Trivial Pursuits {?} - Chapter 12, Part 2

“I was wondering if you were wondering what the deal was about that,” she said. “Well,” she said, “the truth is, the whole Ask Otis idea only hit me when I was musing on how to locate this guy I met.”


“No. I don’t know his name.”

“What?” I said. “So you’re not working for mentalfloss?” I was suddenly filled with confusion and maybe even a small feeling like I was being tricked.

“No, no, I’m totally working for them. And I’m totally psyched about Ask Otis. I think it’s gonna be a huge viral hit and help me land a real job after. But basically the idea for the feature grew out of my desire to locate this guy, who I only met briefly once, a few weeks ago.”

This made me feel better quickly, but I was still baffled by the Saul questions and the connection to this mystery man. “So what does finding the guy have to do with Ask Otis? Maybe it’s my English,” I said, “but I’m not comprehending.”

Eos explained that when she was trying to think of a way of finding a guy whose name, phone and email she regrettably did not get, and who she didn’t exactly see because it was dark where they met, so she had the idea to go up to strangers in the street, in the bus, in the bank, in the queue at the market, wherever she was and ask them questions about some few things she knew about the guy’s life. In this way, she said, if a guy knew the answer to the question, she would know she had found the right person. Then she told me what she already knew about him: he was around 23 years old; he had an uncle named Saul who died; he was from Detroit and he knew a lot about the Tigers baseball team.

“But I could tell by the look on their faces,” Eos said, “that I needed to come up with a different approach, like a ruse, or maybe excuse is a better word. You know what I mean?”

At this point, I didn’t still know exactly what she meant and a lot was bouncing around my brain. Her questions about Apostle Paul were starting to become clear to me, and I was relieved to comprehend this much, but I still had many many more questions and also I wanted to know what was so important about this guy anyway.

“And you know he lives somewhere near Pan Pacific Park or downtown?” I asked.

“I don’t. All I know is that he lives somewhere in Los Angeles. But, honestly, he could be anywhere. L.A. is the capital of sprawl, you know what I mean? Still, I figure the chances of finding him in the park, or downtown are as good as most places. I mean, it’s not like we’re wasting time padding around the geriatric home. Tomorrow we’ll go over to China Town and then the next day I was planning on going out to Santa Monica, to the promenade. And like that, we’ll just keep hitting different random spots until we find him.”

She was so convinced that we would find him that I was wondering again what there was so special about this guy. Why was it so important to her? Did he owe her some money? Did he know some special doctor that he was recommending? A doctor she forgot the name of who could help her with a special problem? Some disease I didn’t know about—that she was afraid from telling me because she thought I was a hypochondriac and wouldn’t want to live at Park La Brea with her and help her make Ask Otis?

Or maybe she really liked this guy. Maybe he liked her, too. My curiosity and envious nature wanted to find out the answer but I didn’t have the courage to ask her. So basically, we resumed approaching people around the steel cream building, where there was the biggest courthouse in California across the street. This meant lots of people were always around walking this way and that and so it was easier to get our 1.5 yes people for every 10 no people.

One thing I noticed about downtown Los Angeles compared to Tel Aviv in Israel, where there are some few skyscrapers, was how you don’t see many Vespas going around. In Tel Aviv, like cities in all kind of places in Europe and the former USSR, so the Vespa is extremely popular. It’s so popular in Israel that the word Vespa has kind of replaced the Hebrew word for motorscooter, which is katnoa. In Arabic, you can say scooter. When I told this to Eos, she said they don’t do well on the freeway, and L.A. is a freeway-dependant city. And American roads are bigger and gas is cheaper and other reasons.

In my house, we had one Peugeot car and one green Vespa and my parents would switch one to the other depending on where they were going and what they needed it for. I remember once there was some fun recreational math scavenger hunt that went all around Haifa and I wanted to enter it so badly but I was too young. Basically, the rules said you must be out of high school, but that was just because you had to be scootering around on a katnoa. So after some minor effort, I was able to persuade my mom to enter and take me with her on the back of our green Vespa.

This wasn’t too long ago, so she probably already had the tumor but just didn’t know it yet. There were no symptoms that day, anyway. There was none of the tired look of pain in her eyes yet. We were happy with our ignorance and we were zooming around Haifa picking up really fun clues. Like at one place you had to pick up a number, which would take you to a certain house on a certain street with the same number. So this number that we had to figure out was part of a magic square. I don’t know if you’re familiarized with the magic square, but basically it’s a square that’s divided up into smaller squares. And inside the smaller squares there are numbers. And all the rows and columns and diagonals of a magic square add up to the same magic sum. As far as trivia goes, I know that the first magic square came from China around 1000 B.C.E. It looks like this and is called the Lo Shu Square:

The name comes from the Song Lo River, which is near Vietnam, if I remember myself right. Anyway, the Chinese legend says that the Song Lo River people in the villages around there were afraid from the river flooding and killing everyone. So they would make sacrifices to the river god, but every time they did, a turtle would come from the river and walk near the sacrifice but then turn and go back to the water. Until one day when a small boy saw a magical pattern of dots on the turtle’s shell, which the people translated as the numbers 1 to 9 arranged in a shape like the square shows. When they added up the rows and columns and diagonals, they came to the magic sum of 15 and then they knew they had to make 15 sacrifices to the river god to keep the floods away.

So in the story, it’s the boy and the magic turtle and the square that saves the villagers’ lives. Well the square my mom and I had to solve was clearly not saving lives, but like I was saying, at that time we didn’t know there was a life to be saving and anyway it’s just a legend like the sacrifice of Isaac and you can’t believe the accuracy too much.

The last clue was cinchy.

We were shown a picture and then had to name the famous person that made it. So, of course, it was Leonardo da Vinci’s representation of a polyhedra, which he was asked to make along with many other illustrations for a book on geometry, and the polyhedra in particular written by Luca Pacioli. I knew this one very quickly because I had some few books on the kind of connection between art and mathematics during the Renaissance.

So we won the trivia hunt and my mom, wow, she was excited! She even let me drive the green Vespa up to the place where we were collecting the prize: 100 shekels! And our picture was in the newspaper the next day and also on the TV news.

After my mom died, and before my father and I came to California, I cut from that newspaper the photo of us and took it to some printing store where they put plastic on the pictures with heat, kind of like a driving license. And I carry that picture around in my wallet even now because it was such a great day and we were so excited to be able to give the 100 shekels to a special collection that was being made for some families that lost relatives in some awful attack near to our town. Well, technically not all the money. Before we even got home that day, we met my dad at Pizza Mania to have some celebration and really ate like kings!

Check out previous chapters of Trivial Pursuits {?} right here.

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