George - Poem by Diane Hine
Early in the summer of ‘29
Patience, an unflappable country girl,
visiting Manhattan for the first time,
stepped from her hotel with her hand tightly curled
around a slip of paper on which a
long list of directions were hand written-
third left, fourth right, first right, etcetera......
The list had been sent by her cousin George
whom she'd never met and detailed the path
she should take from her hotel in order
to meet him at ten-thirty for coffee.
Her blouse buttonhole held a sprig of thyme
and he would wait beneath a Small-Leaved Lime.
She set off at ten. At ten twenty-five
a sudden gust of wind carried away
the slip of paper and the sprig of thyme.
After ten minutes of aimless wandering
a gentleman asked if she'd lost her way.
"Yes, I must return to my starting point"
she explained, "to fetch a copy of my list
but I can't remember which way I've come".
"No problem" the gentleman cried. "What fun!
I can help since I'm a statistician.
It's easy to find your starting position".
"Have you heard of George Polya, the mathematician?
No? Well George has recently proven that
any random walk in an infinite grid
will bring you right back to your starting point
eventually with absolute certainty.
Since Manhattan's grid of streets and avenues
are not infinite, it shouldn't take you too long".
"Thankyou" replied Patience, "that's reassuring.
Interestingly, I have a cousin George".
"You're very welcome" said the gentleman.
"Coincidentally, I'm also named George".
They agreed that boys are often christened George.
Patience walked and walked, randomly choosing
right, left or straight ahead at intersections.
She tried hard not to use her intuition.
Three and three quarter hours later
she was relieved but unsurprised to find
herself directly outside her hotel.
In her suitcase she found her reserve list
of directions and a second sprig of thyme.
She drank three and three quarter glasses of water
and left the hotel at two forty-five.
She carefully followed the list until
at last, at three-fifteen she came across
a gentleman seated under a Small-Leaved Lime.
He looked up and noticed her sprig of thyme.
"Hello cousin George. Have you been waiting long"?
"No, not long. How are you cousin Patience"?
"I'm well, thank you. I've had a delightful stroll.
Oddly, when we met earlier today,
I intuited you might be my cousin George
except you weren't sitting under a Small-Leaved Lime".
"Quite right, Patience. I'd crossed the road to help you.
I also intuited you might be my
cousin Patience, but you wore no sprig of thyme".
The cousins laughed and strolled to a cafe.
There they indulged in cakes and coffee
and discussed logic's infallibility.
George explained that intuition was never
reliable, while reason always led,
albeit by a circuitous route,
to a problem's correct resolution.
He also warned that George Polya's conclusion
did not apply in the three-dimensional case
should one ever find oneself lost in space.
An hour passed and a firm friendship was forged.
"Should I invest in the stock market George"?
"Well Patience, most investors are illogical,
so logical predictions are problematical
and though reason might indicate otherwise,
my intuition says - Now's the time to buy"!
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