Sinister Simon And The Pi Man

                              By Carl Miller

 

 

 

 

 

     "They're moving him into Hospice. It's his heart. They say his mind is putting too much stress on it. On top of that, his body is atrophied and his lungs are filling of fluid. He's not going to make it, Simon."

     "I'll catch a flight out tomorrow morning and be there by noon."

     "What about the movie?"

     "Shooting wrapped last night. It's going into post-production now. They can work around me for a while. How are you holding up?"

     "I'm tired."

     "With Adam in Hospice you have to take the opportunity to rest. You've been treating him at the house for what, seven or eight months? You have to consider your own health."

     "I know, I know. This is all so sad. He had it all, we had it all, everything we ever dreamed of. I thought we were happy, but he needed more. Now it's all gone, and soon he'll be gone. I'm scared. I don't know what I'm going to do without him."

     "How are you fixed for money?"

     "Between insurance and residuals we're okay for now. At least we're making ends meet."

     "Don't hesitate to ask for help, Joanne. Just let me know what you need."

     "I appreciate it, Simon. I'll see you tomorrow then?"

     "Tomorrow. Stay strong."

     "Okay, bye."

 

                                  *  *  *

 

     Every year, on March 14, the university’s math department sponsored a party to celebrate Pi Day. They barbecued chickens and set up booths for math related demonstrations and games of chance. Jazz bands played throughout the day, pausing only for the big battle. Teams were selected by blind drawing, armed with whipped-cream pies and at exactly 1:59 PM (3/14 1:59) a horn signaled the beginning of the country's largest pie fight.

     One year, Adam Van Camp, a math major, made the event extra special by setting a world record for the recitation of the value of Pi. He rattled off 70,000 digits, breaking the old record of 68,000 and change. Reporters were present along with representatives from Guinness. It took eleven hours to accomplish with Guinness taking another month to confirm and certify the record. After that, Adam was a household name. He was known as The Pi Man, PBS contracted him to do a half-hour math show that aired after Sesame Street. It was called The Amazing Pi Man.

     The first year was big. Adam won a daytime Emmy. He asked Joanne, his longtime girlfriend, to marry him. She accepted. He bought a plot of land and hired an architect to design a house. It would have five bedrooms. They were planning on a large family.

     Adam had an older brother named Simon. Simon went through college on a football scholarship. He was an adequate linebacker but wasn’t good enough to go pro. After graduation, he took a job as a mortgage broker. When the real-estate bubble burst he lost his job. Hard times followed, Adam came to the rescue.

     “Come out to L.A. and do the show with me.” Adam prodded.

     “Me? I'm not an actor.” Simon answered.

     “I wasn't either. This isn't high drama or anything. It's easy. I've got a plan. With my brains and your good looks, we'll kill.”

     “If you say so. You're the genius."

     "Leave it to me. Can you be out here next week?"

     "I guess."

     "See you then."

 

                                 *  *  *

    

     "Why, who could that be?" Pi Man queried the television audience as he approached the sets front door. "My goodness, it's Sinister Simon. What are you doing here? Shouldn't you be in school?"

     Simon grabbed Pi Man by the lapels. "I skipped school today. What are you gonna do about it? We're having a math test. Math sucks! I don't need math."

     Each episode had a five-minute sketch where Simon played “Sinister Simon”, a blue jean and black tee shirt clad thug. The tee shirt had white lettering scrawled across it that read Math Sucks. He would rant about how he hated math, spouting clichés often used by students to discredit math class. “I’ll never use it in real life,” or, “we have calculators and computers so I don’t need to learn it.” And so on. The Amazing Pi Man would calm Simon and then dazzle him with a mathematical demonstration or experiment fashioned to illustrate the importance of understanding math.

     “That’s amazing, Mr. Pi Man.” Sinister Simon would react with astonishment.

     “Now do you understand why it’s so important to learn math?” The Pi Man would ask.

     “I sure do, Mr. Pi Man. I’ll never diss’ math again.”

     “What about that shirt?” Adam would ask. “That shirt diss’es math.”

     “Here’s what I think of this shirt.” Simon would remove it and toss it into a trashcan. “I’ll never wear anything like that again.”

     In its second season, the show won another daytime Emmy. The Simon skits were phenomenally successful, more so than Adam could have ever imagined.

    

     Simon became a pop culture icon. His good looks, charm and athletic build had every stay-at-home mom in front of their television sets. When he peeled off his shirt, some swooned. They fantasized of pulling their fingers through his lustrous head of chestnut hair or running their hands over his washboard abs. Grocery and department stores noted a decline in business during the time the show aired. Adult toy stores realized an increase in business after the show ended. Paparazzi followed him. Tabloids had him linked to one starlet after the other. He did some modeling and appeared on the cover of GQ.

     Through it all, however, Simon remained grounded. His dedication to the show was absolute. He was at every rehearsal and always knew his lines. In the evenings he would often go to Adam and Joanne’s new home and help with finishing touches.

     “It’s almost midnight, I thought he’d never leave.”

     “He was helping me hang curtains, Adam.”

     “Aren’t you getting a little tired of him being around here so much?”

     “I’d think you’d appreciate him being here. I’m sure there are things he'd rather be doing.”

     “Such as?”

     “He's a celebrity. He could be at parties, or fancy nightclubs. He could be hanging out with movie stars. Instead, he comes here to help us.”

     “So you think he’s a big deal too!” As Adam leveled the accusation, he threw a screwdriver across the room.

     Startled by his aggression, Joanne took a step back. “What’s your problem?”

     “I’m tired of being in his shadow, Joanne. I’m supposed to be the star. It’s my show. You should have seen the spectacle at the hardware store today. Women screamed when they recognized him.  He was mobbed. ‘Sign this, sign that’ they demanded. No one even acknowledged me. Why him, he’s nothing. He plays a dumb beefcake for a few minutes a day. I’ve had it. I’m thinking about letting him go. Those skits are getting stale anyway.”

     “Adam, you’ll do no such thing. I’ve never seen you so jealous. It’s ugly. You’ve got everything you ever wanted. Why are you obsessing over this?”

     “Because, it’s not right.”

     “You're being stupid. I'm going to bed. Join me when you've calmed down."

 

                                *  *  *

 

     "So, Mr. Van Camp, You're going to attempt to recite the value of Pi to 125,000 digits? Tell us, how do you memorize all those numbers?"

     Adam took a sip of coffee and set down the mug. "I don't memorize them, Larry. And call me Adam."

     "Okay, Adam, but how do you do it if you don't memorize them?"

     "I don't need mnemonic techniques. It's got nothing to do with memory. I clear my head insofar as I can see the patterns created by the numbers. I see them as well as I see you in front of me."

     "How do you do that?"

     "It's a gift. That's the only way I can describe it."

     "Why do you do it?"

     "Because, I'm passionate about Pi."

     Larry looked down at his notes, then over the top of his eyeglasses. "Why 125,000? What's so special about that number?"

     "A gentleman in Japan claims to have taken the value out to 100,000 digits."

     "I thought you set the record at 70,000?"

     "His number's not official. Mine is. I had the Guinness people and other sanctioning bodies witness it. They filmed me and checked me against computers. He didn't do it the right way. At any rate, if I did 100,000 digits, he would claim to hold half of the record. I'm doing 125,000 to erase all doubt."

     "I see. How long will it take to envision and recite 125,000 numbers?"

     "I'm thinking it will take between twenty and twenty-four hours."

     "Fascinating. We're looking forward to the big event, but for now, we’re out of time. I thank you for coming on the show and we wish you the best of luck. If you pull it off, you'll have to come back and tell us about it."

     "I appreciate that, Larry, but there's no luck involved. I can see as many digits as I want. It's just a matter of stamina. So, keep my seat warm."

     "You've got it. Adam Van Camp, ladies and gentlemen, The Amazing Pi Man. After the break we've got the great actor, William Defoe, so stay tuned. This is Larry King live."

 

                                *  *  *

 

     "Who's all here? Are the news stations out there?"

     "Yes, Adam, everybody's out there. The networks, the tabloids, everybody."

     Adam lit up. He stood and paced the room. There was a swagger about him. "That's wonderful. I'm back, Joanne. They're paying attention to me again."

     "I thought you were doing this for the show, for all of us. Or, is this just a way for you to get attention?"

     "Of course it's for the show. We're all going to benefit from this." Adam placed his hand on Joanne's tummy as he spoke. "Now leave me, I have to get ready."

     "Already? We've got thirty minutes yet."

     "The last time I did this you were my girlfriend, watching from the crowd. You have to understand that I need to prepare. I have to get my mind and body tuned into the world of Pi. Think of me as a boxer preparing for a fight. Mind, body and spirit must become one. Now go, let me be."

     "Okay, okay, I'm out of here. Good luck." Joanne gave him a kiss and left the room.

     Adam removed a flask from his pants pocket. It contained an elixir brewed from opium-laced cannabis. Not exactly the same recipe he learned from Rohan so many years ago.

     Rohan was Adam's college roommate, a Rastafarian who taught him varying techniques for ingesting ganja and dabbling in self-hypnosis. It was during one such ganja induced transcendental experience that Adam enjoyed a revelation of clarity that allowed him to become a human calculator.

     This time, Adam increased the potency to assure he’d stay under the influence for a full twenty-four hours. He drank it, pushed back in a recliner, and concentrated on phasing into a transcendental state. His heart rate and breathing slowed. The surroundings no longer mattered. Adam's world was in his head. He saw twisting ribbons winding between brilliant starbursts. Large, slowly rotating cylinders and cubes hung precariously overhead. A distant fireball approached. It came closer, throwing sparks like a pinwheel and clearing out the other clutter. It filled his field of vision and burst, leaving behind a white void, pure clarity. This was when he had to plant the hypnotic suggestion.

     “Feel the circle, become the circle.” He spoke softly, almost inaudibly.  “Clap your hands once and start calculating the ratio of the circumference to its diameter. See the numbers, envision the patterns, the sequence is before you.  Follow the progression, recite the progression, follow it until you reach..." The door flew open.

     "Mr. Van Camp, It's time. Are you ready to go on?"

     Adam snapped to with a start. He drank from a bottle of water and pulled himself together. "Yes, I'm ready, let's get it on." He was escorted to the main stage.

 

     Officials were seated behind a table along one side of the auditorium. Reporters were gathered along the other. The center was roped off for the many photographers and hundreds of spectators sat on folding steel chairs in the back. Posters for companies such as Texas Instruments and The Discovery Channel covered the walls.

      There were preliminary statements by the MC and major sponsors. Afterward, Adam took the stage. The room went dark and a lone spotlight shone on The Pi Man. A voice boomed over the PA.

     “Are you ready, Mr. Van Camp?”

     Adam nodded in response.

     “If you would then, Mr. Van Camp, please recite the value of Pi.”

     Adam clapped his hands and let them fall to his side, his eyes cast down on the floor. With a slow and concise rhythm, he recited the value, starting with "3 point", then, "1 –4 –1 – 5 –9 – 2 – 6" and so on.

     Hours elapsed. Journalists came and went. Judges took turns taking breaks. The noon news presented a short report. The evening news provided much more in depth coverage. They interviewed some of the spectators, one of whom was Simon.

     “We’re here with Adam’s brother, better known as Sinister Simon, The Pi Man’s favorite foil. Tell us, Simon, how do you think it’s going so far?”

     “So far, so good. We’re about nine hours into this thing and he’s going strong.”

     “We’ve noticed that over these past several hours, Adam hasn’t taken a break. He hasn’t taken a drink of water or used the restroom. The rules clearly state that he can. Would you comment on that?”

     “He’s an intense guy. When he puts his mind to something he doesn’t allow anything to interfere.”

     “We’re hearing that he’s up to around 51,000 digits. Is that about where he was planning to be at this point?”

     “Yes. If you pay attention to his cadence, you’ll notice that it doesn’t vary. He knows exactly how many numbers he’ll recite per hour. He’s right on target.”

     “And what about you, Simon. Do you have any projects in the works? We're hearing movie rumors.”

     “Today is not about me, it’s about Adam.”

     “Very well, Simon, thank you for your time.”

 

                                 *  *  *

 

     Most people tuning into the morning news were surprised that Adam was still going. A Zogby poll indicated that fifty-seven percent of the nation thought he wouldn’t make it through the night, while a Gallup poll revealed even less confidence with sixty-two percent believing he’d fail. As the hours crawled by, Joanne and Simon were becoming increasingly concerned. Adam had still not taken a break, not even for water. He was losing his voice, and on several occasions he appeared to waver, like he might fall, but caught himself. At Simon’s urging, Joanne called their family physician who agreed to come to the auditorium, just in case.

     Adam figured the exercise would take twenty-two hours and that, apparently, was right on the money. He was twenty-one hours in and had 5,681 digits to go. Judges, journalists and spectators were astonished by his ability and stamina. One reporter called him a machine while another likened him to the Energizer Bunny. Since the 100,000 mark was already surpassed, the dubious Japanese record had been broken. City officials set about organizing a tickertape parade. In the parking lot, satellite dishes rose and turned like sunflowers in preparation for transmitting the big moment around the world.

 

     "This is a remarkable achievement. Adam Van Camp, otherwise known as The Amazing Pi Man, has been standing in one spot for twenty-two hours. He's not taken a break for a drink or for any other reason. His eyes have been fixed on the floor in front of him. I don't think he's looked up at the bustling crowd once. Judges tell me he's got fifteen numbers to go before reaching 125,000.

     "Stay with us folks. It should be over any moment now. TV 5 News has the exclusive rights to an interview with Adam immediately after the event. Wait, they're telling me via my earphone that he's reached 125,000. The Amazing Pi Man has successfully accomplished his goal for reciting the value of Pi. Yet, as you can see, he's still going. Perhaps he doesn't yet realize it."

 

     "Mr. Van Camp, you've reached 125,000 digits. You may stand down."

 

     "What you're overhearing is the event MC. He just informed Mr. Van Camp that he could stand down. That, apparently, is counter to Mr. Van Camp's wishes. I guess he feels good and wants to continue. We'll take a commercial break and sort this out. Stay with us, this is Gavin Berry, TV 5 News."

 

     "I'm worried, Simon," Joanne said. "He doesn't look right. Something's wrong"

     "What in the hell is he trying to prove?" Simon replied. "I don't understand. Maybe we should go out and get him."

 

     "Welcome back to the University of Southern California. Adam 'The Pi Man' Van Camp has been reciting the value of Pi for more than twenty-two hours. His voice is barely audible. He looks pale and tired. His posture is no longer erect. He's slumping forward and looks to be having trouble maintaining his balance. For his own good, he should stand down."

     Adam teetered and fell forward. Failing to lift his arms to break the fall, his chest and face slammed, full force, into the stage floor. The crash thundered over the PA system. Blood spouted from his nose. 

     "He's fallen! My God he's just fallen forward onto the stage! He needs help. Someone needs to help him. Now they’re rushing to his aid. John, are you getting this? Keep the camera on him.

     "His wife is administering to him, I see his brother there, and another man, hopefully a doctor. We'll try to get word as to who that third person is. He seems to be taking charge of the situation. Joanne, Adam's wife, is on a cell phone. Perhaps she's calling 911. My God, I see blood! His face is covered in it. This is terrible, a horrible way to end what should have been The Pi Man's finest hour. He fell with an incredible thud. I'd hoped that the microphone attached to his shirt made it sound worse than it was, but with so much blood, I don't know. Spectators are gathering around the stage, it's difficult to see what's happening. I'll try to make my way closer."

 

   "Adam. Adam, snap out of it for God's sake!" Joanne screamed as she shook him, but he was unresponsive. He was sprawled on the floor, barely conscious, still uttering digits of Pi.

     "Back away, Joanne." Simon took her by the arm. "The paramedics are here."

 

     "I'm up to the stage now. John, are you getting this? Okay, okay. I'm told the camera is picking this up. It's pandemonium. A mass of humanity has converged at the front of the stage, pushing, shoving, vying for position to get a look at what's going on. Children are sobbing, parents are desperately trying to calm them. Paramedics have just arrived. They're bringing a stretcher. It must be serious. It's hard to talk over the chaos. Are you picking me up in the booth? Okay. Okay, I'll continue.

     "I can't tell if he's conscious or not. Wait. I can see his face. He appears to be conscious and speaking. Not coherently, more like mumbling. Now my view is blocked. A paramedic's in front of him, he's hooking up an IV. They've lifted him and are carrying him out, probably to a waiting ambulance. The crowd is following. Too many are trying to push through the narrow doorway at once. This is becoming a safety hazard. Someone's going to fall and be trampled. This is bad. This is real bad.

     "I hear the siren. The ambulance is obviously under way and headed to the hospital. We'll close it out here and make our way there. Our next report will be from the hospital. Until then, this is Gavin Berry, TV 5 News."

 

                                *  *  *

 

     "We're on location at USC's University Hospital on San Pablo Street here in L.A. Adam Van Camp, otherwise known as The Amazing Pi Man, was brought in a little over an hour ago. We're standing in front of the media room where we're being told that within minutes the Van Camp family doctor will hold a press conference.

     "Outside, throngs of well-wishers have gathered. Many are bringing pies. At one end of the parking lot, a wall of pies is being erected. You’re looking at a live shot now. It's quite a sight. In here, several members of the local media and the national news wires are milling about waiting for a call to order.

     "A rumor has been swirling that Mrs. Van Camp has also taken ill. I won't speculate as to the truth of those rumors. Our hope is that this press conference will clear them up."

 

     "Ladies and gentlemen, please, would you take your seats and give me your attention. Please, take your seats. Thank you.

     "I am Dr. Fareed Barahas. I have been the Van Camp's family physician for many years. As you know, Mr. Van Camp was brought to this hospital earlier today. Myself, and the fine doctors of this facility have been conferring and treating him. He arrived in a catatonic state, between consciousness and unconsciousness. He was still reciting numbers. We couldn't get him to stop. His nose was broken, throat was enflamed and he was suffering from dehydration. In order to treat him properly, we thought it best to sedate him. Brain scans have revealed that, even though he is heavily sedated, his brain is overactive. We theorize that his subconscious is still calculating the value of Pi.

     "I am now opening the floor to questions. Yes, you, in the blue sport coat."

     "Thank you, Doctor, Gavin Berry with TV 5 News. First off, how is Mrs. Van Camp holding up?"

     "Unfortunately, not good. The stress had a profound effect on her. She miscarried her child."           

     The crowd gasped, not realizing she had been pregnant.

     "Our thoughts and prayers are with her on this awful day." Gavin said "What about Adam? When do you expect him to recover from this?"

     "I'm afraid we don't know when, or if, he'll recover."

     A clamor again erupted from the attending reporters. An anonymous voice demanded an explanation.

     "It appears that Mr. Van Camp is in a hypnotic state, probably self-induced. Our theory is that he used the self-hypnosis to facilitate his Pi calculations, if that indeed is the case, it would be imperative that he implant an end trigger at the same time he implanted the hypnotic suggestion to calculate Pi. In this instance, the trigger would be set at 125,000 digits."

     "Why would that be imperative?" Gavin Berry asked.

     "Because, Pi is an irrational number. That means that no finite sequence of integers can equal its value."

     "What does that mean, Doctor?"

     "That means that it's an infinite number. It never ends. If Mr. Van Camp did not set an end trigger, or if for some reason the trigger isn't working, he will continue in his current state."

     Murmurs reverberated through the room. A woman stood. "Do you mean he'll be calculating the value of Pi for the rest of his life?"

     "Yes, ma'am, for the rest of his life.

 

                              The End

 

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