Languishing in a window in a well-known establishment on Second Street in downtown Corvallis, your correspondent was inactive enough that the existential dilemmas of the world were migrating from the periphery of my awareness into the center of my awareness, a situation that is to be avoided at all costs, lest I decide to write some sort of comprehensive philosophical treatise or purchase a beret.
Perhaps attracted to the chair adjacent to me because of my obvious stagnant body language, I felt a presence from the changing of the light a couple of feet off to my side.
“Well, you look like you are about to solve all the world’s problems!” he said in a chummy, bit-too-friendly salesman-like intonation.
“All but one.”
“What you need is a good idea.” And he handed me a business card that seemed a bit unorthodox in some way, but I couldn’t at first tell exactly how. METRIC NOW, it said, with his contact information and a little image of a ruler at the bottom in centimeters.
“Are you selling millimeters or centimeters?”
“Both! But the centimeters will cost you exactly 10 times more than the millimeters, so it’s easy to figure out,” and he let off a guffaw.
“No bulk discount then?”
“Wouldn’t think of it.”
“Ok, looks like you just gifted me some centimeters here for free. But it doesn’t fit in my wallet.”
“That’s because it’s six centimeters by nine centimeters instead of regular business cards in inches. Most of the rest of the world uses metric over imperial because it makes so much more sense.
Twelve inches in a foot? What sense does that make? Why is ten the base number of our number system?”
He paused and I realized this last question was not a rhetorical question. He awaited an answer.
“Yes, why is ten the base number of our number system?”
I gave off my best I-couldn’t-give-a-f- – – shrug.
“This is why!” and he held up both hands with his fingers stretched out like starfish.
“So you’re promoting metric to strangers who are staring out of windows?”
“Not just you, but to everybody.”
“Maybe our system is based on one of those freakish cats that has six toes per foot.”
“Maybe so, maybe so.”
Because your correspondent has been, like most residents of the North American continent, on the receiving end of a multitude of cheesy and roundabout sales pitches, I was trying to calculate in my head where exactly this was going, and how exactly he was going to try to extract some currency from my wallet, the wallet that his business card would not fit in.
Transitioning from the precipice of existential dread to defending myself against being suckered by a mountebank may seem like the advantage would lean especially strong on my side, but I was nevertheless still on my guard.
“What are you selling?” your correspondent asked.
“Only a much better system of measurement.”
“How much does it cost?”
“Then put my name down for ten thousand. How do you make money from this?”
“I don’t. I’m financially independent.”
“So why not paint some landscapes or binge-watch ‘The Golden Girls’ or something?”
“Because this is important. I want to change the world. And you looked a little bit ill so I also came here to remind you that a gram of prevention is worth a kilogram of cure.”
“Ah-ha. Ok, I’m on board. You want to buy me a deciliter of beer?”
“I would, but these fools only sell them in pints.”
“Well, I’m SOL I guess. Do you live here in town?”
“No, I’m on my way up the West Coast having meetings with people to promote metric.”
“How do you get your foot in the door? Who are you trying to convince?”
“Everybody from drink manufacturers to construction workers. It’s a slow process, but I’ve had some successes with it.”
“When it comes to converting away from our system, I suspect nobody will budge an inch.”
“That’s the point! It’s so deep in our system that you have to chip away at it slowly.”
“Well, come on, be serious. It’s like you’re trying to steer a barge by putting a toothpick in the water.”
“It will happen. It’s such a better system that once the merits are seen, it will fall into place.”
“But there are two oceans between us and most of the rest of the world. What’s our motive to change something that works well enough? There’s no conflict with our neighbors. I mean, except driving in Canada can be a mindf- – – sometimes.”
“Canada and Mexico are both metric.”
“Still, you’re in for a slog.”
“Well, keep it in mind. I have to run. I have kilometers to go before I sleep tonight.”
“See ya, man,” and he was out the door.
In pondering this encounter, I was trying to categorize this enthusiastic West Coast wanderer as either quixotic or sisyphean, and found that it was like a marble cake of these two elements. But in my head I wished him luck. He’s 100% correct.
And then I went back to my pint of beer, and I gave a clinkless toast to Kierkegaard.
Scott Moss is a writer, photographer and artist based in Corvallis. You can find him on Instagram at @ScottSMoss or email him at ScottSMoss@gmail.com. He also has a website for his photography, scottmoss.co.