Stories

The Young Man Who Wanted to be Like Zeno – Eli S. Evans

A young man whose girlfriend was a brick oven filled with smoldering coals had a strong desire to be like the ancient Greek philosopher Zeno of Elea, inventor of numerous ingenious paradoxes. Unfortunately, he was struggling to invent even a single a paradox of his own. For example, was it a paradox that unless the person asking it had since come clean, it was impossible for one to answer the question “when have I ever lied to you successfully?” successfully? Almost, the young man thought, but at the same time, not quite, and perhaps precisely because of that possibility of the liar having come clean and in so doing made it possible, rather than impossible, to answer the question “when have I ever lied to you successfully?” successfully. What, then, about a pair of ducks? Surely, a pair of ducks in and of themselves were not a paradox, but could it be a paradox that notwithstanding the fact that if one repeats the phrase “pair of ducks” over and over again it eventually begins to sound like “paradox,” the pair of ducks in question still do not become a paradox? No, the young man determined: the pair of ducks would not be a paradox and sadly, neither would their not having become a paradox be a paradox, nor would it be a paradox that neither one nor the other was a paradox. Forging ahead, the young man considered the hypothetical case of a man named George – just George, because he was one of those people who, either because they’re celebrities or foundlings, don’t use a last name – who had grown so sick and tired of people saying “by George” as a means for expressing astonishment or approval that he decided to write a book arguing against saying “by George” (the title, no doubt, would be I’m a Man, Not an Exclamation!). If the book proved persuasive to such an extent that people really did stop saying “by George,” then this man named George might never get credit for having written it, for the simple reason that, thanks to that very persuasiveness, any time anyone asked who the book was by, the person to whom they had posed the question would not be able to tell them without saying what they had been successfully persuaded to no longer say. But that wasn’t a paradox either, was it? At best, it was a bit of a bummer, kind of like the fact that the struggling young man still hadn’t invented a paradox.

Yet, one would be mistaken to conclude, on these grounds, that the young man’s life overall was also a bummer. For while it may be true that, in having failed to invent a paradox, he had failed, as well, to fulfill his strong desire to be like Zeno, it is also true that when you’re a young man such as he was, your happiness depends almost entirely on what your friends think of you, and that what your friends think of you depends almost entirely on what they think of your girlfriend; and inasmuch as this particular young man’s friends were all coal fired pizzas, it can probably go without saying that they thought his girlfriend was VERY hot.