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Friday, May 23, 2014

The 23 Enigma and the Law of Fives on NPR

My day job is that I'm a reporter for the Sandusky Register newspaper. Yesterday, May 22, I interviewed a lady in Sandusky named Mary Perry. The trigger for the story was that the next day, May 23, would be the 20th anniversary of her heart transplant.

Well, she had to have it sometime.

But when I was sitting in her living room, she suddenly remarked, "23 is kind of a good number for me and a bad number for me." Then she told me about all the events in her life connected with 23: The birth of her mother, the birth of her son, the death of her son and other events. I asked her if she'd ever heard of the 23 Enigma, and she said no.

Today, as I drove to work, I listened to a podcast of "This American Life." The specific podcast was "No Coincidence, No Story." It did not occur to me I was listening to the broadcast on the 23rd day of the fifth month. I have a backlog of "This American Life" podcasts on my smartphone, and I have been listening to them every day, clearing away the backlog and freeing up space for a library audiobook I want to download soon.

It's a great episode of my favorite podcast, filled with crazy coincidences, but what I wanted to mention was this: The show's guest narrator, Sarah Koenig (filling in for Ira Glass) mentions a family that was at a Thanksgiving dinner and realized that six of them have names with 23 letters. Later on, referring to another story, Koenig says, "Coming up, don't lift that manhole cover. That's 23 letters, by the way."

Elsewhere in the podcast, Koenig explains the title of the show, which comes from a Chinese phrase from a friend of hers. The Chinese phrase has five words, as Koenig explains when she tells one of the people she is interviewing: "I have five words for you, Jeff." So the title of the show on coincidences conforms to the Law of Fives.

When I came to work, my phone was flashing, so the first thing I did was check my voicemails. The second message came from Mary Perry's daughter. Transcript: "It was just kind of a weird thing. Me and my mom were talking tonight and we remembered that there was also another lady waiting for a heart transplant that had the exact same name as my Mom except for  her middle name was different.  Her middle name was Louise. It was Mary Louise Perry. And she died one or two nights before Mom got her heart. And she was also Dr. Bott-Silverman's patient.  It was just a weird thing that she had the exact same name except for her middle name. "


Yeroshka said...

Interesting post. I'd like to add that Alex Screen released some artwork today, that he created for the Cosmic Trigger play:

michael said...

I love this stuff. Is it selective perception? Or are there hidden variables in the Cosmic Giggle Factoring that somehow conspire to harmonize certain numbers to coincide with our lives?

A: Maybe.

I've been intensely re-reading Tom Robbins's entire oeuvre. And in an interview with TR from _Conversations With Tom Robbins_, I see that there was a rumor that TR doesn't get out of bed until he hears the number 39. TR tells the interviewer this is false, and that "Obviously, the number is really 23."

Cleveland Okie (Tom Jackson) said...

So does Tom Robbins stand up? I read one or two of his books many years ago and really liked them. And thank you for the interview story.

michael said...

Tom- many reference sources list TR as being born in 1936, and but it turns out he was born the same year as RAW: 1932. TR is getting up there, but everything I've read from him lately is still pretty cool: see his "children's book for adults": _B Is For Beer_.

I don't know how much he has left in the tank, but if you're the kind of reader who reads for sentences, how can you not like TR? (It helps to have had certain mind-expanding experiences to "get" him.)

I don't have the exact source, but RAW said once that TR had one of the best styles in American lit. In the interview book, TR himself waxes on how much he admires Pynchon's style.

TR accompanied Joseph Campbell on a study tour of Mexico and Central America and it shows. TR, along with RAW, was friends with Leary till Tim's death in 1996. In 1964, TR moved to NY to find like-minded psychedelic explorers, and attended a Leary talk at Cooper Union. The next day they met at a vegetable stand and Leary asked TR "how to tell which brussels sprouts were good." TR responded that it was best to choose the ones that were smiling. (from an interview with Peter Whitmer)