And Gutenberg Lived Here: When It’s Friday Night, And The Spirits Are Rising, Who Ya Gonna Call? A Comparatist.

Friday night in Gutenberg Land.

Hump day is over.

Train’s rounding the bend

to Chinese and a movie.

You’ve been holding your breath all week,

afraid to breath out.

But here it is.

You are free.

You are going out.

And then,

the love of your life drops a bombshell on you.

Would you mind if a small group of mathematicians went along.


If you’ve been married as long as I have, you know what is about to  happen.

Oh, just a couple of the guys.

A couple?

Just a few.

From your work group?

And a few others.

And then you know.

The Alpha and Epsilon circle is marching again.

To the tune of:

Perhaps you could try that in another dimension.

Or maybe, you could always try reversing polarity.

Followed by laughter.

At which point the rest of us,

the ones who  studied comparative literature,

pull out a book.

So we don’t have to stare at a wall,

till we find themselves planning a murder.

Or a series of them.

And if you ever hear anyone tell you they didn’t plot their novel

while hanging around with mathematicians,

they lie.

Or they are married to dentists

or chemists,

or physicists.

So anyway,

now that I am well and truly on this crusade,

if you are a comparatist,

you admire others who are good in their fields.

All their fields.

Just not at a:

dinner party,

swimming pool,


Then, to be really fair,

you also can’t hang around with comparatists.

Or, as my husband once told me,

there isn’t one of you

you can trust not to make a comment

tying together two to twelve books,

so that at some point,

you either have had all the books in the western world spoiled,

or you are so curious you look them all up,

and spoil it for yourself.

Like the friend we went to see Amarcord with,

and he suddenly yelled out “Our town”

got up,

and left.

We found him in a book store two doors down.

And then, of course, there is problem two

of being around comparatists:


one I met at the U over here,

as brilliant as they come,

one of he youngest in the department,

was regularly “moved to safer quarters”

for something like riding an elevator up and down

about a thousand times,

and holding a lecture

on the deep structures

of the text

on the back of the soap box he was holding.

Which brings us back to the joys of social occasions with mathematicians.

And if you think having psychologists for friends

is a conversation killer-

or starter, at a later date-

here is the rest of the story.

A group of friends-

in this case me,

and thirteen mathematicians from a small town in the hills near here-

it must be something in the water,

go out to dinner.

Thirteen and you.

Which means, of course,

that you are already on the bad side of the balance,

since the size of the group is no longer a prime number.

Then you eat.

Think of the oddest things you have ever eaten-


they did that.

(Conference in Canada.)

Every kind of strange sea animal,

including huge sea worms-

it’s called Tai Ho soup-

They did that.

(Conference near San Francisco.)

So after eating a salad I talked them out of putting odd critters into,

although that cheese smelled strangely of yak,

we decided to go see a movie.

And since no one was really in the mood for what I wanted to see,

and I REALLY didn’t want to see

what I am sure is a great story,

but is about a woman whose husband and child are shot,

and she accused of terrorism,

hey,  I thought the Doris Day film marathon was a hoot,

in comparison, of course,

we decided to compromise.

Udo Lindenberg,

a film about a German rock musician.

Nice if you like the music.

Boring if you want a story.

At least in my opinion.

So this is where the survival trick of the comparatists comes in.

I let my mind wander during the film.

Full analysis of every word,


deep meanings.

And voila.

By the time the film was over,

and the guys were ready for more Topology applications to other fields,

and a lot more beer,

I turned into super comparatist.

The deep structures,

the analysis.

The hidden five-act structure.

The nature introduction,

the place of communism

in the songs,

the fairy tale elements,

the deep-rooted psychological fears

of being on a large black train

on the way to Pankow.

I laid it on with a trowel.

and somehow,

it was good.

And fun.

And joyful.

And when I added in a discussion of the elements

stolen from Disney’s Fantasia,

I knew…

that they would never forget this night.

And that next time there would be a few more non-mathematicians along.

And then….

I wonder how many small alphas and epsilons

the average math partner is exposed to in a life time.

How about when the Fields Medal is awarded,

the partner is given one also.

Let’s call it the “Fielder’s Medal.”

copyright 2018 All Rights Reserved


  1. “there isn’t one of you
    you can trust not to make a comment
    tying together two to twelve books,
    so that at some point,
    you either have had all the books in the western world spoiled,
    or you are so curious you look them all up,
    and spoil it for yourself.”

    Yep. That’s me. Sounds like fun! Though I can’t decide if they had more fun or you by the end. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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