The Only Prize That Matters

“Wow!  As I look out upon all of your expectant faces, it occurs to me that I should have written a speech.”  Given the circumstances, the line was funny in and of itself.  Delivered with a gulp that would have done Beatle Baily proud, it all but slayed.  It helped that mathematicians aren’t one whit as stodgy as the world purports; not even in Norway!  Moreover, it didn’t hurt that as soon as I landed the line I dropped the “aw-shucks” persona.  It was a poor illusion, anyway; as anyone could tell by simply examining the excellent fit of my “monkey suit.”

The irony of it all was that I had indeed failed to prepare, and had nothing of weighty substance to impart.  Under other circumstances, I might have prepped for weeks, and not only because the King and Queen were in the front row.  Being SOL, though, I punted.  “It’s true!”  Then holding both of my hands palms upward and out to the side, I shrugged and repeated myself.  “It’s totally true!  I’d intended to write a speech, but then I, well, I, errrr, I met a girl.” Yanking my collar and mugging a grimace a ’la Dangerfield got me another huge laugh.

“Yep!  I’m thinking that you all know what I’m talking about.”  Then, in a confidential stage whisper, I went on.  “If you must really know, she’s here with me tonight, and it’s our . . . very . . . first . . . date.”  Collective gasp, right on cue.  Raising my hand, I turned to face her table then did an awkward little finger wave.

Suddenly, every eye in the hall went to Rebecca; no mean feat considering her diminutive height combined with her all too obvious attempt to shrink into the seat.  The room was a bit too dim to tell for sure, but even so, it was a good bet that I’d made her blush.

“I know what you’re all thinking: righteous move!”  Another big laugh, although this one came with a soupçon of discomfort.  It’s one thing to play the amiable idiot, but quite another to toy with a woman’s feelings in public.  If I brought things full circle, got her to somehow accept my shenanigans, then they’d certainly applaud me.  On the other hand, if I failed to turn things around, they’d be just as quick to meet me with outright derision.  It was “out of the frying pan and into the fire” time; my favorite slice of the day!

“In my defense, the original plan was to fly in yesterday, so we could tour Oslo together today.  I even managed to wangle a reservation to De Fem Stuer!”  The last caused a bunch of eyes to widen.  “That would have been a proper date; doncha think?  Unfortunately, we had to skirt the Eyjafjallajökull plume…”  I let the sentence hang for a good ten seconds, to give the entire audience a chance to catch on.  “Yep!  Well, it took us 22 long hours—on three separate planes—to get here, so you could say that we had a “transport-horror” date instead!”  As simple as that, I had ‘em back.  Time to land the knockout punch.

“Anyway, we made it into town a couple of hours ago, and if I may be so bold, I’ve never been on a better date in my entire life!”

Gallantry in the face of adversity.  They were on the edge of their seats; avid to hear more.

“Unfortunately, and it pains me to say this, I’m guessing that Rebecca won’t say the same!”

My assertion was met with faint protestations.  Seatmates turned to seatmates to ask each other how such a thing could be.  In the meantime, I began to walk—in what must have surely been a clear contravention of protocol—down from the dais and over to Rebecca’s table.

“Now for me, the whole thing was a bit of a cake walk. I mean, just look at her.  Any man would be thrilled to be in the same room with such a beauty, let alone to be granted the privilege of squiring her on a date.  On the other hand,” and then I pointed to my noggin’ with both of my forefingers to make my case, “not so much.”

More protestations.

“Even worse, well you got to put things in perspective.  I mean, I’m counted one of the smartest dudes alive.  You’re giving me an Abel, for god’s sake.  Given that, you’d think that I’d be the clever one in the room.  But no, with Rebecca, it’s not even close.”  Having reached her table, I did a little bow, then went on: “You have to understand that Rebecca is ridiculously smart smart.  I’m talking fucking polymath-translates-cuneiform-into-Coptic-while-composing-a-symphony-in-synchrony-with-the-sound-of-her-Sopwith-Camel-as-she-tears-loop-di-loops-through-the-sky smart.”

Reaching for her hand, I helped her up onto to her feet.  Someone, in the meantime, had raised the house lights, so the entire room could get a good look at the show.  Rebecca sported a serious frown on her face, but I could tell at once, from the twinkle in her eyes, that she had got with the program and was only acting mad for show.  Like I said: smart girl!

“My big screw-up occurred, about an hour before we landed at Gardermoen.  I dared to suggest that I was making progress on the Hooge Conjecture.  You would have thought that I was on fairly safe ground, given that mathematics was my field.  But no, she all but wiped the floor with me.”  Pulling a face, I continued:  “That would have been OK, but—if you must know—I acted like a mincing prat, and all but threw a tantrum.  You know how it goes, you want something really bad, so you subconsciously do everything to shoot yourself in the foot.”  Nodding my head, again, I went on.  “Well, that was me.  In spades!”

Turning to face Rebecca, the best I could manage was to hoarsely whisper a single word of apology: “I’m…”  I had pitched my entire speech as if it was a greatly embellished story, but truth be told, it was word-for-word true.  More to the point, I was absolutely besotted with the girl, and until I saw her twinkling eyes, I had been utterly convinced that I had irrevocably blown it.  Seeing her conspiratorial demeanor, though, it suddenly felt like the air had been let back into my lungs.

The room of course, would have none of this.  Within seconds, they were on their feet, clapping and yelling, saying all sorts of unintelligible things; all but commanding the girl to make up with me.  For a wonder, she did; kissing me hard.

It took a while to come back to my senses, but the second I did, I all but dragged her out of the room.  Running through hallways and down stairs, she ultimately brought me up short right before we passed through the main door.  “But the prize…”

Smart girl, she was of course correct.  Even so, she was also totally wrong.  Tilting her face upward so I could meet her gaze, I stated the obvious: “I’ve already won the only prize that matters,” then kissed her again.

I’m not so stupid, myself, as it turns out!

Louis S. Berman
Drexel Hill, PA, February 28th, 2013

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