I once counted myself among the 23rdians, that group of skeptical, inquisitive, literate and credulous readers of mystic significance in the mathematical logic of the physical universe. In short, a few years ago I found the number 23 ubiquitously sequestered in the very fabric of things, stalking me, as it were, like a secret god.
I first encountered the cunning wile of 23 in Robert Anton Wilson's Discordian tract, the Illuminatus! trilogy, wherein he quoted Bishop Unger ascribing the birthday of the universe as being on October 23rd; the patent ridiculousness of the Big Bang being fixed to a Gregorian date should have shown me right away that any further pursuit of the subject would beguile at best some precious hours of thought, and at worst would chain me to a silly philosophy. Being just paranoid enough to taste a hint of sugar in the number -if the universe manifested on the 23rd, it must be of profound significance, right?- I took a candystore approach in my further inquiries and began a long period of confection obsession. Finally, a couple years later, after discovering that if you look hard enough for anything you can find it (or believe you have found it), I ate my last sugar scrap, on the very date of October 23rd, in fact.
October 23rd, 1996: picture a stunning autumn afternoon in the old town square of that jewel in the crown of Bohemia, the ancient, yellow-walled town of Prague. I stood there in the shadow of Jan Hus, a local saint and symbol of the Velvet Revolution four years earlier, in which the poet Vaclav Havel led a non-violent overthrow of communist forces. Already ensconced in a flat for ten days in the northern part of the city, I was at stare namesti (in Czech, literally, "old town") to meet a friend and continue on with her to Budapest; it was a magical time in life, perfectly mirrored in the fall splendor of fractal trees shedding their leaves and blue skies arching over castles. The date was of particular importance. By choosing the 23rd of October, I anticipated that it would have an arcane influence over the rest of my life from that day forward; I believed that every step I took from then on would be resolute, purpose-filled, artistically-pungent, etc etc, and not only would I have a better life but I would also point to the answer to all answers to thank for it: the number 23.
Youthful optimism aside, I was full of crap, as I would soon learn in the ensuing time between then and today. Not to say that I was wrong or even wrong-headed. The experience of seeking importance is a fool's errand, perhaps, and humbling at many junctures, but there is nothing inherently destructive about it. As you inch along the way further, even so, the signposts and tollbooths that were obscure, even hidden, as you encountered them, become apparent and obvious in hindsight. 23, then, looks like one of those waystations.
Why bring this up now? For one thing, it's the 23rd of February, and there is synchronicity; for another, the Hollywood version of the 23 affect (for want of a better phrase) is hitting screens today. Yes, you too can experience the vicarious thrills of fixating on a single number by watching grizzle-cheeked, hollow-eyed Jim Carrey in "The Number 23". Wow, I'm all ashiver already (though I really prefer Mr Carrey in the Eternal Sunshine). Really, how silly can Hollywood get?
Friends have asked me if I'll go see the movie, out of deference for my former sweet-toothed addiction. Invariably I answer, No. I had a slight interest when I first heard tell of it, because there was a niggling allegiance to that magical period in which 23 figured so prominently. But now, with further thought, I've concluded that it won't be worth it to go. Honestly, I'd rather go back to Prague, and if saving the cost of the ticket gets me any closer to doing that, it will be money well-pinched.