As most young candidates for the pains and penalties of whaling stop at this same New Bedford, thence to embark on their voyage, it may as well be related that I, for one, had no idea of so doing
― Herman Melville, Moby-Dick; or, The Whale
Paul was hopeful that somewhere on earth, Moby Dick was being read aloud.
He said, “I am not aware of any public readings, but I can search the ‘net and see.”
Paul reached for his Ppad, and entered ‘non-stop reading of Moby Dick’ into the search slot. In an instant, the heading came up. “31st Annual Marathon Moby Dick/New Bedford. Apparently, there was such a thing – at New Bedford Massachusetts, a town Paul was well familiar with, having worked there during summers off from school. The 31st annual reading was scheduled to take place the following week. And 31 was a prime number – a good omen.
“This is proof that the answer lies in the reading of Moby Dick. Ishmael: would you come with me and help me interpret the information I need to solve my problem?”
Ishmael replied, “I’d be happy to come along. It is always a pleasure to hear the good word spoken aloud.”
Since Paul’s car was totaled, and he hadn’t purchased a new one, he went to the Avis/Budget rental agency on U.S. 1 across from the University’s Main Campus. Since it was a rather long trip from Miami to New Bedford, Paul rented a van and outfitted the back with a sleeping mattress. He and Ishmael could take turns driving.
The two of them left on Monday, to be sure to arrive in plenty of time for the reading which began at noon on Thursday. Ishmael seemed hesitant when asked to drive, so Paul just took his time, and pulled off into rest stops to lie down and try to sleep when he was too tired to continue his driving. They arrived in New Bedford on Wednesday, in the late afternoon. They slept in the van, which was hardly noticeable, since it appeared the town had been overtaken by cars with out-of-state license plates. Paul and Ishmael fit right in, camping out in the rented van.
Paul and Ishmael found seats in the upper area of the Museum, laying out quilts and blankets for the long haul. Paul brought a notebook, a dozen lined yellow pads, and a large box of mechanical pencils and pens to ensure he caught everything he needed from the reading. He also brought along his library version of Moby Dick. The readings began at the Seaman’s Bethel, down the street from the museum. This was the church that commemorated lost whalers from two centuries before. After the first chapter, the throng moved to the museum. Paul and Ishmael settled in for the long haul.
By 8 PM that evening, Paul was growing more excited about what he’d gleaned from the reading. It was becoming ever more clear to him that he had the information he needed to formulate the proof. He showed his notebook to Ishmael, who made additional notes and comments in the margins. It appeared that the solution to the proof lay in translating the symbols contained in Queequeg’s tattoos. That made perfect sense, since Queequeg, God, should have messages that spoke to Paul through the body of the deity.
He and Ishmael engaged in a healthy debate about one particular symbol. After a few moments, of this, Paul looked up and noticed that everyone had turned around. They were looking at him – and not in a pleasant way. The reader went on reading, but Paul and Ishmael could not contain their enthusiasm for the progress being made. Twice more, they interrupted the readings with their animated conversation. Finally, the mayor of the town came to Paul in the upper area.
“I’m afraid I’m going to have to ask you to leave. You continue to disrupt the proceedings, and you’re spoiling it for the others.”
Paul was hastily scribbling notes on the last page in his notebook. He looked up at the mayor with a wild look in his eye,
“What time is it? What time is it?”
The mayor looked down at his watch.
“It’s precisely 11 PM.”
“Eleven – that’s a prime number – that’s a prime number! That’s it. The final piece of the puzzle. Oh my God…I’ve done it! I’ve done it!. Paul began to jump around, with his arms outstretched as though he were holding hands with someone else.
Paul said – to no-one in particular, “I think I have everything I need now from what you’ve provided. While I don’t appreciate being thrown out of here, I really don’t need to hear any more. Come on, Ishmael. Let’s go.”
The mayor had no idea who Paul was referring to, but he could see that Paul was not a well man. He escorted Paul to the door, and quietly closed it. The readings continued, without the presence of Paul and Ishmael.
Paul drove straight through, back to Miami. He arrived at 4 PM, having driven with only a few breaks for gas and take out food.
“The journey took exactly 29 hours – another prime number. Further proof that I’ve really got this figured out. I can sleep now.”
Paul put all his writing materials down on his desk, and curled up on the leather sofa in the study. He slept for 13 hours straight. When he awoke, it was 5 am. He got up, made some coffee and eggs, and put all his materials together in a backpack. He returned the van to the rental agency, and walked across US 1 to the University Campus. He went to the Physics Building, looking for Dr. Howar, to show her that he had solved the proof of the Riemann Hypothesis. He was sure that would be sufficient impetus for her to recommend that he be rehired.
He made it was far as the Department Administrative Assistant. He only barely knew her, but knew by reputation that she was tough.
“I need to see Dr. Howar right away. Where is she? I need to see her. Right away. Right now. Now.” Paul’s attempts at staying calm were failing miserably.
The woman came from around her desk. She knew the background with Paul, and had heard from the English professor friend that Paul was dreadfully ill. She gently took his arm, and escorted him into the conference room across from her office.
“Dr. Howar is at a faculty meeting at the moment. May I be of some assistance while we wait for her to return?”
Paul opened the notebook, saying, “I doubt you will understand the mathematics, but the text should be fairly easy to follow. As you will see, I have successfully created the proof of the Riemann Hypothesis.”
The woman scanned the pages of the notebook. It contained drawings of sailing ships. Pictures of aborigines covered with tattoos. Letters that appeared to be Greek or hieroglyphysics that made elaborate designs throughout the pages. The text was gibberish. It was clear to her that Paul was in the middle of a psychotic episode.
The woman said, “I want you to wait here. This is very exciting work – work that I’m confident Dr. Howar will want to see right away. Let me telephone her.”
The woman went to her desk and pushed the button on her console that went directly to campus security. When the officer answered, the woman said, “I have Dr. Paul Fitzgerald here. He’s no longer employed at the University, and I’m afraid he’s going to hurt someone here – or possibly himself. Could you please come and fetch him? I believe he needs medical assistance.”
within five minutes, the campus security guard entered the Physics Building, armed and with two Coral Gables policemen as backup. The woman pointed at the door to the conference room. The officer entered.
“I suppose you’re here to arrest me for some alleged incident that occurred months ago?”
The older patrolman said, “No, we’re here to try to take you to the hospital. We understand you might need some help.”
Paul thought that over for a few moments. It was clear his proof was too complex for others to understand. And he was exhausted after the trip to New Bedford.
“Yes, you’re probably right. I’ll get my materials together.”
Paul was escorted out of the building, and put into the back of the police car. As the car was driving away, Dr. Howar entered the building. She approached the woman.
“Was that Paul Fitzgerald I saw in the back of the Gables police car?
The woman replied, “Yes. He came here looking for you, talking about having solved some math problem. But his notebooks were full of nonsense, and he appeared to be out of his mind. They are taking him to Mercy Hospital.
Dr. Howar hugged the woman, who had done so much to make her feel at home while the Math Building was under construction.
“Thank you for handling that situation. Mirabel: you are amazing.”