Our good friends Thor and Penny are a little unorthodox, each of them in a distinct way. Thor has a road kill license because he’s a paleontologist. Rotting animals are his thing. Their house is full of partial and whole skeletons, and their freezer offers up such goodies as dead badger, zebra head (the nearest zoo calls him when something dies) and other, less identifiable bits and pieces. The other thing about Thor is, he lives so much inside his head that you’re never sure if he’s heard you.
Penny is a wonderful, kind, generous person with a passion for education and the complete inability to understand any concept of time. We always tell Penny things are going to start a half hour before they do, and she’s still always wandering in after everybody else, usually with a wonderful story and oh, am I late?
About five years ago Penny decided she wanted to give Thor a suprise birthday party. At our house, which was fine. I shook the details out of her and went ahead with things, and then on his birthday we put together an elaborate scheme to get him to our house at exactly six, no earlier. It really was a good plan, but we forgot to reckon with Thor. ‘Elaborate plan’ and Thor = trouble.
At 5:30 somebody yelled, Thor’s here! And we all went nuts, running around, nowhere near ready. So Thor comes in and everybody yells SURPRISE and he’s so touched and happy and pleased, except:
his birthday isn’t until tomorrow.
I turned to Penny. Penny shrugged. Oh, said Penny. Did I get the date wrong again?
I tell you this story because today is the mathematician’s birthday. It is stories like this one that horrify him. The mathematician would rather stick a fork in his eye than have to show up at a surprise party in his honor. So instead of a party we’re going out to dinner, and I’ll be back here to tell you some other completely irrelevant story tomorrow.