(This post appeared originally on RIKLBLOG, maintained by the author. Check it out! –JB)
I was young once. Not really, really young, like “a baby” or “a toddler.” People tell me that I must have been, and I suppose there’s some merit to their theory, since I observe such creatures on the hoof. But this is my blog, and if I don’t remember or have evidence of it then it’s at best irrelevant or “not proved.”
During the “young” period that I do recall, I began my nerd career by playing with electric trains, reading Tom Corbett, Space Cadet and Tom Swift, whatever he was at the time. I also, somewhat into the period, got my ham radio license. The books, “juveniles” as they were dubbed, eventually got given away or lost and were replaced by more-or-less adult science fiction. (Of course, now the “juveniles” are collectors’ items worth big bucks.) The trains were, shall we say, consumed in experimentation, which I fortunately survived. The ham license remained with me.
During these early years I was technically considered “not a grown up.” I went to school, had summer vacations, and in large part built my own radio equipment, antennas, etc. Every contact was a challenge and something of a thrill, one which is hard to relive in these days of vastly more capable and complex (and relatively much less expensive) equipment. I would go on the air and talk to people all over the local New York City area. Occasionally, my puny signal would reach New Jersey or even farther. When my parents dragged me off to the country for the summer, I was in paradise because I was able to set up a real antenna and could often reach out to most of the states and a number of countries using Morse Code. It was during this first phase of my ham radio career that I spoke with many hundreds of local hams, of which perhaps half were close to my age and a goodly number became at least casual friends. As time passed, and we all went off to college or work or war, most vanished, the latter often literally. But a tiny number remained good friends, a few of whom I remain in contact with to this very day. Another tiny number went subliminal.
One of these was my only “famous” ham buddy, a pianist named Lorin Hollander. We had met in a spasm of Morse and he invited me to a concert. Lorin was a bit older than I, but still a “child prodigy.” My parents encouraged me to attend because I think they feared that I was catching rock and roll, a fear fully justified as the years passed. After his classical concert, I went backstage to talk to my new friend and to have, as we hams put it, an “eyball QSO.” (Scary jargon will no doubt be a future blogitem.) It was our only actual physical meeting, but we had spoken before and after in Morse. Unsurprisingly, as a musician, he was damn good at it. As a nerd with musical leanings (if not talent) I was pretty good, too. Not long after, life intervened as described above, and we fell out of touch.
A Minute Passed
And another minute passed, followed by 2*10^7 additional ones. A useful mathematical “constant” which is really more of a coincidence than a fact of nature is that there are approximately pi times ten to the seventh seconds (Π*10^7) in a year. This saves me a lot of calculation. For example, with 60 seconds in a minute, I can state by inspection that about 2*10^7 minutes passed, making the heading above quite the understatement. Technically I now am considered a “grown up” and as evidence thereof I found myself at a dinner party.
The Dinner Party
At this party were a number of couples. I was attending with my housemate; the hostal units were friends of ours. Attending additionally were individuals and pairs, including some whom I hadn’t previously met. While billed as dinner parties, there also occurs talk. I’m not unduly loquacious at events such as these. The food beckons more strongly than the babble, and a closed mouth (or one filled with food) gathers fewer feet than it otherwise might. But I do try to listen and pay attention, and I was doing so as the woman to my left was reporting on her previous marriage. My memory fails me—I don’t even remember what we were having for dinner—but somehow it became obvious that she had previously been married to my long-lost boyhood ham semi-chum Lorin Hollander.
That was re-appearance #1. How improbable was this revelation? Consider the odds of the marriage first of all. Without any deep demographic studies and with all of us being about the same age, it is reasonable to take the 300 million Americans and divide by two, using the “traditional” definition of marriage, as candidates. From there, divide us into perhaps ten age cohorts for marriage purposes, fudge a bit since they were both artistic people from the same coast, and you get maybe a one in five million chance. OK, this happens in the lottery from time to time. But what is really remarkable is this: We all know previously-married people. If we’ve known them forever, presumably we know the identity of their exes as well. But what are the odds of meeting someone at a dinner party—someone you have never seen before—and being told or otherwise divining the actual name of their ex rather than simply his or her existence? So went reappearance the first.
The Office Visit
My late business partner was married to a well-known and extremely well-regarded professor of education. She still plies her trade, although I understand on a somewhat reduced schedule. However one measures productivity in such a trade, she was the epitome. In addition to being adored by her students, she was always traveling, giving speeches, and involved in projects. She and I would never have met were it not for the business/husband connection, of course. Totally different circles and activities. And, I add for the record, I have no reason to believe that she had ever met any of the participants in the above dinner party, which was even in a different state. I had occasion to speak with her on the telephone while she was in her office.
R: Hello! Babble babble…
M: Hello! Babble babble…
(It was actually a conversation, the “babble” is metaphorical. You would be correct in assuming that a prominent professor would actually be coherent. I simply have no recollection as to the subject of the conversation.)
M: <mentions my name> Babble babble
Voice in Background: Are you talking to Richard Factor?
M: Yes do you know him?
Of course, Voice in Background is obviously the same (long-lost boyhood ham semi-chum ex-of-new-friend) Lorin Hollander. I won’t even attempt to guess the odds on this one. Although she has undoubtedly had hundreds or even thousands of visitors to her office, I never before that day had occasion to talk to her anywhere but at home.
Lorin and I had a chat, and we continued on with our lives. But the way this has evolved, I’ll probably some day take a cross-country driving trip and have a car accident with him in the middle of the Mojave desert.