The Mathematician now has three honkin big screws pinning femur to pelvis on the left side. He spends one more night in the hospital and will be home tomorrow, once he’s completely comfortable with crutches and the negotiation of stairs. His spirits are alarmingly good. Opiates will do that, I guess.
Here is one of the best Mathematician stories, ever. I am telling it now because (1) the statute of limitations expired long ago and (2) it provides some perspective on a guy who would walk ten miles on a broken hip.
The Mathematician and I shared a suite of rooms in the Princeton graduate college dorms one summer. We were getting ready to move to a place off campus, and all our stuff was in boxes, piled up to the ceiling.
On the morning in question I took off to work on my dissertation in the computer lab on the third floor in the East Pyne Building.1 So there I am, typing away on a tiny screen, amber letters onto a black background, when the Mathematician comes flying into the room, out of breath. Fortunately there was nobody else in the room at the time, because he flings himself down next to me and says I don’t want you to be mad at me.
Interesting start to the conversation.
This is what happened, he tells me. Somebody knocked on the dorm room door. Nothing good ever comes of answering a knock at the door, because the fire inspectors stood there looking serious. Now, he believed there was nothing to worry about — we had no coffee makers or toasters or anything that produced heat — so he let them in.
These two inspector types have a quick look around the two rooms and a bath, and they’re about to leave when one them scans the tower of packed boxes. He points to one of them near the top and asks the question. Is that a toaster oven box?
Um, yes, says the Mathematician. But it’s never been open. You can see the seal is still intact. It’s just in transit and will be out of here tomorrow.
Never mind that, sez the inspector. You’re in violation. We’re taking it with us. You’ll get a notice about a hearing and a fine.
Here’s the thing: the Mathematician has both a keen sense of justice, and a temper. They left, and he jumped onto his bike and took off in pursuit of the inspectors in their van. He followed them all over campus until they got to the security building, parked, and went in.
Now he leaps to take advantage of the opportunity, opens the van, digs through piles of tea kettles and hot plates, grabs the toaster oven box — and this is not a small box — tucks it under one arm, and pedals away at high speed.
Fast forward to me listening to this in the computer lab.
Me: Um, you stole the toaster oven out of the van.
Him: No. I liberated your property from men who had seized it under false pretenses.
Me: And what did you do with it?
Him: It’s in a safe place.
Him: It’s in my office in the math department.
Him: Nobody saw me taking it into the building.
Him: I’m pretty sure.
Me: They could deport you.
Fast forward to the day the notice arrives inviting me to visit the security office to be interviewed about my sins. I sit down across from the director of security trying to look calm.
Security Guy: This is a fairly unusual situation. Inspectors seized a toaster oven from your rooms at the graduate college a few days ago, but it disappeared from the van that same morning.
Security Guy: Yes. The inspectors mentioned that there was a young man in your rooms when they took the toaster oven.
SG: A tall guy, brown hair, brown eyes. They believed he may have followed them here and stolen the toaster oven out of the van.
SG: Who was that person?
Me: I’m not sure I know.
SG: He had an English accent.
SG: You don’t know who was in your rooms when the inspectors came by?
Me: It wasn’t me, I know that much.
SG: You don’t have a name for me.
Me: I do not.
SG: Okay. Well, we will reimburse you for the cost of the toaster oven, of course. How much did it cost?
Me: Do I still have to pay the $50 fine?
SG: Of course.
Me: The toaster oven was $50.
SG: Then I think we’re finished here.
See? Persistant. Unflinching. Anxiety-inducing.
- Note: this is long before anybody had a computer of their own, and the computers were the kind you hooked up to a mainframe by way of a telephone handset you forced into rubber cups on a big modem. And you could input only one line of text at a time. It makes me laugh to think about it. Shortly thereafter the computer were upgraded and we got software. I wrote my doctoral dissertation with WordPerfect 1.2. ↩