Archive for August 18th, 2006

To the Limit, One More Time …

I'll be performing my one-man show The Mathematics of Change -- a comic meditation on calculus, college, and catfish-sitting -- at the lovely little 142 Throckmorton Theatre in Mill Valley next Thursday through Saturday (Aug. 24-26) at 8 p.m. You can click here for tix and info. ...

On the subject of higher math, a level I never quite attained, my brother Jake recently called my attention to the mysterious disappearance of Russian mathematician Grisha Perelman, who recently seemed to solve the vexing "Poincaré conjecture" but hasn't been heard from since. Sounds like a bit of a weird duck, this Perelman: looks like a disheveled version of Rasputin, loves math, disdains material possessions, has a history of turning down lucrative awards ... in short, he sounds like the person I aimed to become in 1976, when I entered Princeton as a bearded radical out of the Bronx High School of Science. Then, during my freshman year, a bunch of stuff happened: I "hit the wall" at my calculus midterm, found out that the women at Princeton were unimpressed by my intuitive understanding of Marx, and felt my energies to be sapped by an unrelenting terror of my own, newly discovered mediocrity. ...

I ate plenty of bagels, though. There were many students earning money in those days by pushing around "bagel wagons" -- which was kind of cute, considering that less than a decade earlier Princeton had routinely restricted all its Jews to eating lunch in a single building, albeit one with the hopeful name of Prospect House. (The story went that they had forced a brilliant young undergraduate named Ralph Nader to eat there as well, on the theory that, even though he was actually a Lebanese-American, this was close enough to Jewish for him to qualify.) So I note with amusement that the Poincaré Conjecture apparently proves that, when you get right down to it, there are essentially only two shapes: a sphere or a bagel. Despite my math struggles, I had long ago come to the same conclusion years before my Princeton travails, during interminable waits at the take-out counter of Zabar's deli. Where's my prize?! ...

August 18th, 2006


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