The snow intensified last night as the storm flowed in from the prairies west of Chicago. Our hotel staff was buried in a wave of calls cancelling rooms because their planes to O’Hare were grounded, followed by a second wave of calls requesting rooms because flights out were being cancelled. “It all balances out,” sighed the clerk, four lines on hold.
I retire to the attached restaurant with Stieg Larsson’s new novel and a loose pile of notes from the day’s meetings. Single, I earn a small table in a corner, no room to spread out and write. The television over the bar alternates between frantic snow coverage and frantic political coverage: the clear English hard to ignore.
The waitress arrives to tick off the day’s specials, staring into space. Her listless prosody is nonetheless fascinating just for being linguistically and culturally comprehensible. I order a slab of beef and scribble a quick note to myself to explore “language as melody”. Above the bar, Sarah Palin asks how that “hope-y change-y thing is going” for us. My stomach knots. Why is she so deeply irritating? I pause to add a few words about cynical condescension to my note, then return to my reading.
The book veers from it’s narrative plot to a comment on Euclid’s discovery of a formula for predicting perfect numbers. With great effort, the Pythagorean Greeks discovered four of these numbers: 6, 28, 496, and 8128. I wonder why people seem drawn to “magic numbers”? Lucky numbers, betting odds, sports spreads, five-figure Dow thresholds. Mine tend towards social numbers: Dunbar’s number of 150 friends in a neighborhood, the Pareto 80-20 rule for knowing when a task is completed, the 10-10 goal for introducing products I’d advocated the latter just today: we need ten happy doctors enrolling ten patients each… It sounds big yet practical.
Dinner arrives, and I push the books and papers off onto a chair. The news commentator giggles that Sarah Palin was actually reading notes off of the palm of her hand during the speech. Cameras have caught the words and show her consulting her hand during the Q&A. Karma, indeed: how’s that speech-y thing going for ‘ya? “Energy," “Tax” and “Lift American Spirits”; “Budget cuts” crossed out. All worthy topics, but the news is all about the gaffe, not about the issues and ideas.
A comic recently argued that we’re increasingly living in Huxley’s dystopia. We fail to take into account man’s almost infinite appetite for distractions. Food, numbers, weather, Palin. But it’s a snowy night after a busy day at a small table in a noisy restaurant. In my defense, distractions are the drift of the evening, not it’s fabric.