Back from Christmas in Seattle, I stepped into McDonald’s here in Mahomet expecting my usual warm greeting. Instead I heard an angry voice approaching and asking, “What’s your name?” I saw Patricia storming towards me and I smiled and said, “Merry Christmas.”
“Is your name Jim?”
“Are you that Jim Matthews that writes for the paper?”
Oh-oh. This didn’t sound as if it were going the “I-love-your-column” route.
“Why did you call me ‘Patty’ in the newspaper when you know my name is ‘Patricia’?”
I had no answer for this. Normally I have no idea of what I have written the previous week. My ever-diminishing little grey cells are hard put to remember what I am working on for the week to come. I concentrated. “Patty?” I had written something very complimentary about my favorite McDonald’s greeter/food-bringer/entertainer in my Thanksgiving column, but now you were asking me to remember something from over a month ago. I only knew this woman as “Patricia.” I have no idea why I would have referred to her as “Patty.”
Apparently another customer had shown Patricia my column on his phone. How my column got on his phone, I’ll never know. Undoubtedly, he took a picture of it since The Citizen does not make columns available electronically (Editor’s note: Opinions columns in The Citizen now are newly available online at mcitizen.com). And please don’t ask me why. I just write the darn things, I don’t make policy about them.
Anyway, I checked my original copy and yes, I did refer to my now former friend as “Patty” instead of “Patricia.” I have no idea why, unless I was trying to stir up trouble. I have been known to do that. I used to go into class every once in awhile and seek to know how confident my students were in their ability to hear what I said in French. I would come into class and say something so stupid it defied belief to see how my students would react.
I loved to teach plays and stories by the absurdist Romanian writer Ionesco. I particularly liked his detective stories. From Poe and Doyle in the 19th century until the present day, this genre of literature is based on rational logic. The detective is able to identify the thief or the murderer by establishing a chain of logic that he or she follows to an inevitable conclusion. As Holmes was wont to remind us, once you have eliminated all other possibilities, whichever remains, however implausible, must be true. Holmes was a devotee of Euclidean geometry. Logic has rules. A single line is defined by two unique points in space. Up is up and down is down. Hands go up during a stickup and murdered bodies fall down. The windowless room where the body was found was locked from the inside. Hmmmm. A puzzle to solve.
Ionesco’s detective stories took place in a non-Euclidean universe much closer to our own. Two unique points in space may define an infinite number of lines. Space is made up of not squares and rectangles but spheres and parabolas. Two seemingly intersecting lines may stretch to infinity and never cross, drawing always closer to one another but never actually touching.
Ionesco’s crime solvers see the evidence piling up pointing to the butler; they immediately reverse course and look in the opposite direction since theirs is an illogical universe. Up is down, in is out. If the incriminating evidence points to the butler, he is the last person we will accuse. The contemporary BBC version of Holmes refers to himself as a “high-functioning sociopath” trapped in an addiction to rationality.
Eugene Ionesco once covered a Nuremberg rally in Nazi Germany as a journalist. He abhorred Naziism and Hitler. Yet when hundreds of thousands of arms around him raised in the Nazi salute he found it very difficult to keep his arm at his side. He had to concentrate with absolute will to keep his arm down, so powerful was the pull of mass movement. He said it affected him like gravity, almost impossible to resist. Though he thought Naziism an unspeakable evil, it was all he could do to keep from offering a Nazi salute.
André Gide once speculated in a novel that the perfect crime would be one without motivation. The example he used was the man who seized a fellow passenger on a train and simply chucked him out the window. As TV detectives constantly remind us: means, motive, opportunity. Gide thought that by eliminating motive, the crime might well be impossible to solve. Fans of “Law and Order” will all shout, “Nay, nay.” I will stand with Ryan Reynolds’ character in the film “6 Underground” who says that we all watch too much television. Life does not end on the hour with all details accounted for.
I have wandered a long way from where Patricia and I began. I have apologized profusely to her, but she wants to keep that on the down low so that she can tease me about it for weeks to come. I told her that it is fine by me because all publicity is in the end good publicity. As “Cheers” established, we all like to go to a place where everybody knows our name. Or something close to our name. The column brought to you by Patty and Jim McMaster. Sammy, pour one for me and my friend Eugene here.