Q&A With Matt Mercier: From the Aquarium to Edgar Allan Poe

On stage at the Story Collider last October, Matt Mercier told an extraordinary story of a high-school physics love triangle (really!), which became one of our most popular podcasts. What he didn't say in that story (because it wasn't relevant) was that he worked for a while as the docent of the Edgar Allan Poe house in the Bronx. We couldn't let that rest, though, so I called him up to talk about his work there, and discovered an unexpected connection to science . . . in the form of an aquarium and Poe's version of the Big Bang.

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I arrived in Jersey City with my mother and brother on a dark night in January 1986. Mom had fallen in love and had dragged us along to her new life with her new husband. We were transplants from Southern California, where our hometown had experienced a cold snap just a few months before. Temperatures had plummeted to fifty degrees. But this was worse. Even in my warmest coat, I shivered. My bare ears stung.

A few days later, my brother and I enrolled in our new school, PS 23. In California, our schools were named after mountains and fruit trees, but in Jersey City the education system had opted for utilitarian numbers. It made me feel like a number myself.

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