Friday, October 2, 2009


Attaining the age of 42 has been somewhat of a milestone for me, in that philosophical space where I give a damn about age, life experience and all that rot. I've prepared for it by making sure I always have my towel handy (in my car, backpack, and onstage) while attempting to keep an open mind in the face of ridiculous events;  I've tried growing a second head;  I may yet decide to run for public office. I've learned not to pick fights with folks who run Major Wacko Religions- however satisfying it may be to show them the error of their ways- and will thank others to return the favor when I decide to found my own version of Major Wacko Religion.  At this point in the paragraph I'd like to thank Doug Adams for his lovely advice: "Don't Panic!"  I know you're dead, dude, but that simple admonition has literally saved my life more than once.  It has also made my life very nice on occasion, when presented with other, ahem, situations in which a young (or not so young) man might, errr, panic.

You see, I'm really a dweeb cursed with a Superhero's resume- except my parents weren't murdered (they'll be married 44 years in January), my home planet wasn't destroyed, I wasn't tutored by aliens or bitten by radioactive vermin... well, come to think about it I'm just a dweeb who happens to smell nice and can defend himself pretty well.  I did spend years playing in a drainage ditch, and there were some serious puddles and rocks down there: the comic books seemed more real if I read them in a drainpipe.

What in the hell does this inane ramble have anything to do with the concept of "42"? A friend lent me a copy of Hitchiker's Guide to the Galaxy back in middle school, and I began a lifelong inquiry into the nature of "42".  I was fascinated with such an absurd Answer To A Question, but my Baptist upbringing had prepared me for any number of absurdities when faced with asking about Life, the Universe, Everything.  About the same time I attended my first science fiction convention (on the sly: my parents thought I was spending the night with my friend Chris), where I heard grown men and women answering all sorts of questions with "42".  Why, I asked, were these alleged "grownups" who obviously had their own cars and might have even had sex spouting such nonsense? To my confused pre-adolescent mind they seemed to be speaking in a Code, one that gave them great security regarding the Known Universe, all boiled down to the words "Forty-Two".  When I asked said grownups what the significance of "42" was, they laughed- not at me, but near me- and suggested I needed to think about the question instead of the answer.  That same convention I met Leonard Nemoy (it was VulCon at the old Castlegate Hotel in Atlanta) , and it's one of those occasions that one never forgets: I knew just enough about Spock to know he was a Vulcan, and that Logic ruled his life.  I ran into Mr. Nemoy, literally running, and when I looked up and saw Mr. Spock he smiled at me. "Where are you headed in such a hurry?" he asked. "FORTY-TWO!" I answered, thinking I had just the Answer. He stopped smiling, and gave me that arched eyebrow that let me know that Mr. Spock had relegated me to that disdainful realm of "Fascinating".  He moved on, having a life and all, while I thought about "Forty-Two" for the next thirty years or so.

As I've approached the age of 42 I've watched many of my friends and family reach that magical number and continue onward with nary a sideways glance; was 42 just another number, with no real significance?  Now that I've arrived there myself I think there is something special about the number: it shows up in so many significant spots:  In mathematics, a magic cube can be constructed using 27 same-size cubes whose nominal values progress from 1 to 27, using a 3x3x3 progression in which every straight line drawn through the center of the cube comprises 3 cubes whose sum is 42.  If you were to fall into a hole which went straight through the Earth, your elapsed time would be 42 minutes- assuming you didn't bump or slide on the way. It's the angle in degrees in which a rainbow appears, the number of gods and goddesses in ancient Egypt, and the number of letters contained in one of the Qabbalistic names of God.

As I pondered the significance of 42, and upon reaching that magical number of years, I've suspected the philosophical retort that it might be the correct answer to a question incorrectly asked might just add some seasoning to the pan. What I can claim with reasonable certainty is that 42 has inspired me and countless others to wonder what's behind the seemingly nonsensical answers Life, The Universe and Everything provides us. We'll see what the year brings...mmm?