Stuff I Write, Stuff I Like

Stuff I Like: Caves, Black Turtlenecks, Johnny Cash and Einstein’s Brain

In Uncategorized on January 16, 2013 at 3:30 pm

A few years back, I stopped at Crystal Cave off Route 22 in Kutztown, Pa. Crystal Cave is a tourist cave, which means the nature there is controlled. Outside, there’s a putt-putt course and an ice cream parlor. Inside, the cave looks more like a rave.

crystal cave

The footpath is set off with velvet ropes, as orderly as a bouncer’s line. There are rainbow-colored spotlights pointed at the stalagmites and stalactites. The crystal formations have homey names like “The Curtains” and “Tobacco Leaves.” I didn’t see any bats. The air smelled like Febreeze.

Everything seemed as orderly and domesticated as the Crystal Cave refrigerator magnets and collectible spoons you can buy in the gift shop. And even though the tour guide wore a hard hat and a safety vest, even though she said things like “watch your step” and “stay on the path,” even though she told scary stories about stalagmite headstones and the undead, nothing seemed even slightly dangerous until she flicked the lights off.

Darkness, true cave darkness, is an untamed thing. Hold your hand right in front of your face and you can’t see it. That kind of darkness has taste, texture, one big opera cape. And because I kept one hand on that velvet rope, it felt almost soothing to shut every other sense down.

I was thinking of the cave today when I opened my closet. Everything in my closet is black.


It’s hard to see individual pieces. It’s hard to see where a pair of pants stops and a turtleneck (o.k., so I own 12 black turtlenecks) begins.

Johnny Cash had the best reasons for wearing black. Here’s what he said:

johnny cash

I agree with Johnny. I also find all this darkness soothing, too, the way I find cave-darkness soothing. Everything matches. Sure, there are shades, textures to consider, but I don’t have to think much about what to wear. This is its own kind of freedom, another way of shutting sense — fashion sense, at least — down.

Einstein, who used to have a closet full of the same black suits, said we shouldn’t waste our brains deciding what to wear. Einstein said we shouldn’t remember things we can look up. People said he didn’t know his own phone number. I don’t know if that’s true, but it’s soothing, too.


After Einstein died in 1955, the doctor who did his autopsy stole Einstein’s brain and kept it in a Tupperware container, like leftovers. You can read about it in Michael Paterniti’s terrific book, DRIVING MR. ALBERT: A TRIP ACROSS AMERICA WITH EINSTEIN’S BRAIN . The doctor drove around with it in the trunk of his Buick Skylark, then passed out pieces of it to people he knew as souveniers, like refrigerator magnets in a gift shop.

Nature. Controlled.

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