“The anxiety you’re describing is born from a desire to know the unknowable. You would have precise – and beautiful, for their precision – integers assigned to pointless quantities, such as the passel of cars parked in this garage. It’s not that you want or need to know the exact number, but you feel like there should be one; that such an enclosed and permanent structure like this parking garage should have a calculable capacity, that this capacity is the reason it exists not as a twelve-level structure, but as a ten-level structure.”
I could no longer remember why he was telling me this. Had I made the mistake of saying I was anxious? The thought of having potentially committed such a blunder was the only cause of anxiety weighing on me now.
“What I’m trying to say is: nobody knows or cares how many cars are parked here. It’s not relevant to any reality we occupy. So why worry about these things?”
The technician who had been working on the pay machine next to where Carl was lecturing me stopped his work and tapped on a device that looked like a phone.
“There are one thousand, seven hundred and ninety three cars parked in this garage at the moment,” he said with a sly but detectable smile.
I couldn’t help mirroring this smile and I turned to reflect it to Carl.
“That’s a beautiful and precise integer, Carl,” I said, but my smile had escaped my attempts at restraint. All of my teeth were showing as I finished with glee.
“Now we can all relax.”
Carl turned to the technician and spoke with obvious irritation.
“That’s not the point I was trying to…”
His voice stopped when the technician held up a solitary finger. Behind him the boom gate was raising to allow another car to enter the garage. The technician let his finger fall in time with the lowering boom gate. The tenor of his voice was unchanged from his first report, but his smile was noticeably wider as he spoke.
“One thousand, seven hundred and ninety four.”