My Name is not Marty, My Name is not Stacey

Welcome Sir, I am Dr. Jared Ohrt, Dean of the math department here at the University of Iowa. Do come in, please. I extend my most sincere thank you for coming to see me, I know you’re a busy man.

Please have a seat. Can I get you a drink? A cigarette?

Well, then I suppose I’ll just dispense with the pleasantries and cut to the chase. First, I must apologize for the vagueness of my correspondence, but it was out of necessity, as you’ll come to understand. I know you’re as curious about the circumstances of my coming into this proof as I was amazed to receive it.

Yes, I know most of all you want the man’s name, of course that’s what everyone wants, including myself. But you see he has no name, not anymore. There again I’m being vague, talking in riddles. Please, allow me a few minutes of your time to tell you the story as it happened to me from the beginning. I’m confident you’ll find it quite remarkable.

“My name is not Marty, my name is not Stacey,” he said to me, much to my confusion as you can well imagine. This stranger just wandered into my office one day and asked Julie, my receptionist, to see me. I had him sent in without the slightest inclination that I was about to become the first, or I should say, the second man to see the world’s greatest math problem solved. He told me he’d calculated a proof to Riemann’s hypothesis and wanted me to scrutinize his results.

Riemann’s hypothesis! Can you imagine? I fairly guffawed. It’s become such a cliché you know, and to hear of any progress, much less a proof coming from somewhere other than the Math Institute in Sacramento was hardly believable to me at the time, as I’m sure it was unbelievable to you when I contacted you from here in Iowa.

But perhaps more intriguing than the proof itself is this stranger who revealed it. The gentleman was entirely undistinguished, the type of man you might pass on the street everyday and never notice. However there was something about him, I recall distinctly, that prevented me from dismissing him out of hand, something in the tone of voice perhaps, or maybe the eye. Nothing I could put my finger on, you understand, something intangible but something nonetheless.

“If you really have the proof, then why don’t you contact the Math institute? There’s a one million dollar prize to the first man who proves the hypothesis,” I reminded him. I was trying to expose him for the prankster I believed he was, you see. At this his face took on a puzzled look, the look a person wears when he is trying very hard to recall something but can’t quite grasp it. He said he seemed to remember something like that, that in the beginning that may have been part of his motivation.

Well, I could see that there was only one way to expose this man, and that was to go along with his little ruse until it exposed itself. I asked him to show me the proof, and he smiled. I remember that smile, there was something about it that etched the image in my mind. It was as innocent as a child’s, it had a purity that was foreign on the face of an aged man, and when I think of him now it is that image I see.

He said he lived close by, which he did, just seven or eight blocks from my office in a tiny unfurnished studio apartment on Jefferson Street, as it turned out. But it took us most of an hour to get there because he had long since forgotten his address, and he knew nothing of the city. In all of the time he lived there he’d only gone out of his building to a little store at the corner for food and essentials, so that all he really knew was one block of one street.

Yes, it’s exceptionally fantastic, but true to the last word, I assure you. As a matter of fact, we only found the place because we happened to pass the store at the corner, which he recognized instantly and with great relief to us both, as you can imagine.

Now before I reach that part of the story regarding the proof itself, and its inevitable accuracy, I first want to tell you what I learned from him in the car while crisscrossing the streets in search of his humble abode.

“My name is not Marty, my name is not Stacey.” He said, and apologized for not being able to offer me his proper name, confessing that it had escaped him months ago. He only knew for certain that it was neither Marty, nor Stacey due to the fact that several times a week, from the time he moved in, he would get phone calls for a Marty Lesh, about a square dancing convention, whose newsletter had printed his number by mistake, and once or twice a month a call for someone named Stacey, presumably the former owner of his number. So even though he grew to forget his own name, he maintained the knowledge that it was not Marty, and it was not Stacey.

Indeed, I myself was unsure how to feel about his tale as he told me, it seemed equal parts tragedy and comedy. He told me all he could remember about his life previous to his apartment in Iowa was that he was a mathematician, and that he had been working on Riemann’s hypothesis in his spare time. He knew he was close to a breakthrough, but needed to devote himself entirely without distraction. He chose Iowa because it was sufficiently anonymous that he could hide here and work undisturbed for as long as needed. He surmised that it must have been his intention to throw himself into the problem with abandon, and then reemerge in society as the great mathematician of his generation, and reap the benefits of his work. He told me the notion seemed silly to him now, and although he remembered that basic premise, he could no longer fathom what must have motivated him to that end, how he rationalized that purpose in his psyche. Of course it all became trivial once he began to immerse himself in the work.

Cutting off all contact with the world, save for the occasional phone call for Marty or Stacey, and working diligently toward the proof for days and then weeks and then months on end, the hypothesis began to blossom under his constant care, and he became enamored of it. All non-numerical thought faded and then ceased entirely, his memory, his past, his identity receded like a sunset until it was gone. He described the way he felt then as almost a singularity. He had no concept of time, existing only in the moment, with only the purpose of proving the hypothesis, he had become a perfect thinking machine. Of course he was never entirely conscious of his condition, being devoted entirely to the proof, but the sensation was absolute and it pervaded his being, he told me, with a sense of rightness, that carried him through what turned out to be a little over two years of constant work. It became so absolute, he told me, that at times his body would fall asleep over his figures but his mind would continue on its course in some unconscious state, and when he would wake his train of thought would have remained unbroken.

Again, I agree that it all seems an elaborate fiction, but I saw the room for myself, and I must tell you that it made me believe. The residence was a tiny second story apartment on Jefferson street, it consisted of one small room, with a kitchenette, a small bathroom, a broom closet off of one wall, and one window that looked out on the alleyway behind the building. I can tell you sincerely that by simply stepping inside the room it was evident that something was unusual about the place, there was an energy about it, a sensation that some event had taken place there, and the ghosts of that event still haunted it.

The room was minimally furnished; there was a desk against the side wall, with a chair and there was a pile of about six or eight texts and spiral notebooks on the floor near the desk. There was a calculator on the desk, and propped in the corner adjacent the window were two scrolls of paper and most of a third, those thousand foot rolls of forty-eight inch, white Kraft utility paper, the kind you use for murals, or posters or wrapping paper. He led me to the smaller roll, and unfurled about the final four to six feet of it, and there it was: Riemann’s Hypothesis. Everyone in the field of higher mathematics is familiar with the equation, and I recognized it instantly; it was as familiar to me as the Mona Lisa. However, as you yourself will bear witness, it went on, and without really comprehending fully, I could tell enough to know that he had indeed arrived at a proof, or at the very least, approached one. Of course I would have to check his work.

He urged me to take the scrolls, all three of them, covered with all the figures he’d made in his time in the apartment. This is why it took me three months to contact you from the time I received the scrolls. I took a leave of absence from the University, and did nothing in those three months except examine the scrolls. They read like an epic story written in numbers as opposed to words, the story of a man alone with his thoughts for more than two years. You can see his intellect get sharper as he goes, becoming tighter, more focused, having insights, raising questions that are sure to become the focus of a new generation of mathematicians, and disregarding them unceremoniously in pursuit of the original objective, which as you yourself have seen, he arrived at in a beautiful symmetry at the conclusion of his…sabbatical of sorts, shall we say?

And that is the story as it happened to me. You want to know his whereabouts, his genesis, I assume? As to that I can tell you all I know in a single word: nothing. All I know I’ve told you and now he is gone, and I’m quite sure I will never have the pleasure of his presence again, nor will anyone else knowingly.

Oh, I suppose someone with the investigative know-how could probably get to the bottom of who he used to be, but it seems that man, whoever he was, no longer exists.

When I returned to his place after three months, the room was empty— even the presence I had felt that was so evident was gone. I went to the property manager and was told that “Mr. Riemann” had vacated the premises nearly three months ago, just after our meeting. I inquired for the application, the rental agreement, checks, and anything else with identifying information, but the trail was cold. Apparently he’d had his monthly rent set up to be automatically withdrawn from an account in Gottingen, Germany that had recently been closed, with the remaining balance being donated to the math department at the University there.

He was simply gone, it was as if he’d never existed, which I might have convinced myself of, if not for the nearly three thousand feet of calculations in my possession, and a note that was left at the property manager’s office for me.

This is all I can offer you, it is all that remains of the man of genius:

Dear Doctor Ohrt

I trust that you are satisfied with the accuracy of the proof. I cannot thank you enough for assisting me in my work. And now I ask you for one final favor, to deliver this proof to the world, to whom it belongs. As to the matter of any prize money or notoriety, I entrust it to you also, to forward to the cause of higher mathematics, as there is still much to be done in our beautiful and cosmic endeavor.

My own reward has been great, I assure you, although of a different nature entirely. As for fame, I guess it is only useful to those who have a name to make famous.

Forever indebted,

(x-Marty) - Stacey

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