“Pick a number from one to ten.”
The guy was obviously being paid to be cheerful.
“Cause I told you to..” His patience was wearing thin already, like the bushings in a $29.99 K-Mart drill..
I was at the Third Annual Integers Convention. “Numbers from all over the world!” Our theme. A dark-haired beauty, her tag saying “Hi, I’m 18!” stood in the corner of the lobby, searching through her bags. I saw the El Al tag on the one with the tiny wheels.
“And I’m supposed to say ‘Chai‘, right?”
Thought that was a great line. Mighta worked better if she’d actually been 18… or 12, even better. As it was, she just scowled and turned long enough to say, “Not really..” and returned to her search. Maybe for a better number, I know?
“Ok..ok..!” The ‘greeter‘ had followed me, like the boom mike on a sit-com set. I picked ‘8‘, quietly, with a conspiratorial grin.
“Good, now multiply it by itself.”
Hey, the brochure didn’t mention ‘multiplication‘.. ‘course I’d already let myself think about being..um…’fruitful‘ with Miss Tel Aviv over there.. Al, my gap-toothed pal in this last-minute escapade whispered in my ear..
“Eighty-four..” I gave him a quick ‘we’re a crack team‘ nod and returned to face the Grand Interrogator…
“Now subtract your original number.. what’dya got left?”
“Well it’s brown and green and wouldn’t you just like to know?”. I wasn’t gonna get conned out of my allowance the first day here, no siree, bob.
“You have to tell me.. it’s the rules.”
“Ok… fifty…… five” I was gonna play just a hair dumb.. see what it would net me.. but even before I let slip the ‘five’, ‘Bob the Barker’d already hit me with the punch line..
“Your number was eight!” Look of triumph on his face. Who am I to spoil it. Probably gets like, five bucks an hour… or maybe per day plus a plastic insignia ring..
Al had seemingly lost interest when the math got into second-order derivatives. He was struggling to look out the door, where outside a thunderstorm had blown in suddenly.
Tell you the truth, I wasn’t fully-engaged either. I accepted my ‘color it in yourself’ stick-on name/number tag from the guy, like I was finally receiving a coveted Olympic Gold medal after years of grueling training. The transaction was complete. Bob was stage-happy, and me, well yes, looks like there’s enough room on it to magic-marker in “1729“.
“Neuman, Al!!” The front desk had a brand-new Mister Microphone ™, and of course it was turned up to a number from one to ten… Your guess? Yeah, ‘ten‘, why the hell not? I mean, we got twenty feet of distance to bridge here, amplification-wise.
Al grabbed his bags like a good puppy, and I too, but more like a ‘seen it all before’ canine Bogart clone. I’d been to Key Largo before, a couple times actually. Back before ‘Anything goes’ turned into “Everything went’. I’d braved a few thunderstorms bigger than this one, there on the beach in my VW van.. or was it the beach in the van.. maybe both inside my expanding head? Not really sure anymore. As if I’d been ‘sure’ then…
Where did that flash come from? No, not the lightning. Ahh, ‘Johnny‘, that’d be me, the ‘van‘, and ‘Neuman‘, who was pushing the Pavlov elevator-button as it all became clear. I was here mainly for the Key-note Speaker, John von Neuman.. how they’d corraled him into coming I don’t wanna find out, but it was right there in the program. He’ll be talking about… um… “Quantum Commuting“. I looked at the little glossy schedule. Shit, that’s what happens when you farm out a print job to an ESL dropout.
“You need a ‘P’, asshole!” I muttered, to nobody in particular. Al looked at me like maybe his Mom’d given me last-minute instructions how to ‘care’ for him..
“Not you, piss-ant, these Poissons!” I reassured him, pointing at the blooper in the flyer.
“Yeah, you’re right, man.. no respect. That guy’s a ‘Ph.D’.. what, they couldn’t spell it?”
I loved it, forgiving him for letting my own ‘math-joke’ sail over his fly-away head.
“Hey, just thought a something.. we don’t got clothes for this weather, do we?” that from Al, ever the practical one.
“Probably be something under the bed.. what room’d we get?”
“Seventeen twenty nine!” Al laughed, then corrected it downward by an order of magnitude; “No really, One twenty eight. That’s digital, at least.”
“Red and Yellow, Black and White, They’re all precious in His sight..” I sang, leaving out the un-needed punch line. Easy to remember a number that perfectly colored, like a butterfly.. like an.. ok, like a cheap hotel room. Al opened the door with a squeak. A “G” slides up to a “C”, and then dies against the rubber door-stop.
“Bingo!” He pounced on an oversized blue-and-something plastic belt, lying on the counter beside the mini-soaps.. He stretched it out like a guy with his first confirmed live snake kill. I was ready.
“Ask not for whom the belt-holes…um… are for..!” I intoned, my phony accent closer to JFK than to the Poet.
Al was always my best friend. No question. Best ‘guy’ friend, that is.. Little smaller pool there, with the qualifier thrown in. Not that I ‘used‘ him as the perfect straight man. He was ‘the perfect straight man’, We knew that, and it worked. I’m pretty sure it was working a few seconds later when he set up my next line.
“Where in this stinking peninsula do they find belts like this!… or guys that fit ’em?”
I cleared my throat, and this time did a lot better on the Richard Burton voice:
“Neuman, it’s an Island!”
Al rolled his eyes for effect, added the obligatory “Duh!” and had the last word.. for now.
“You Donne now, Johnny?”
*(mucho thanks to elgan for proof-reading and fixing some embarassing gaffes… well, actually, I might have found them all by myself.. maybe.. with enough time…)