omer bar-or · The Plan Askew

NaNo 2007: Nov. 26 (final)

Written: December 3rd, 2007, 9:13 (UTC) By: omer 0 comments

Note: this post is part of an ongoing novel. You should probably start at the beginning here.

Note 2: this is the final section of the novel. Thanks for reading, and I hope that you have enjoyed it!

The novel continues here.

He thought, I can't believe I'm making this up!, but in thinking about thinking, he instantly brought the whole magic of creativity to a halt, and could only mutter, after a long pause punctuated by Toff's curious glances in his direction, "Yeah... That's as far as I've gotten so far with it... But, I thought... that you might want to take part."

Toff, luckily, was ecstatic. She shrieked, "Of course! That sounds awesome!" Then, in a (slightly) calmer tone, she began flying through ideas, like characters named for Aristotle, Boole, Leibniz, and so forth, or cards that give you pieces of information (like "not Wednesday" or "not Wednesday implies not ice cream"), and your goal is to derive something using those facts, or something like Taboo, with teams, a time limit, and one person trying to have her team derive something given a some fun-forcing restrictions. And on and on her ideas went.

Orr smiled and nodded at them, thinking many were good, many impossible, and others nonsensical, but mostly happy to watch Toff so beside herself with excitement, and he wondered if he had perhaps accidentally landed upon a successful idea. But, even as he thought it, and the bubbling heat of ego rushed up through him, he pushed hard to tear it back down, to remain only someone trying to enjoy himself with friends, desperate only for good experiences. And, on thinking this, he pushed away his self-consciousness and began theorizing about how to implement or supplement Toff's ideas, and the two were quickly immersed into the same endless world of a newly begun project.

And, they reached Columbia without even realizing that they had walked instead of taking the subway.


Two days later, Orr, for the first time since he began attending, looked behind him in his logic class just before the class began. He spotted Toff instantly and smiled at her. Tom had grown his hair out, was wearing the scruffy beginnings of a beard, and kept his head low, so it took Orr until after the class began to spot him. But, as soon as he did, he couldn't keep his eyes off of his old friend. He missed most of the lecture (which was about Bertrand Russell, the present king of France, and definite descriptions), turning as often as he could to glimpse Tom's altered state.

Tom had hair to the bottom of his ears; he no longer wore glasses; his face had grown more slender, almost gaunt, and he had worn so many holes into the parts of the long sweatshirt he was wearing that Orr wondered if it protected him at all from the cold. On his tenth glance, Orr noticed that Tom's hair also looked different; it looked wiry and fragile. Two glances later, he noticed that Tom's eyes were now different colors, though he couldn't tell which from the distance, and that there were dark lines under Tom's eyes. And, another five glances after that, he saw a small cut on Tom's right cheek.

By now, class was coming to an end, and Orr finally settled into his seat and looked at the professor, who shot him a frown, intending (he feared) that his negligence would cost him dearly in what had been her growing favor.

Oh well, he thought, and stared at the front of the room, unable to understand anything.

When the class ended, Orr navigated his way through the crowds to intercept Tom, but Tom had grown adept at leaving the room quickly (though not as quickly, Orr noticed, as Toff, who appeared to have simply vanished as soon as everyone else began standing). He dashed out of the classroom and glanced around, finally spotting some bouncing hair and the half-back of a shirt that could only be Tom's. He hurled himself toward that area, barely avoiding the oncoming students and all but colliding with the students moving in his direction as well.

And, soon, he was right behind his former friend, mesmerized by the bouncing hair, and found himself staring at it, unable to accelerate. What had he wanted to say? What did he expect Tom to say?

He took five large steps and was beside Tom. He said, "Hey, Tom."

Tom looked over at him and then stopped suddenly. Orr, who had not expected this behavior, continued a half-step farther and almost collapsed in his attempt to stop. He turned to face Tom. Students around them were grumbling about the unnecessary obstacle in the hallway. One girl muttered, "People are so insensitive!"

Orr grinned.

Tom, again without warning, began walking again and, as he passed Orr, who was struggling to turn back and begin walking alongside Tom all at once, said, "Hi, Orr. Listen, I gotta go."

Orr called, "Wait!" and though Tom didn't, Orr managed to catch up. He started, "I'm..."

But, Tom cut him off. "It's okay. Don't apologize. I'm just late for a meeting."

Orr said, "A meeting?"

Tom said, "Yeah, I'll talk to you later."

And, at that moment, they reached the door outside, and Tom took off at a run.

Orr thought, I'm going to need a better strategy. But, he was also going to be late if he didn't hurry back inside.


Orr spent his next class deciding how he should next approach Tom. His most obvious option, to look him up and call him, sounded at first appealing, but Tom's antisocial look and mannerisms reminded Orr too much of himself two months prior, and he decided that Tom likely would not answer arbitrary phone calls. But, the thought of himself gave him another idea, or (rather) reminded him of how others had gotten a hold of him: unexpected visits. And, with barely another thought, he decided that this would be his best plan.

That evening, he found Tom's room and knocked on his door. The door was framed in leis, and a large whiteboard covered the door itself, with the words, "We love you, Tom! Hen&Ted " written in blue marker (though the marker itself was no longer around). Attached both sides of the doorframe, now lying deflated on the floor, were two balloons, one blue and one white.

Someone was moving around inside, and after a few seconds, Tom opened the door.

Tom said, "Oh, hi, Orr."

Orr said, "Hey, Tom."

They stood in silence, Orr unable (again) to decide on a speaking algorithm, and Tom for his own reasons.

Finally, Orr said, "Mind if I come in?"

Tom thought for a moment and then said, "Not at all! ... You'll have to be quick, though. I'm pretty busy." And, he led Orr into the room.

It was a single room, with the bed unlofted, and little extra space because of it. The room was perfectly neat, including the bed, but the room also looked empty; no posters lined its walls, and the only signs that someone lived here were the blankets on the bed, the computer and some papers and books on the desk, and the man standing before him, motioning for him to take the lone chair.

After Orr sat down, Tom sat on the bed. They stared at each other.

Orr said, "It's been a while," and he chuckled.

Tom said, "Yeah." He smiled slightly and for a moment.

Again, they stared at each other in silence. And, again Orr broke it, this time with more gumption.

He said, "Okay, so the thing is this... I'm sorry it took me so long to figure things out... but I'm ready to ask my friend for help."

Tom said, "Help?"

Orr said, "Yeah. I'm pretty unhappy."

Tom said, "And, you want therapy?"

Orr said, "No, I want friends... I want people with whom to enjoy myself."

Tom said, "Well, I'm sorry, Orr. I waited a long time, I did, but I've got my own friends now. I'm not the Tom you used to know."

Orr said, "But, I'm not the Orr you used to know either. Just give me a chance, see if you can deign to be my friend. It can't cost you anything but time."

Tom thought about this notion for some time. He looked around his room. Then back at Orr. Then around his room again. He said, "I just don't see it happening. I'm sorry, Orr... But, I'm pretty busy these days. Time is something I can't really afford"

Orr said, "That's fine. I'm not asking for all of your time, just a day, an hour, even half an hour. And, if you can't afford it now, maybe in a week, or next semester. But, eventually, some time has to free up, and I'd like to ground it as soon as it's free."

Tom nodded and said, "Okay." But, he refused to smile.

Orr smiled at him and said, "Thanks."

Again, silence overcame the room. Tom looked at his watch and opened his mouth, waited for another moment, then closed it again.

Orr, not sure what else to say, said, "So, Toff and I are making a game."

Tom jerked his head up immediately. He said, "Toff?"

Orr said, "Yeah."

Tom looked down again and began scratching at his knee. He said, "How is she, anyway?"

Orr said, "She's good, I think. As excitable as always."

Tom nodded in painstaking absentmindedness. He said, "You hang out with her a lot, then?"

Orr said, "I didn't." He paused. "I mean, I did... and then I didn't."

Tom looked up at him, one eyebrow raised well above the other. It was the first familiar look that Orr had seen and he smiled at it.

Orr said, "We hung out for a while, then stopped, and now I think we're starting again."

Tom said, "Sounds melodramatic."

Orr said, "Not really."

Tom said, "Ahh..."

Orr said, "Anyway, I know I'm not the best person to be running about giving advice, but... You should apologize."

Tom said, "I did." He looked down again.

Orr said, "Again."

Tom said, "I did a lot." His voice was rising.

Orr said, "More then."

Tom looked up at Orr again. His eyes were narrow, and tears were forming in them. He said, "And, what's the point?"

Orr said, "Because..."

But, Tom interrupted him. "What should I have done?"

Orr said, "I'm not saying you did anything wrong. You should apologize because you hurt her."

Tom's mood improved an infinitesimal amount. He said, "She doesn't want to talk to me."

Orr said, "I don't think that not apologizing will help that."

Tom said, "Whatever." He shrugged.

Orr suppressed a sigh and said, "I can't force you to do it. But, I think it's the only chance you've got to save that friendship... If you want to."

Tom nodded. He said, "Yeah. Okay." Then, after a tiny pause, said, "I should probably get back to work."

Orr said, "Okay." He stood. "Let me know if and when you want to hang out. I'm a bit busy, but I'll make time."

Tom said, "Yeah, you and your six classes." He shook his head. "Maybe next weekend."

Orr nodded and said, "Give me a call."

And, he walked out the door.


The following Friday, Toff called Orr and asked if he wasn't busy and minded a study partner, and he (without any hesitation) said that he would not mind at all. And, that evening, they ate dinner together and spent the night studying.

At dinner, Toff showed Orr some scrawled notes she had written over the past six days about the game. Mostly, it was a list of names, from "The Modus Pony" to "The Lion-Hearted Oiler" to "Fragley" (who is known to yell, "Frege!" when he gets excited), and so forth. She had also developed something she called a "randomized riddle." That is, any normal riddle in a game would be too easy to solve after a few times playing. Toff's solution was a riddle whose contents depended on a couple of dice. It was based on the classic cannibals and other people trying to cross a river on a boat that can only fit two people. But, the exact characters (and tools) appearing in the Toff's scenario depended completely on dice. First, two cannibals and two logicians are added to side 1, along with the boat; then, the player would roll dice until she rolled a double (both dice having the same side up), and each other roll would add a new character or a new tool, partly depending on other factors in the game, and partly just by luck. For example, a roll of 1 2 might add a child and her parent to side 1, and the child is unwilling to go on a boat without her parent alongside her. Or 4 3 might add a dog on one side and a cat on the other, each of which must be accompanied by a human and which cannot be on the same side unless there are at least three humans to keep them apart. And, so forth. Some such riddles might be impossible (e.g., a roll of 6 2, which brings 2 cows to side 1, neither of which can fit on a boat), and some might be easy (e.g., a roll of 5 6, which brings a hot air balloon to side 1, thus allowing as many as 10 people (or 2 cows) to cross the river at once if they so desire). But, in the end, most would be designed to be challenging in unique ways in any given situation.

Orr listened to these ideas with a growing sense of awe and shame, having not thought about the game at all, and with growing interest because the ideas wrought in him an image of how the game might actually look.

Toff's description of her work took them through dinner, and Orr didn't have to explain that he had not progressed them at all until they began their walk back.

As they left the dining hall, he said, "Well, those are some awesome ideas--I'm sorry that I don't have any to add."

Toff said, "It's okay. You've got lots to do. And, I understand that you've been trying to woo Tom as well." She shot Orr a mischievous grin.

Orr said, "Yeah... Well..."

Toff said, "He's a hard sell."

Orr nodded.

Toff grinned at him again and said, "I hear that you also discussed me with him."

Orr said, "Well..." He realized that it was probably insensitive of him to have talked about her with Tom, and he was about to apologize, but Toff spoke before he had a chance.

She said, "Thanks. I can't say I'm any less angry at him, but it was nice to hear him apologize."

Orr said, "He apologized?"

Toff said, "Yeah, he wrote me a poem."

Orr said, "A poem?"

Toff said, "Yeah, a sonnet."

Orr said, "Wow."

Toff grinned at him for a third time, and this time, he returned her grin, and the two friends laughed together in the cold night.

Then, Toff mentioned the abstract direction that the logic course had taken (including first Russel's definite descriptions and then Frege's sense and reference in order to try to capture the expressive power of natural languages), and Orr took the opportunity to freshen up on the former topic, which he had missed in his initial obsession with Tom.

When the two arrived at Orr's room, Orr was surprised to find a figure huddled against the door, wearing a large coat, scarf, and hat. He thought, at first, that it was Mike, with new clothing, but Toff said, "Hi, Tom!" as they approached. And, when they reached the door, she added, "I'm glad to see you haven't been waiting long."

Tom looked up, uncoiled his scarf to reveal his scraggly face, and said, "Hi, guys!" He stood up.

Orr, dumbfounded, fumbled with his key to open the door and let the two in. He said, "What are you doing here, Tom?"

Tom waited to answer until they were all inside, Orr in his chair, Toff in Mike's, and Tom on the floor, at which point he grinned at Orr and said, "You're, what, the last person not to own a cell phone? You wanted to hang out, but I couldn't get a hold of you, so I had to call Toff here." He smiled at her. "Well, I might have called her before I tried to call you, but the point still stands."

Orr said, "The point?"

Tom said, "So, I hear that we're going to be studying some logic together."

Toff said, "I invited him to join us."

Tom smiled again. He said, "It might not be my most exciting Friday night ever, but I'm excited for it all the same!" And, after a pause, he added, "Should we start with the definite descriptions? I'm sure that they'll show up on the final."

Toff nodded and said, "Okay."

Orr nodded too, not completely sure with what he was agreeing, for his wordless perplexity at seeing Tom had slowly transformed into thoughtful perplexity. Is it really that simple? Are we suddenly friends again, in a matter of a week?

A rising deluge of success was beginning to flood over him, and he blushed. But, even now, when the newness of their time together brought out the forgiving, the jocular, and the generally friendly in all of them, before the quotidian struggles of different personalities and insurmountable pasts once more submerged them into cold emotion, Orr could see that emotion still surging underneath, hiding behind Tom's laugh, and Toff's grins. They were barely looking at each other, and Tom looked at Orr's Adam's apple instead of his face when he spoke to him. A part of Orr hoped that these mild discomforts were also a part of the newness of their experience and that they would soon drift away, but another part worried that the simple friendships of high school could never be relived, that only adult friendships were possible now.

And, even as Orr had this thought, he realized once more that walls were being built around him, limiting what he could do and who he could be. But, now, because he had torn away so much, he looked upon the vast expanse of his belief system and saw it for what it was: an engineering problem, a space where walls needed to be built, but could be built intelligently, self-consciously, and above all, elegantly, and that the resulting person, if designed correctly, could be an elegant mixture of happiness and productivity, of social conformance and individualism, of radical ingenuity and common sense. And, for the first time in over four years, Orr had inadvertently discovered a project worthy of a child prodigy.

He looked up. Tom and Toff were both looking at him quizzically, having perhaps noticed how long he had been silent.

He told a joke about a man made out of jello.

Everybody laughed.


NaNo 2007: Nov. 25 (the penultimate)

Written: December 2nd, 2007, 12:30 (UTC) By: omer 0 comments

Note: this post is part of an ongoing novel. You should probably start at the beginning here.

The novel continues here.

But, was Toff really the sort of person to only digest originality that was original in an unoriginal way? Orr had perhaps thought of his friends as trying to be normal and had rejected them for that attempt, but he had never thought of his friends as actually being normal under whatever facades they put on; and thus, they were not they the sorts of people who would reject originality in any form. But, suddenly, the thought occurred to him, was Toff simply not original enough to accept his emotion?

Orr remained silent throughout the rest of dinner, until Sarah forced him into a game of team Scrabble, which given that most of the group had revealed excessive gratitude for wine, soon devolved into hormone-rich social games like "I am a cool guy," and "I am a pretty girl, but I don't care about that shit." Orr's combination of derision and fascination distracted him from his thoughts for the remainder of the evening.

But, as he took the subway home, the question flashed once more in his brain, and even as he fought it with a fierce review session of the the various data structures he had learned thus far, he found himself, suddenly thinking, for example, Maybe she's not worth liking after all... and was forced to redouble his efforts: How does an AVL tree work? ... Well, when a new node... And, only the next morning had the question been fully relegated to his long-term memory.

The second time that Toff refused to vacate Orr's consciousness was in fact a direct product of his strategy of defense. As soon as the late November quizzes were over, his brain demanded temporary relief from the rigorous coursework, but the instant he consented, Toff flooded in once more, and now refused to leave. But the week-long pressure-cooker of his subconscious had worked wonders on the question of Toff, her originality, and whether Orr should like her at all. The first thought that came to him was, This is your problem. You're stuck in a Godelian bind. And, he was. If he consented that Toff was unoriginal, then he decided that she was not worth liking, and the ease with which this decision came to him suggested that he had never really liked her very much in the first place, which revealed that (after all) she was correct and not unoriginal at all, which made her quite intelligent and wise in Orr's eyes and brought a familiar jump to his esophagus, implying that he did in fact like her, and thus that she was incorrect in her judgment of him and thus unoriginal after all. And so forth.

He sat and reflected on this cycle of self-contradiction, then he went to lunch, sitting in a far corner to avoid being seen, and reflected on it, and when he went to sleep, he lay down and reflected on it. What does it mean to like someone? Is it the jump in one's insides or the blindness in one's judgment of the other person? Or is it just being distracted when they're around? Or, or, or.

It took him until Saturday evening to solve his riddle. But, his solution was elegant and precise, and would have made Toff proud. His conclusion, in its infinite simplicity was this: whatever. Lest this conclusion fail to emit the proper level of appreciation, it should not be confused with an arbitrary decision to set aside a question as too difficult, nor as an apathetic mantra. Rather, to Orr, "whatever" implied a fault in the riddle itself. That is, the questions of whether Toff was a perfect creature, whether Orr's internal movements resulted from attraction or not, and so forth, were less interesting than (for example) the unworldly questions of whether Curiosity (or Jack) killed the cat, how to turn giant "S"s into (equivalent) giant sigmas, and how to ensure that a tree maintains a B+. In other words, Orr's "whatever" was the most highly intellectual "whatever" with which that word had ever been bequeathed.

And, Orr ran with it.

He pulled the hook of "whatever" onto every aspect of his worried life, from his abandoning of his friends and family for fear of losing intellectualism to his absurd belief that living in squalor increased his intellectual prowess. "Whatever" became a weapon for him. He discovered dozens of walls that he had set up for himself for what now seemed no reason at all and quickly set about disposing of them. And, in the end, he realized that even the "whatever" weapon was something for which he took unnecessary pride, that it too had become a hindrance needing to be torn asunder, and so he set it to its own self-destruction and stared at what remained of his once cluttered belief system: a single structure to hold the tenet that learning was worthwhile, the tenet on which "whatever" had initially been based, and even it, which had stood throughout Orr's life, found itself on shaky ground, close to collapse. And, with that, he smiled, climbed into bed, and lay in it staring at the ceiling and drifting.


Orr awoke two hours later, with the feeling that he had no interest in disembarking from his bed, and yet, he thought, he had no choice. He wanted a new life, a life without the arbitrary walls that slowly narrow a person down until only their habits remain, a life in which the choices he made were based on simple truths, not complex conjectures about murky things like feelings and opinions. And, more than anything, he wanted to enjoy himself now that he was unfettered by the chains of his youth. In three weeks, he would be free of the idiotic, egotistic decision to take six courses, and he wanted to have friends with whom to celebrate and with whom to then spend time the following semester and years.

So, he set about rekindling his old friendships with the little bit of time he had left. He had no false premonition that he would come upon Toff and Tom dancing in the quad, merrily beckoning for him to join them with all forgotten, but he hoped that his honesty and perseverance would woo the two and perhaps even convince Toff to accept Tom's company again. (It is always so easy to be honest and to persevere in one's imagination.)

His plan was simple: he would accost first Toff and then Tom and convince each in turn that they should all spend time together once more, especially given the upcoming break. And, if they had other friends (Dan, for example), Orr would be all the happier, if only for the opportunity to make some new friends of his own.

And, with that thought, he jumped out of bed (banging his head on the ceiling), collapsed down the stairs, and proceeded to dial Toff's number to enact his plan as quickly as possible.

She didn't answer.

But, even as her phone rang, and her voice mail kicked in with its shrill, uncomfortable, "You've just called..." Orr's brain (now practiced in creativity) had concocted another scheme to find her, extracting somehow the phone number that Dan Copod had recited to Toff over three weeks prior: 754-631-8200, and even as he tried to make sense of a complete plan in his head, his fingers were already dialing the number with deft speed. And, now, in an instant, somebody answered.

The voice said, "Woodbury!"

Orr, confused, said, "Dan?"

The voice said, "I am sorry." And, Orr heard the almost inaudible click that marked the end of a cell phone call.

Though momentarily confused by the call, his brain was already hard at work on another solution. It analyzed haphazardly which places Toff could be. He doubted that she would ignore his call, which suggested that she was either watching a movie or was otherwise preoccupied... perhaps spending intimate time with Dan (the thought of which, to Orr's pleasant surprise, did not cause him the slightest uneasiness). The latter was more likely but the former more useful, because he could not very well barge in and interrupt a couple's time together, but he could loiter around a movie theater and wait for movies to end. (Doing nothing was, of course, not an option.)

So, Orr grabbed his calculus textbook and took the subway South to the closest movie theater to Columbia, hoping he wouldn't miss Toff as she departed from the theater, if she had ever gone.

It was, fortunately, a short ride, and one that brought Orr to the theater just as late night movies were ending. Unfortunately, his brain had been so set on the goal of discovering Toff that it had neglected the slightly less pressing goal of not freezing to death. And, the burgeoning winter, whose only goal is to freeze as thoroughly as possible, entertained Orr with blasts of frozen wind. In response, Orr took to jogging in small circles around the sidewalk and almost tripped at every half-second.

Just after his thirtieth trip, Toff's voice from directly in front of him said, "Orr?"

He looked up. At first he didn't recognize her, now with normal hair again, and a giant, white parka, but the voice had given her away, and he smiled.

She said, "What are you doing here?"

Orr said, "Looking for you."

Toff said, "For me?" She donned a bemused smile.

Orr said, "Yeah. I called you." He was out of breath. "And, you didn't answer." Another breath. "So, I thought you might be here."

Toff said, "And if I weren't?"

Orr said, "I'd have to think some more."

Toff said, "I see."

Orr said, "I'm sorry..." He was becoming cold again. "Mind if we start heading back?"

Toff said, "Not at all," and she started walking away from the theater.

It was only at this juncture that Orr noticed that she was alone.

He said, "Where's Dan?"

Toff paused in front of him and looked back. She said, "Oh... long... story."

Orr nodded, though she couldn't see him, and said, "I'm sorry." He caught up to Toff, and the two started walking together.

Toff said, "It's okay. It wasn't your fault."

Orr said, "True."

They walked in silence. Orr had twice attempted to apologize unsuccessfully. And, he felt a voice inside ridiculing him, insinuating that any further attempt must be prohibited at all costs. At one time, this would have stopped Orr.

He said, "Well, actually, I'm really sorry that I disappeared on you."

Toff turned to look at him as she walked and almost collided into a leather-jacket-wearing Jerry Seinfeld lookalike. She said, "It's... It's okay. I was kind of a bitch to you."

Orr said, "No..."

Toff said, "Yeah, I shouldn't have told you how you feel. That's ridiculous."

Orr wondered for a second if she was right. He said, "Whatever."

They walked in silence again.

Orr said, "So, the thing is this. I want to be friends again. And, I want us to be friends with Tom too. I really want to spend time with you two again."

Toff turned to look at him again and almost ran into what looked like the same person. Her body stiffened. She said, "I... I don't think so." She paused. "I mean, I'd love to hang out with you, but I'm done with Tom."

Orr nodded. He said, "I figured, I guess. It's just... and I mean no disrespect at all... but, I don't think he really did much wrong." She didn't respond, so he continued. "I mean, he shouldn't have led you on, but the thing is, we were all really good friends, and I don't think he was wrong to spend so much time with you."

Toff, her voice low, said, "I don't think that he was really that wrong, morally, but he still hurt me, a lot, and I have no interest in talking to people who hurt me like that, for better or worse."

Orr nodded again. He said, "I can't argue with that. Then let's us two hang out. And, I'll go see how Tom's doing by myself."

Toff, her body still stiff, her voice still low, said, "Okay."

Another pause.

Orr said, "So, changing topics... I had this idea for a game, and I thought that you and I could maybe make it together."

Toff, still sullen, but with voice rising and tinged with curiosity, said, "A game?"

Orr said, "Yeah. A logic-based board game."

He had her full attention now. And his own, since the idea was coming to him as he spoke it.

NaNo 2007: Nov. 22-24 (the antepenultimate)

Written: December 1st, 2007, 11:03 (UTC) By: omer 0 comments

Note: this post is part of an ongoing novel. You should probably start at the beginning here.

The novel continues here.

Toff chuckled politely. And, Orr joined her. Dan grinned at them.

"Anyway," he said. "What's your number?"

She told him, and he wrote it down, and grinned his grin again before saying to Toff, "I guess I'll be seeing you later, Toff!" and to Orr, "Bye!"

Both Toff and Orr said "Bye," the former as a twitter, the latter as a mutter. And, Dan turned and walked away.

"How ironic," said Toff, but before Orr could ask for details, she added, "I think that was a good meeting. Don't you?" and the two of them discussed the meeting until they reached Toff's room and took to studying.


As Toff began spending more and more time with Dan, Orr found himself one more study-partner-less. The beginning of this period also coincided with Orr's first quizzes since the midterms, and his increased socializing (along with the increased sleeping in which he took part upon the dozens of requests by both Toff and Sarah) had taken their toll on his grades. So, with hurt feelings and hurt ego, Orr resolved to redouble his scholastic efforts, and though he had experienced first-hand the advantages of sleep, he found little reason to spend so much time socializing with someone who obviously preferred the company of another.

So, Toff's occasional offers of company were rejected, though Orr tried to let her down optimistically ("I'm cramming tonight, but soon!" "Don't worry about me. Go hang out with Dan! I understand!") Orr's lies to satisfy Toff both helped heal his ego and also kept her largely out of his life. But, when he missed two Love Minus Art meetings in a row, after only attending one more and being so undone by Dan's and Toff's teaming polemics that he decided never to attend another in his life, Toff reverted to old methods for contacting Orr. She knocked on his door one day without warning.

Orr was, of course, studying, and he had hit a point in several of his courses (a point common to many courses, especially in mathematics and computer science) where everything was making sense to him. They were using the same strategies over and over again, and though the strategies were complex, he had finally gotten a hold of them, and could easily apply them to even new material. (This point is normally succeeded by stranger and stranger moves away from the main topic of the course, which make up the subject-matter of higher-level courses and reveal to the aspiring student that she does, indeed, still know essentially nothing of relevance.)

He had expected Toff and knew that avoiding her would be childish, so he opened the door when she knocked and let her in.

She said, "Hey, Orr!"

Orr said, "Hi there, Toff. How's it going?"

Toff said, "It's good. Things with Dan are still going well."

Orr said, "That's good..." He wondered if he should ask her to leave.

Toff said, "So, you've been missing LMA meetings lately."

Orr said, "Yeah. Sorry, I've been busy. I didn't do so well on my quizzes. I had some quizzes last week, and I really didn't do well on them. So, I decided to study more. To do better on the next quizzes. And on the finals. Too. Sorry."

Toff said, "Yeah, I guess I figured. If you want any help... you know that I'd love to have a study partner."

This sounded vaguely familiar to Orr, but the familiarity was drowned out by the burst in his lungs that accompanied the reminder that Toff already had a partner.

And, try as he might to hide his thoughts, as he said, "No, you hang out with Dan; that's perfectly fine," his voice broke and gave him away.

Toff's eyes widened. She said, "Oh, you're upset about Dan?!"

This mock, he assumed, surprise was too much for Orr. He started speaking too quickly for his consciousness to process what he meant. He said, "Obviously! You know that!"

Toff started, "I..." and then her eyebrows fell and her mouth tightened into a look for frustration.

Orr continued, still not fully processing his words before launching them, "And, you got over Tom in, what, a week? Two? After he defined your life for four years?" After Orr spoke, as he awaited Toff's response, and watched her consternation grow, and her eyes grow watery, part of him knew that he was hurting Toff, and on purpose, and that it was wrong, but the majority of him felt justified, that he was hurt and that what he was saying was both true and honest, and her insensitivity allowed him to be insensitive too.

Toff, her voice rising and falling like a metronome, said, "What do you think? I'm with Dan to get back at Tom?" She waited for Orr to respond, and he, though this was exactly what he thought, refused to do so. So, she said, "I'm with Dan because he makes me happy, and I'm still getting over Tom, and Dan knows that, but at least we both like each other. It's not obsession and... indifference!"

Orr felt ignored, like his real concern was so obvious, so out in the open, and it was her job to bring it up. So, he waited, fuming.

She, after waiting in vain for him to speak, said, "And, so what if I were getting back at Tom? That might be unfair to Dan or to Tom, but what does it have to do with you?"

Orr exploded for a second time, but now this time he felt more in control, and yet necessitated by the moment, as if he were an actor in his own life, because the moment was simply too perfect for him not to admit, in an over-the-top yell, "Because I like you!" And, that was what he did.

Toff, despite the tears brimming in her eyes, chuckled a little. She said, "Really?"

Orr wondered whether perhaps Toff liked him too, whether she had been waiting for him to say something, and whether now she would break up with Dan over him. He smiled and said, "Yeah."

Toff said, "Orr... I don't mean to be insensitive..." Orr's smile collapsed. Toff said, "I just... really?"

Orr said, "Yes."

Toff said, "I..." She looked away from Orr and frowned. "Isn't that a little... cliche for you?"

Orr said, "Cliche...?"

Toff said, "Yeah... You were always so adamant about being different, about avoiding silly things like this because they just got in the way of a unique, meaningful life."

Orr said, "silly...?"

Toff said, "Yeah... And, it's so obvious. I'm a friend who disappears and suddenly reappears and looks attractive? And, I'm the girl who came and saved you from your life? Each of those accounts for, like, half of Hollywood's romantic comedy plotlines."

It took Orr a long time to come up with an answer that was longer than a single questioning word, but he resolved to do it and came up with: "But, cliche or not, I still like you!"

Toff said, "Really? I guess my point is, I've seen people who like each other, and though they might look different on some levels, there's an underlying sameness to how they act... and you don't act like that. You might try to spend more time with me, sure, but when we're together, you're content to study or eat. You know how much my grades have risen since I started studying with you instead of Tom? Now that I can actually concentrate? It's unbelievable."

Orr said, "Are... are you saying that I don't like you?"

Toff said, "No, that's not really fair of me to say... but... yeah, I guess that's what I'm saying anyway."

Orr said, "I see." And, he couldn't thinking of any way of continuing.

After a pause, Toff said, "It's just... I think you want to like me because... well... that's what you're supposed to do to someone of the opposite sex who helps you fix your life."

Orr said, "And, I can't both like you and have you be someone who helped me fix my life? And, since when do you think that you saved my life?!"

Toff said, "I... I don't know, Orr. Maybe that was presumptuous of me."

Orr hated that every time he got into a conversation with someone, they always somehow took control of the conversation. He said, "I think I want you to leave, Toff."

Toff sighed and said, "I guess that's fair... Can we talk later, though?"

Orr said, "Sure," but he was lying.

Toff smiled slightly. She said, "Thanks..." Then, she turned around and left.

But, before Orr could properly fume any more, he heard a muffled "Oh!" and a knock on the door.

He considered not opening it, but decided that she knew he was home and wouldn't leave until he did.

Toff was standing with a scrap of paper in her hand. She said, "I forgot. I really came by to give you this." And, she offered it to Orr.

Orr took it and looked at it. It was another riddle: "art - luv + val + ues = you"

Toff said, "Anyway, I'll leave you alone. I'm sorry, Orr." And, she walked away again.

Orr prevented himself from saying "Good bye" or "It's okay," and resolved to stop opening doors. This is your problem, he thought. You need a less predictable place to study!

Chapter VI: Whatever

Orr attempted to extract Toff, and the argument he had with her, from his consciousness, but never succeeded at it for long. Every time a thought of her would crop up, he dove headlong into the symbolic and abstract relief of his courses. When her accusing admissions replayed in his head as he tried to sleep, he hushed them with review or thoughts about studying more efficiently. He began studying in a dusty corner of the library, spending the walk there on a schedule and the walk back on review. He stopped answering the door unless he heard his sister's voice blasting from the other end. And, he spent Thanksgiving at NYU with her and her counter culture friends. This strategy worked for a week before Toff's voice first broke through his impregnable defenses and another week after that before it penetrated a second time. But, for the large part of two weeks, he studied Toff out of his brain, and did so with ever-increasing and ever-refining efficiency, so much so that his brain became once more accustomed to the exploration of creative solutions, and Orr began to grasp and excel at all of his material. So much had he improved in these two weeks that on the last pre-final tests, he scored the highest grade in half of his courses, and was in the top five in the rest.

The first event to break Orr's concentration happened at his sister's "Just Eat Shit, Then Rename Everything Tradition" (or "Jets Ret," which Sarah claimed means "Dead Light" in Spokane), and discovered that Toff's semi-pink hair was not a localized phenomenon; three of Sarah's friends had transformed their hair similarly: two men and one woman. Orr was seated next to one of the men, whose named it turned out was, "Thomas." Thomas considered himself an expert "in the art of Aphrodite" and upon seeing the "sad shell before him," decided that no person should look so beaten without being imparted with some valuable (and well-learned!) advice. And, though Orr tried to avoid hearing it, Thomas was adamant and soon subjected Orr to this veritable gem: "Listen, man. All you gotta do, what women really find irresistible, and trust me because I..." he pointed at himself to avoid any ambiguity, "... should know, the thing you gotta do is fucking create, create the fucking shit out of them; you gotta be a Goddamned Kerouac, brilliant and mysterious, spouting poetry out of your hand and fucking smoke out of your mouth." Thomas laughed. "Seriously, man. Pick up the guitar or some shit; paint in fucking Japanese on your chest. You just gotta do something, you know? Be the unique guy, the guy they remember, and they'll fucking pine after you." He laughed again and promptly turned to the woman across the table from him and started chatting her up.

Orr barely followed the inarticulate spew of advice, but the general idea, "be original" reminded him of Toff's accusation. After all, she had said that his experience of liking her was simply non-traditional and therefore false. Either the Aphrodite expert next to him was entirely incorrect (an obvious possibility) or originality could only be considered romantic if it took a predictable form: writing, music, art, and so forth.

NaNo 2007: Nov. 20/21

Written: November 30th, 2007, 8:31 (UTC) By: omer 0 comments

Note: this post is part of an ongoing novel. You should probably start at the beginning here.

The novel continues here.

Love minus art became an overnight success and an overnight failure almost on the same night. For the first ever meeting (the following Tuesday at dinner), Toff and Orr grouped three big, round tables together near the center of the dining hall. They also surrounded the tables with a few other tables in case, as Toff put it, "Some people want to remain anonymous listeners." And, in fact, though only five people other than Toff and Orr sat at the cluster of tables (so that other, larger groups soon asked for two of the three tables), many of the other tables were filled as before, with many of the same people, whose bodies would react to the speaking at the main table, but who would never look up from their food.

But, having seven speakers instead of one proved beneficial for the fledgling group. After Toff introduced the group as "a chance to think about love systematically," she launched into an opening monologue in her now standard dramatic style. She expounded on what it means to be blinded by love, and why it is not only unnecessary but also quite hazardous to any fledgling love. When she had finished, a muscled arm punched into the air, to request for its owner a chance to speak. Its owner was a bulky man, with the pudgy face of a twelve-year-old and a gray t-shirt (despite the cold outside) labeling him as "Camp Waterrunner Staff," who started to speak as soon as Toff nodded to him.

He said, "Hi, my name is Dan Copod. I'm in philosophy, like our fearless leader here, and I'm from Sunrise, Florida." He paused. Orr had begun disliking him. "So, I guess that this is only tangentially related to love, but I think that we should be careful in this group. Love is a pretty hard topic to talk about because people treat it as such a personal, individual experience. So, I guess, if we're going to try to get anywhere talking about it, I think that, though long speeches about the nature of love are a good starting point, they're based on a lot of assumptions about how love and our society work, and if we're really going to be systematic in our thinking, we should," he flinched, glancing for an infinitesimal point in time at Toff, "take our statements and research them in the sciences or social sciences, and philosophize about what we learn, not what we believe off-hand." He glanced at Toff again and made a goofy apologetic face, making his eyes and closed-lipped mouth as big as possible, then breaking it into a smile.

Toff suppressed a giggle that only Orr heard because, at that moment, a woman's voice broke in, saying, "Wait, so you're saying that, because love is so individual, we should study it scientifically? That doesn't make any sense."

She wasn't the only person to have this opinion. Several students nodded and murmured positively, and another student, an older looking one sporting a short beard said, "Yeah. Love is exactly the topic that can't be talked about with complete systematicity because in systematizing it, you make it no longer love!"

And, another student, on the heels of the previous speaker, added, "For my part, even if researching or systematizing or whatever would teach us the most, I don't have that kind of time. I'm already in school! I just want to eat dinner and hear what people have to say."

Several students said, "Yeah." Orr smiled to himself. Toff's got so many supporters! He hoped that Dan would be scared away from the group, as it was clear he had attempted to usurp control before Toff had fully attained it. If he wants the club to work a certain way, he should have had the idea first.

After the "yeah"s had died down, and it was obvious that nobody was prepared to follow this statement up, Toff said, "Err... Good. So, let's here some more thoughts on love!"

And, Dan raised his hand again. The other students, presumably curious what a defeated person might sound like, hoping perhaps that he would provide a spectacle, all turned to him and waited. After looking around, Toff nodded at him.

Dan said, "Great. So, to me love is a lot like how Toff has painted it in her speeches. It's individual, based on how a single person feels, but it's also social. And, it's social on two levels: public and private. Publicly, we see lots of people in relationships. We can tell the difference between people who are in a 'lovey' relationship and people who are not, maybe not perfectly, but to an extent. Privately, love is a relationship between a small number of people. That all makes sense, that love is complex because it has so many aspects, even at its most general. But, what I find fascinating is less what love is, and more why people think the way they do about love. We have so many examples of what our society thinks about love, and instead of studying them, we," again he glanced infinitesimally at Toff," discard them, as if the question of love is merely the question of what we want to be like when we're in love."

Toff was bright red, and a flurry of hands and voices protested these unsavory claims. Toff, however, remained quiet and red for much the rest of the group.


Orr's (and just about everyone else's) dislike for Dan increased at the next meeting, when he came prepared with some online research he'd done, throwing around words like oxytocin and vasopressin as if they were common knowledge, and throwing out a quote by "Hendrick and Hendrick" about the different ways that everybody experiences love. The discussion progressed much as the previous discussion had: Toff would try to create order, after which Dan would raise his hand politely, and say something unnecessarily convoluted and controversial, at which point the remainder of the group would become agitated and run around in circles agreeing with each other in their disagreement with him. They would cite their own experiences, experiences of friends, and common sense. And, Dan would nod and nod and then, when he could, he would say something else convoluted and controversial with all the more name and term dropping. If Orr had not been worried about the effects of this chaos on his only friend, he would have likely found such an event wildly entertaining. (Indeed, though only a small fraction of the group talked, the talk was so heated that everyone uninvolved would gasp, giggle, nod, and mutter, in turn, almost constantly.) But, Orr was worried about Toff. During the first meeting she had only spoken the two times, and during this second meeting, she only spoke once.

The third meeting started out almost identically. In fact, the only difference was that Toff didn't get a chance to speak before the bearded student said, "I was thinking about something Dan, said, and it just still doesn't make sense to me..." and from there, pandemonium. But, unlike the previous two meetings, this time, Toff didn't look glum at the chaos. She waited for it to subside, which it, at length did, and before Dan could say anything, Toff began her longest monologue to date, completely devoid of her usual tonal flourishes. She spent the whole of it staring into the middle of the cluster of four tables that now barely fit the Love Minus Arters.

She said, "I don't know much about love. I'm sorry if I gave anyone the impression that I do. I've had just one experience, and though it was an... educational... one, that hardly makes me an expert. That said, I want to take you through my experience, since I think that it can help us make some headway in this debate." (Someone sitting next to Orr, whom he did not recognize, leaned in and whispered, "Finally!") Toff's whole face was pink. "I really fell in love when I was in high school, with someone who would later become one of my best friends, and then my only best friend. Basically, I just wanted to be exactly like him, or to be the person who complemented him perfectly. And, I wanted this before I even knew him that well. It was actually all based on one day, before I knew anybody at this high school, my future best friend spotted me trying to navigate the crowd while staring at a page with the school's floorplan. And, he came up to me and said, 'hey, can I help you find anything?' And, his smile was so curious and friendly. I started liking him at just about that instant. But, the thing is, in retrospect, that's kind of a strange reason to like somebody. It was really the surprise that did it, I think. The last four years of my life have been determined by my reaction to being surprised." She paused, and looked up, first at Orr, who felt a rush of heat travel up his esophagus, into his mouth, and up to his cheeks; she then looked around at the rest of the group and smiled. She continued, even as her head turned to see her group, "And, until this conversation, I thought that I had committed a blasphemy against my brain, had completely failed my capacity for reason, by letting mere fortuity affect so many of my decisions and so many of my beliefs. But, that's a ridiculous position. The fact is, we're never going to erase the part of our brain in charge of making poor, irrational decisions. And..." she paused again, and looked around at everyone, ending up on Dan, "... Dan's right." The group groaned in unison. Orr discovered that his mouth was open. "What matters, if we're going to be smarter about how love works in our lives, we should be talking about how love works in general rather than how it has worked for each of us in the past. And, though our experiences definitely play into how love works, there's no getting around the fact that, if scientists are finding the same chemicals going around in everybody's brains when they're in love, those chemicals are going around in your brain when you're in love, so figuring out what those chemicals do, to your perception of reality, to your judgment, and to everything else, knowing that can help you avoid those irrational decisions that will only get you hurt in the end."

Needless to say, this statement was taken as an accusation that personal experience cannot teach lessons, and the statements "Dan said," and "you're saying" were replaced by "Dan and Toff said," and "you and Dan are saying." The ease with which this transition took place surprised Orr, but not as much as what he took to be Toff's betrayal of her own group.

After the meeting, as the rest of the students dispersed out of the dining hall, Dan came up to Orr and Toff and asked Toff to stay for a moment. He said, "Listen, thanks for the support. That crowd's a hard sell."

Toff beamed and said, "Yeah."

Dan, looked over at Orr, eyebrows raised, as if not sure what to make of his continued presence, then coughed and said, "Yeah, so... I thought it might be fun to just chat the two of us, without all of the jeering of the group, maybe over tea or dinner or something."

Toff's beam grew exponentially, and she said, "Sure! Let me get your number into my snazzy new cell phone!" She grinned at Orr as she pulled it out, and he tried to smile back. After some fiddling, she said, "Good! What's your number?"

Dan said, "It's 754-631-8200, but watch out. It's a cell phone I share with my brother, so you might get him instead of me."

Toff said, "You share a cell phone with your brother?"

Dan said, "Yeah... my parents figured that if we shared a phone we would keep tabs on each other... which is ridiculous, since we do that anyway."

Toff said, "You're close, then?"

Dan said, "Oh, yeah. Like love and oxytocin, you could say. He defines me."

NaNo 2007: Nov. 19

Written: November 29th, 2007, 10:40 (UTC) By: omer 0 comments

Note: this post is part of an ongoing novel. You should probably start at the beginning here.

The novel continues here.

Toff smiled and said, "Drink your lunch while it's hot." And, her smile grew into a grin.

Orr tried various techniques to drink his food with comfort, first holding the bowl on his lap (too hot), then carrying the spoon precariously from bowl to mouth (spelling half along the way to half-stifled laughter from Toff, who-to her credit-tried to look gravely serious whenever Orr's head made the slow journey around his neck to look over at her). Finally, he settled on having the entire tray on his lap and leaning down to the brimming spoonfuls he lifted from it. The liquid scorched down his throat and, at first, made him dizzier than before, but after a minute or two, his consciousness came into sharper focus, as if a neuro-optometrist was testing corrective lenses for his cortex.

After a third of the bowl was swallowed or irretrievably lost, Orr had regained enough clarity to thank Toff for her generosity.

Toff had consumed her salad and was staring at the far wall, neither frowning nor smiling. And, when Orr said, "Thanks, Toff," her body momentarily jolted and then stiffened, but when she looked over at Orr, she was smiling brightly again.

She said, "Any time, Orr." And, after a pause, she added, "Oh, speaking of which, I came by bearing a riddle for you."

As she fished in her pockets, Orr thought, She's going to say that she likes me! and instantly, two thoughts competed for attention in his murky head. The first was the image of her from her Catastrophic Friday, looking so defeated after Tom's rejection of her, and this image was accompanied by a mixture of pity and something else, a sort of mysterious rising. The second thought was much clearer and more shameful. It was, She's coming to me only because Tom turned her down. Well, he probably turned her down for a reason..., and so forth.

Toff finally pulled a scrap out of her pocket, and she handed it proudly to Orr. To his surprise, relief, and disappointment, its meaning was quite clear and quite relegated to the realm of friendship. It read, "(Orr + needs) * a = friend?"

After Orr read the riddle and looked up at Toff confused, she said, "It's a numerography puzzle. A unique digit for each letter, where the resulting numbers satisfy the equation. Oh, and ignore the question mark when calculating." She took a breath. "Anyway, that's not the point. The point..." She took another breath. "... Not to be presumptuous, but you looked a little lonely when we last saw each other, and I've really missed hanging out with you, so... Wanna start hanging out again?"

Under normal circumstances, Orr would have said, "No," or more likely, he would have said, "yes," and then kicked himself mentally for it using some thought starting with "this is your problem" as his boot. He would have had homework and social independence on his mind. Now, however, his mind could hold very little at once, and without the great edifice of his pride, worrying, and belief-system, spending time with Toff seemed like a great idea.

So, he said, "I think I'll have to solve the riddle later, but I'd love to start hanging out!"

Toff beamed.

She said, "I was hoping you'd say that. When you solve that riddle, there's another..." She managed to extract it from her pocket with relative speed, and handed him, "what * r = ufree?" As she handed it to him, she said, "Again, ignore the question mark." She was bright and grinning, and her hair was partly pink.

Orr smiled back. He said, "I have to warn you, though. I'm a bit busy."

Toff said, "That's okay. I'm resolved to be a thorough, though enjoyable, distraction, especially as you regain your health."

This was okay by Orr.


It's rare that there is a genuine moment during which a person suddenly changes her mind, moving from one belief to its polar opposite. More often, the germ of disbelief grows steadily into incredulity, and finally conversion, all on the cusp of unconsciousness, only rarely burgeoning into consciousness. And, Orr was no exception. He had known that he was unhappy but simply ignored his unhappiness as unimportant for the grand scope of his goals. But this unhappiness had been a virus, spreading slowly and unbeknownst to the conscious part of his brain. And, though the virus that afflicted his body was short-lived, the damage that the time he spent with Toff did to his brain was irreversible. And, by the time that Sarah visited for her now-weekly inspection (a week late), he readily admitted to her that he had been working too hard and would avoid taking so many classes in the future. He also said that he was learning to relax, and to accept non-perfect grades for the sake of his health. And, he meant every word of it, though very few of those words were actually true. Sarah took him out to dinner to celebrate his newfound release (and for her to relish what seemed to her the results of a particularly good bit of big-sistery).

Orr's midterm grades had been about as low as he had feared, and thus rather lower than he had hoped. And, it was this event, more than anything, that spurred a sudden (and temporary), "be my grades what they may!" mentality in him. But, Toff's presence in his life had its contribution, and (if nothing else) she filled the gap left by his reduction in study time and left him little desire to return to old habits.

The two mostly ate, played card games, and studied together. When they studied, Orr found Toff's method for thinking about problems, as soon as he became accustomed to it, useful at least as a supplement to his current method. And, when they studied different subjects, he still found it pleasant to have another body in the room. And, she also forced him to take the occasional break.

Their first meals together after Orr's one-day partial-recovery had Toff doing most of the talking, both because she was struggling to make sense of the events of her Catastrophic Friday and its repercussions, and because Orr was still unaccustomed to having social experiences in a college context.

But, Orr did not mind letting Toff do most of the talking. He was still more excited to consume his meal than experiment in meaty discourse, and Toff, having developed a fondness for the abstractions and eloquent, loquacious oratory style of the Greek philosophers along with the systematic thinking of formal logic, attempted to apply both with equal measure to her analysis of her life up to that point and beyond. She also quickly developed as an orator, shifting her tone, speeding up and slowing down her pace, and generally acting a lot like (Orr would later learn) her Greek philosophy professor when he read a dialogue in its original Greek.

As an example of her monologues, the week following Orr's collapse, as he was beginning to receive his six just-about-average grades, Toff said, "The thing is this: throughout our youth we're shown movies with lessons like, 'Love will prevail' and 'when you are in love, you'll know it,' and love stories are these elaborate sequences of meaningful events after some chance encounter, so we expect love to look like that, and we fulfill our own prophecies. After any potentially romantic chance encounter, we throw as much meaning as we can at every future encounter we have with a person, and convince ourselves that, even though they aren't acting to script, love will prevail in the end." (At this point Orr had nodded and said, perhaps, "Yeah.") "But, what makes love complicated isn't that it is the destiny of every person to find their soulmate, or that 'relationships are hard,' as the sitcoms are so fond of telling us, but that love is a two-pronged phenomenon, biological and social. And, it's equally important in both regards. It has to do with you and the other person and, to an extent, everyone else who cares. That's what makes it so hard to understand. But, people are so obsessed with thinking about it as this indefinable, incomprehensible, fairy-tale that they refuse to think whenever they hear their heartstrings a'playing and then get confused when their stupid decisions have ruined their once pristine relationship."

Or, another time the following weekend, she said, "My coming here was a mistake. No, I'm really happy I did, but I came for the wrong reasons. It was bad judgment. If we generalize, the problem is that people can philosophize all they want and lecture their friends until they die, but as soon as they are confronted with a desire of their own that conflicts with their years of philosophizing and lecturing, they'll find an absurd justification for it in a heartbeat. 'Oh, I'm going to Columbia because it's such a good school!' In retrospect, I don't think I've ever been as dishonest with myself. I just wish I knew how to prevent myself from being dishonest with myself again... but we both know that, even if I come up with a way, when it comes down to it, I'll find some reason that this way doesn't apply in this-and-this situation, and it's not really dishonesty, and on and on and on..."

At first, Toff's monologues were largely internal. After a long silence, she would start muttering to herself, and seeing that Orr was listening, begin to project more loudly. After a week, she was speaking so loudly that the students in tables around her could hear her two, and though many would stiffen at many things she said, and some would open their mouths angrily, nobody spoke for fear that she would stop. It was unclear that she noticed that anybody but Orr was listening, since her audience was mostly marked by an increasing silence in the tables around her, and the same faces appearing day after day in the same spots, in slowly increasing numbers.

Then, after almost two weeks of monologues interspersed with slight mumbles of appreciation from Orr, one day, Toff came to lunch with a form labeled, "Extracurricular Declaration Form." She was, as was usual, smiling at Orr, but her smile was larger than usual, almost toothy.

Orr was already sitting down, as were many of the other students who had been happening upon Toff and Orr at the dining hall lately. She said, "Hey, Orr. I got an idea yesterday."

Her eyes were glowing. Orr felt a tension in his esophagus. "Yeah?" he said.

She looked around at the other tables. Two were nearly full of students painstakingly staring at their plates. Toff said, as if to Orr, but still looking around, "I'm going to start a philosophical discussion group, centered... unless it gets boring... around the subject of love."

Indeed, as she spoke, Orr managed to read the form, and she had already come up with a name for the group: "Love Minus Art." (She would later explain that the name was part mathematical equation, part group description with "art" meaning "deception," and part (she thought) equation for success in love.) She winked at Orr, and again, for a moment, looked like Tom... with half-pink hair. Then she said, "If you're interested, Orr, feel free to join, and I hope anyone else interested will wander over (or see the sign-up sheet just outside the dining hall and sign it there). It'll be a couple times a week while we're eating, kind of like you and I have been doing lately, but with more people speaking." And, with that, she sat down, handed the form to Orr, and began munching on a salad.

Orr pulled out a pen and signed the form immediately. A small voice yelled, "You don't have time for this! You need to study more..." but it was quelled by the still raging, "Grades don't matter! Do what teaches you the most, like listening to Toff!" and something else that Orr didn't have the vocabulary to describe.

But, throughout the meal, not a single other name joined his. Toff was unusually quiet. She did, at one point, complain at some length about the how important the concept of the heart, a V topped by a sideways 3, was to her, even though it was an arbitrary symbol that represented the sexual parts of a woman more than anything, but her heart wasn't into it, and she kept glancing around and then hunching over her food to crunch on some lettuce silently.

And, her mood only improved (though it improved drastically) the following day when she saw that the sign-up sheet at the entrance to the dining hall had been signed by no fewer than ten scribbling hands. (And, not a single one of the names was "Tom.")


NaNo 2007: Nov. 18

Written: November 28th, 2007, 8:08 (UTC) By: omer 0 comments

Note: this post is part of an ongoing novel. You should probably start at the beginning here.

News: I have submitted my novel to NaNoWriMo and thus am officially a "winner" for 2007:

The novel continues here.

It was, needless to say, infuriating. And, soon, he longed to be rid of his one-time friend and return to his intellectual solitude. But, he had no method for asking her to leave, and whenever she wasn't deeply engrossed in a problem or a book, she simply stared at the wall opposite her and frowned. Orr told himself that he didn't have the heart to tell her to leave, but the truth was that he simply didn't have the lexicon to do it in a non-monstrous way, and whatever useful words he did know to enact his desire had long since gone out of disuse, and would take more neural power to remember than he currently felt able to afford. He was unaccustomed to the sorts of challenges he had been facing over the last couple of days. He looked forward to returning to the simple world of symbolic thinking, but it remained an idle dream.

By two in the morning, when Mike returned from his studies and social events, Orr and Toff were working on entirely different classes (data structures and contemporary civilization, respectively); Orr was at his desk, and Toff was sitting on her backpack on the floor against a wall nearby.

They both turned to look at Mike as he walked in. And, they both said, "Hi, Mike" in unison. Toff added, "I didn't know you were roommates with Orr!"

Mike said, "Hi, Orr. Hi, Toff. Yeah, I wasn't aware that you knew each other."

Toff said, "Yeah, high school friends actually. We haven't hung out a ton lately, but we're starting too." She smiled at Orr, who smiled back reflexively.

Mike said, "That's wonderful! It looks like a fun evening too." He and Toff laughed.

Toff said, "It has been." She again smiled at Orr, who again reflexively mirrored her. "But, I guess it's late, huh. I should let you two get to sleep."

Mike said, "Oh, no, you shouldn't leave on my account. As Orr knows, I have no problem falling asleep with the light on." He moved to his desk, opened his laptop, and started started typing into it while still standing. "And, if you want to spend the night, that's perfectly cool too."

Toff's face collapsed, and she sputtered, "I... No, it's not..." She looked over at Orr who considered her inarticulateness a sign that the probability of him understanding the proceedings could only decrease. He opened and closed his mouth as a sign of eternal confusion.

Mike, unphased, continued, "Okay, if you insist. But I have a sleeping bag in my closet if you change your mind."

Toff ceased her sputtering and looked back from Orr to Mike and pulled an Orr, opening and then closing her mouth without letting any sound emit.

Mike, unphased, continued, "The noise doesn't bother me. Seriously. I keep it in the far-right corner of the closet if you want."

Only after finishing this claim did he look up from his computer and at Toff, who had opened her mouth again. He then looked at Orr, who was looking between him and Toff, perplexed.

Mike, apparently thinking that it was not the offer that had confused Toff (and Toff's response that had confused Orr), but the fact that he owned a sleeping bag, said, "I have it for Spring Break. I want to travel around the U.S." He smiled at the two of them, and they mirrored him reflexively. Then, he grabbed a bag of toiletries and left the room.

When he had left, Toff turned back to Orr and said, "I'd kinda like to stay, if that's okay by you. I'm not very excited about walking home at this hour, and you're really helping me feel better."

Orr nodded.

Toff said, "But, if you want, I'd be willing to walk home too, no problem. I've been imposing as it is."

Orr said, "No, that's perfectly fine. Stay the night if it'll help you feel better!" He was angry at both Toff and Mike for invading his privacy and time, and he desperately wanted to tell her to leave, but, again, he lacked the vocabulary, and agreeing with whatever Toff said was quickly becoming a habit of his. This is your problem, he thought. You don't have the guts to disappoint people to their face!

Toff jumped up, hugged Orr, and then walked over to the closet on the clean side of the room and extracted from it a green sleeping bag.

She said, "Mind if I make some room for myself?"

Orr said, "Not at all! Let me help!" This is your problem. He got up and started shoving things into the corner of the room with his feet. Toff joined him, and by the time Mike returned, they had created space on the floor to fit her and the sleeping bag. Toff returned to her backpack-chair, and Orr walked back to his desk.

Mike said, "Thank you for the company, Toff! Good night, kids!" And, he climbed onto his bed (as Toff and Orr echoed his "Good night"), snatched a book from under his pillow, and started reading it.

The three continued reading together for ten minutes, after which Mike turned to his side, and slept. Toff continued studying for another half hour after that before dropping into the sleeping bag. After she went to sleep, Orr continued for another hour on various classes, then, with a glance in her direction, decided that he would try her method of solving logic problems after all, and scrounged through his papers for another sample midterm he had printed out, and set to work, largely unsuccessfully, until he fell asleep in his chair just as natural light began peeking into his room.


The next morning, Toff convinced Orr to accompany her for breakfast, and she told him all about her first two months as an undergraduate. And, because her experiences were so intertwined with Tom's, Orr also learned about the successes of his other friend. When Toff spoke of him, her voice would sink, and she would glance all around the dining hall as she spoke. But, Tom did not come to breakfast.

After an hour, the two said "good bye," exchanged phone numbers (Toff had acquired a cell phone and punched Orr's number into it with surprising digital dexterity), and vowed to spend more time together in the future, perhaps after midterms. But, as Orr left, he vowed to himself that he would learn how to say "no" to other people and that he would never waste so much time again in his life.

Orr's midterms were difficult, more difficult than the samples he had studied, and he often found that he did not have time or was otherwise unable to answer entire questions. And, as he began studying for the second half of the semester, waiting for his grades to arrive, the stress distracted him almost as much as Toff had distracted him on her Catastrophic Friday. And, though he managed most of his time without thinking about Toff at all, she had disrupted him as an automatic being, taken him from a Turing machine with only textbooks as its input tape to someone capable of looking away from its tape, of thinking about problems intuitively, and of having non-quantitative problems. In other words, she had shown him an example of how to use his internal machinery to his advantage instead of trying to act like a computer all the time. And, he found it difficult to return to his old, automaton's lifestyle.

Instead, every time he was on a roll, solving one problem after another, applying the one set of techniques and tools after another, his brain would suddenly, without warning, change gears, and he would be thinking about his test grades, or about another problem he had worked on an hour ago, or about Toff, or about his sister, and so forth. So, it took him all the longer to solve any given problem set; so, he slept even less; so, his brain became all the more apt to explore arbitrary thoughts. Fortunately, after midterms, his classes each gave him a short break of less intense work, reminiscent of his first weeks of classes, or else he may have abandoned sleep entirely.

Orr's life progressed in this fashion for the following week, and by Saturday morning, his body (disgruntled as it had been by the miscare it had received over the past seven weeks, especially the final one) was preparing to revolt.

He awoke at 8:00am with a chill across his whole body, and when he got up to turn off his alarm and urinate, his body shook, and his arm could barely hold his weight. He collapsed into bed again, the alarm still going off. Eventually, Mike got up, turned it off, and returned to bed, mumbling.

Orr drifted back to sleep.

He awoke again not because of an overwhelming need to urinate (though he felt it), but because of a sound. A sharp sound. A repeated sharp sound... His brain worked furiously. A door knock! He looked over at the door, then at Mike's bed. The former was closed, the latter empty. He tried to yell "Just a second," but his voice had run away with his health, and he only managed a croak that sounded a little like the word "juicer."

The knock repeated.

Orr tried again to get up and managed with decent success to lift himself up. The ladder down from his bed (which was lofted above his desk) proved challenging, but he threw his whole weight against the bed as he stepped down so he had no chance of falling, and he eventually managed to reach the bottom and stagger to the door. He pushed his body against it, twisted the doorknob, and collapsed backwards into the wall. He heard a female voice say "Oh!"

He let the door loose and slid down the wall to sit on a loose homework assignment ("Good work... write more neatly!").

The door had almost closed all the way before the person caught it and pushed it open again, almost into Orr, but he said, "Oh!" and the door stopped. A head emerged from behind it: Toff's, but oddly discolored. Half of her hair had gone pink.

Her initial smile turned to a gasp, and her eyes went wide. She said, "Orr!" and knocked her arm into the door as she tried to circumvent it to reach him.

Orr passed out again.


He awoke to the smell of tomato soup, which, had it been any other day, would have surprised him. As it was, the part of his brain normally inclined to surprise was having trouble waking up. So, he accepted the fact with a shiver and a toss.

Toff's voice said, "Sorry, I hope I didn't wake you up!"

He opened his eyes, to Toff, holding a brown dining-hall tray, on which rested a bowl of tomato soup, a cup of something light brown-orange, a plate of saltine crackers, and a bigger plate brimming with salad.

Orr realized that he was in bed again.

Toff said, "I'll need to microwave the soup and tea, and don't worry," she grinned, "the salad is for me."

Orr smiled and mumbled, "Thanks." There was a growing heat in his chest, but it did not compare to the heat and dizziness that thwacked his head as he tried to sit up, so he collapsed back into bed.

Toff said, "Stay put. Let me microwave it first."

She put the bowl and the cup into the microwave portion of Orr's microfridge, and heated them. The microwave whirred in silence. When it finished, Toff took the bowl and cup out.

"Here," she said, "Let me help you up."

She put the bowl and cup on top of the microfridge and climbed onto Orr's bed. From there, she helped Orr hold himself up as he slowly sat. He leaned his back against the wall and sprawled his legs in front of him. Toff climbed back down and climbed up again first with the tray, which she placed on one side of Orr, then with the soup, which she placed on the tray, then with the cup, which also went onto the tray, and finally with her salad, which she hoisted onto her lap as she sat down.

She said, "I hope you don't mind some company."

He said, "Not at all," and to his surprise, was not greeted with any thought to the contrary.

NaNo 2007: Nov. 17

Written: November 27th, 2007, 9:14 (UTC) By: omer 0 comments

Note: this post is part of an ongoing novel. You should probably start at the beginning here.

News: earlier tonight, I reached the 50,000 word point and, though I think that many parts of the novel could use some fleshing out or completely rewriting (if I ever decide to do so), the first draft of the novel is officially complete! Also, I have decided on a tentative title: Life as a Puzzle.

The novel continues here.

Lacking any other solution, Orr nodded.

Toff continued to look up at him, and she smiled slightly. "Thanks." Then, she looked down again.

Orr considered saying something, though he wasn't sure what. He considered "umm," but considered it less than satisfactory. He sat down in Mike's chair.

The sound of the chair's legs nicking the floor brought Toff out of her reverie. She looked over at Orr, now on level with her, and smiled slightly at him.

She said, "It's about Tom."

Orr said, "Oh yeah?" He tried to sound curious.

Toff said, "Yeah. I..." she looked down. "I told him I like him."

Unlike Toff, Orr had spent the last few months closed from civilization, and semantically ambiguous words made him uneasy. He mulled the words over aloud, pondering, "Like him?"

Toff, luckily, took this as a sign of interest and continued, "Yeah... Well, you know... I've liked him for a while."

Orr nodded. Sure, he thought. I know.

Toff said, "I mean... you know... It was pretty obvious, following him around everywhere..." This thought made her chin quiver, and her eyes tear up, but she continued, "... following him here..." This thought was too much for her, and she started to cry.

Orr sat frozen, unsure how to properly respond to this new development. He considered moving toward her, patting her on the back, holding her shoulder, saying "It'll be okay." Maybe he should do all of them, at once, or in succession, in that order, or another.

Just as he was deciding to await more evidence before deciding how to respond, Toff, still shuddering and heaving, still staring at the floor, moaned softly, "Oh, Orr..."

His thoughts disappeared. He moved over to her and gave her a hug. She stopped shuddering. Her body flowed under him, like time, like a metronome. She rocked back and forth. She buried her head into his arm.

And, in that position, so that her mouth was still covered largely by his sweatshirt, she continued to speak, at first with a muffled squeak, but slowly morphing into a muffled version of her own voice.

She said, "I... So, I asked... So, I asked him out... through a riddle... you know me... a one trick pony... and, anyway, when he got it, he... he told me that he was in love with... with your sister, and he came here for her, and he was sorry, sorry, sorry for leading me on, and then he left."

This was a lot of news. But the soothing monotonousness of Toff's movement made Orr almost sleepy. His back ached, but without bothering him, and he realized, in the same almost-sleepy delirium, that he was concerned for his friend.

He said, "It'll be okay..."

Such a statement had never, in Orr's life, escaped his lips. And, it surprised both of them, and they stiffened for a second, but first Toff, and then Orr, relaxed. So, he said it again.

"It'll be okay..."

She said, "I just shouldn't have lived so much of my life for him. I mean, where does that leave me now?" Her voice was strained as she asked the last question.

Orr said, "You'll figure it out... It'll only get easier from here." It was the obvious answer, the feel-good stupid-comedy-with-a-moral-at-the-end answer. But, Toff nodded at Orr's shirt, so he continued. "I mean, you're still at Columbia, which is a great school... And, we're friends, right?"

Toff nodded again. She said, "Can I study with you?"

Orr said, "Of course!" But, then he remembered what studying with him meant. Even without distractions, he was not sleeping nearly enough, and studying with Toff would likely be distraction after distraction of puzzles and games, of a past life he had rejected. He added, "I mean, you probably wouldn't want to. All I do is study, and I do it a lot."

Toff said, "That's okay. I could use some no-distractions studying." She was silent for a moment. "But, if you want to study alone, that's fine... I just, maybe we could study together tonight. I'd just..." she trailed off.

Orr's head was angled directly at his desk clock. It was 9:05pm. He remembered high school, when even on weekdays he would never be studying at this point.

He said, "Yeah. Let's do it. For tonight, at least."

Toff said, "Thanks, Orr." She squeezed his arm, then moved her head slowly up. She said, "I'll be back soon with some textbooks."

Orr let her go, and she stood up, wobbling slightly, but smiling as she turned toward him. She started walking toward the door.

Orr smiled back at her. He wanted to ask to join her, but he had another two sample midterms to go through that night, one in logic, and one in linear algebra (which were both Monday classes).

So, instead, he said, "Err..."

Toff stopped. She said, "Don't worry about me. I'll be fine. Get some work done!" But, her voice was quavering so, and her shoulders still looked so slumped.

Orr said, "Don't be silly. I'll walk you!" What an idiot!

Toff turned toward him and said, "You really don't have to. She was smiling, though.

"No, I insist."

And, with that insistence, the two headed out, Orr upset with himself, thinking, This is your problem. You never listen to common sense.


But, the walk proved surprisingly fruitful. Almost as soon as they had gotten outside, Toff said, "So, I've never had the guts to tell either you or Tom this, but I'm in you guys's logic class." The cold had taken the quavering out of her voice.

Orr said, "You are?"

Toff said, "Yeah. I'm in the back. I never talk. Obviously."

Orr said, "Obviously..."

Toff said, "Yeah."

Orr said, "It's a hard. I was just looking at midterms when you got in."

Toff said, "I saw. Yeah, that sample midterm was so hard!"

Orr said, "You did it, though?"

Toff said, "Yeah... I mean, not in two hours, obviously. But, I got ahead last weekend... Uhh... predicting that this weekend would be... busy..."

Orr said, "I see." He had never much thought of Toff as intelligent, or unintelligent for that matter, but this comment surprised him. He said, "Mind helping me with some of the problems?"

Toff jumped. "Yes! I'd love to!" She paused. "I've missed you, Orr."

Orr nodded as he walked. He had resolved upon first arriving that he did not miss anybody, and that he would never say he did, because it would be intellectually dishonest. Luckily, he didn't have the opportunity to go back on his word. The thought of tutoring had apparently excited Toff.

She said, "And, it's been frustrating not having a study partner for logic, it being the one class in which I have friends. It would be really nice to change that."

Orr nodded again, but this time he said, "Yeah, that would be nice." He was half-convinced that she was right, even though he had yet to hear an argument. He continued kicking himself mentally for such flagrant disregard of his opinions and habits, for such obvious stupidity. This is your problem. You never say what you believe! But, it was to no avail.

Toff looked over at Orr, and he looked at her. She was grinning in a way that reminded him of Tom.

She said, "You sound reluctant."

Orr said, "I... Well..."

She said, "It's okay."

They looked forward again, and kept walking, in silence for a while.

Finally, Toff said, "You look like hell, by the way."

Orr said, "Yeah. And, my room's a mess."

Toff said, "Yeah," and she looked at Orr, grinning again.


By the time they got back to Orr's room, Toff carrying a mass of books on her back, it was almost ten. They had agreed on the walk to start with a logic midterm that neither had looked at yet, so that they could help each other by seeing how the other person thought about the problems. Toff heaved her backpack into the corner, unzipped it, and extracted the twisted remnants of a spiral notebook. They drew the two chairs to Orr's desk, and Orr scrounged around his papers, until he found the midterm. Then, he placed it between them. He grabbed the clock and put it in front of them. It was 10:03pm.

He said, "There are four questions, and two hours, so each question should take at most half an hour. Ready?"

Toff said, "Let's do it!"

And, they started. The first question was this:

Jane can only be mad if she's not a joker. If Jane has an uncle, he must like hats. Liking hats is a sign of elderliness. A person whose niece is a joker and who is elderly is incapable of love. Jane doesn't have an uncle if and only if Origami is an art. Jane's uncle is definitely incapable of love, though. If you ask me, boys will be boys. And, if boys will be boys, or if Origami is an art, Yellow Submarine is amazing. If Jane is mad, it's gotta be true that you asked me and nobody understands her. Jane's uncle is definitely elderly if he likes hats. Oh, and, if Jane's uncle is incapable of love, then there is no way that Origami is an art.

Using only the propositional calculus, and translating "Yellow Submarine is amazing" as Y, "Jane has an Uncle" as "u," and "Jane is mad" as "m" derive YUM!

Orr stared at it bewildered. Toff's presence next to him was a distraction he had not experienced in months. And, thinking about what a distraction it was proved to be only a greater distraction. Ad infinitum. And, he had just finished understanding the prompt when Toff said, "Got it!" under her breath and started scribbling on her page. Orr looked at the clock. It was 10:08pm.

The first step to solving any logic problem written in English is, of course, to translate it into logic. And, by the time Toff had finished the problem completely, and it had been about twenty minutes, Orr had managed to do just that:











But, now that Toff was no longer scribbling, and was instead sitting quietly next to him, he found her even more distracting. And, after another minute, he said, "Okay, well I think I can do the rest from there."

Toff said, "Yeah. It's basically just modus ponens and modus tollens a bunch of times. The translating is the tough part."

Orr nodded. But, as he did so, he thought, This is your problem. You can't admit that you need help! and decided, for once, to listen to his internal nag.

He said, "But, how did you do it so quickly?"

Toff blushed. "Quickly...? I mean... I don't know... I just thought about it for a bit before writing. That always helps."

Orr said, "But, they taught us that the first step to solving any logic problem written in English is, of course, to translate it into logic."

Toff said, "Yeah, well, the first formal part. But, with a problem like this, I like to try to work backwards a bit, really informally, to see what I know about what I'm trying to derive."

Orr nodded.

Toff said, "Part of this one was easy. 'Incapable of love' is really our only atomic fact, and we're trying to derive three other atomic facts, so our derivation probably starts there, and there's only one new atomic fact that 'Incapable of love' can directly give us, which is that Origami is not an art, and so forth... It's like trying to solve a puzzle in your head."

This argument made some sense to Orr, but more than that, it appealed to his romantic intellectual, a being who had been lying dormant for quite some time. Orr had tried to solve these problems like an automaton, and when left alone, he was quite fast, but, if nothing else, Toff's method sounded like more fun. Unfortunately, the gluttonous automatonic part of him thought, we don't have time for games. Try it after the midterm. For now, stick with what you know.

He said, "That makes sense. I'll have to try it at some point. But, let's keep going."

And, so, they continued through the sample, and though Orr slowly learned how to concentrate despite Toff sitting next to him, Toff still managed to solve each problem well before Orr did. And, her explanation was always, "I thought about it for a while before I started."

NaNo 2007: Nov. 16

Written: November 26th, 2007, 9:24 (UTC) By: omer 0 comments

Note: this post is part of an ongoing novel. You should probably start at the beginning here.

The novel continues here.


The knock at the door startled his monotony. He was ill-suited for the surprise, and it gave him a slight headache, which was not ideal for studying. He would have to take some aspirin. Oh well.

He leaned down to one of the drawers near his legs, and pulled out the Aspirin. On the far end of the desk was a bottle of water. He moved it and the aspirin close by so that he wouldn't have to reach far when he decided to take it. Then, he returned to his homework.

The knock at the door repeated itself, and now Orr was angry (though a little voice had sprung up, sputtering from lack of use, and accusing him of being ridiculous if he expected an unanswered knock not to repeat). So, he donned the biggest scowl he could manage, stomped the ten feet to the door, and pulled it open in a huff.

And, there stood his sister. He had not seen her in a few years, for she had refused to return home after her first year, always finding some internship over the summers, and some road trip or friend's house over the winter. In the mean time, she had dyed her hair green; her lipstick had gone from black to neon green; and her eyeliner had gone from black to even blacker. But, what surprised Orr the most about his sister was something he couldn't identify exactly in any single feature. She looked older. Her shoulders had stopped drooping, and her features had sunk slightly. She was squinting.

Orr was impressed with the sight in front of him, but Sarah obviously was not. She said, "God, Orr. You look awful."

Orr was convinced that such carping about his physical appearance should be taken as a compliment to his devotion to his scholarly pursuits. He said, "Yeah, well..."

Sarah strode into the room, forcing Orr back. She said, "Really, Orr. Whatever you're doing. Stop. You look like a zombie."

These claims struck Orr as rather presumptuous, and more importantly, he knew that he had chosen the correct path for himself, and he was taking intellectual classes (e.g., logic) that could here come to his aid in proving it.

He said, "I'm fine. Just studying a lot."

Sarah said, "Like what? Twenty hours a day?"

Classes included, this was not far from the truth, but Sarah's disbelief suggested to Orr that he not mention it.

Instead, he said, "It's just for this semester." This was a lie. Against his advisor's repeated requests, he was planning six more courses for the following semester, all in upper-level mathematics and computer science.

Sarah, still incredulous, said, "The semester's only half over! And, at this rate, you'll be dead by Christmas!"

Orr said, "I really feel fine." This claim struck him as even more ingenuous as the last (for the last could be true, in some unforeseeable future, while this claim was simply not true: he did not really feel anything at all at the moment). But, it also seemed a rather normal response to the question, the sort of thing that would convince Sarah to depart.

It did not. On seeing the room, in one of its messiest contortions, and in a moment guessing (and, with rather little evidence, Orr felt) which side belonged to him, she said, "God, Orr. No wonder Mom sent me here."

Orr wanted to get upset about this revelation, like they do in popular culture ("Mom sent you?! Get out! Get out!" then soft music and a lesson is learned, and the damage is reversible), but he simply didn't have the energy. As a compromise, he sat down rather hard and hurt his butt.

Silence ensued for longer than Orr would have liked. This conversation was costing him sleep. But, lacking something proper to say, he couldn't think of any way to move the conversation forward.

When Sarah did finally speak, she said, "I'm not leaving until we talk about this."

Orr said, "Okay," and pulled into his desk. As he poured his eyes over the mess in front of him, trying to reconstruct where he had been, he said, "Feel free to use Mike's chair. He gets home late."

Sarah, apparently, preferred to stand. Or, at least, Orr didn't hear her sit down. But, he did feel a tingling on the back of the neck, a guess that she was staring at him, demanding that he turn around. Every time the words on the page started to make sense, the tickle would return; soon, he began to predict it's arrival, and the attempted prediction was another distraction, until all he could think about was the tickling and how much it distracted him, and he had not even managed to successfully read the prompt to his sample midterm problem before he turned around again.

Sarah's arms were crossed, but otherwise, she hadn't moved.

Lacking anything else to say, knowing that he had only one option left, Orr said, "Okay. Fine. How do we fix my problems?"

Sarah smiled her conniving smile, moving only half her mouth. "Don't you know anything? First, admit that you have a problem."

Orr said, "And, what's my problem?"

Sarah said, "Okay, first, figure out what your problem is."

Orr said, "Okay. What is it?" He was trying to play along, trying to get Sarah to leave, but it was failing abominably.

Sarah said, "How should I know? You're messy... and a mess."

Orr said, "Fine. I'm messy. My problem is that I'm messy."

Sarah said, "And a mess."

Orr said, "And a mess. I'll clean up, myself and my room."

Sarah shook her head. She said, "You don't understand."

He didn't. He said, "I don't."

She said, "Messiness isn't a problem... Well, it is, and you were always so messy, but, anyway, that's not the problem."

Orr still didn't understand. He said, "I still don't understand."

Sarah said, "Why are you messy? Why are you a mess?"

Orr said, "Because I'm too busy to clean."

Sarah said, "Aha!"

Apparently, they were making progress. This was news to Orr.

Sarah continued, "And, why are you so busy?"

Orr said, "Because I do a lot of work."

Sarah said, "Great. So, your problem is that you do too much work."

Orr corrected her: "I don't do enough work, actually."

Sarah thought about this claim. She said, "Forget that. Let's stick with you do too much work. Why do you do so much work?"

Orr said, "Because there is so much work to do."

Sarah said, "How much work?"

Orr said, "You said twenty hours."

Sarah said, "And...?

Orr said, "And, I didn't say anything. I was still pretty upset about wasting my time. Speaking of which," his voice weakend, but he continued, "I should get back..."

Sarah said, "Not yet. How much do you study?"

Orr gave up. "About 18 hours a day, including classes."

Sarah said, "Aha! Now, we've hit the problem. You should work less."

Orr said, "But, I have more work to do."

Sarah said, "There's no way that Columbia is so hard that you have to study 18 hours a day to do everything."

And now, he got it. She was trying to get him to admit to taking too many courses. Instead, Orr said, "Well, I do. Maybe I'm just not smart enough for this school."

Sarah laughed at this claim. She said, "Orr, you may not know this yet, but NYU and Columbia mix. I know Columbia kids. You're smarter than they are."

Orr smiled briefly. Now that he was perpetually behind, he was no longer being complimented by professors or fellow students, and it had been a while since he had heard such words. But, he disagreed with them. He said, "I disagree."

Sarah said, "So, you know the people I met better than I do?"

Orr said, "Well, if they're in any of my classes, yeah. And, I'm in a lot of classes, so there's a good chance that they're in one." He had gotten carried away. He had lost sight of the goal of getting Sarah to leave, and he had given a hint. Hopefully, Sarah would not notice.

Sarah did notice. "How many classes are you taking?"

Orr waited. Now, he was in trouble. But, there was no getting around it. So, he said, as confidently as he could, "Six."

Sarah laughed again and she walked to Orr and grabbed his shoulders. She said, "I think I've found our problem."

Orr said, "Oh yeah?"

Sarah said, "Yeah. Six is too many. You should be taking four, especially first semester of your first year." She thought. "Your advisor is a piece of shit."

Orr said, "She advised me to drop two, but it's too late."

Sarah said, "So, you've thought about dropping classes?"

He had. "No."

Sarah said, "Fine. Well..." She thought more. "... It may be too late to drop, but it's not too late to fail."

Now, Orr laughed. It was shallow, though, from his throat. He worried for a moment that he had forgotten how to laugh, but he did not have time for such trifling issues at the moment. He said, "You want me to fail my classes?"

Sarah said, "Failing two classes is better than killing yourself."

Orr said, "I'm not killing myself, and failing two classes is pretty bad."

Sarah said, "Is it?"

An image of Tom flashed through Orr's mind. "It hurts my chances of going to grad school. And, it's not good for my scholarship."

Sarah said, "Fine, then, get Ds."

Orr laughed the shallow laugh again. He didn't know what to say, but he knew that a laugh by itself was implicit agreement.

Sarah let go of Orr's shoulders. She said, "Good. Problem solved. I'm coming back in a week to see how you're failing's going. I want to see your room clean, and a smile on your lips." She started walking toward the door.

The prospect of Sarah leaving was quite enticing, but Orr's incredulousness overcame him. He said, "You want me to fail my classes and smile about it?"

Sarah turned around and said, "I want you to have fun before you kill yourself."

Orr sighed. There was no winning. This semester was about learning to lose. He said, "Fine. I'll see what I can do."

Sarah turned to leave again and said, "Oh, and make some fucking friends."

The door closed and Orr turned back to his work. Before his brain went back to its regularized machinery, he let out one snort and said aloud, "Yeah, like I'm going to find a friend."

Sarah had been listening at the door. She called, "God provides, Orr. You'll see."

And, she left.


The next day, when Orr's concentration was once again overcome by a knock at the door, this one more unmistakably quieter than his sister's, he remembered her claim about God and thought that she'd set him up with some Jew from Columbia. But, he was more prepared, now, for visitors, and opened the door with relative ease.

It is entirely possible that Toff had never looked so pitiable in her life, even as an infant. In other words, she looked the exact opposite of Sarah. Her shoulders had sagged halfway to her breasts. Her head rested on neck, and even as she looked up at him, she did so only with her eyes. Her eyes were bloodshot and puffy. Her nose still running, and bright red at the tip. Her ponytail had come partly undone, and one of her shoes was untied. She stood at Orr's door, shuddering, periodically looking up at him, then a moment later, down to the floor, then slowly up at him again.

And yet, all Orr could think to say was, "If I believed in God, I'd be pissed right now."

Toff completely failed to understand, but assumed, presumably at the word "pissed," that her hoped-for sanctuary was inaccessible. She turned to leave.

Orr, only now realizing that his statement was intended to his sister, not Toff, corrected himself by saying, "Sorry, come in!"

Toff turned back, almost mechanically, and mumbled "Thanks," without looking up, as she walked by. She sat in Orr's chair and looked at his paper-strewn desk. She said, "Problem five gave me some trouble too."

Orr's puzzlement and atrophied social skills denied him the ability to answer this confusing statement.

Luckily, after a short pause, Toff continued. "The trick is actually something we proved in class, like a month ago." She turned and looked up at Orr, straight into his eyes. "Can I talk to you for a second?"

NaNo 2007: Nov. 15

Written: November 25th, 2007, 5:55 (UTC) By: omer 0 comments

Note: this post is part of an ongoing novel. You should probably start at the beginning here.

The novel continues here.

It was a Friday afternoon, and Toff and Tom were studying until dinner, after which Tom's plan was to join a group of friends for a theme party organized by two cohabitating seniors in the logic course, celebrating the life and times of Lewis Carroll, and his many anthropomorphic creations. The two were, for all practical purposes, joined at the hip during their study session, and Toff found it excessively difficult to study her Greeks. There was a note in her pocket that she had been consciously and unconsciously planning for years.

When dinner was nigh, Tom looked over at Toff and said, "Hey, listen. I know that you don't like parties and all, but this one is a logic one... you would be the queen of the rabbit hole!"

Toff, trembling, said, "Sure! That sounds like fun, but first..." She reached into her pocket and struggled with the note there, trying the whole time not to jostle the side of her body in contact with Tom. It came out in a crumpled mess, and she tried to refold it nicely before looking up at Tom again. Then, she said, "... solve this riddle."

The riddle was this: "Words times letters is minutes over hours. Take an island and submerge the Northern half in water. Throw in a half a candy team. End it with salt's husband, and in the middle, pump in as many vowels as you can fit, making sure to include at least one mammal. Really, it's been true for a long time." It had been.

Tom's lips followed the note, drawing into it, and his eyes squinted.

Idiot!, thought Toff, what will you do while he figures it out? And, what if it takes a long time? Why can't you do things like a normal person?

And, while she thought these questions, Tom continued to move his lips over the words, and to squint. He scratched a careless stubble on his chin. He shifted in his seat, releasing a blast of repressed heat through Toff's thigh. He grinned for a second, then continued to silently word his way through the riddle.

Finally, he refolded the note and stood up. His voice sounded uncharacteristically gruff, or high, or something peculiar that Toff couldn't quite identify, as he said, "I'll have to figure this out later. But, we're meeting everyone for dinner in a few minutes." He grinned hurriedly at Toff, stuffed the note into his jeans pocket, and began collecting his books, spirals, and pens, without looking up.

Toff, after some hesitation, her face red and body still ceaselessly shaking, gathered her materials as well.

So, they dropped off their things in their respective rooms, each keeping the other company (as usual) on the treck across the building. But, (for once) neither speaking a word on the entire trek, and the usually minimal space between them started to grow. They then proceeded with ever-increasing distance, to the lobby, where, sure enough, James, Ann, Balina, and Thom were sitting on a couch, waiting and discussing possible costumes for the night's endeavors. As, Toff and Tom entered, Ann claimed that the rabbit costume was too obvious, and she thought that she could pull off a snark with some things in her closet. They expressed mock consternation and real glee at seeing Tom's and Toff's arrival. Balina jumped up and gave Tom a hug that knocked him off-balance, and Toff saw his hand deftly move to his jeans pocket and then out again in an instant.

Balina, after a short hesitation, gave Toff a quick hug as well, and then the four proceeded to dinner, during which talk of the immanent party led to a memorized rendition of "Jabberwocky" by James, and from there to a round-robin-style discussion of favorite pieces of children's literature. Toff, for her part, contributed Watership Down and The Hobbit, both of which, though some (including Tom) had read and enjoyed them, everyone agreed counted more as young adult literature, and the rest stuck with their Dr. Seuss and Shel Silverstein.

After the meal, the group went their separate ways to accumulate as much possible costume attire as possible and then congregate once more in Ann and Balina's room. Tom accompanied Toff to her room and asked to come in for a bit.

After entering, he said, "So, I think I figured out your riddle."

Toff blushed, but managed to flash a grin at Tom. She later remembered thinking, The past four years have been building up to this moment and squeezing her fingernails against her palm to remain balanced.

Tom said, "It was a good one!"

Toff smiled. She managed to mumble "Ank" in a too-large exhale of breath.

Tom said, "Really clever!"

And, at this point, he was stalling, and Toff knew what was coming. She leaned back against her bed/desk bunk, letting the corner of the desk press sharply into the small of her back. She tried to smile at Tom.

Tom said, "And, I'm really flattered..."

Toff nodded, now looking at the floor. Her skin felt like it was being levitated slightly away from her, like she had been cooking in a closed pot, and somebody had just taken off the lid.

Tom said, "It's just... I'm in love with Orr's sister."

Toff had been so ready for an excuse that she hardly noticed which one it was, and continued to nod. Tears were forming in her eyes, and her mouth was filling with mucus, but she focused as much of her concentration as she could on remaining as she was.

Tom said, "I thought I was over her, I really did, or I wouldn't have led you on... but... I think I came to New York for her."

Toff's whole body, her whole world, was concentrating on continuing to nod, to wait for Tom to leave, and then to explode, but for now, just to keep nodding, just to keep up that one monotonous movement, and leave the rest of the future to sort itself out when the movement finally broke down. But, Tom wouldn't leave. He kept talking.

He said, "And, you know how hard that is for me to admit, since I justified coming here so much, but... I really think I came here for her." He said the last sentence conclusively, as if it had clarified everything, and the conversation could be satisfactorily concluded.

Toff's well finally overflowed, and the force of her first sob knocked her head into the bed frame behind her. So, she pushed forward and collapsed onto the floor.

The sound of the sob, or the sight of his friend collapsing, must have knocked Tom out of his monologous reverie, because he crashed to the floor right after she did, holding her arm, asking if she was all right, and apologizing, all at once, so that what Toff heard between sobs was first "areyouohmansorry," repeated in various word-orders for eight sobs, and then "Oh Toff," repeated ad nauseam, for so many sobs one could not count, until it felt like part of the sob to Toff; Tom pronouncing her name was part of what had to be expunged.

They sat there forever. Their friends must have gotten bored waiting and tried to find them, but having only ever been to Tom's room, none of them knew how to find Toff or Tom, and must have just left. She wished that Tom would just go with them so that she could move on, beyond this eternity of physical and emotional wretchedness, beyond the embarrassment of having the man who had just rejected her see her cry, beyond her whole life onto something new and manageable. But, she could not bring herself to speak.

Tom continued to say "Oh Toff," like an automaton stuck in a dead state, even after Toff's sobs had downgraded into whimpers. And, when she finally got up in search of a box of tissues to smear across whatever remained of her nose after it had been consumed by deluge, he got up too, still holding her arm, still saying "Oh Toff, Oh Toff."

Only after she had destroyed five tissues did she manage to look up at Tom and speak to him. And, when she looked up at him, his state finally changed, and he let his mouth close.

She said, "Get out."

She wanted to point at the door, to emphasize the point, but it had taken her so much concentration to move across the room, to use the tissues, and then to speak, that her brain refused to be further taxed for the moment. So, she contented herself to look cross.

Tom said, "I'm sorry, Toff."

Now, it was easier. Toff said, "Get out."

Tom said, "I'm really sorry."

Power was returning to her body, and there was conviction when she said, "Get out!" and even pressed her arm against Tom's hand to nudged him toward the door.

Tom said, "What can I do?" Tom likely kicked himself later for phrasing the question in that way.

As it was, Toff's answer was easy, and loud. "Get out!" And now, she really shoved Tom away from her.

Tom nearly fell, and finally succumbed. He said, "Okay. I'm going. Can I call you later?"

Toff nodded, not ascent, but acceptance. If it meant that Tom would leave, she would avoid the phone for a few days. Let her roommate answer it.

Tom nodded too, said "I'm sorry" one more time, and then let himself out.

The silence left by the door's closing was overwhelming, and it almost broke Toff down again. She started pacing around the room, the scenes of the night replaying in her head. She tried to suppress them, but a sick part of her forced them to replay again and again in her mind's eye, rejoicing in the sheer overwhelming emotion of her misery. She could hear her desk clock's individual ticks, pushing further and further away what seemed like an integral part of her life.

When she could no longer bear to pace, she tried to study, pushing open her logic textbook (the least emotional and least reminiscent of Tom because she had always studied it in isolation, and collapsing into her desk chair. But, the absurd symbols, with their complete lack of relevance to the real world, turned out to only distract her for a few seconds, and her mind soon drifted to Tom, not even to a real thought, just to him, and the symbols instantly swirled into an indescribable Rorschach inkblot. And, she abandoned studying as impossible.

And, as she got up, unsure how to make it through the night, she realized that she desperately needed company, company of someone who knew her well and who was not Tom.

Now, with a manageable goal, she donned a coat, left her miserable room, descended the stairs, and requested a school directory from the front desk.

Chapter V: Luv - Art

To understand Orr's response upon seeing Toff, flushed, red-eyed, and sniffling, at his door, one has to understand that she was his second unusual visitor of the week. The first, sent by his parents (who were understandably worried by Orr's refusal to return their attempts at communication), was Sarah.

Sarah was a senior cultural studies major at NYU. It had been over two years since she last saw her family. She spent summers interning and winters with friends. But, she still kept a constant correspondence with her mother, duly informing her once every two weeks that, yes, everything was still going well with her. These calls would always happen on Sundays, which is why his mother's call on a Friday, a week before Toff's Catastrophic Friday, asking her to visit Orr, met with little reluctance. So, on the following Thursday, she did. Orr refused to answer his phone for fear of being distracted, and Mike could only answer when he was around, which was, due to his preferred locale for studying, not often. So, Sarah arrived at Columbia unbidden, and hoping to discover a means by which to determine where Orr lived. And, to her surprise, within minutes of her arrival on campus, as she took her bearings on the famous steps to the library, her brother's best friend Tom spotted her and helped her find a directory with Orr's address on it, and then told her how to reach Orr's building. She would later tell Orr, who (despite himself) was eager to hear about his longtime friend, that he looked "oddly flustered."

Though she thought it might be, it actually was not any kind of luck that Orr was at home, studying, when she arrived. The probability of that occurrence, as computed by Orr a year later, was approximately 0.68, and much of the other 0.32 was still spent in his room. To be safe, though, she had brought a book, ready to wait at his door until he arrived. And, as with Toff the next day, the continual influx and outflux of people through Orr's building's doors, and people's natural embarrassment at refusing to hold open the door for an unrecognized face that turned out to be a neighbor, removed any hindrance of being let in. So, as with Toff the next day, Orr had no premonition that he would be entertaining a visitor until she knocked on his door.

NaNo 2007: Nov. 14

Written: November 24th, 2007, 4:52 (UTC) By: omer 0 comments

Note: this post is part of an ongoing novel. You should probably start at the beginning here.

The novel continues here.

He and Toff spent much of their time together, because they felt so comfortable together and so uncomfortable around anybody else. And, when around other people, their comfort around each other would help temporarily expel their natural shyness, which in turn helped those others to similarly disrobe. At dinner, their table often became the most uproarious. And, soon, friends from previous dining excursions would invite them for new ones. It was widely held that they were the "best couple ever" (a claim whose implicit assumption he would correct whenever the term was used in front of him, but which spread widely and quickly regardless), and by the end of the first week, they were invited at least twice to every decently-sized party in the area.

Though Toff expressed little interest in going to any parties, Tom convinced her that she should at least gain experience at one party before abandoning them entirely, and classes having not yet begun, this would be the ideal time to experiment. So, the first Saturday night, the two met a group of several other newly-made friends and drifted across uptown Manhattan to a street somewhere a few blocks from Columbia, where the first party of the night was located. Tom found, to his surprise, that he already recognized several people attending, and that they recognized him. So, he dragged Toff to th area most heavily-populated by people he knew and proceeded to enjoy himself excessively. People were sillier at parties, and the social atmosphere (along with, perhaps, the alcohol) helped people move beyond the standard superfluous introductions to deeper and more interesting topics, from favorite music to opinion's the the government's "War on Terror," especially its current manifestation in Iraq. Students spoke about why they chose to come to Columbia, but they also expounded on a how mixture of idealism and intelligence can revolutionize the world. Their arguments were flawed, and they jumped from topic to topic like lily pads, but Tom found the progression of topics fascinating in its own right (and the topics themselves doubly so), so he goaded them on, imploring them to continue talking whenever there was a moment's silence. And, it should be no surprise, given people's irrepressible desire to concentrate on themselves, that Tom became friends that night with fully half of the people at the party.

Toff didn't speak a word, and at every half hour suggested that her experiment, though worthwhile at first, had lost steam, and she was ready to depart.Tom would nod understandingly and tell her that he only wanted to hear the rest of some anecdote, and then he would be ready to leave, only to discover that at the end of this anecdote, three new people would have relevant topics on which to expostulate.

Finally, after two hours, Tom managed to extract himself from the conversations, and Toff led him out of the house. Unfortunately, since neither of them knew the area, and the best directions they could get were "down a ways, until you hit this big street, then left, and I think it's on your right," they were forced to remain at the party for another hour, until one of their friends agreed to walk them back, taking first a right, and then a left onto campus.

The next day, Tom apologized profusely to Toff for what he termed "the uncomfortableness" of the previous night, and with a feat that Tom would later call the best persuasive essay he'd never written, convinced her to try another party the following night, this one close by and unconventional in its intellectual atmosphere. It looked, reeked, and sounded exactly like the previous night, with the exception of the two hosts, who wore highly clever "Kiss Me, I'm Geeky" shirts. Toff apologized to Tom and left after ten minutes. He, on the other hand, stayed for another hour, then moved on to other parties and more people and, for the first time in his life, alcohol.

The growing distance between Tom's mannerisms and Toff's was poised to quickly place emotional space between them that would eventually end their friendship, but the following day, courses started, and though Toff never joined Tom on his weekend-night excursions, they became partners in studiousness.

In short, for two months, Tom lived an ideal life: during the week, he was paid to read interesting texts and papers about those texts that had come out in the past few years and were filled with interesting ideas about technology, language, and how the two interacted. And, sitting next to him was one of his best friends, always ready to relax for a while with a game or two. During the weekend, he was one of the most popular students in the fledgling class of 2006, roving from party to party, recognizing and being recognized, and having a wonderful time relaxing with buzzed, intellectual conversation.

And, when the two months were up, he started to wonder if any two months had ever been better or ever would be better than those first ones as the beloved intellectual of Columbia.


Toff would later describe her first two months as delusional, or more accurately, as under delusion. She built her entire world around a false presumption, and when it finally collapsed, he real undergraduate experience began. Or, at least, so she would say.

Toff did not have a specific plan upon entering Columbia, and while Tom wooed his Professor Milly, her advisor, assigned arbitrarily to her in the music department, one professor Roy Suive Pinsky, attempted to help her choose a track to follow for her undergraduate career. Her obvious disregard for the study of music rendered his knowledge relatively useless, but he'd dined with several professors in other departments and knew some by name, so he would search for one, and read off her classes to see if Toff found any interesting. Finally, he hit on a professor he knew in philosophy, and started reciting classes, the first of which (graduate level, admittedly) was called, "Life as a Puzzle." As soon Professor Pinsky had read this title, Toff stood up and said, "Thank you, Professor. I think I just decided on a major." And, she proceeded to sign up for all of the introductory philosophy courses, including (incidentally) introductory logic.

By the time that she had settled on a schedule, including logic, Greek philosophy, and two generic "art and society" types of courses, required for students to graduate. She was so excited to be taking at least one course with Tom, that when he finally emerged from his long discussion with Milly, Toff jumped on him and gave him a hug. When she let him go, he grinned at her and said, "Nice to see you too!" But, she made the mistake of asking him how the meeting had gone before telling him her news, and by the time he had finished talking about it, they had diverged to a new topic, which was interrupted by dinner.

The following days were so hectic, and the weekend so think with the talk and drama of partying, that she had still not divulged her exciting secret on the first day of class. But, by then, she had gone over the conversation so many times in her head, and it had been so long, that she no longer felt capable of actually telling him. So, she took a seat a few rows behind him, half-awaiting and half-dreading the moment that he would look back and notice her. But, the only direction he looked other than the professor's was Orr's on the other side of the room and closer to the front.

Though disappointed at first, she soon turned her invisibility into a game. When she and Tom began studying together, she left her logic homework in her dorm room, and did it on her own time, usually all at once during the weekends, while Tom went partying.

The weekends were the hardest for her, because she had not yet managed to make any friends outside of the group with which Tom went out on weekends, and obviously, they were predisposed. So, she exchanged e-mails with Kelly, played a few online games, and worked on whatever homework and reading she had not finished during the week.

The work itself was a radical departure from what she had envisioned in her ideal "Life as a Puzzle" world (in which every philosophy class was really about some interesting logical puzzles and how to solve them), but she discovered an appreciation for it regardless. The Greek philosophy class was, in one sense, about how to make sense of the real world as if it were a giant puzzle, and though the Greeks' conclusions were at times ridiculous, and usually dated, Toff found the notion of taking the real world and mapping it onto a puzzle fascinating and spent some of her class periods attempting to develop puzzles about her life. One of her first was, "Given that Toff has N hours of homework to do every week, and M hours of class, and approximately one quarter of her homework must be done over the weekend, and she wakes up every weekday morning at 8:00am and weekend morning at 10:00am, what are the highest values of M and N for which she can, every day, be done with her homework by dinner (6:00pm) but still never get behind? The advanced puzzler should also consider O, any extra time spent, including time for breakfast and lunch and traveling between courses." Many of her riddles followed this strategy, more math problem than riddle, and always incorporating some aspect of her life.

In all, she was quite satisfied by and thoroughly engaged with her academic work at Columbia, so her hardship came largely from her lack of interactions with anyone but Tom.

Alone, this would not be much disappointment for her. She considered Tom the epitome of success and intelligence and loved having a portion of his life to herself. She envisioned them falling in love, having children, and living the intellectual dream: him a professor, and her a puzzle-maker or perhaps a professor too, happy children, happy marriage, happy world.

She had been in love with Tom for years, after only knowing him for a few weeks during their first year of high school, when she was still newly moved to New Mexico, and Tom had been the first person to greet her warmly and remember her name afterwards. And, though she had no expectation that he felt anything for her in return, nor did she have any intention of revealing her feelings for him, seeing him disappear on the weekends, to live in a life that did not accord with her ideal of him confused her.

She wondered for the first time, after a month in New York, whether she had moved their for him. Although she concluded that, regardless of her original reasoning, the school was a wonderful place to end up, the fear that she had moved across the country to chase after something that was drifting slowly away frightened her drastically.

More complicated still, the party scene accustomed Tom to physical proximity, so not long after Toff's distress began, when the two would study together, he began to slowly recede the distance between them. At first, she worked to keep herself equidistant from him at all times, but as his seating choice coincided more and more with an area close to where she was ready to sit, she eventually convinced herself that perhaps Tom had finally overcome his shyness about feelings for her, and she soon worked equally hard to find a spot to sit near him.

And, without warning, they were soon studying right next to each other, legs and hips touching, able to hear each other's breathing and see each other's lips as they followed the text. It was enough to distract Toff so much that her equation for M and N fell apart, and she had to stay up later to redo some of the studying that had simply escaped her while working with Tom.

This progression lasted for another few weeks, until just before the midterms, when studying began to overwhelm all other activities, and Tom even stayed in on the weekends.

In Greek philosophy, as a treat for her students, the professor assigned sections of The Symposium, which the class would analyze in more depth (along with The Republic) after midterms. One of the sections was Aristophanes's infamous claim that love is the reunification of two people into one androgynous giant who was originally cleaved in two for declaring war on the gods. Out of context, this argument appears ridiculous, but it has thoroughly pervaded our society, as evidenced by the even more infamous claim from Jerry Maquire: "You complete me." What finally set Toff over the edge was a line early in Aristophanes's monologue, that (regarding the giants), "Terrible was their might and strength, and the thoughts of their hearts were great, and they made an attack upon the gods" (emphasis Toff's), or (in Toff's mind) that a couple united by love can be intellectually and emotionally challenging even to a Greek god. And, she imagined that, as two intellectual people individually, she and Tom stood the best chance of reaching an exponential growth in intelligence by being together.

So, she decided to finally confront Tom regarding her feelings for him.