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The Case of Jorge Medieros

You never know what you’ll find on these pages. This time it’s a quick bit of quirky short fiction. “The Case of Jorge Medeiros” is by Francesca Forrest, an editor who is also a writer of young adult novels and short stories which deal in the fantastic. We came across  her tale of a man and his book of random numbers at askiyume.livejournal.com. And we found it a welcome relief from some of the grimly serious news coming from all directions these days.  No need to be rational all the time. In fact, it’s good to   enjoy the irrational now and then.

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The Case of Jorge Mederios

A texting driver made a widower of Jorge Medeiros, and perhaps it’s not too far-fetched to say that it was the association of text—words—with death that pushed him in the direction of faith in numbers.

In any case, left with the care of his two elementary-school-aged children, Jorge’s indispensible aid became a book of random numbers, a souvenir from the middle of the last century that his wife had picked up at a yard sale as a curiosity.

He started out using it for household tasks: How long should he run the dryer for? Its serial number was 4214289, so he opened the book at random and ran his finger down the columns until he came to a number that began with 421. The next two digits were seven and six. Seventy-six minutes? Seventy-six seconds? Seven point six minutes? The dryer dial said “Max Dry” next to the 70, so he decided on seventy-six minutes. The clothes were very dry.

He used the number book to determine what temperature to set the oven to keep the pizza warm, how many rolls of wrapping paper to buy for the school’s fundraiser, and how much was an appropriate amount to spend when the kids were invited to birthday parties. The results were varyingly successful and disastrous: 512 (degrees Fahrenheit) resulted in thick black smoke, a visit from the fire department, and no pizza for dinner; 96 (rolls of wrapping paper) delighted the PTO at Linsey Elementary School.

He even used the book of random numbers for the kids’ bedtime stories, at first just reading off the numbers, only to be pressed by the boys to explain the what, who, where, when, and why. Four thousand fifteen whats? Grains of sand. Twenty who? Fishermen. Three hundred fifty where? Miles off the coast of New Bedford. Eighty-eight when? Years ago.

But why?

“Thirteen,” their father said, and then, by way of further explanation, “The twenty fishermen carried the 4,015 grains of sand divided between their—” (here he consulted the book) “—five boats to ward off the bad luck of the number thirteen, when they had to go out fishing on the thirteenth day of the month. It’s a bit of the shore with them in the boat, see? So they’ll never drown. They’ll always make it home.”

And so on.

This his sons have accepted as natural. Three months ago, for their father’s thirty-fifth birthday, they pooled their funds and bought him Pi to Five Million Places. He told me the gift brought tears to his eyes.

Since then, he’s abandoned his original book of random numbers and now relies entirely on pi for his number consultations, taking smaller or larger doses of it as needed, mining it from its never-ending, nonrepeating decimal tail.

“It’s a continuous stream, see? Go on, open to any page.” I opened to page 147 (of 588), and sure enough, nothing but row upon row of uninterrupted digits, zero through nine.

“Just like life . . . and irrational, too, just like life.”

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767179049460165346680498862723279178608578438382796797668145410
095388378636095068006422512520511739298489608412848862694560424
1965285022210661186306744278622039194945047123713786960956364371

More Notes


Tim Carmody, in his excellent piece, "How Haiti Became Poor", notes that President Trump's racist policies and vulgar language have sullied the word "shithole" which used to be one of the all-time great swear words. He's right. It's another terrible power this careless President wields.