At 29, L., who sits behind me at work, is a Java and Oracle programmer from southern India with a magnetic personality and an infectious laugh. He is thoughtful and honest.

About three times a day, when he resolves someone's horribly tangled SQL problem in two seconds with one or two deft strokes, or disentangles two incompatible Java Runtime Engines that are engaging in a catfight, or quickly leads someone out of DLL or JAR hell, he is told in an awe-struck tone: "Gad you're smart."

L's talk is full of joy, laughter, and braggadocio, a continual one-man show trading in the outrageous and the absurd.* The bragging stems not from a weak and pathetic attempt to pump himself up in the eyes of others, but from a genuine (so I see it) astonishment at his own abilities. If one is at all susceptible to L's charm, he shares the same joyful astonishment in seeing those abilities emerge.**

I think of L's personality as consisting in two currents working simultaneously and in opposition, like the surface waves that lie on top of an underlying rip tide going in the opposite direction from the beach, or like the simultaneous currents of hot and cold air one sometimes feels in Chicago, one layered on top of the other and moving in different directions. There is a surface joyfulness and love of life, and just underneath that, noticeable fairly frequently, an underlying darkness and sadness.

The dark undertone I guess comes from the emotional recognition** that someday he will die, as will all the rest of us. Early in his adolescence, L. said, he was absolutely horrified by this fact, but then eventually reconciled himself to it.***

Reconciled or not, the dark undertone always seems there in the background.

But I digress.****


*Belonging under the category of the outrageous and the absurd is his suitheism, which of course he adopts just jokingly . . . I think.

**This kind of joy is, of course, socially unacceptable; the more socially-acceptable reaction would have been to put thumb tacks on his chair.

*** I speak about emotional cognition because I accept many of her arguments and his, and his.

****None of this, of course, is relevant to ways of persuading the hoi polloi that truth is not relative. It is also not relevant that L's face, it seems to me, bears just a little bit of resemblance to that of the Spanish poet Lorca at 18 (from the likes of it there is some resemblance in personality as well). Just make the jaw more square, and turn the hair into innumerable small curls adhering close to the skull. Of course (this is also irrelevant), judgments of likeness can be highly subjective; two faces may look very similar to me, but not to you. Similarity is always relative to the frame of reference of the person making the judgments of similarity . . . -- wait a second, let's not go down that path just now.