a warm familial amenity) which is the standard response to his presence and she goes, “Um, nothing. Not a thing, really.”
“Funny thing,” he says, pivoting on his Cuban heel, “About 90% of the glass you’d see back in the uh, the tellurian world, that is to say back on Earth, with the exception of certain fluoride glasses or aluminosilicates for things like fiber optics, are what we call soda-lime glass. You’d add sodium carbonate from soda ash to pure silica to reduce the glass’ melting point but because that also increases water solubility you balance it out with lime and a little dash or two of magnesium and aluminum oxide for durability. Voila. Soda-lime glass, right? That’s the standard formula. That’s what we’re dealing with almost any time you look in a mirror, glance out a window or construct a terrarium to house your scorpions.” His voice is hypnotic, moving in fits and starts, comprised of equal parts gravel and molasses. His hands dart about, tracing certain shapes to help illustrate his words. “Now, you can do all manner of things to increase quality or help design soda-lime glass for specific purposes,” he continues, dismissing a proffered Isopure lager with a small shake of his head and pulling a flask from his lapel pocket. “Lead or barium will kick up your refractive index if that’s your thing, so you can get some pretty brilliant, sparkling glass. Good for art. Quality mirrors. Things like that. Cerium oxide gives your Transitions™ lenses their UV absorbing qualities. That’s another thing. It’s very interesting.”
Rosario nods, dumbstruck. I realize I am doing the same.
“Pane glass is traditionally floated on a molten tin bath. It eliminates gravity and allows for a uniform surface they can polish or temper accordingly,” he says, pulling from the flask and tapping on the window behind him without looking, then reaching out a fingertip to tap on my lager. “Bottle glass is blown or pressed. There’s some annealing, which is to say they remove stress points. Fun stuff. Surface treatments, cutting and scaling, sure, but mostly that’s it. Glass. Sand to pint glass in a few easy steps.”
“I had no idea,” says Rosario.
“Well, I used to dabble,” says Tom Waits, “No reason you should be intimate with the production process of your windowpane, I suppose. The thing with glass, though, as with any other amorphous solid, is that the atomic structure lacks any long range translational periodicity, but because of their chemical bonding characteristics glasses do possess a good bit of short-range order in regards to local atomic polyhedra. So basically, the bonding structure of glasses, although disordered, has the same symmetry signature as a crystal. So for the longest time the debate between glass being a proper solid and a supercooled liquid, which is slim, since the melt quenching pretty much makes it a vitreous solid and uh, you can see how that’s a fine distinction, has let people argue that it’s only time which prevents us from seeing the motion of glass. That it flows too slowly for us to observe. There’s all those claims of cathedral glass being thicker at the bottom and whatnot, but those have been dispelled because it’s shown that the techniques responsible for production made non uniform symmetry, so where you cut it might have been thicker and any installer worth his salt, or silica, heh heh, would put the thickest part earthward for stability. Now sure, there’s no proper classical equilibrium phase transition to qualify glass as a solid, but its behavior under its transition temperature has always been that of a solid, not a supercooled liquid, you see?”
“Yep!” says Rosario, and I’m all, “Yeah, definitely.”
“But here,” Tom Waits smiles, steepling his fingertips, “Where time is not a factor, could we not then finally observe liquid behavior even from glass whose transitional temperature remains well above room temperature? I mean, we’ve got eternity, don’t we?”
I finish my lager. The bottle is still cool against my palm.
Rosario twines her fingers with my own. She smells like flowers. Tom Waits smells vaguely of cinnamon and Aqua Velva.
“Absolutely,” Rosario says with a smile, and Tom grins. “Can I assume this waiting period does not require us to be idle, though? Like, we can still go eat? Because I’m starving.”
“I hear there’s a new Moroccan restaurant down in the dinner district,” he replies, and kind of arches an eyebrow in my direction for approval.
“I love me some couscous,” I say, which is true.
“Perfect,” says Tom Waits, grabbing his coat from the stool, “I’ll drive.”
He pauses at the end of the driveway to touch the gleaming handle of our mailbox.
“What do you know about gold?” he asks.