“Oh, get out.”
I stood in front of a door. It was not in a wall. It was in an open outdoor plaza. It was free-standing, supported by simple braces on its frame. You could open it and walk through it, or you could walk around it with equal effect.
But that was not the cause of my comment. I was looking at the sign in front of it. There, standing independently on a post, was a large arrow, with the words “THIS WAY TO THE EGRESS.”
“It’s been done,” I said.
“Not this way it hasn’t!” he replied with a grin. “I’ve taken Barnum’s misdirection and made it a door not out of a building but into a Cage… John Cage!”
I walked around it to view it edge-on. “Looks the same on the other side,” I said. In fact, it had an identical sign on that side too.
“But it’s like Cage’s four minutes thirty-three seconds,” Marcus said. “It’s the door frame itself that frames perception. Wait…” He reached into his pocket and pulled out his phone. As he tapped and scrolled on it, he said, “I got my inspiration from this article in The Mark Twain Annual by, uh,” he read off the screen, “Christine Brenner Dixon. Here!” He handed me the phone and I read the beginning of the abstract:
When P.T. Barnum needed to move dawdling spectators out of his museum, he posted signs over the exits that read, “This Way to the Egress.” Standing suddenly on the street, Barnum’s gullible patrons were left with two choices: pay for reentry or choose to see the world as the grand spectacle, the ultimate humbug.
“I see,” I said. “From huckster to Huxley.”
“The Doors of Perception!” Marcus said. (He always was an especially sharp instrument – that’s why he was able to be so exquisitely annoying at will.) He started singing a line from The Doors: “Break on through to the other side! Break on through to the other side!” He paused. “But we digress.”
“Well, then,” said I, walking back around to his side of the door, “let us regress.”
“When I was a child,” Marcus said, “I thought an egress was something like an egret or a tigress. Or maybe a lepress. Like Kilimanjaro.”
I raised an eyebrow. “I would have thought you’d have been an early fan of P.T. Barnum.”
“I’m not the one who went to the school that was halfway founded by him,” Marcus said with a smirk. He knew I went to Tufts University and he knew that Barnum was a major early benefactor and even has a building named after him there – and its mascot (and namesake of its sports teams) is Jumbo, Barnum’s famous elephant.
“Well,” I said, “compared with him, or with a tigress, this barely seems to transgress.”
Marcus raised a finger. “I have another work in progress. It should be ready in time for the congress. It will be a door within a door within a door within a door… a sort of…” I laughed and joined him as he said “infinite egression!”
“Well,” I said, “that really is as funny as all get out.”
“Oh, it’s not just clever, though,” Marcus said. “It’s a cleaver. It divides and joins at the same time.”
“E pluribus unum?” I said, trusting Marcus would know that the e in egress is the same as the one in that phrase on American coins, and that the motto means “Out of many, one.”
“One ingredient, many egredients,” Marcus said. “Or vice versa.” Bonus points for that: an egredient is something that goes out, just as an ingredient is something that goes in (as in into a recipe).
“Well, I hope you can see it through,” I said, “and I hope the viewers can see through it. Or not.”
“And now,” Marcus said, “let me see you through.” He stepped up, opened the door, and gestured for me to proceed.
I remembered Marcus’s many practical jokes of his younger years. “I think I’ll pass,” I said.
“I think you’ll pass through,” Marcus said. “Even if I have to lift the door and pass it around you.” He started to grab the frame as if to move it.
“Oh, no, don’t make the effort,” I said. I stepped forward and boldly went through the doorway. “I don’t want to be needlessly passive-egressive.”