I met Pythagoras while on holiday in California. These days he's an émigré, lives in West L.A. Likes hanging out at the beach, scoping fresh nugs. I told him I thought he was dead. With a crafty look he asked me, "Ever hear of metempsychosis, kid?"
So I told him, for a reputation as an austere, esoteric, numbers man, the life he was leading seemed to me to be more indicative of Epicurus. To which he sighed and replied, "It's all relative, kid."
Evangelical in my quest for the crux of all knowledge, I persevered. "Would you say you're being or becoming?"
"I've been and I am," he retorted.
Dwarfed by his logic, yet refusing to be thwarted, I probed once more. "Okay, what was the significance of Socrates' magical number?"
He countered with a stipulation. "Before I answer that, first tell me what the followers of Charles Manson and today's young, professional middle class have in common."
Discombobulation. I mean, talk about your dichotomies. Knowing the answer must be arcane and full of deep, impenetrable wisdom, I feared an inane response. Tentatively I ventured, "Are they maybe both adherents of a radical, hedonistic, self-serving, self-centered, morally repugnant, political philosophy?"
"No," he chortled, "they're both yuppies!"
I experienced a moment of total empathy with Sir Gawain as he awaited the Green Knight's blow. Such profundity was beyond my ken. Pythagoras seemed to sense my discomfiture. "Don't look so disappointed, kid. Hey, want to know a great maxim?"
"Sure," I mumbled.
"All right. The next time a member of that fair and wondrous species asks you to tell her how old you think she is, remember this. In your mind, estimate her real age. Next,
divide your number by two. Then, to the result, add ten, or for those of more mature years, fifteen. Using my formula, your answer will always be close enough to the truth not to be insulting, yet far enough away from it to remain flattering."
Obviously I was dubious. "And this really works?"
The old guy gave me a sly smile. "Kid, would I lie to you?"