OCCAM'S RAZOR

February 19, 2016

 

One day, Oliver’s gums started to bleed.  “it’s idiopathic,” said his dentist.  “Are you sure this just came on suddenly?” 

 

Oliver managed a tearful nod, foreseeing a future with dentures and glasses of water on the nightstand.  He endured a painful round of invasive under-the-teeth gum cleaning, and was handed a prescription for antibiotics and a powerful mouthwash. 

 

I called his clients at Flic Spa and apologetically informed them that Oliver could not come to work that day.  Most of them understood, switched to other therapists.  One client, however, demurred and strongly voiced her disappointment. 

 

Her name was Alma.

 

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When I used to work in Manhattan, I sometimes took a taxi to work.  We lived two short blocks from the train station, five stops away from my work train station, which was one block away from my office building.  I kept my taxi taking secret from Oliver, fearing he would scold me, rightfully, for being such a lazy wastrel.  The taxi typically took longer than the train and was four times more costly, but the appeal was addictive -- the taxi ride meant I didn’t have to suffer standing in a crowded car tossed around like a salad, or herded up and down the stairs at a pace determined by fellow angry commuters, all of us condemned to work until we died.

 

I love talking to taxi drivers.  Most of them willingly oblige me with their most interesting stories, with topics suitable for R rated movies, full of sex and violence.  Things like back seat passenger sex, or stickups under gunpoint.  One driver named Jean, an immigrant from Haiti, shared a different story.

 

“I picked up a woman in the Village.  She was wearing all green – green suit, green hat with a green veil, green glasses, stockings, shoes, gloves.  Even for New York, she looked so weird.  She told me to take her to the Upper East Side.  I looked at her in the rear view mirror.  She was looking out the window.  I could see only a part of her face.  Just her jaw, and it was very, very pale.  Almost pure white.

 

“I was trying to follow those purple traffic signs – you can’t go here, you can’t go there.  Around 63rd street, I asked if she wanted me to go straight or to make a right turn.  Some customers get angry if you don’t take the route they want.  She didn’t answer, so I looked up and asked her again.

 

“I couldn’t see her in the rear view mirror.  So I thought she must be lying down.  When I turned around to find her, she was gone.  Mon ami, she was gone!

 

“At first, I thought, the bitch jumped out of the cab!  But, during the ride, I didn’t hear the door open and close.  You can’t do that without making a sound.  And anyway, I didn’t stop at a red light long enough for her to get out.  Plus I would have felt the cab get lighter if she had left.

 

“So I panicked.  I had never had this experience before, in all my life.  I keep driving, not knowing what to do.  On the corner of 70th Street, I spot two cops.  I stop at the curb, put the hazards on, put it in Park.  I get out of the cab and walk towards the cops, and told them I needed help.  The closest one to me, a woman officer, asked me if I was hurt.  I said no.  She asked me what I needed.  At first I couldn’t speak, but I started to tell her my story.  I thought she would yell at me and tell me to get out of there.  I know how crazy the story sounded. 

 

"But instead, she started to talk on her walkie-talkie.  She said, ‘Hey, Bill, got another one.’  She told me that I was the tenth taxi driver who told police the same story.  It was probably a prank, since it was Friday the 13th.  But I told her the woman I picked up couldn’t have been human.  She told me I could think what I wanted, but if I wasn’t hurt, or robbed, then I should probably get on my way.  I called my mother and told her about the green woman.  She told me that I had picked up a ghost.”

 

“Ever since, I never picked up anyone wearing green clothes.  Never.”

 

Jean’s story gave me the chills.  I thought about it all through work, and shared it with my co-workers.  A week later, I hailed a cab, and to my surprise, the driver was Jean.  I told him I thought long and hard about his story.

 

“Hey, Jean.  Have you ever heard of Occam’s razor?  It’s a principle that states, ‘All things being equal, the simplest solution is the correct solution.’  Something like that.  So, the problem is explaining how a woman in green suddenly vanishes from the backseat of a taxi.”

 

“Okay…”

 

“Well, let’s think about it.  Was she a ghost?  Ghosts are complicated; they are unprovable, and leave no evidence behind.  Was she an alien?  Aliens are complicated, too.  And why would an alien take a cab, if they have those cool spaceships?  Or, it could be a gang of skinny acrobats dressed in green drag outfits, who jump out of the window at a traffic light.  But even that sounds complicated.”

 

“So?  What was she?”

 

“Well, what is the simplest solution to your story?”

 

“You tell me.”

 

“The simplest solution is this: You made it up.”

 

Jean, genuinely appalled, began to hiss and curse at me like a caged wildcat.  I momentarily feared my safety, as he threatened to drop me off then and there, in the middle of the 59th Street bridge.  I assuaged his anger by telling him that I believed his story, but other people, like those cops, would not believe the green woman was supernatural in nature, since it was so hard to accept using Occam’s Razor.  Jean eventually calmed down, and we parted in a friendly manner.

 

Years later, I shared Jean’s story with a Bloomfield taxi driver.  After I was done, he said, “Well, if you want to apply Occam’s razor, I could say you’re making up this story about a taxi driver telling you a story about a disappearing green woman.”

 

“Touché,” I said with a chuckle.

 

 

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Armed with a bag of gum cleaning medicine, we headed home.  On the way, Oliver turned to me and said we had to make a quick stop at the Home Depot.

 

“Are you crazy,” I protested.  “You’re in pain.  You need to go home.  Now.”

 

“Please stop,” he said.  “I’m already in pain.  And I need to get screws.”

 

“Yes,” I thought.  “To replace the loose ones in your head.”

 

We entered the Home Depot.  At the entrance to the paint aisle, I see Alma.  I could hear horror movie music in my head.  But it was too late to turn and run.  She had spotted us and called out our names.

 

“So,” she said to Oliver, suspicion clouding her voice.  “I thought you were too sick to go to work.”

 

Oliver was in too much pain to explain himself, and I was too tired to explain that my husband was a stubborn ox and, bleeding gums or not, he will go where he will go, no matter what I said.

 

“You know,” said Alma.  “I don’t understand why you bother with all those medicines.”

 

“Sorry?”

 

“I have teeth problems my whole life.  Dentists try to fix the problem.  They inject you, they drill you, root canal, they put a cap, or a veneer.  But in the end, everything they do will fail.  There is only one solution.”

 

“Oh?”

 

“Extraction!”  Her voice echoed in the hall.  “It’s the simplest solution.”  Oliver reeled back in shock, like taking a bullet to the chest.  Tears welled up in his eyes, but Alma noticed nothing.

 

“Well, Occam, that solution sounds simple,” I said.

 

“Correct!  My name is Alma.”

 

“Yes, I know.  I take it you like simple solutions.”

 

“They are the best kind.”

 

“Well, for the last year, you have tried to solve the plantar fasciitis in your left foot.  You’ve tried shock therapy, cortisone shots, platelet therapy.  But, still the pain remains.  There is only one solution.”

 

“Oh?”

 

“Amputation!”  My voice echoed in the hall.

 

Oliver managed to smile and mumble a goodbye to Alma.  We walked out of the Home Depot without the screws.  Eventually, his gums healed on their own.  Teeth are simple. Dentures are complicated.

 

 

 

 

 

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