“Let me buy you a drink,” Maury said, and ambled off to the modestly stocked bar at the Order of Logogustation’s Sporadic and Unpredictable Meeting.

Elisa Lively, who was nearby, came over and asked, “Why is he buying you a drink?”

“Because of my age,” I said.

“I’m forty. Will he buy me one?” she asked, half-hopefully.

“Probably not. I’m forty-two.”

“Oh, we’re both forty, then! So he should buy us both drinks!”

“No, I’m one more than forty-one and one less than forty-three,” I explained. “I was in my prime last year and will again be in my prime next year, but now I’m at sixes and sevens.”

There was a pause, as though all the air around Elisa stopped moving for two seconds. “…Oh, you’re forty-two, not forty, too. So that’s worth a drink?”

“Just because I was forty-one yesterday,” I said.

Very slight pause. “Oh, happy birthday!” she squealed, attracting the attention of Jess and Daryl, who were chatting nearby. They came over.

“Happy birthday, dude,” Jess said.

“Yeah, so what is it?” Daryl asked.

“The product of three of the first four prime numbers,” I said. I knew Daryl knew that one is not a prime number. He also knew I was older than 30 and younger than 70 – or 105. But so did Jess, and she was evidently slightly quicker at arithmetic.

“The answer to the ultimate question of life, the universe, and everything,” Jess said. Of course she had read The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.

Elisa, however, hadn’t. “Wait. That’s the answer? Forty-two? What’s the question?”

“That’s the problem,” Daryl said. “They know the answer, but not the question. But Douglas Adams wasn’t the only person to make use of forty-two in popular culture. In A Clockwork Orange, the movie, Alex browses through some records and one is by Level 42. Who didn’t exist as a real-world musical group until about a decade later.”

“Oh, I know Level 42!” Elisa said, and started to sing their biggest hit: “There is something about you, baby, so right…” She bopped around and waved her arms in the air, narrowly missing Maury, who was returning with two glasses of Scotch. Handing me one, he said, “Happy Jackie Robinson’s jersey.”

“Apparently it’s also the meaning of life,” Elisa said.

“Well,” Maury said, “it is the number with which God creates the universe, in the Qabbalistic tradition. On the other hand, God also sent a bear to maul forty-two youths who mocked Elisha for his baldness. That’s in the Good Book itself.”

“And forty-two generations in the genealogy of Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew,” I said, having dug up a few little facts in advance for the show-off session I knew would happen. “And – this is a good one – the eight digits of pi starting at the 242,422nd decimal place are 42424242.”

Jess had written it on a cocktail napkin. “It’s one of that set of English words that have two entirely different and equally legitimate ways of writing them.”

“Also known as numbers,” Daryl said.

“For the most part,” Jess said. She held up her 42 on the napkin. “Doesn’t it look like the mainsails on a ship, with the one on the right filled with wind and the one on the left not?”

“It looks somewhat like AZ,” I said. “The beginning and the end. Back to the whole meaning of life thing. And creation.”

“The spelled form has those two o‘s,” Daryl said. “Looking at at you. Plus two t‘s, like a double-cross. And those angular letters y and w. And the hyphen, which is not something we often look at in our word tastings. And that unphonetic spelling of two.”

“There’s something else,” Jess said. “It’s on the tip of my tongue.”

“Oh, can I help you guess?” Elisa said.

“No, I mean it’s on the tip of yours too,” Jess said. “It starts at the lips and teeth, and goes through the /r/, but then it’s the two t‘s on the tongue tip.”

“And that’s tutti,” I said.

“You can whistle at the end of it,” Jess added.

“That would take some forty-two’d,” I said.

“Intestinal fortitude, perhaps, as they say in the army,” Maury said. “And your intestines seem to be increasing in fortitude,” he said, looking at my gut.

I looked at his girth, somewhat greater than mine, and raised an eyebrow. Elisa disrupted my moment by poking me like the Pillsbury Doughboy.

“Well,” I said, “thanks for the Scotch. You could have gotten me a forty, too.”

“Have we missed any tricks?” Jess asked.

“There’s the Chrysler Building and Grand Central Station,” Maury said.

“What,” Jess said, “do you have an edifice complex?”

“And Times Square.”

Elisa twigged and took the occasion to be Lively once again and burst into song: “It’s the song I love, sweet melody of… Forty-second Street.”

I raised my glass and intoned lightly, to “Tea for Two,” “For-ty-two, and two for tea…”

“OK,” Daryl said, “eighty-six the singing.”

“I’ll Scotch it,” I replied, and drank mine.

3 responses to “forty-two

  1. Happy Birthday!

  2. Argh! Two days since I read the subject line of this one and I still have the Scottish ballad “The Two Recruiting Sergeants” stuck in my head:

    “Twa recruitin’ sergeants cam frae the Black Watch
    Tae merkat and fair some recruits for tae catch. But all they’ve recruited is forty and twa,
    ‘So ‘list, bonnie laddies, and cam, cam awa’ ”

    And a belated Happy Birthday, James.

  3. Pingback: fortitude | Sesquiotica

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