A worthwhile experiment

October 30, 2018   ·   0 Comments

By Anthony Carnovale

Hate is a strong word – but I hate numbers; I really do. Why do I hate them so much? Was I taught badly (I couldn’t stand my grade 10 Math teacher)? Perhaps it had something to do with my upbringing. My father was a number’s guy, an accountant. For him, numbers made sense. And make sense of them he did. Every Sunday in our house was budget day, a time where he and my mother would hunker down in his office and ‘crunch the numbers’ (my sisters and I didn’t like Sundays very much).

For people like my father, numbers speak a language that’s unambiguous – exactly what I can’t stand. There’s zero room for negotiation. With math, you’re either right or you’re wrong; you can’t argue your way out of an incorrect answer. Numbers cannot make you laugh, unless you put 58008 into a calculator and turn it upside down to make ‘BOOBS’. In my eyes, numbers don’t have character.

Needless to say, I’m a word guy. I like words; I teach words; I make stuff out of words. I like the sound of words – words like penultimate, obfuscate, alacrity, efflorescence. I also love me a good curse word. Words can build, words can destroy. In my eyes, words are the real weapons of mass construction and destruction. Words, as much as our DNA, are the building blocks of our lives. Words matter.

However, it seems that in today’s world, our worth is increasingly measured in numbers: success is determined by how much money a person makes; people brood over the number of likes their posts on Facebook and Instagram generate; students fret over grades; people track calories. I don’t think about numbers, much. Personally, interest rates don’t interest me. Gas prices bore me.

There was a lot of talk about numbers during the 2018 campaign for town council: taxes; costings; the number of riders using public transit; the number of patrons that visit the public library; cash reserves. Numbers. Numbers. Numbers. Heck, it even got me thinking about numbers – in particular, the number ‘four’.

According to my mother, when I was four years old I used to come home from school and ask her for my soother. My son’s fourth word was bread. When my daughter is four years old my son will be seven. Four years equals 1,460 days. Most people graduate high school in four years (I graduated in five). Most people graduate university in four years (I graduated in five). When a child is four they should be able to correctly name at least four colors; grilled chicken with tomato, soy, and sesame seeds is my favorite four-ingredient recipe. Martin Luther King had four children. If you google ‘four’ you get 2,360,000,000 hits. If you google ‘4’ you get 25,270,000,000. For the record, I’ve never gone past page four of a Google search. The number four key on a keyboard is also the dollar sign key. I just took the fourth book from the fourth bookshelf and opened it up to the fourth page and spied the fourth sentence: I want him to see it (from Jonathan Lethem’s ‘Chronic City’). A leap year is every four years. There are four points on a cross. There are four bases in baseball. A bee has four wings. Grade four students in the U.S. practice active shooter drills in school; four is the only number whose name in English has the same number of letters as its value. There are four elements – earth, wind, water, fire; four suits of playing cards. The fourth word in Samuel Beckett’s ‘Fizzle No. Four’ is: before. There are four bits in a nibble, equivalent to half a byte. Four years in dog years is 28 years. On the fourth day, of the fourth month in 1944, an Allied surveillance plan took the first pictures of the Auschwitz concentration camp; in the Book of Revelations, the Four Horseman of the Apocalypse wreak destruction upon humanity. Tetraphobia (the fear of number 4) is common in East Asia (Elevators in China don’t have a 4th, 14th or 24th floor). In Tetris, a game named for the Greek word for ‘four’, every shape in the game is formed of four blocks each. The fourth mayor of Orangeville was Thomas Jull. The 44th mayor of Orangeville was Drew Brown. The 47th mayor of Orangeville is Sandy Brown.

Why all this reverie and brooding over the number four? Well, we’ve just elected a new council that will govern and lead this community for the next four years.

Four years is a long time (a total of 35,040 hours). If I could I’d wish upon a four-leaf clover that the next four years will not be defined by the petty, catty and cheap behavior that defined the last four years on council – we simply cannot afford it.

If it does rear its ugly head again, remember this: the most crushing of curse words are the ones made up of four letters.


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