"...without his duck"
Lunchtime talk and reading group
December 3, 2013.
In recounting my talk on the problem of induction, I left out the best part. Each of these talks has a chair, who introduces the speaker, keeps order and then bestows the umbrella. It is usually my job. But it cannot be today, since I am the speaker.
Carrie Figdor, who is spending the year with us, agreed to take on the job. I was grateful that she agreed so readily. Shortly before the talk, I passed her in the hallway.
"You know that I don't get an umbrella? We have a strict one-umbrella policy and I've already had mine."
She knew, she said, and she said it with such perfect composure that I quite failed to sense that there would be more to this story.
Carrie introduced me with the aplomb of a speaker comfortable at the podium. She praised me for my "tenacity" in many areas. It was phrased so perfectly that there was only a glimmer that it melded laudable dedication and foolhardy stubbornness.
Our lunchtime talks routinely conclude with the presentation of the umbrella. There would be none today, of course. But when the moment came, Carrie repeated exactly the words I always say:
"Now we move to our closing ceremony."
Carrie went to the closet where the umbrellas are hidden and retrieved a blue bag that was then presented to me.
The Fellows had sensed my special affection for Pittsburgh's duck. I can only guess how they knew. Perhaps it was the manic tenacity with which I drove a few of them, through traffic and crowds, to see the duck, when Katharine Brading visited, as related here.
They had cooked up the idea as a group and I can only say that I was quite thoroughly delighted. I posed with the duck and posed again.
All the while, there was something lingering, something I'd sensed but forgotten, a primal memory. Then, there it was. It was an old Far Side cartoon. One of my favorites. There is a room full of professors, with one whose eyes were opened wide in alarm. The caption reads:
"Suddenly Professor Liebowitz realizes that he has come to the seminar without his duck."
You then notice that everyone in cartoon but one is carrying a duck. That cartoon now went up on my door.
This now determined the course of the rest of day. The duck and I would be inseparable. I'd not be caught without my duck. It came with me to our staff meeting, where we discussed matters grave and not. Katherine Brading had sent me a littler duck as a memento of our visit to the duck. We decided then to add it to our science tree.
The duck sat before me in our reading group meeting. I chided the Fellows for coming under equipped and passed round a copy of the cartoon so I would not need to explain their faux pas further.
In evening, we went to Daphne's Cafe for their authentic Turkish fare. As we sat around the table, Carrie chided: "You didn't bring the duck?"
At that moment, Josh wandered off. That ruined the timing, so I stalled and deflected the question.
Later when Josh was back and some food had been served, I admitted my lie. I pulled the duck out of my bag and also my camera. I wanted to catch everyone at the moment of surprise.
The restaurant owner saw the camera and came over. He would take a photo of us all. "Be sure to get the duck," we said.
John D. Norton