Looking at the Numbers

With a needle and thread in my hand.


What are the odds that you would show up and our time together would fit like an old pair of jeans? Time doesn't usually fit me that way. With you, it fits like jeans I'd wear to play parking-lot football on Thanksgiving. I never had that before. Love, lust, need. But never someone who, like you, could take a bolt of time and tailor it into a 3-piece suit with boutonniere and a matching wool overcoat. Then you leaned into me on the subway and I read my book over your shoulder, while you read yours. I should be careful with this. My friends tell me, “be careful of that. It's hard to find.”

But in the course of things I was wondering the other day if some other pair of jeans would be more comfortable. I thought, be honest, the odds are no good. Past performance indicating future results, we're talking a 5%, 10% chance of success. That's it. After the failure, the prefix "ex" shows up, in front of all those hours on the phone and trips on the bus, the cooking fires and carmelized ginger, expurgated from the record, along with a need to reinvent, restart, deny. 10 years from now, we're more likely to meet each other for lunch than wake up to get our daughter off to school.

Even if we get there, I'm likely to cheat, to be one of those tumescent 40-year-old men full of his own mild power, promising himself that he's causing no pain, egged on and excused by his collaborating friends. He's in there, too. I've got to watch for that shithead self, now that I've found it. He's easy to spot because he has no clothes.

So these are slot-machine odds, which is why I've been so difficult. But you just called me, and in the middle of all the talk about the way we are, you told me you won $50 at the Vegas airport. That every slot you played stuck in the airport won just a little. “I was a little magical,” you said, “or statistically, incredibly lucky.”

So lets say that the cylinders roll around and line up: not three cherries, obviously, but maybe three lemons. I think that did happen. And the payoff is that you're visiting me in the hospital after I break my leg, putting up shelves with me, grouting the tile in the bathroom while I paint the hallway, listening in amused frustration, from the bedroom, as the dog gets into the trash, not talking to me for an afternoon because I'm mean. Who knows, maybe you're digging your fingers into my hand until your draw blood while the midwife - well, more on that later. If I could have all that, and it's more than I ever expected, why not release my independence, my solitude, which has been caged up inside me like carrier pigeons. And let them fly out all over the city and into the country?

That's how I win, and why I have to stop playing, I have to walk out of the casino. I don't wait for a bigger payoff. Like I said, you leaned into me on the subway. It's only been 3 months or so. There will be plenty of doubts. I may not become the better person I want to be. I may not be able to hold to a true course, I may decide that I should go back in the casino, that I owe it to myself. We may be disappointed in one another.

But, thinking it through past the moment, I'd rather make you clothes out of time than play the odds. If I met you in orbit we could touch fingertips, and dive into the atmosphere as meteors. It would be over like that. Instead we're on earth unrolling bolts of cloth made from time, using trust for thread - trust slowly coming off the spindle, thin, easy to snap, sometimes so tight you can pluck it like a guitar string, running our needles through the cloth, using trust to hold time together.




Ftrain.com is the website of Paul Ford and his pseudonyms. It is showing its age. I'm rewriting the code but it's taking some time.


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About the author: I've been running this website from 1997. For a living I write stories and essays, program computers, edit things, and help people launch online publications. (LinkedIn). I wrote a novel. I was an editor at Harper's Magazine for five years; then I was a Contributing Editor; now I am a free agent. I was also on NPR's All Things Considered for a while. I still write for The Morning News, and some other places.

If you have any questions for me, I am very accessible by email. You can email me at ford@ftrain.com and ask me things and I will try to answer. Especially if you want to clarify something or write something critical. I am glad to clarify things so that you can disagree more effectively.


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© 1974-2011 Paul Ford


@20, by Paul Ford. Not any kind of eulogy, thanks. And no header image, either. (October 15)

Recent Offsite Work: Code and Prose. As a hobby I write. (January 14)

Rotary Dial. (August 21)

10 Timeframes. (June 20)

Facebook and Instagram: When Your Favorite App Sells Out. (April 10)

Why I Am Leaving the People of the Red Valley. (April 7)

Welcome to the Company. (September 21)

“Facebook and the Epiphanator: An End to Endings?”. Forgot to tell you about this. (July 20)

“The Age of Mechanical Reproduction”. An essay for TheMorningNews.org. (July 11)

Woods+. People call me a lot and say: What is this new thing? You're a nerd. Explain it immediately. (July 10)

Reading Tonight. Reading! (May 25)

Recorded Entertainment #2, by Paul Ford. (May 18)

Recorded Entertainment #1, by Paul Ford. (May 17)

Nanolaw with Daughter. Why privacy mattered. (May 16)

0h30m w/Photoshop, by Paul Ford. It's immediately clear to me now that I'm writing again that I need to come up with some new forms in order to have fun here—so that I can get a rhythm and know what I'm doing. One thing that works for me are time limits; pencils up, pencils down. So: Fridays, write for 30 minutes; edit for 20 minutes max; and go whip up some images if necessary, like the big crappy hand below that's all meaningful and evocative because it's retro and zoomed-in. Post it, and leave it alone. Can I do that every Friday? Yes! Will I? Maybe! But I crave that simple continuity. For today, for absolutely no reason other than that it came unbidden into my brain, the subject will be Photoshop. (Do we have a process? We have a process. It is 11:39 and...) (May 13)

That Shaggy Feeling. Soon, orphans. (May 12)

Antilunchism, by Paul Ford. Snack trams. (May 11)

Tickler File Forever, by Paul Ford. I'll have no one to blame but future me. (May 10)

Time's Inverted Index, by Paul Ford. (1) When robots write history we can get in trouble with our past selves. (2) Search-generated, "false" chrestomathies and the historical fallacy. (May 9)

Bantha Tracks. (May 5)

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