The knapsack problem How to write a book / P and NP / leaving home
The room was small and filled with furniture, up to the point where two people can hardly pass by without touching themselves. “Call me Alex!”, my new roommate said that while standing up just next to the bed he was probably occupying, and smiling with a childish smile. I thought he was over-friendly, but his voice was so loud and firm, that I could not think of an appropriate semi-sarcastic response which I could use to distance myself from him, without being rude (“OK”, “If you insist”, etc.), so I just shook his hand and started a regular conversation, asking him how old he was, for how long had he been staying there etc. but to my surprise, although still very friendly, he wasn’t at all eager to answer my questions, and it even seemed that some of them he did not know the answers of. So unusual were his reactions that for the first few days I had the suspicion that he might be “actually insane” - a fact which understandably made me uncomfortable, especially since, given the fact that both of us were under the same circumstances, such categorizations were far from objective. My mind could help but think that probably I was insane and he was the normal one, and he seemed insane to me thus.
Alex had a huge scar on his left knee which I noticed immediately when I saw him and which made me want to immediately distance myself from him even more. An urge which did not dissolve even after I learned that he got it in a trivial way (sports incident) and was even strengthened by my realization that it weren’t the scar, nor his cheerfulness which crept me out, it was his hair, the way he wanted to shake hands, and all the other numerous ways in which he looked just like me.
“So what do you do for fun?” I asked, consciously trying to distance myself from him by emphasizing our differences by talking about my weird hobbies which I was sure would be to him most alien, “I like to read”. But he just gave me a thumbs up and changed the subject leaving me with no choice but to make friends with him. I usually pick my friends very carefully, never approaching them until they have passed some of my elaborate mental tests, like imagining them in hard situations and seeing how would they escape from them, or, perhaps, more importantly, imagining us hanging out together and assessing if we look cool enough, It was true that recently I started abandoning this practice, but that was not because I didn’t want for my friends to conform to my criteria, rather it was because I just started realizing that I was too bad at judging the people around me for me to provide a decent enough assessment. But that line of reasoning didn’t apply to Alex, as he was clearly not a person whom I could interest in any of my hobbies and neither with any of my other interests, which meant that although he seemed accepting, he could not be a person who can be anything more than my roommate.
“And who are you?” Alex’s voice was so loud that it somehow got into my head and made me replay all kinds of memories that I thought identified my personality, like my acceptance in the Sofia Mathematics College (where I have been studying for the past few years), and also things that I wanted to forget but could not, like my first poor mark which I got shortly after my admission in the same school. don’t know why, but I couldn’t get rid of that memory, although the occasion was completely uneventful. Perhaps it was because of my obsession to always have control over my behavior and, if possible, over everything else around me. And then I thought, maybe it was this obsession, and not my obsession with mathematics, which was the defining characteristic of my personality. Perhaps if Alex were indeed interested in who am I, I would have to tell him that story and how terrible I felt then. That was what I would have told Alex if he was really interested in who am I, but he, of course, wasn’t - he just wanted to know my name, and, as for the fact that I was a control freak, seeing the way he was looking at me he, had probably already gotten it by then.
“Maxim. Sorry, I am a bit of a dork” I said trying to apologize for not responding to his very simple request, while at the same time spicing up my persona with some self-irony. “It’s OK, me too” he responded softly. Although I was almost sure that he was doing it just to make me feel good, his response actually offended me in several ways: firstly because he chose to take what I said literary, as opposed to the joke which it partly was and secondly because he chose to agree with me that I am a dork, instead of trying to convince me that I was wrong. And the fact that he assumed the dork identity actually made it worse, as it looked like he was doing it just because he pitied me, which was the last thing that I needed.
Had he been a real dork, his gesture would have been gladly accepted by me, only he actually seemed like the exact opposite of a dork : one only needed to see the way he stood up - calm, fearless, not feeling a single bit of shame over his naked body (in which there also wasn’t anything to be ashamed about) to see that any of my issues such as the ones I mentioned above would for him be most alien. He seemed to me like a person who, for example, when rejected by a girl whom he wanted to date, would feel less crushed and more surprised by the occurrence of so unlikely an event. This was the way I perceived Alex, although I was sure that this wasn’t the whole truth especially since he was here with me - he surely had some issues which were to him serious, just as my issues were serious for me.Issues that I probably wouldn’t ever be able to comprehend unless there was a way for me to switch places with him (after which I would probably not be able to get into my issues again.)
Had we been able to switch places for some time, we both would have probably been able to perceive the insignificance of our issues and live the rest of our lives carefree, not needing any kind of therapy. This thought was, for some time, so vivid that made me want to actually switch places with him and not only figuratively - I had to become as strong as him, and as confident as him and to adopt his character, only so I can then better appreciate my own character to which I would go back to after a couple of months - a process which, I imagined, would cure me of all kinds of anxiety forever. Only after I spoke with Alex for a couple of hours had I realized that it was very hard to do - his personality was becoming even more illogical for me with every new piece of information I was learning about him, his decision to make friends with me being the most illogical of them all.
“You want to meet with my girlfriend and her friends?” he asked me while I was looking at my opened suitcase. I pointed at my luggage and smiled half-jokingly laughing at him: of course I did not want to go anywhere, I had just arrived and I have work to do.
I smiled for a few seconds more, but he just smiled back and continued talking about his girlfriend (she was coming from a rich family, she was always looking very sexy, even in her uniform etc.) with a smile on his face and I started imagining that he was actually laughing back at me, thinking something like “what kind of loser would spend his evening tidying up his clothes (which are all t-shirts anyways), where there are so much more interesting things to do”. It was as if his whole posture was dictating these words to me and one had to just find a systematic way to analyze it in order to spell them out. And so I said OK and I went out with him.
The knapsack problem How to write a book / P and NP / leaving home
Meeting my roommate Alex / Picking friends / Who am I / How switching places would solve both of our issues
Hallway Church and Turing / Being stupid
X Nerd stereotypes / How I got my nickname / Establishing connection with my younger self
Good company Social code / Anna / Catherine
Fence Outside / Not being punished / Discreet and continuous models
Outside This or nothing / The moon / Fractals / Me and Alex / Explanations / Is the world mathematical
What are we in for Anna's kinky alter ego / Marijuana
What are we in for contd The conformist choice / Taboos / Dichotomies /Marijuana
Back to the facility Anna and Cathy / Trying to be like other people / Sleeping with Anna
The sleepover Anna's childish behavior / Critics / Boring robots / Adoring Anna
The sleepover contd Irony / Heroes and deserters / Retreat to where? / Real and ideal / Choices
Us and them The uncut book pages / Envy
Sex Anna's fantasy / What makes us weird / The establishment and being normal
Cigarettes Alex's good night sleep / About me and Alex again / Sex and love / The proof that P does not equal NP