Old Geezers Out to Lunch

Old Geezers Out to Lunch
The Geezers Emeritus through history: The Mathematician™, Dr. Golf™, The Professor™, and Mercurious™

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Good News....and Bad News

Just when I had fully relaxed into the fact the middle age is drawing to close and old age is about to begin,  a complication arose.

At the dentist's office I ran into an extended survey in a waiting room magazine that tells me that based on lifestyle and general health and outlook questions, I'm effectively not quite 55 years old instead of nearly 60, as my driver's license believes.  

I truly don't know what to do.

This computation is based on an elaborate, multi-page survey. Wanting to know the complete dirty truth, I was fully, brutally honest in answering.  I was forthright  about my weight (which is fine if I was 6 ft. 3" tall; unfortunately I'm 5 ft 8"), and about the fact that my cholesterol and blood pressure are on the high side. I was ruthlessly honest about the red meat I eat too often, and about the fact that I have a nasty sweet tooth. I 'fessed up to my occasional insomnia, my allergies, the arthritis beginning to make my toes and ankles ache.

I was brutally honest about every last thing they asked.

But it appears I have enough healthy habits to more than compensate for these vices. I checked off the smallest option for number of alcoholic drinks per day above zero (on average, about one or two glasses of good Scotch per week). It appears, now, that a little bit of imbibing is considered better for you than none at all.  I spend 15 or so days a month in the YMCA pool or exercise room, and walk perhaps an additional 10 or 15 miles a week. The daily regimen includes 45 minutes of meditation, which the surveyors apparently like very much. Early to bed early to rise seems to be a plus. My work stress has taken a large turn downward—that alone probably reduced my age by a year or so. The last loved one lost to disease was now more than a year ago, not front and center in my outlook on life.  And my fondness for a good cheeseburger is apparently neutralized by the nuts, grains, and vegetables I happily eat.

Now, although it's not a terrible thing to actually be younger than I am, it does leave me with a dilemma. I was very much looking forward to the many senior citizen discounts I  become eligible for when I turn 60 years old next month.  I don't lie easily, and if I say I am 60 when in reality I'm effectively only 55,  I'm sure to get busted. I can imagine now the teller at the movie theater who, when I ask for a senior ticket, frowns and asks to see the result of my US News & World Report age survey. 

I must be careful not to regress any further, as might happen if I lose some weight. That was a goal of mine as I enter semi-retirement, but now I'm not so sure. I'd rather not have to send back my AARP membership card. Maybe if I drink a lot more Scotch, it will balance out a weight loss. 

Thursday, November 5, 2015

The Human Wound

I recently came upon this small bit of writing from several years ago ago while cleaning out some digital file folders. Most bits of writing one discovers during such housekeeping is utterly disposable and you're well advised to snuff out all the 1's and 0's that form them, lest somebody come upon them and recognize that most of your writing is clumsy indeed.  But this one I decided to save for a little longer, at least until the next digital purging. I don't recall what prompted the writing of this. Sometimes words come from places you can't quite identify. 

I’ve come to believe that the quality that distinguishes humans from other living creatures is not "intelligence," but rather the fact that we are the one creature who is consciously aware of a woundedness, a sore spot, a mortal tenderness that is the source of both all our pain and ultimately our joy. Other living creatures, though subject to the same natural pains and laws of physics, remain blessedly unaware of the nature of the mortal wound, and hence do not suffer or rejoice in quite the same way as do conscious humans. The dawning awareness of this woundedness, this tender spot, is represented culturally and spiritually by many images: the fall from grace, expulsion from Eden, entrapment in samsara: all are mythological symbols of the sting that ensues when a conscious mind recognizes its essential mortality, its woundedness. 

How we respond to our wound governs the quality of our lives, in the end. It determines if we remain trapped in dreariness, or find at-one-ment of some kind.  The traditional path of a life is to attempt to cover up our mortality, to hide it from others and even ourselves. In anger and fear, we try to plate over our mortal wound with thick layers of costuming and personality and neurosis, trying to keep others from seeing it and trying to forget about it ourselves. 

We go to war to protect our wound. Our civilizations are largely structured around the effort to hide the wound. Our technologies evolve, in part, as efforts to defeat the wound. We dress in fancy clothes and dwell in palaces to distract ourselves away from the wound. Though all these are common strategies, they don't make for a very pleasant way to live.  It is a happy occasion to wake up from this condition and see the reality.

Fortunately, the wound is inherent in us, and cannot be avoided forever, even if we wanted to.  Clear seeing will eventually show you the truth of this. Knowing the woundedness, accepting the wound and working with it is a sign of our evolution, our consciousness. To hide from the pain, on the other hand, is to live a life of non-truth. And to do this may even be to live an evil life, for virtually all evil acts are strategies to hide from pain or to push it onto others that we might pretend that it doesn't belong to us. 

We are lucky that we can’t hide forever from the truth, and a genuine glimpse of our own mortal wound is what offers us the opportunity to change, to awaken. To awaken and feel the wound after a long period of hiding is something to celebrate. Some day, you may well come to realize that the moments of greatest trauma were also your moments of greatest awakening.

Sometimes through luck, sometimes with help, you may find that there is another way to respond to the knowledge of our wound. We do not have to hide, we do not need to defend. We can acknowledge the wound, accept it, live gladly with it even. We can tenderly care for our own wound, and treat the tender spots in others with equal compassion and empathy. We can respond to it with good nature, with irony and humor and understanding. Sometimes this is the path of the artists who live to articulate the experience of our human woundedness; the mystics who lived and died with compassion for the wounded; the saints who care for the universal wound. And there's a bit of this trait found in every good soul you’ve known. They are aware of the wound and are caring for it in themselves and others. 

Perhaps you have known people who live this way routinely, or maybe you've begun to  discover it for yourself: It is when we are confronted with the indisputable and unavoidable truth of our woundedness that a conscious, free life begins.

The happiest people I’ve ever known are those most aware of the tender wound in themselves and others. They ache for other people, and with them.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Considering Enjoyment

As semi-retirement draws closer, I've settled on an intended routine that will have me working "for pay" from about 7:00 am to 1:00 pm, with my afternoons free to pursue other things. Almost invariably when I mention this plan to colleagues, friends, neighbors, they respond by wanting to know what I'm going to do with that time. By which they want to know what my goal is, what I plan to accomplish with that free time.

"Ah, so you'll have time to write a novel or two."

"So you could volunteer time with the schools or Red Cross."

"I imagine you might want to go back to photography as a serious hobby."

"You can get serious about a monetized blog or web site."

"Remodel your bathroom/refinish your floors/rebuild your deck/pour new steps for the front entry."

"If grandkids come soon, you can be their day care provider."

Now, it's possible I will do some or even all of those things; all of them are on the list of things I might like to to do. But when these questions come up or suggestions are offered, I remain non-committal, nodding vaguely and saying I haven't decided yet. Because I'd secretly like to give an answer that would strike people as a little unusual, even disappointing.

"I'd like to practice enjoyment."

Enjoyment is a somewhat alien concept in American culture. We are champions of accomplishment, of material acquisition, of achieving tangible goals. On some level we are even champions of hedonistic pleasure, which is kind of the shadow side of the drive to accomplishment. In this country, we tend to pursue pleasure with the same exhausting frenzy as we pursue a workplace promotion. Americans can sometimes even be identified as champions of "fun," which in our culture seems to be defined as a kind of heart-pounding frenzy.

But hedonistic pleasure and fun, as we know it are not the same as enjoyment, I think.

The etymology of the word is hazy and a little imprecise:

Enjoyment: the act of experiencing joy
Enjoy: the experience of joy
Joy: the emotion of delight or happiness by experiencing something good or satisfying.

All of this seems to derive originally from the Greek gaio, which means "to rejoice," so finding a definition is a cyclical exercise the solution for which remains a little elusive.  But in any case the quality of enjoyment seems a bit different that what we normally call fun or pleasure. It's a quieter quality, a bit more contemplative, perhaps.

And simple enjoyment is something we're not all that familiar with, in general—not in American society. Other cultures seem better at it. During a recent trip to Italy, I saw a lot of enjoyment all around me, though admittedly much less accomplishment (Italians are notoriously inefficient). Europeans in general seem to be better at enjoyment; the entire month of August seems to be when everybody goes on holiday and practices pure enjoyment. In China, you can pretty much give up on meeting any kind of manufacturing deadline during the entire month around the New Year celebration—everybody is enjoying themselves. And it's also in China where it's pretty much standard practice for people to leave the work force at age 55 or so,  and for them to then seek simple enjoyment. They become family elders, mentor grandchildren,  go to the public parks to practice Tai Chi or play games with their friends. Who knew those commies could be so wise?

It's interesting to realize that enjoyment can be present even in the absence of pleasure or even fun. The enemy of enjoyment is resistance of any kind, and lack of resistance is quite conducive to enjoyment. You can enjoy almost anything simply by relaxing fully into whatever experience is present. A traffic jam can be enjoyed if you settle into listening to music or thinking sly thoughts about pretty girls. Suffering from the flu, you can either fight against the experience, or you can enjoy it in a kind of perverse way by curling up in a blanket in front of the fireplace, with a cup of hot soup while watching favorite old movies.

So enjoyment seems to me partly about abandoning the pushing and pulling that typically dominates life, relinquishing the effort to turn current circumstances into something different. Enjoyment, as distinct from pleasure-seeking, seems to be based more on satisfaction in, and with, the status quo.

I don't know that I'll be able to pull this off readily. I'm the product of a Lutheran midwestern
upbringing in which the dinner hour was hugely rushed in order to get back outside to do farming/yardwork/snowshoveling. My father was a guy who after each lawn-mowing turned the machine upside down and scrubbed it clean of green stains using a stiff brush. Pure life enjoyment doesn't come naturally to me.

But the next time somebody asks what I'm going to do with my free time in semi-retirement?

"I'm going to practice enjoyment."

With enough practice, I might even get good at it.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Overheard: October 23, 2015

In an office building in downtown Minneapolis on the way up to my optometrist's office, there are two young men from some country in far southeastern Europe or far western Eurasia riding upward with me on a very slow-moving elevator. The inflection of their voices remind me a little of the old Steve Martin/Dan Akroyd "Wild & Crazy Guys" bit, though they are speaking in their native tongue, not English. They are in their mid to late 20s, and my hunch is that they hail from someplace like Moldova or Bulgaria, or maybe even someplace on the other side of the Black Sea. I cannot place the language, but is is definitely not Russian or Polish—it's more unusual than that. They talk to one another quietly in deference to my presence, but with great restrained animation. I cannot understand any of the words—except for a notable phrase that pops up out of the middle of nowhere.

"Ce crezi că am făcut aseară? Am băut vodcă și pastile gobbled. E ceea ce fac mereu. Și băiatul, nu am plăti prețul. Ar fi trebuit să urmat sfatul: "JUST SAY NO ."Това е, когато разбрах, че току-що мойш си грозна сестра."

"Ha ha ha ha ah.  Ha ha ha ha ha."  Both young men laugh heartily, but with attempts to stifle it out of consideration to another elevator passenger not in on the joke.

Then the second one responds. "Невероятно. Това е, което аз осъзнах прекалено-I е трябвало да заяви JUST SAY NO. Когато погледнах надолу и осъзнах, майка вашият ме минет Без да си протези."

More peals of muffled laughter, while they looked sideways at me with some sheepishness.

Americans need to be very careful. Thirty years after the fact, this ridiculous "just say no" catch-phrase from Nancy Reagan's ill-advised and vicious war on drugs is still circulating around in the conversation of young Eurasian men. I feel a little morose to see that this, of all things, is a piece of American culture that has persisted in the larger world. I hope against all odds that I don't now hear "thousand points of light" come out of their mouths.

And then I recall some of the recent sound bites from Donald Trump, and I begin to feel quite ill over what might infect the world in the near future.

Friday, October 23, 2015

A Geezer in the Wilds of Turkey

Please welcome back one of our favorite Guest Geezers, "Since George Shaw."  George is one of the most adventurous and well traveled Geezers I know, so please enjoy this essay, prompted by Mercurious' recent reflection on business trip travel.  George beautifully articulates the kind of adventure awaiting Geezers willing to set aside their American fearfulness and just do it.  

Recently, I was chatting with an old friend, when the topic of travel plans came up. Dewey shared that his wife had been trying to talk him into one of those Viking River Boat Cruises on the Rhine River, next Spring/Summer, but he had finally nixed the idea because of the "dangerous unrest" in Europe these days. This conversation, and Mercurious' recent story about (sort of) getting lost (sort of) in the Black Forest, reminded me of my wife and I getting lost in Turkey a few years ago.

For some reason (I'm not descended from Turks, or speak the language, or anything), I had always wanted to visit Istanbul. So we flew into Istanbul, spent a few days there(it's delightful), and then rented a car (a crappy Ford Fiesta) to drive around Turkey for two weeks - no reservations or set itinerary, just knocking around the way one might knock around the American West. It was early April. As it turns out, the tourist seasons starts May 1 - we didn't know, so a few things weren't open yet, but at least we avoided the crowds. 

Generally, the experience was wonderful. The roads were about as good as Minnesota roads, but with only 10% the traffic (outside of Istanbul). Navigation was a little tricky; this was before GPS. Not that I use GPS anyway—I'm a map guy (real maps, that fold up). We had 3 maps, one brought from home, one purchased there, and one provided by the rental car company. And they almost never matched. Sometimes we failed to find a particular ruin we were looking for, and stumbled on a different one instead.

So one afternoon, we were driving on a nice, two-lane, blacktop road in the Capadocia region in central Turkey (see photo at left) headed for a town where we hoped to find a hotel, when we spotted a sign with a symbol we had come to recognize as a scenic lookout. Without consulting my spouse, I made an executive decision and turned down a gravel road in search of promised scenic lookout. There was an inch or so of snow on the ground, from the night before, but the gravel road seemed well-traveled.

After about a mile or so, there was a less-traveled road off to our left, in the direction of some mountains. There was also, at this intersection, a parked car and 4 teenage boys, drinking beer, as teenage boys will do, and roasting hotdogs over a small fire. We asked them if the road to the left led to the scenic lookout, but none of them admitted speaking English. I decided to go for it.

We followed a single set of tire tracks (in the snow), for another mile, until we came to the edge of the cliff - I was driving slow, no real danger of us plunging off the cliff. The first mystery was that the tire tracks I had been following just stopped - they didn't go over the cliff, there was no sign of turning around, and there was no car??? Not sure if this was really a scenic lookout (probably not).

Trying to turn around, I got stuck. When I couldn't rock it out, I put wife behind the wheel and pushed it out - of those ruts, only to get stuck again. This pattern repeated for the next hour. I have been driving in Minnesota for 50 years, and never experienced conditions like this. There was only about an inch of snow, but below the snow was several feet of loose volcanic ash, which is a lot like snow, except worse.

It was now about 5:00., the sun was getting low, is was getting cold, and my wife was not nearly as cheerful as she appears in the photo (right). 

So we hiked the mile back to the teenagers with the fire. It turned out, they did speak passable English (a lot better than my Turkish). We explained what had happened. They said, "Oh, that's quite common, happens all the time." And went back to drinking.

So we hiked another mile back to the blacktop road, where there happened to be a BP station. Five old men were attempting to repair one of the pumps. They were much friendlier than the teenagers, but none of them (really) spoke English. After a while, one of the men disappeared into a living quarters behind the station, and emerged with a 10 yr-old boy - who spoke fluent English. We explained what had happened. The boy said, "Oh, that's quite common, happens all the time." And went inside. But not before explaining our predicament to the adults.

One of the men pulled out his flip-phone and made a call. He then escorted us into the living quarters, where the 10 yr-old and a friend were watching soccer, and signaled for us to wait. We were not sure exactly what we were waiting for. Nor how long it might take. Or if our rescuer could actually get us out of there. Or how much it might cost. Or whether whoever came to our rescue would take American plastic. I had about $30 worth of Turkish Lira. 

The soccer game ended. The boys left. It got dark. After about an hour, we were now watching some sort of political debate, in Turkish, the man who had made the phone call signaled for us to come outside. There, was a farmer on what appeared to be a 1910-era tractor. He motioned for me to climb onto the tractor. There wasn't really any place to ride, so I sort of balanced on this thin bar and held on to the man's seat. My wife stayed behind, watching the debate.

I gave the farmer directions by pointing. When we reached our rental car, he jumped off and hooked up a chain to something under the car (finding a part of the Fiesta not made of plastic was actually the most difficult part of this process), and pulled it out - no problem. When we got back to the larger gravel road, where the teenagers were still drinking, he unhooked it. While I was turning around, ever so carefully, the farmer on the tractor took off. I caught up with him at the BP station, and flagged him down. He was slightly annoyed to be stopped again, perhaps headed home for dinner, maybe to watch the debate.

He spoke no English, but I managed to convey that I wanted to pay him, and he managed to convey that he did not expect to be paid. I gave him the $30 worth of Turkish Lira anyway. I retrieved my wife, and we drove on to our original destination, where we found a room and had a very nice meal.

I thought about this, and similar experiences, as my old friend talked about how dangerous it might be to take a Viking River Boat Cruise on the Rhine these days. My friend is a believer in the theory of "American Exceptionalism." And like most believers in "American Exceptionalism," he has never really been out of the country (Canada and Cancun don't count). 

So I agreed—for fellows like this, a Rhine River cruise probably was too dangerous. 

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Lost in the Black Forest

Okay, in the interests of full disclosure, I have to tell you that, as adventure stories go, this one is not the most thrilling you'll ever hear. The forest I was lost in was indeed in Germany, and it was "black" in that it consisted of a large amount of dense, dark fir trees which is what lends the authentic Black Forest its name. It was also black simply because the forest was foggy with mist that day.  But it was not really in the officially designated "Black Forest", which actually lies a little bit to the west and south of where I was lost.

And my being "lost", even, was a rather momentary thing, lacking in heart-pounding drama. From the low mountainside where I was hiking, walking downward would inevitably bring me to the Rhine River, and from there it would be pretty easy matter to walk downstream just a little, where the town of Heidelberg would be found, and where jumping a train at the haupfbohnhof, would very easily take me back to a warm hotel room in Frankfurt. This was not mortal danger I was in.

Still, this was the last adventure of a certain kind that I will have, and so it was worth savoring. There will be other adventures, to be sure, but this is the last one of  this particular ilk.

I was on my free day at the tail end of the enormous Frankfurt Book Fair—the most important trade fair of the entire publishing industry, in which tens of thousands of publishing professionals descend on the gigantic Messe convention center for a solid week of meetings and presentations. On the final free day of the trip, with the last of my scheduled meetings finished, I took the train down to Heidelberg to walk around a bit, first in the old town with its gingerbread architecture, then up onto the mountainside above the medieval castle there. Where I got momentarily lost. In a forest that was pretty black. Where I could indulge in a little mental exaggeration.

Over the years at various sales and publishing duties I've attended in representation of my company, I've frequently piggybacked a personal day, or several days,  to pursue some kind of mild adventure that otherwise would cost me my own out-of-pocket plane fare. I'm nothing if not careful with a buck, and if the job requires me to be some place in the world, dammit, I'm going to make sure to take the opportunity for some kind of little adventure, if possible.

Sometimes that adventure has been very, very modest indeed. Sometimes there's barely time for a drive around the countryside.  Some trips, it's no more than a short visit to some state park or museum I wouldn't otherwise see. Once, it was simply an afternoon hike in a stretch of old-growth forest in southern Kentucky, just after a book launch party for an author. But there have also been more impressive adventures.

I categorically hate Las Vegas and everything it stands for, but the unavoidable trade fairs that have brought me there over the years have allowed me to hike up Red Rock Canyon to Turtlehead peak, where the vistas over the shimmering desert give you sight-lines of 40 miles or so. Another Las Vegas trip saw me rent a car on the final day to drive a couple hundred miles around the desert, along the mysterious Area 51 Air Force test base, through Death Valley, and through the most beautiful prehistoric-looking desert I've ever seen, to the south of Vegas on the road to Henderson. On the best Vegas trip of all, I took three days before the trade show for a three day overnight backpack trip with one of our sales reps (the rare salesman who knows how to shut up) into Zion National Park, beginning in the beautiful sandstone canyons of the low park and ending up in the Ponderosa pines of the higher elevations, where fresh mountain lion tracks gave a certain thrill to camping that night. Fortunately, it was not until the last day that I barely avoided stepping on one of the plentiful rattlesnakes in the park, this one a six-footer with a body as thick as my bicep. Sleeping on the ground deep in the park would have been significantly more challenging if I'd been worried about snakes right from the beginning.

After the London Book Fair one year, I took a few days to head out to King Arthur country to hike, where I climbed the Tor at Glastonbury, wandered among prehistoric Celtic stone worship circles, drank cold water from sacred wells, and slept in a cottage where the owners had placed a large amethyst crystal under the bed for its "energetic properties"  (this was in a particularly "New Age" segment of my inner life).

Another year, I rented a car after the Frankfurt fair and raced down the autobahn and into Switzerland, where on a gorgeous autumn day I hiked well up the base of the Matterhorn from Zermatt, up to the point where I was thigh-high in snow and staring up at the peak itself lying 60 degrees or so above horizontal. The peak was so bright in the thin air that it was positively painful to look at. On the way back down, shaggy, brown-eyed cattle with large bells hanging around their necks stood patiently in high alpine meadows as I stroked their necks.

You might find it odd that I do most of these things solo—my wife, a textbook extravert, certainly does. But the fact is that I never feel so connected to something larger and more universal than myself than when alone with the natural world in some way. It is where I find the presence that some people call God.

Beyond the adventures where the job itself paid for the plane tickets, there were other adventures that the job itself and its modestly decent salary made possible: taking my young kids and wife to Paris and Rome, where my lasting memory is my eight-year old daughter with her head leaned back against my stomach as we both looked up at the Sistine Chapel ceiling in awe; trekking into the back country of Denali National Park with a friend Ive known since the age of four; taking a more sedate week-long whiskey-tasting tour of Scotland with that same friend many years later; having a most wonderful trip with my wife to southern France with another couple (yes, that same friend and his wife) to tour the deep caves where prehistoric humans created the first known art; taking the grown family again to London and Rome, this time with the kids as full adults and in company of their life partners.

Perhaps some of these things would have happened even if I'd worked in a garden center rather than as publisher, but certainly not all of them. It was the necessary work travel, along with a paycheck that exceeded the needs of mere survival, that made these things possible for me.

And so, finding myself quietly lost last week in a rather non-terrifying way on a mountainside 2,000 feet or so above the Rhine River Valley in central Germany was something to be savored. It took only 20 minutes or so of tromping down the hillside to pick up the trail, and shortly after that I came across direction arrows carved into a stone that told me where to go. And in a few weeks the business travel will be done and I'll be moving into doing part-time editorial work from the comfort of my home office rather than on airplanes and in hotel rooms. I'll be working half the hours and experiencing 10% of the stress, and the adventures then will be of a different type, requiring different planning and execution.

So I'm exceedingly thankful for the career I've had over the last 31 years, and for the relative good health that's allowed me to still do these things as the age of 60 approaches. Most Americans, especially those that enjoy a middle class life, are exceedingly lucky folks when stacked up against the rest of the world, and we really ought to reflect on that more often.

Today, I'm reflecting on precisely that.

Friday, October 9, 2015

Tales from Mid-level Management #1

When I first worked in a managerial role in the publishing industry, things were a lot more freewheeling. Political correctness had not yet been invented, and although I was quite on the proper side of how people in the business behaved back then,  it's almost certain that some of the things I did as a manager would haul me onto the carpet of today's HR directors.

It was about 1990, I think, when, Eva applied for a job I posted for a gardening editor in our small non-fiction publishing house. There were perhaps two dozen qualified applicants, and Eva was near the bottom of the list of  people I interviewed for the job.

"The first thing you should know about me," Eva said matter of factly as she entered my office that day, before she had even seated herself across from my desk, "is that I am HUGELY intelligent." She paused and studied me.  "Some people have trouble with that. I am far smarter than just about everyone, and they often resent me for it."

I studied her face. The confidence and arrogance was palpable and a little pathological, and it was already clear this interview would not lead anywhere. I've been known to end interviews within moments when it's clear that somebody doesn't fit, but I was a little fascinated by Eva. She was just  a little older than most of the candidates for this entry-level editing job, and while younger candidates are typically a little nervous and put on their best face by dressing up a little for an interview, Eva was dressed very plainly, almost defiantly so,  and exuded a confidence filled with a kind of pitying condescension.

 "I know you planned to give me a test on editing," she said.  "But this sample of my writing will explain who I am far better."  From a leather knapsack, Eva produced a  hand-bound volume, and held it up with both hands to show the title:  0 = 1.  She paused, leaned forward. "I've been working on this for seven years, so you must agree to nondisclosure. This is my copyrighted work, and it will very likely change the world some day. So you can expect legal action if you communicate any of this to anyone."

This was now getting distinctly interesting.

She then explained that this treatise did, in fact, prove that the numerical value "0" was exactly the same as the numerical value "1."  She had accomplished this feat of logic in a mere 380 pages. She handed the tome over.  "It will take you some time to understand this, so I won''t expect to hear from you for a week or so. You can give it back to me when I start work."

On the way out the door, she paused. "Supreme intelligence in a woman can be very hard for some people to deal with," she said. "Do you think you'll be able to manage me without.....resentment?"

I nodded thoughtfully. "That's perceptive of you. I'll be perfectly honest. There was a time when extremely intelligent women were a problem for me. But I've had a lot of therapy, and these days I rarely get aroused anymore. And when it does happen, it subsides pretty quickly. It's almost never a problem. "

There was just a moment when Eva's eyes narrowed with a hint of suspicion, but it was replaced with quick nod of agreement and dismissal,  and then Eva was gone.

Exactly one week later, almost to the minute,  Eva called back.  "I haven't heard from you. Perhaps you had difficulty understanding my treatise?"

"Not at all," I said. "But I did find that it was necessary for me to read it at home, to avoid embarrassment. "

"Of course," she said. "When would you like me to start work?"

I do not know exactly what came over me next, but I instantly had a flash on how to respond to her—a choice that in the years since has made me slightly ashamed when I recall the unwitting meanness of it. It hints at a dark talent in my soul that I'm not entirely happy is there.

"I have a bit of a problem," I said. "I have two candidates of absolutely equal abilities and qualifications, and I simply cannot decide. I also can't NOT decide. You, of all people, know exactly what I'm talking about.  So I've decided to allow a degree of randomness into the equation, much as you argue in 0 = 1."

"Excellent decision," she said, pleased. "And how will we proceed?"

I leaned forward in my desk chair so as to speak very clearly.  "At 5:00 on this coming Friday, I'd like you to return to our offices. My other candidate will be there, too, and I'll be lining you both up in the parking lot for a foot race, from one side of the parking lot to the other. The job goes to whoever wins."

There was long silence on the phone. "A....foot race?"  Eva said uncertainly, the first time I'd heard anything but neurotic confidence out of her.  "I....well, I'm not very fast...."

"Well, so be it then, I said. "But remember, you have no idea of the other candidate, either. It could be a dwarf with a bum leg, for all you know.  But as argued in your book, we will let uncertainty and randomness decide this for us."

Disappointingly for me, Eva never showed up again and never called back.  On the following Friday,  I ended up hiring Julia, who had been on a Division 1 Nordic ski-racing team in college. It was a very good hiring decision that I never regretted, especially since Julia also had an MA in horticulture. And I'd been quite sure she would have kicked ass in a 40 yard dash.