Yogi and Eugene at the Oak Room

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" When you come to a fork in the road... Take it " - Yogi Berra

Eugene Wigner had grown more than a little concerned, and finally had taken action. He was not usually a man of action, and so his eyes darted restlessly about as he sat waiting in the Oak Room at the Plaza. The year was 1963. It was more than just apprehension about his upcoming appointment that made Eugene nervous. It was this place. He was more used to a classroom than this enormous room, with its well groomed men, dark leather chairs and tuxedoed waiters.

His appointment entered the room, a squat muscular man with a big nose and ill-fitting clothes. Men at the bar waved their cigars as they hailed him with shouts of pleased surprise, “Hey, Yogi! Give those Cardinals what for!”

Yogi Berra grinned, and gave a dismissive wave that could have meant anything.

Eugene half stood and waved. Yogi saw the gesture and made his way to Eugene’s table. The men shook hands, and sat down.

“This is why no one comes here anymore – it’s too crowded. So, Eugene, what‘s all this about?”

“Complicated to explain, Mr. Berra. So complicated that there may be only five scientists who could understand it.”

“Well, Eugene, if you’re looking for help with your lab work, you ought to know I flunked science at South Side Catholic.”

“That’s not why I asked you to meet, Mr. Berra. Let me explain. I have detected a disturbance in the quantum fields and traced it to you. I believe that you are disrupting reality without knowing it. I know this sounds strange, but bear with me. For reasons unknown, I believe your mind is having a dramatically magnified influence. It appears capable of tipping the probabilities into one track versus another, whenever you focus on an idea.”

“Eugene.” Yogi peered at the glass in front of Eugene. “What are you drinking there?”

“I assure you I am not inebriated, Mr. Berra. Crazy as it may sound, reality is not fixed. The math doesn’t lie. At first, reality exists merely as a set of possibilities. Then an outside force comes along and affects the possibilities. You might say this outside force collapses all the possibilities into one possibility.”

“What the heck does any of this to do with me, Eugene?”

“Because you are an unusually powerful force. Whether you realize it or not, you’re pushing the probabilities in particular directions when you focus on a thing. Perhaps a natural ability, amplified by your popularity and fame. Who knows how mass media has affected the quantum fields? Normally, the influence of humans are balanced out. The probabilities just average out, falling into the most logical outcome when reality fixes itself. But when you look at something, it comes out your way.”

Yogi stared thoughtfully at Eugene. “You know, I always thought, you can observe a lot by watching. What’s wrong with that?”

“No offense meant, Mr. Berra, but, I am afraid to say, with your influence, the directions are irrational and contradictory. A perilous state of affairs, frankly, one that can lead to a world that is increasingly random, where science is denied, facts not accepted as fixed but instead are more and more viewed as subjective! Troubling signs are already showing themselves.”

“Well, the future ain’t what it used to be, I always say.”

“You can say that again, Mr. Berra. On second thought, don’t! Your mind is compelling reality to integrate opposites, like hitting the gas pedal with the brake pedal down. And we know what that does to a car!”

“Well, if the world were perfect, it wouldn’t be.”

“There!” cried Eugene. “You did it again! Stop it!”

“Ha, ha.” Yogi cackled. “Kind of like déjà vu all over again, eh? Look, I didn't really say everything I said, if that makes you feel better."”

“Again! Please, please, think about what you just said! Nonsensical! And grinding the gears of reality!”

“Look, don’t get your underpants in a knot. All I’m saying is, half the lies they tell about me aren’t true. I don’t know what you want me to do. I’m always thinking, figuring things out. Can’t stop that, now can I?”

“Well, you have to, Mr. Berra, for the sake of a rational world. Either that, or we have to find a way to cancel out your influence.” Eugene looked thoughtful. “Wait, that gives me an idea.”

“What? Careful, Eugene, if you don’t know where you’re going, you might end up someplace else.”

Eugene leaned over and knocked on the table three times. “Knock on wood.” He peered carefully at Yogi, like he was a specimen. Yogi blinked, and to Eugene, the Oak Room seemed to come into sharper resolution.

“Yes,” Eugene whispered to himself. “This might just work. Neutralize his influence, with superstitions powered by centuries of irrational human belief.”

“I don’t know what you’re up to, Eugene, but let me give you a friendly bit of advice. In theory, there’s no difference between theory and practice. But in practice, there is.”

Eugene seized the saltshaker and tossed some salt back over his shoulder. The elderly gentleman at the table behind looked startled and annoyed. Eugene again watched Yogi. The room seemed to shimmer, then righted itself.

Yogi looked around. “You know, it’s impossible to get a conversation going in a place like this. Everybody is talking too much.”

Eugene stood up and hurtled the ashtray into the mirror on the wall. The fractures radiated out across the silver surface like cracks in ice.

Yogi shoved his chair back and stood, mildly alarmed, and then shook his big head sadly. “A lot of guys go, 'Hey, Yog, say a Yogi-ism.' I tell 'em, 'I don't know any.' They want me to make one up. I don't make 'em up. I don't even know when I say it. They're the truth. And it is the truth.”

© 2015 Norm Richter

About the Author: 
Avid reader of SciAm -- and quotations, taking special delight in those of Yogi Berra who, sadly, passed away in 2015...