Ernest Hemingway and Mathematics:
He was an old man who fished alone in a skiff in the Gulf Stream and he had gone eighty-four days now without taking a fish. In the first forty days a boy had been with him. But after forty days without a fish the boy’s parents had told him that the old man was now definitely and finally salao, which is the worst form of unlucky, and the boy had gone at their orders in another boat which caught three good fish the first week. It made the boy sad to see the old man come in each day with his skiff empty and he always went down to help him carry either the coiled lines or the gaff and harpoon and the sail that was furled around the mast. The sail was patched with flour sacks and, furled, it looked like the flag of permanent defeat.
How many days had the old man fished without the boy? If the old man caught a fish today how many fish on average would have have caught over the entire eighty-four days? How many fish on average would he have caught since he had been fishing alone? How many fish would he have to catch so that he would have averaged twice as many fishing alone as he had over the entire eighty-four days?
The old man was thin and gaunt with deep wrinkles in the back of his neck.
With my heart almost strangling me – because it’s in my throat trying to escape from my mouth – I head down one of the aisles to the electrical section. Why is he in Potland? Why is he here at Clayton’s? And from a very tiny, underused part of my brain – probably located at the base of my medulla oblongata near where my subconscious dwells – comes the thought: He’s here to see you.
No way! I dismiss it immediately.
The medulla oblongata is far from underused and has nothing to do with the subconscious; in fact, it is vital for maintaining autonomic functions such as respiration and reflexive actions, not to mention regulating the heart which is in my chest cavity, thank heaven, and not actually in my mouth, “trying to get out.” Goodness, I have a lot to learn about physiology! I wish someone would come along and teach me all about my va-jay-jay and his tinkywinkums.