And Gutenberg Lived Here: Harry Potter Versus Hairy Potter

Yesterday, the love of my life-
He who spends immense amounts of professional time doing all kinds of odd things to helpless little Deltas and Epsilons,
gave me the news:

“Get the glad rags on, she who is occasionally math wife.
We’re going to do the town.

The department is paying.”

Now, when a department pays,
you know two things:

1. It will be a low budget performance,
(not that I’m complaining, especially since times are hard financially,
and mathematicians usually can’t tell a day old liverwurst sandwich from caviar,
especially if they are in the middle of a discussion of the latest Russian math olympics)


2. you are definitely going to be the only non-number cruncher there.

Which means you put on the very special,
bought at the local version of J.C. Penny’s
fashion-conscious late afternoon,
but not evening,

to go down to a huge old historic
crystal chandeliered and red-carpeted
opera house,

to listen to someone talk about:




While looking around to see if one of the wine pourers, caterers of catfood on a cracker, or ladies’ room attendents,

is actually an out of work,
make that “resting”
or actor,

with a whale of a great story to tell,
or stories,
usually of the wild places they have worked when they aren’t working.

Followed by the chance to recall tales of the wierd places you have been,
and things you have seen,
as a math wife.

Like a fascinating and multi-award-winning teacher/researcher
taking the stage at the opera house,
to talk about….

But first,
I who own jeans, sweaters, jackets,
tennis shoes,
and about twenty-five suits of formal wear,
more male than female style,
since I prefer to conduct in a jacket and pants,
than the formal fumblies
where the buttons fly open when you crescendo,
and the silver sequins fly off into the audience when you vivace,
and I won’t even begin to try to tell you what happens when you try to wear a bustier.

Oh, and then there is sweat…

Excuse me, transpiration.

Which is why a whole lot of orchestra musicians wear a long-sleeved tee-shirt

under the fake backless white vest with bow tie.

You didn’t hear that from me.

So anyway,

after excluding the heavy, black, floor-length, mutton-sleeved formal “I am a solo angel” things I wear when a choir insists,

which are not really suitable for a late afternoon,

And, since neither are my black conducting clothes…


there I was…


Looking at the first clothes I had had on in over seventeen years, that weren’t jeans… or baroque soloist, or working conductor’s-

With kangaroo-sized pockets for the tuning forks, throat discs, pencils…


would you believe it…

I actually found,
to my total amazement,
the perfect clothes for the Leibnitz afternoon:

Harry Potter.

Not that that was what went through my mind when I first saw them.

For, if you spend seventeen years of your life in working clothes,
or jeans,
and then are asked to go to an evening out-
with Leibnitz,
what is going through your mind is not Harry Potter,
except perhaps the bit where he expecto patronems-

No, what you are really looking for,
in your heart of hearts
and dream of dreams,

Is not Harry Potter,
it is a hairy potter.

Clothes that airily float as you walk on the edge of a cliff.
Long skirts,
wide-brimmed sun hats.
Swirling petticoats.
Lady Chatterly and the gardener.

Catherine and Heathcliff.

And then reality set it.
And what I got was:
you guessed it-

Harry Potter.

Or at least the clothing part of him and his friends.

For what is all the rage here at the moment,
in all the shops,
with nothing else to be found,

a gown.

No, unfortunately, not a ball gown.
With full skirts,
long white gloves,

The kind you wear when greeting the Queen,

or dancing with Elton John,

So anyway…
ball gown?

No, that which is the stylish ‘must have’ rage here at the moment
is definitely not a ball gown.

It is,
and I scarcely dare utter the name.

For that piece of clothing,
whose name shall not be mentioned,
in its entirety,

is an academic g…

Those badly fitted black polyester graduation day things that drag around your ankles,

as you walk the final mile on your way from the sheltered world of academia and into the better world of six am alarm clocks and taxes beyond,

and trail yards behind you on those commencement day paths,

as you sink ever lower under the combined weight of the embarassment of the entire family taking pictures,

and the mortarboard.

At least this one didn’t have a mortarboard.

what it did have, though,
was a blouse with a multitude of layers of bandaging.

Think mummy tatters,
in black,
on a bias.

Sort of from right shoulder to left hip.

And then the undergraduate robe on top.

I thought of adding a pair of round Harry glasses,

or a sash I once was given to wear for a while:

Mu Phi Epsilon,
Mu Eta chapter

Embroidered in gold.

Hey, they didn’t have anyone else pledging they could con into it at the last minute.

In the end, though, I decided:

1. If I put the stuff on,

and it is cheap,

I can someday save for a real dress.


2. If I put on make-up,
as only stage people know how,
add long dangling earings,
a very long chain with large silver medallion,

I can look so theatrical,
no mathematician would even dare to come close enough to me to ask my opinion
of the subject of the evening’s talk:
he who truly looks like a Hairy Potter,

and I get to spend the evening talking to the waiter who starts as a baritone next week in Don Giovanni.

copyright 2016

P.S. Historical footnote after the fact:
there was no food or drinks,
but the talk was magnificent,
and they actually had a very good big band play,
since it was not only the three hundredth death year of
Leibnitz, it was also the one hundredth birth year of Frank Sinatra.
Expecto patronem indeed.

2 thoughts on “And Gutenberg Lived Here: Harry Potter Versus Hairy Potter

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s