Jim Holt

       There are two marine creatures that I have always identified with. One of them is the juvenile sea squirt. This is a little thing that wanders through the sea looking for a nice rock or hunk of coral to make its home for life. When it finds the right spot and takes root, it no longer has any use for its brain. So it eats it. In much the same way, I have been wandering through Manhattan these 20 years in search of a suitable hunk of coral to attach myself to. A month ago I found it. It is a magazine called the New Leader. Finally, I can eat my brain.
       I have happy news for all those welfare moms whom Clinton and the Republicans are throwing off the rolls: After decades of idleness, it is good to have a job. I am by way of being work-shy, not exactly a man of ginger and push. Since college I have had only two real jobs, for a total of 37 months’ employment. Being unoccupied is fine if you are under the age of 40. Until you pass that milestone, you are “young and brilliant,” by definition. At 40 you are suddenly “veteran,” a status you retain until 60, whereupon you become “distinguished.” In my young-and-brilliant phase I had one good idea, a metaphysical discovery, actually: I figured out why there is Something rather than Nothing–why, in other words, some kind of universe has to exist. (I’ll save the explanation for later in the week, as a hedge against uneventfulness.) That gratified whatever intellectual ambition I had. It seemed like enough for a lifetime. After all, when Epimenides thought up the Liar’s Paradox, a similar breakthrough, he called it a day’s work and proceeded to sleep soundly for 57 years, right through his “veteran” and “distinguished” phases. He would have been even better off declining into the editorship of a small political biweekly, as I have.
       Monday morning, I get up, dress negligently but with unimpeachable taste, and head for the subway. As I cross Broadway at 86th Street, a cab almost a block uptown honks at me. Foolish Hindoo! I am not even in his light-cone (thus he cannot casually interact with me by running me over–see Einstein). A few minutes later, as I try to board a crowded No. 1, the conductor announces, “Please enter the train through all available doors.” What does he think I am, a quantum particle?
       By the way, the other marine creature I identify with is the hagfish. It is a jawless thing that, when attacked, secretes enough slime to cover itself and repel the predator.