There are many people who are, in their conscious lives, almost entirely rational, and many who are almost entirely intuitive. Each group, with very little appreciation of the reciprocal value of these two kinds of cognitive ability, derides the other: “muddled” and “amoral” are typical adjectives used in the more polite of such interchanges. Why should we have two different, accurate and complementary modes of thinking which are so poorly integrated with each other? – Carl Sagan, Dragons of Eden, Random House, 1977.
PROBABILITY problems fascinate and irritate me. They are so tricky to think about. Just when you think you have solved one, you think of something you forgot to consider. Last night I got into an argument over the probability of drawing a bridge hand that was all hearts. The only way I can think of to calculate it is step by step. Suppose the dealer, North, is the person who will draw the heart hand. Then the probability that the first person, East, will not draw a heart is 39 over 52, the probability that South will not draw a heart is 38 over 51, for West it’s 37 over 50, and then the probability that North will be dealt a heart is 13 over 49. If I carry this through 13 rounds and then multiply all the probabilities together, I should get the answer. I’ve tried it four times on my hand calculator, but I keep making a mistake. The penetrating voices of my wife and daughter locked in mortal argument in the next room keep making me forget where I am in the 52 multiplications.
They argue about everything. This time it is about a fold, pleat, wrinkle, or something at the waist of my daughter’s wedding dress. I know because I stupidly asked and when they pointed out the problem said it was invisible anyway. I drew withering looks and condemnations from both of them and withdrew to the den and closed the door to work out this problem if I can. Precisely like the dumb father on a dumb TV family comedy. It’s depressing how often life mirrors a parody of art.
I know I’ve seen it in books, but I can’t remember the answer. I get 1.6 per trillion. Does that sound about right? Yes, that ought to be it. Wait a minute; an all-heart hand is merely one of the total number of specific hands one can draw. Now that’s a combination problem; 52 things taken 13 at a time? Isn’t that 52 factorial divided by 13 factorial? I ran through this on the calculator. No, damn it, that’s 10 to the 58th. Can’t be that.
The argument was gaining in volume as it lost whatever substance it had. My daughter had a sort of carbon copy of my wife’s logic and had inherited my wife’s inability to let anyone have the last word. When I argued with either of them, I felt as if I were walking on quicksand, and my only hope of getting in the last word was to find the cat and vent it on him. He didn’t seem to care; he would yawn widely, stretch full length tearing a few tufts of wool out of the carpet, and go back to sleep.
I’m convinced that there are two totally different types of minds. One uses conventional, rational logic, and the other uses intuition, emotion, and a sense of fitness to replace rational thought. Before women’s lib we might have said that the second type is often considered a female attribute; now only child bearing can safely be so categorized, and no one knows how long that will last. However, it is not a simple matter. I believe that all first-rate scientists must excel in both. It’s not a linear scale with logic on one end and intuition on the other. Or maybe it’s a scale wrapped around a cylinder so that the extremes overlap. It certainly seems that very smart people excel in both these qualities. Intuition plays a vital role in scientific discoveries, and you can’t imagine being a real mathematician without both qualities. I heard that Einstein put such value on beauty and fitness that he persisted in some wrong theories. Certainly the quantum theory distressed him for purely intuitive reasons. Or maybe probability problems confused him, too. If you have only a logical mind, you will remain a tenth-rate scientist as I have done.
I’ve never been able to convince my wife not to advance weak, multiple reasons for something for which she has a clincher. My bathing suit, for instance. “You need a new bathing suit this season,” she said, “your old one is so faded it looks awful on you.” When I said I didn’t care, she said, “Well, the elastic is pretty well shot.” When I again demurred, she said, “You’ve gotten too fat over the winter to get into it.” When I denied that, she said, “Well, I think I left it in the motel room at Ocean City last year.” That’s what I mean by a clincher. On the other hand, I do now see the logic of all this. Appeal to my vanity, appeal to my modesty, appeal to my shame, and if all else fails, admit error. I don’t know; maybe she always has some such logic in her argument, and I simply can’t fathom it.
The argument rolled on. The rhythm and intonation of their voices were identical. My daughter’s voice was a bit thinner and a little higher because of the childish treble left in her twenty-year old voice. How mad she’d be if I told her that. On the telephone which removes the higher registers, it is impossible to tell them apart.
Suddenly I heard my daughter say, “Well, at least it will all be over by this time next week.”
My wife said, “I hope so. I hope it’s not like my first wedding.” She started laughing. One of her many endearing qualities is her real sense of humor that permits her to see the funny aspects of trying situations and includes the ability to laugh at herself. It has helped us through some very rough spots. Her laughter is open and infectious and soon my daughter joined in, and their argument was blown away in a gale of laughter.
“For God’s sake,” I said to the cat who twitched an ear but didn’t open an eye.
In all honesty, in spite of all my talk about logic, I do owe the whole satisfying fabric of my life to an act of rash intuition – an act so out of character for me that in spite of hearing the evidence, I can hardly believe it happened.
When I was 28 years old, I had known Marjorie Drummond for at least 22 years. We must have been in the first grade together, but my first clear memory of her was when we were in the third grade. I remember the third grade so vividly because that was the first time I fell in love. I fell in love with Georgia Booker who sat just in front of me, and while I have forgotten things that I thought I never could, much of that experience is still fresh in my mind. Marjorie sat behind me, and I’m sure I talked more to her than I did to Georgia who tended to overawe me.
But what I really remember about Marjorie that year was she and I often had the duty of sweeping up at the end of the lunch hour. There was no lunchroom so all the students brought their lunches and ate at their desks, and we had to take turns cleaning up afterward. During the sweeping we got into the habit of using very obscene language to discuss the people who had spilled the crumbs we were cleaning up with broom and dustpan. I was accustomed to foul language from boys my age, but I had never heard a girl use such words, and I was more than a little impressed. Many years later I used to wonder if she remembered that because she had become such a lady it seemed impossible that she had ever talked that way.
Marjorie and I went through school, class by class, together. We were in a very stupid high-school play which I remember because on the performance night, in the course of our big love scene, I reached out and took her hand, something I had not done in rehearsals. The touch so startled her that she seemed to jump a foot. I could hardly restrain a snigger. About the only other thing I remember about her through all those years is that when we were graduating she was chosen as valedictorian in preference to me though I had the higher grades. It was done over her protest, but the principal said that my conduct over the years was the deciding factor.
During our high-school years I never dated Marjorie. In fact it was a rigid custom for the boys in our town to date girls in the neighboring towns and not local girls. I’ve often wondered if it was an instinctive taboo to prevent people in our area from inbreeding to the point of idiocy. Anyway the first date I had with Marjorie was after we had both moved away from our home town.
I was working in a railroad office in Hamilton, hundreds of miles away, when one day my supervisor said that an angry railroader wanted to see me about his overtime claim which he said I had completely fouled up. The protester turned out to be Mr. Drummond, Marjorie’s father. I hadn’t known he worked for the railroad, much less that they had moved to Hamilton. When he recognized me, he shook his head and sighed. He had decided about me a few years back when I had, while delivering papers, shied a rock at his dog and the rock had bounced off his front walk and had sailed through his parlor window.
Anyway I found that Marjorie lived not far from me. We had several casual dates in the few months before I was inducted into the army at the beginning of World War II.
It was quite a few years before I saw or heard of her again. In fact, I was in graduate school at Ohio University and was greatly surprised one day to find that she was a cashier in a local department store. They had come to Athens three years before when her father had been transferred. Her father had recently been transferred back to Hamilton, but Marjorie had elected to remain in Athens.
During that year, although we saw a great deal of each other, our dating was quite casual and desultory. Once a week or so we went to a movie or to a university function, and two or three times a week I would stop by her store at quitting time and walk home with her. Now and then she would invite me to dinner in her modest apartment, and occasionally we would go to some cheap restaurant to eat. My pittance as a graduate assistant permitted few luxuries. She would also call me now and then when she needed an escort to some town party. On Sundays we sometimes took walks or bike rides into the countryside. I never thought of it as a romance or anything of the kind. She was the only girl friend, in contrast to girlfriend, I ever had, and she was a comfortable and certainly very pleasant, but still rather casual, friend and companion.
So my first reaction to her surprising news was neither alarm nor displeasure. I had called her one evening to see if she wanted to go to a movie. She said she could not – she was too busy. And then she said, “Anyway, I guess we’d better quit seeing each other; I’m going to get married next month.”
“You are!” I exclaimed. “Is it anyone I know?”
“Robert Conway,” she said. “I think you know him.”
“The chemistry teacher? Yeah, I know him slightly.” I extended my best wishes to her and then said, “But this is the end. Don’t expect to have any more dates with me and don’t come crawling back if it doesn’t work out. This is the absolute last straw.”
She laughed and said she would send me an invitation to the wedding.
I was smiling when I hung up the phone, but the more I thought about it the less funny it seemed. For one thing I did not like what little I had seen of Robert Conway. Sometimes it seems to me there are almost no decent people, at least decent men, around. I don’t know about women, probably it’s the same. I had a little trouble pinning down exactly what I meant, but Bob Conway had always impressed me as being uncertain of himself and therefore overbearing. In addition I also thought he was sly and suspected he had a mean streak. I’d heard quite lot about him from my physics students who had to take freshman chemistry under him. They all disliked him. Clearly he was not suitable for Marjorie – not by a long shot. I wondered what I should do. Could I possibly, as a friend, talk her out of it? It didn’t seem likely. After all she was 28 and a very level-headed, strong-willed woman.
I suddenly realized that I knew almost nothing about her even though I had known her for more than 20 years, and we had spent many hours together in this year. What had we talked about? My work, her work, the books we were reading, the movie we had just seen, or anything neutral and commonplace, but never anything that really mattered to either of us. Why had our relationship, our friendship, been so superficial? I could think of no reason for it. Maybe we knew too much about each other superficially to be curious enough to probe. Sometimes people reveal themselves more in letters than in person, but Marjorie and I had never exchanged a letter, not even a postcard.
I suddenly remembered the high-school play we had been in. In the play, I had married a designing widow to keep her from marrying Marjorie’s younger brother and then, years later, after the death of the designing widow (my wife, of course, when she died) had returned to marry Marjorie expecting her to understand the sacrifice I had made. Only a high-school play or a soap opera could dare such a plot. Why was I thinking of it anyway? There was no widow in sight for me to marry.
I decided I would talk to her and I did. It was distasteful, embarrassing, and unsuccessful. She became quite upset, and we had the first quarrel we had ever had. She finally told me to mind my own business and to leave her alone.
As a result of this quarrel, perhaps, I received no invitation to the wedding, but I decided to go anyway. The day of the wedding, the twelfth of June, turned out to be the first really hot day of the season. As I slipped into a rear pew in the chapel, I felt as if I were suffocating. I was surprised at the size of the crowd. It had not seemed to me that Marjorie knew many people in the town or university, and Bob Conway was from somewhere in New England so he could not have many local friends. The small chapel was nearly full, though, surely a hundred people or more.
After a seemingly interminable, sweltering wait, the organ poured forth the wedding march and Marjorie entered on the arm of her father. She looked absolutely beautiful. I had never thought her a particularly beautiful woman. She had a round, pleasant face, but too flat to be beautiful. She had sparkling brown eyes and rather nondescript brown hair. Charitably she could be called slender; skinny would have been more accurate. There was nothing startling about her, and men did not ordinarily turn to stare after her. However, her approaching maturity seemed, as it often does, to be making her more attractive as a woman than she had been as a girl. That she looked so stunning as she entered the chapel was probably due to the image we associate with brides. Or maybe it does actually prove that beauty is more subtle than we think, and that almost any woman can, in her day of attention, project or radiate a convincing aura of beauty. Anyway Marjorie was so beautiful that I felt a stab of pain in my stomach.
This was the first wedding I had ever attended, and I was surprised at how quickly the ceremony progressed after the long wait for it to get started.
Everyone seemed to be very nervous except the minister and Marjorie. Mr. Drummond’s voice was shaky and barely audible as he gave the bride away. The bridegroom was so tense that he looked like a mechanical man in his stiff movements. The minister, one could sense, was fond of his voice and his rich and rotund tones filled the chapel. In the near distance a lawnmower popped and sputtered to life so that the minister’s words, in spite of his automatic increase in volume, were almost indistinguishable.
The lawnmower engine stalled and abruptly quit leaving an inordinately loud demand by the minister that if anyone knew a reason why the marriage should not proceed, he should speak now or forever hold his peace.
Without volition and without my knowledge, I found myself on my feet saying, nearly as loudly as the minister had spoken, “I object to this marriage. If she’s going to marry anyone, it should be me.”
Every head in the chapel swiveled toward me, and for a moment, I stared blindly at a sea of white faces. Then, as if on signal, every head turned away and everyone looked directly ahead. There was utter silence in the chapel. The lawnmower coughed a couple of times but would not start. No one looked at anyone else.
Just after I was inducted into the army, another soldier and I were on a late-night streetcar in Baltimore. In spite of the late hour, the seats were full, so when a black, very intoxicated woman got on, she had to stand. She stood just on the white line behind the motorman, turned to face the rear of the car and proceeded to tell us what she thought of the world of white people. In those days public obscenity was rather rare, and her frequent use of all the old Anglo-Saxon terms caused considerable shock and embarrassment to the passengers. Everyone looked straight ahead as if he were blind and deaf. Of all the people on the streetcar, only the other soldier and I were uncouth enough to snigger.
No one in the chapel was as uncouth as my companion and I had been. There was not a sound. For a moment, I seemed to be looking through a red haze. I felt overheated as if a hot sunlamp were inches from my face. My stomach churned painfully with increasing nausea. The sweat of my hands seemed to be dissolving the varnish on the pew back that I was grasping to support the weight that my knees were refusing to bear.
Only three people were looking at me: the minister, his mouth still open with the shock of hearing his ritual question answered; the bridegroom, looking stunned and uncomprehending, and Marjorie. She had turned from the altar to face me. I stared at her in disbelief; Marjorie was grinning.
Later she told me, “I had never once until that moment seriously thought of marrying you. It was like being struck by lightning. I had really thought I was in love with Bob Conway.”
Hand set in Deepdene. Display type on cover is Fornier and Univers. Text paper is Sulgrave Text, Laid, a very difficult paper to print on which led to a long-thought-about experiment of printing an issue on dampened paper. Other than curly edges on the paper, the output may not be much different, but, oh boy, the input was up by plenty. It ain’t easy. But it’s too long and too sad a story for this colophon. Edited, published, and 530 copies printed on dampened paper by Jake Warner on a 10 x 15 C&P press at the Boxwood Press, Greenbelt, Maryland 20770.