Colin pulls into a rest stop in Kentucky around 3:00 a.m. to sleep. Hassan wakes him the morning, telling Colin to move the seat he has leaned back so that Hassan has room to get out to pray. While Hassan attends to mundane tasks like looking for toothpaste and scratching out an offensive statement on a picnic table at the rest stop, Colin tries to explain to Hassan the condition that would actually make someone’s mouth taste like corpse, as Hassan has hyperbolically described his morning breath. Hassan tells him this is not an interesting fact.
Colin and Hassan are in the middle of nowhere and doubtless uncomfortable given that they have slept without beds and without a private bathroom. Hassan’s attention to his surroundings and his physical discomfort, including his morning breath, contrasts with Colin’s attention to random facts in the back of his head that bear little importance on the situation at hand. Colin needs Hassan to keep him grounded in reality.
Colin goes to the bathroom and anagrams a phrase he sees scratched into the door. Rather than share with Hassan when he returns to the car, Colin keeps to himself the subsequent series of barely-connected thoughts that occur to him in response to his surroundings. These thoughts include Katherine XIX, ruby mining, Winston Churchill, bald politicians (Churchill and Gandhi) and mustachioed dictators (Hitler, Stalin, and Saddam Hussein).
Colin’s thoughts may not be grounded in the actual situation at hand, but his string of seemingly disconnected thoughts demonstrates that his brain truly can make quick connections. By telling Colin periodically that the random facts he recalls are not interesting, Hassan has taught Colin how to assess his social environment for when it is appropriate to share his thoughts.
Colin’s thoughts lead him to the term “pupillary sphincter,” which reminds him of how he met Hassan. Hassan came to Colin’s school in tenth grade, after ten years of home school that allowed him to take some advanced classes. Colin, a ninth grader at the time, was in Hassan’s Calculus I class. One day, Colin asked to go to the bathroom to deal with an eyelash in his eye, but he specified that it was in his “pupillary sphincter.” He was laughed out of class. Hassan found Colin later and explained that after nine days in a school, he has grasped that the word “sphincter” will never not be funny to class full of high school students. Their friendship was born out of this moment.
While Colin thinks of Hassan as someone who has taught him when he cannot be himself in public, their friendship has its basis in Colin’s social ineptness. Colin was laughed out of class that day, but had he not used a phrase that his classmates found laughable, he and Hassan might not have become best friends. This memory suggests that parts of Colin’s identity that he thinks of as lacking, such as social grace, might actually be important components of who he is.
Back in the present, Hassan says that he doesn’t think much of Kentucky. Forlorn, Colin says it reminds him of Katherine XIX. He talks about how the two of them were going to go to Paris using his KranialKidz money, about which the narrator footnotes, “more on this later.” Hassan says that if Kentucky is reminding Colin of Paris, “we’re in a hell of a pickle.” He takes the keys from Colin and gets back in the car.
Although Colin’s absorption in his recently-ended romance is not unusual for a heartbroken teenager, Hassan serves as a reminder that Colin’s melancholy is only temporary.
Further down the road, Hassan wants to exit to see the World’s Largest Wooden Crucifix. Colin says they shouldn’t because neither of them is Christian and because it will remind him of Katherine XIX. When Hassan protests that Katherine was an atheist, Colin says she used to wear a crucifix long ago, before they dated. Hassan lets Colin know that he is disgusted but drives past the exit anyway.
Colin’s memory of Katherine XIX’s crucifix foreshadows the later revelation that Colin knew Katherine XIX long before she was Katherine XIX; in fact, he knew her as Katherine I as well. Because the reader does not yet know the connection between Katherine XIX and Katherine I, the memory gives the sense that Colin is remembering things he could not possibly have experienced.