Wednesday, January 4, 2006


My wife Elaine mentioned yesterday an observation of Leonard Bernstein's in his lecture-series The Unanswered Question -- that audiences inevitably hear tonal patterns in atonal music. We are indeed pattern-seeking and pattern-finding creatures.

Our loyal Toyota today displayed the sequence 123456 on its odometer. Elaine and I took a photo, with a disposable camera whose film won't be developed for some time. You'll have to take my word for it.

This milestone in driving made me recall an anecdote from the great literary critic Hugh Kenner, who once recounted his car's odometer displaying a magically appropriate sequence on June 16 -- Bloomsday, the day on which the action of James Joyce's Ulysses takes place in 1904. What were the numbers on Kenner's odometer? 61604? 16604? I can't recall. But I remember that there was a pattern.

While we're waiting for the film to be developed, I'll share some magically appropriate numbers that rival even those of Kenner's odometer. My copy of Vladimir Nabokov's novel Pale Fire is a library discard. The card in its pocket bears a single date-stamp: "OCT 18 1979." The poet John Shade, one of the novel's two principal characters, has a heart attack on October 17, 1958. Charles Kinbote dates his Foreword to Shade's poem Pale Fire October 19, 1959. The card-pocket itself bears seven stamped due dates, one of them in red -- "JUL 5 '78." John Shade was born on July 5, 1898. What's it all mean? Nothing. But I wouldn't trade my Pale Fire for another.

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