Johnny America


My Name is not Mar­ty, My Name is not Stacey


Wel­come Sir, I am Dr. Jared Ohrt, Dean of the math de­part­ment here at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Iowa. Do come in, please. I ex­tend my most sin­cere thank you for com­ing to see me, I know you’re a busy man.

Please have a seat. Can I get you a drink? A cigarette?

Well, then I sup­pose I’ll just dis­pense with the pleas­antries and cut to the chase. First, I must apol­o­gize for the vague­ness of my cor­re­spon­dence, but it was out of ne­ces­si­ty, as you’ll come to un­der­stand. I know you’re as cu­ri­ous about the cir­cum­stances of my com­ing in­to this proof as I was amazed to re­ceive it.

Yes, I know most of all you want the man’s name, of course that’s what every­one wants, in­clud­ing my­self. But you see he has no name, not any­more. There again I’m be­ing vague, talk­ing in rid­dles. Please, al­low me a few min­utes of your time to tell you the sto­ry as it hap­pened to me from the be­gin­ning. I’m con­fi­dent you’ll find it quite remarkable.

“My name is not Mar­ty, my name is not Stacey,” he said to me, much to my con­fu­sion as you can well imag­ine. This stranger just wan­dered in­to my of­fice one day and asked Julie, my re­cep­tion­ist, to see me. I had him sent in with­out the slight­est in­cli­na­tion that I was about to be­come the first, or I should say, the sec­ond man to see the world’s great­est math prob­lem solved. He told me he’d cal­cu­lat­ed a proof to Rie­man­n’s hy­poth­e­sis and want­ed me to scru­ti­nize his results.

Rie­man­n’s hy­poth­e­sis! Can you imag­ine? I fair­ly guf­fawed. It’s be­come such a cliché you know, and to hear of any progress, much less a proof com­ing from some­where oth­er than the Math In­sti­tute in Sacra­men­to was hard­ly be­liev­able to me at the time, as I’m sure it was un­be­liev­able to you when I con­tact­ed you from here in Iowa.

But per­haps more in­trigu­ing than the proof it­self is this stranger who re­vealed it. The gen­tle­man was en­tire­ly undis­tin­guished, the type of man you might pass on the street every­day and nev­er no­tice. How­ev­er there was some­thing about him, I re­call dis­tinct­ly, that pre­vent­ed me from dis­miss­ing him out of hand, some­thing in the tone of voice per­haps, or maybe the eye. Noth­ing I could put my fin­ger on, you un­der­stand, some­thing in­tan­gi­ble but some­thing nonetheless.

“If you re­al­ly have the proof, then why don’t you con­tact the Math in­sti­tute? There’s a one mil­lion dol­lar prize to the first man who proves the hy­poth­e­sis,” I re­mind­ed him. I was try­ing to ex­pose him for the prankster I be­lieved he was, you see. At this his face took on a puz­zled look, the look a per­son wears when he is try­ing very hard to re­call some­thing but can’t quite grasp it. He said he seemed to re­mem­ber some­thing like that, that in the be­gin­ning that may have been part of his motivation.

Well, I could see that there was on­ly one way to ex­pose this man, and that was to go along with his lit­tle ruse un­til it ex­posed it­self. I asked him to show me the proof, and he smiled. I re­mem­ber that smile, there was some­thing about it that etched the im­age in my mind. It was as in­no­cent as a child’s, it had a pu­ri­ty that was for­eign on the face of an aged man, and when I think of him now it is that im­age I see.

He said he lived close by, which he did, just sev­en or eight blocks from my of­fice in a tiny un­fur­nished stu­dio apart­ment on Jef­fer­son Street, as it turned out. But it took us most of an hour to get there be­cause he had long since for­got­ten his ad­dress, and he knew noth­ing of the city. In all of the time he lived there he’d on­ly gone out of his build­ing to a lit­tle store at the cor­ner for food and es­sen­tials, so that all he re­al­ly knew was one block of one street.

Yes, it’s ex­cep­tion­al­ly fan­tas­tic, but true to the last word, I as­sure you. As a mat­ter of fact, we on­ly found the place be­cause we hap­pened to pass the store at the cor­ner, which he rec­og­nized in­stant­ly and with great re­lief to us both, as you can imagine.

Now be­fore I reach that part of the sto­ry re­gard­ing the proof it­self, and its in­evitable ac­cu­ra­cy, I first want to tell you what I learned from him in the car while criss­cross­ing the streets in search of his hum­ble abode.

“My name is not Mar­ty, my name is not Stacey.” He said, and apol­o­gized for not be­ing able to of­fer me his prop­er name, con­fess­ing that it had es­caped him months ago. He on­ly knew for cer­tain that it was nei­ther Mar­ty, nor Stacey due to the fact that sev­er­al times a week, from the time he moved in, he would get phone calls for a Mar­ty Lesh, about a square danc­ing con­ven­tion, whose newslet­ter had print­ed his num­ber by mis­take, and once or twice a month a call for some­one named Stacey, pre­sum­ably the for­mer own­er of his num­ber. So even though he grew to for­get his own name, he main­tained the knowl­edge that it was not Mar­ty, and it was not Stacey.

In­deed, I my­self was un­sure how to feel about his tale as he told me, it seemed equal parts tragedy and com­e­dy. He told me all he could re­mem­ber about his life pre­vi­ous to his apart­ment in Iowa was that he was a math­e­mati­cian, and that he had been work­ing on Rie­man­n’s hy­poth­e­sis in his spare time. He knew he was close to a break­through, but need­ed to de­vote him­self en­tire­ly with­out dis­trac­tion. He chose Iowa be­cause it was suf­fi­cient­ly anony­mous that he could hide here and work undis­turbed for as long as need­ed. He sur­mised that it must have been his in­ten­tion to throw him­self in­to the prob­lem with aban­don, and then reemerge in so­ci­ety as the great math­e­mati­cian of his gen­er­a­tion, and reap the ben­e­fits of his work. He told me the no­tion seemed sil­ly to him now, and al­though he re­mem­bered that ba­sic premise, he could no longer fath­om what must have mo­ti­vat­ed him to that end, how he ra­tio­nal­ized that pur­pose in his psy­che. Of course it all be­came triv­ial once he be­gan to im­merse him­self in the work.

Cut­ting off all con­tact with the world, save for the oc­ca­sion­al phone call for Mar­ty or Stacey, and work­ing dili­gent­ly to­ward the proof for days and then weeks and then months on end, the hy­poth­e­sis be­gan to blos­som un­der his con­stant care, and he be­came en­am­ored of it. All non-nu­mer­i­cal thought fad­ed and then ceased en­tire­ly, his mem­o­ry, his past, his iden­ti­ty re­ced­ed like a sun­set un­til it was gone. He de­scribed the way he felt then as al­most a sin­gu­lar­i­ty. He had no con­cept of time, ex­ist­ing on­ly in the mo­ment, with on­ly the pur­pose of prov­ing the hy­poth­e­sis, he had be­come a per­fect think­ing ma­chine. Of course he was nev­er en­tire­ly con­scious of his con­di­tion, be­ing de­vot­ed en­tire­ly to the proof, but the sen­sa­tion was ab­solute and it per­vad­ed his be­ing, he told me, with a sense of right­ness, that car­ried him through what turned out to be a lit­tle over two years of con­stant work. It be­came so ab­solute, he told me, that at times his body would fall asleep over his fig­ures but his mind would con­tin­ue on its course in some un­con­scious state, and when he would wake his train of thought would have re­mained unbroken.

Again, I agree that it all seems an elab­o­rate fic­tion, but I saw the room for my­self, and I must tell you that it made me be­lieve. The res­i­dence was a tiny sec­ond sto­ry apart­ment on Jef­fer­son street, it con­sist­ed of one small room, with a kitch­enette, a small bath­room, a broom clos­et off of one wall, and one win­dow that looked out on the al­ley­way be­hind the build­ing. I can tell you sin­cere­ly that by sim­ply step­ping in­side the room it was ev­i­dent that some­thing was un­usu­al about the place, there was an en­er­gy about it, a sen­sa­tion that some event had tak­en place there, and the ghosts of that event still haunt­ed it.

The room was min­i­mal­ly fur­nished; there was a desk against the side wall, with a chair and there was a pile of about six or eight texts and spi­ral note­books on the floor near the desk. There was a cal­cu­la­tor on the desk, and propped in the cor­ner ad­ja­cent the win­dow were two scrolls of pa­per and most of a third, those thou­sand foot rolls of forty-eight inch, white Kraft util­i­ty pa­per, the kind you use for mu­rals, or posters or wrap­ping pa­per. He led me to the small­er roll, and un­furled about the fi­nal four to six feet of it, and there it was: Rie­man­n’s Hy­poth­e­sis. Every­one in the field of high­er math­e­mat­ics is fa­mil­iar with the equa­tion, and I rec­og­nized it in­stant­ly; it was as fa­mil­iar to me as the Mona Lisa. How­ev­er, as you your­self will bear wit­ness, it went on, and with­out re­al­ly com­pre­hend­ing ful­ly, I could tell enough to know that he had in­deed ar­rived at a proof, or at the very least, ap­proached one. Of course I would have to check his work.

He urged me to take the scrolls, all three of them, cov­ered with all the fig­ures he’d made in his time in the apart­ment. This is why it took me three months to con­tact you from the time I re­ceived the scrolls. I took a leave of ab­sence from the Uni­ver­si­ty, and did noth­ing in those three months ex­cept ex­am­ine the scrolls. They read like an epic sto­ry writ­ten in num­bers as op­posed to words, the sto­ry of a man alone with his thoughts for more than two years. You can see his in­tel­lect get sharp­er as he goes, be­com­ing tighter, more fo­cused, hav­ing in­sights, rais­ing ques­tions that are sure to be­come the fo­cus of a new gen­er­a­tion of math­e­mati­cians, and dis­re­gard­ing them un­cer­e­mo­ni­ous­ly in pur­suit of the orig­i­nal ob­jec­tive, which as you your­self have seen, he ar­rived at in a beau­ti­ful sym­me­try at the con­clu­sion of his…sabbatical of sorts, shall we say?

And that is the sto­ry as it hap­pened to me. You want to know his where­abouts, his gen­e­sis, I as­sume? As to that I can tell you all I know in a sin­gle word: noth­ing. All I know I’ve told you and now he is gone, and I’m quite sure I will nev­er have the plea­sure of his pres­ence again, nor will any­one else knowingly.

Oh, I sup­pose some­one with the in­ves­tiga­tive know-how could prob­a­bly get to the bot­tom of who he used to be, but it seems that man, who­ev­er he was, no longer exists.

When I re­turned to his place af­ter three months, the room was emp­ty — even the pres­ence I had felt that was so ev­i­dent was gone. I went to the prop­er­ty man­ag­er and was told that “Mr. Rie­mann” had va­cat­ed the premis­es near­ly three months ago, just af­ter our meet­ing. I in­quired for the ap­pli­ca­tion, the rental agree­ment, checks, and any­thing else with iden­ti­fy­ing in­for­ma­tion, but the trail was cold. Ap­par­ent­ly he’d had his month­ly rent set up to be au­to­mat­i­cal­ly with­drawn from an ac­count in Got­tin­gen, Ger­many that had re­cent­ly been closed, with the re­main­ing bal­ance be­ing do­nat­ed to the math de­part­ment at the Uni­ver­si­ty there.

He was sim­ply gone, it was as if he’d nev­er ex­ist­ed, which I might have con­vinced my­self of, if not for the near­ly three thou­sand feet of cal­cu­la­tions in my pos­ses­sion, and a note that was left at the prop­er­ty man­ager’s of­fice for me.

This is all I can of­fer you, it is all that re­mains of the man of genius:

Dear Doc­tor Ohrt

I trust that you are sat­is­fied with the ac­cu­ra­cy of the proof. I can­not thank you enough for as­sist­ing me in my work. And now I ask you for one fi­nal fa­vor, to de­liv­er this proof to the world, to whom it be­longs. As to the mat­ter of any prize mon­ey or no­to­ri­ety, I en­trust it to you al­so, to for­ward to the cause of high­er math­e­mat­ics, as there is still much to be done in our beau­ti­ful and cos­mic endeavor.

My own re­ward has been great, I as­sure you, al­though of a dif­fer­ent na­ture en­tire­ly. As for fame, I guess it is on­ly use­ful to those who have a name to make famous.

For­ev­er indebted,

(x ¬ Mar­ty) ¬ Stacey

Filed under Fiction on July 13th, 2005

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Reader Comments

Anthony Adams wrote:

A fine piece of writ­ing. I am look­ing for­ward to the next sto­ry already.

Riddick Bowe wrote:

An­tho­ny, that sound­ed sar­cas­tic. Truth­ful­ly, I did en­joy the piece. I can’t wait to delve in­to Rie­man­n’s Hy­poth­e­sis myself!

Anthony Adams wrote:

Rid­dick, how dare you ques­tion my sin­cer­i­ty. Why don’t you go join the Marines for a day or two you fat ***!

Anonymous wrote:

Huz­zah for the as­cen­sion of fic­tion! This sto­ry rocked and re­mind­ed me of The In­vis­i­ble Man.

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