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Spoil 1.68

Henderson slipped into the back of the half-full auditorium and settled into an empty chair, shielding his face with a tattered yellow notepad. Around him, mathematicians stood in groups of three or four, sipping coffee from styrofoam cups and cracking jokes about variational calculus and Zermelo-Fraenkel set theory. Their dreary humor seemed perfectly suited to the auditorium, with its frayed orange carpeting and comfortless chairs and flickering fluorescent lights. So this is Akron, thought Henderson. It was neither better nor worse than he'd expected.

The conference was the same every year, the same three hundred peoeple, the same dismal cities: Gdansk one year, then Belfast, now Akron. Where next - Mogadishu, perhaps? Teheran? Henderson recognized and disliked many of the faces he saw; he found these people infinitely more agreeable bound between the covers of journals, their moist handshakes and pungent breath eliminated, their grating voices smoothed by the uninflected diction of mathematics. Henderson ducked his head and scribbled idly on his notepad. He did not want to catch the eye of the speaker, Czogloz.

Czogloz was presenting a paper entitled "Perturbation Analysis of Weakly Nonlinear Systems," and as the clock swept past two o'clock he stepped to the podium and flipped on the overhead projector. He looked younger than Henderson had hoped he would: his hairline was anchored firmly to his temples, and his forehead was free of the frown-shaped wrinkles that marked most of the mathematicians. Four years of assistant professorship had not affected Czogloz much; this seemed unfair to Henderson. Czogloz was sporting a goatee, and wearing a tie made of some shiny purple material that Henderson thought totally inappropriate for a presentation on weakly nonlinear systems. The goatee, Henderson noted, gave Czogloz a demonic air.

Karl Iagnemma, "Zilkowski's Theorem" in Best American Short Stories 2002, 116-117.

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