An Abundance of Katherines, Page 15John Green
“Oh, I just like to go in to the factory and check on things in the morning. And then around noon I drive to Memphis and visit our warehouse. ”
“Why is the warehouse in Memphis instead of Gutshot?” asked Colin.
“Lord, you ask a lot of questions,” Hollis answered. “So listen. Y’all have interviewed most everyone who works at the factory now. So I’m gonna start sending you out to the other folks in Gutshot, factory retirees, and that sort of thing. I still just need you to ask the four questions, but you might want to stay a bit longer, just to look polite and all. ”
Colin nodded. After a bit of silence, he said, “Hassan is sick. He has a sinus infection. ”
“Poor thing. Okay, you’ll go out with Lindsey. It’s a bit of a drive today. You’re going to see the oldsters. ”
“That’s what Lindsey calls them. The folks at the nursing home in Bradford—a lot of them live off pensions from Gutshot Textiles. Lindsey used to visit those folks all the time before she started,” Hollis sighed, “dating that,” Hollis sighed again, “boy. ” Hollis craned her neck around and shouted down the hall, “LINDSSSSEEEEY! GET YOUR LAZY ASS OUT OF BED!”
And even though the sound of Hollis’s thick voice had to carry down the hallway and through two closed doors to reach Lindsey, Lindsey shouted back moments later, “PUT A QUA RTER IN THE GODDAMNED SWEAR JAR, HOLLIS. I’M ABOUT TO TAKE A SHOWER. ”
Hollis got up, put a quarter in the swear jar on the mantel, walked back to Colin, mussed his Jew-fro, and said, “Listen, I’ll be late. Long drive back from Memphis. I’ll have my cell on. Y’all be safe. ”
By the time Lindsey got downstairs, wearing khaki shorts and a tight-fitting black GUTSHOT! T-shirt, Hassan was on the couch, watching reruns of Saturday Night Live.
“Who are our victims today?” asked Lindsey.
“The oldsters. ”
“That’s cool, actually. I’m a veteran of that joint. Okay, off the couch, Hass. ”
“Sorry, Linds. I called in sick,” he said. I’ve never called her “Linds,” Colin thought. Hassan laughed at some joke on the TV. Lindsey blew hair out of her face and then she grabbed Colin by his upper arm and led him out to the Hearse.
“I can’t believe he’s calling in sick,” said Colin, but he started the car. “I’m fugging exhausted from staying up half the night reading a fugging book about the invention of the television,60 and he gets to fugging call in sick?”
“Hey, why the fuck do you and Hassan say fug all the time?”
Colin exhaled slowly, his cheeks puffing out. “Have you ever read The Naked and the Dead by Norman Mailer?”
“I don’t even know who that is. ”
“American novelist. Born in 1923. I was reading him when I first met Hassan. And then later Hassan ended up reading it because it’s all about war, and Hassan likes actiony books. Anyway, it’s 872 pages, and it uses the word fug or fugging or fugguer or whatever about thirty-seven thousand times. Every other word is a fug, pretty much. So anyway, after I read a novel, I like to read some literary criticism of it. ”
“Color me surprised,” she said.
“Right. Well, when Mailer wrote the book, he didn’t use ‘fug. ’ But then he sent it to the publisher and they were like, ‘This is a really excellent book you’ve written, Mr. Mailer. But no one here in 1948 is going to buy it, because it contains even more F-bombs than it does Regular Bombs. ’ So Norman Mailer, as a kind of fug-you to the publisher, went through his 872-page book and changed every last F-word to ‘fug. ’ So I told Hassan the story while he was reading the book and then he decided to start saying fug as an homage to Mailer—and because you can say it in class without getting in trouble. ”
“That’s a good story. See? You can tell a story,” she said, her smile like bright white fire crackers in a starless sky. “It doesn’t have a moral, and it doesn’t contain any romance or adventure, but—it’s a story at least, and you didn’t share any meditations on hydration. ” In his peripheral vision, Colin could see her smiling at him. “Turn left. We go down this fugging road forever and then—oh wait, wait, slow down that’s Chase’s car. ”
A two-toned Chevy Bronco approached from the other direction. Reluctantly, Colin brought the Hearse to a stop. TOC was behind the wheel. Colin rolled down the window as TOC rolled down his. Lindsey leaned across Colin to look up at her boyfriend. “Hey, Lass,” TOC said.
“Not funny,” Lindsey said emphatically, as Chase, riding shotgun, howled with laughter.
“Listen, Chase and me are gonna meet Fulton tonight at the Camp. See you there?”
“I think I’m gonna stay home tonight,” she said, and then turned her head to Colin and said, “Go. ”
“Aww, Linds. I was just screwing with you. ”
“Go,” she said again, and Colin hit the gas and shot off.
Colin was about to ask for an explanation of the scene when Lindsey turned to him and said very calmly, “It’s nothing—just an inside joke. So anyway, I read your notebook. I don’t really understand it all, but I at least looked at everything. ”
Colin quickly forgot about the weirdness with TOC and asked, “What’d you think?”
“Well, first, it kept making me think about what we talked about when you first got here. When I told you I thought it was a bad idea to matter. I think I gotta take that back, because looking at your notes, I kept wanting to find a way to improve on your Theorem. I had this total hard-on for fixing it and proving to you that relationships could be seen as a pattern. I mean, it ought to work. People are so damned predictable. And then the Theorem wouldn’t be yours, it’d be ours, and I could—okay, this sounds retarded. But anyway, I guess I do want to matter a little—to be known outside Gutshot, or I wouldn’t have thought so much about it. Maybe I just want to be big-time without leaving here. ”
Colin slowed as he approached a stop sign and then looked at her. “Sorry,” he said.
“Because you couldn’t fix it. ”
“Oh, but I did,” she said.
Colin brought the car to a full stop twenty feet in front of the stop sign and said, “Are you sure?” And she just kept smiling. “Well, tell me,” he pleaded.
“Okay, well I didn’t FIX it, but I have an idea. I suck at math—like really, really suck, so tell me if I have this wrong, but it seems like the only factor that goes into the formula is where each person fits on the Dumper/ Dumpee scale, right?”
“Right. That’s what the formula’s about. It’s about getting dumped. ”
“Yeah, but that’s not the only factor in a relationship. There’s, like, age. When you’re nine, your relationships tend to be shorter and less serious and more random than when you’re forty-one and desperate to get married before your flow-o’-eggs dries up, right?”
Colin turned away from Lindsey and looked at the intersecting roads before him, both utterly abandoned. He thought it through for a while. It seemed so obvious now—many discoveries do. “More variables,” he announced enthusiastically.
“Right. Like I said—age, for starters. But a lot of things go into it. I’m sorry, but attractiveness matters. There’s this guy who just joined the Marines, but last year he was a senior. He was like 210 pounds of chiseled muscle, and I love Colin and everything, but this guy was dead sexy and also really sweet and nice, and he drove a tricked-out Montero. ”
“I hate that guy,” Colin said.
Lindsey laughed. “Right, you totally would. But anyway, total Dumper. Self-professed proponent of the 4 Fs: find ’em, feel ’em, fug ’em, and forget ’em. Only he made the mistake of dating the only person hotter than him in Middle Tennessee—Katrina. And he became the clingiest, neediest, whimperingest little puppy dog and finally Katrina had to ditch him. ”
“But it’s not just physical attraction,” Colin said, reaching into his pocket for his pencil and notepad. “It’s how attractive yo
u find the person and how attractive they find you. Like, say there’s this girl who’s very pretty, but as it happens, I have a weird fetish and only like girls with thirteen toes. Well, I might be the Dumper if she happens to be ten-toed and only gets turned on by skinny guys with glasses and Jew-fros. ”
“And really green eyes,” Lindsey added nonchalantly.
“I was complimenting you,” she said.
“Oh. Mine. Green. Right. ” Smooth, Singleton. Smooth.
“Anyway, I think it needs to be way more complicated. It needs to be so complicated that a math tard like me won’t understand it in the least. ”
A car pulled up behind them and honked, so Colin returned to driving, and by the time they were in the cavernous parking lot of the nursing home, they had settled on five variables:
Popularity Differential (C)62
Attractiveness Differential (H)64
Dumper/Dumpee Differential (D)63
Introvert / Extrovert Differential (P)64
They sat in the car together with the windows down, the air warm and sticky but not stifling. Colin sketched possible new concepts and explained the math to Lindsey, who made suggestions and watched his sketching. Within thirty minutes, he was cranking out the basic she-broke-up-with-him frowny-face graph67 for several Katherines. But he couldn’t get the timing right. Katherine XVIII, who cost him months of his life, didn’t look like she lasted any longer, or mattered any more, than the 3. 5 days he spent in the arms of Katherine V. He was creating too simple a formula. And he was
still trying to do it completely randomly. What if I square the attractiveness variable? What if I put a sine wave here or a fraction there? He needed to see the formula not as math, which he hated, but as language, which he loved.
So he started thinking of the formula as an attempt to communicate something. He started creating fractions within the variables so that they’d be easier to work with in a graph. He began to see before even inputting the variables how different formulas would render the Katherines, and as he did so the formula grew increasingly complicated, until it began to seem almost—how to put this not so dorkily—well, beautiful. After an hour parked in the car, the formula looked like this:
68That does not count as math, because one does not have to understand how it works or what it means in order to think that it looks sort of beautiful.
“I think that’s close,” he said finally.
“And I sure as shit don’t understand it at all, so you’ve succeeded in my eyes!” She laughed. “Okay, let’s go hang with the oldsters. ”
Colin had only been in a nursing home once. He and his dad drove to Peoria, Illinois, one weekend when Colin was eleven to visit Colin’s great-great-aunt Esther, who was in a coma at the time and therefore not very good company.
So he was pleasantly stunned by Sunset Acres. At a picnic table on the lawn outside, four old women, all wearing broad, straw hats, were playing a card game. “Is that Lindsey Lee Wells?” one of the women asked, and then Lindsey brightened and hastened over to the table. The women laid down their cards to hug Lindsey and pat her puffy cheeks. Lindsey knew them all by name—Jolene, Gladys, Karen, and Mona—and introduced Colin to them, whereupon Jolene took off her hat, fanned her face, and said, “My, Lindsey, you do have a nice-looking boyfriend, don’t you? No wonder you don’t come ’round to visit us no more. ”
“Aw, Jolene, he ain’t my boyfriend. I’m sorry I haven’t been around as much. I been so busy with school, and Hollis works me like a dog down at the store. ”
And then they took to discussing Hollis. It took fifteen minutes before Colin could even get his tape recorder started to ask the four questions they’d come there to ask, but he didn’t mind, first because Jolene thought he was “nice-looking,” and second because they were such a relaxed bunch of old people. For example, Mona, a woman with liver spots and a gauze patch over her left eye, answered the question, “What’s special about Gutshot?” by saying, “Well for starters that mill has got a right-good pension plan. I been retired for thirty years and Hollis Wells still buys my diapers. That’s right, I use ’em! I pee myself when I laugh,” she said gleefully, and then laughed disturbingly hard.
And Lindsey, it seemed to Colin, was some kind of rock star among the oldsters. As word filtered through the building that she’d arrived, more and more of them made their way to the picnic tables outside and hovered around Lindsey. Colin went from person to person, recording their answers to the questions. Eventually, he just sat down and let Lindsey throw people his way.
His favorite interview was with a man named Roy Walker. “Well I can’t imagine,” Roy said, “why on earth anyone would want to hear from me. But I’m happy to chat. ” Roy was starting to tell Colin about his former job as night-shift plant manager of Gutshot Textiles, but then he stopped suddenly and said, “Look how they’re all loving on little Lindsey. We all raised that girl up. I used to see her once a week or more—we knew her when she was a baby and we knew her when you couldn’t tell her from a boy and we knew her when she had blue hair. She used to sneak me in one Budweiser beer every Saturday, bless her heart. Son, if there’s one thing I know,” and Colin thought about how old people always like to tell you the one thing they know, “it’s that there’s some people in this world who you can just love and love and love no matter what. ”
Colin followed Roy over to Lindsey then. Lindsey was twisting a lock of her hair casually, but staring intently at Jolene.