If I’ve Told You Once, I’ve Told You 23 Times...

Hail Eris!Captain Clark welcomes you aboard...

After a synchronicity-filled trip to Tangier, William S. Burroughs created what he dubbed the “23 Enigma.” In a nutshell, the theory goes that the number 23 appears more frequently in the world around us than can be explained by mere chance. In fact, this observation is the origin of the latter part of my nom de plume, Magus 23 (I’ll get into the former part at a later date).

Kerry Thornley embraced the Enigma, incorporating it into the Discordian Society “Bible” Principia Discordia, and it later became an integral part of The Illuminatus! Trilogy. Robert Anton Wilson expounded upon the Enigma in his book Cosmic Trigger: Final Secret of the Illuminati. Dozens of web pages have been devoted to enumerating the instances of the number 23 throughout history and popular culture.

What must always be kept in mind, of course, is the corollary to the Enigma’s assertion: Any other number works just as well as 23. The late Douglas Adams chose the number 42, for example. In other words, look for anything hard enough, and you’ll find it. I think anyone who’s been witness to the rampant witch-hunts in the political and social arenas of the past few decades can attest to the veracity of that notion — the Whitewater scandal, the McMartin Preschool case, the War On (Some) Drugs, and so on.

Complicating the issue is the popularity of the Enigma among screenwriters and directors, who often deliberately insert the number 23 into movies and television shows. It’s usually done subtly, though Robert Redford’s film Quiz Show actually has John Turturro deliver a ranting exposition specifically on occurrences of the (allegedly random) number 23.

My wife has a comparable theory, though she substitutes “Wisconsin” for “the number 23.” Once she pointed it out to me, I was amazed to observe the number of times Wisconsin came up in the world around me. Granted, it seemed that television writers in particular had latched onto Wisconsin as emblematic of middle America, full of earnest, none-too-citywise folks, whom they could stick in to contrast with the cynical New Yorker types (let the wacky hijinks ensue!). But even in the outside world, it seemed that we’d run into real Wisconsinites (Wisconsinians?) on a shockingly regular basis. And, of course, let’s not forget that wonderful Wisconsin export, The Onion (which ran one of my favorite articles of the past year in last week’s edition).

Keep your eyes open, and you’ll be astonished at how often you notice the 23s out there.

And the Wisconsins.

“Classic” reader comments:

Kori · Fri, Jan 31st 2003, at 1:30PM

Okay, friend. You've finally tempted me with blog bait I simply can't resist, and I'm sure you know it! My home state....ah....

Yes, "Wisconsinite" is right, and yes, there are a whole lot of us here in D.C. Once one of us moves to a new place, we recruit others. Quickly. For example, I had one friend living in D.C. when I came out east to interview for jobs. By the time I got a job (3 months later), two more friends had moved out here, and I brought another. Since then, I have directly recruited four Wisconsin friends to the area ("come stay with me while you find a job and get settled" works beautifully). Those friends have subsequently brought two Wisconsinites out here, Once a mini-Wisconsin was established, we (as a group) convinced three others to join us, and our efforts continue.

Total number of Wisconsinites when I first came out here in 1995: 2 (including me)

Total number of Wisconsinites living here now due to direct (or indirect) recruiting efforts by me: 14+

Why this mass migration? IT'S COLD IN WISCONSIN! Wisconsin is full of really wonderful folk, but let's face it, the winters are long, gray and brutally cold.

In terms of media, I find that whenever a Canadian actor is in a sitcom or movie and the writers need to explain a) his "wholesome look," and/or b) his slightly northern accent, they work in (somehow) that he is from Wisconsin. I don't know why Milwaukee is apparently more acceptable than Toronto to American viewing audiences, but since most Americans couldn't place either city on a map, it really doesn't matter.

I heard a rumor, though, that you will be flying Midwest Express to Iowa. You may not be going to Wisconsin, but you will be flying on Wisconsin's premier airline, and I think after one trip you will understand why my home state is, well, so gosh darn noteworthy. What other state would boast an airline that has no first class/coach class distinction (including leg room and large leather seats---only two per side of the aisle---for even the common man), and fresh baked chocolate chip cookies in flight? And that's with recent budget cuts, man! Of course everyone's talking about Wisconsin with service like this!

So, there you go. My Wisconsinite response. I'll let you know when my D.C.-based Wisconsin circle grows to 23.

Hillary · Wed, Feb 5th 2003, at 3:04PM

Of course I will be astonished at the number of 23s I will find — because now I'm looking for it.

Ahh, the circle continues.

You will also be suprised at the number of times Utica, New York comes up on TV and in books.

The Simpsons, Stephen King, David Sedaris (author of Naked), Dr. Seuss, and number of (bad) sitcoms that ran last year. Shall I go on?

Did you notice in the movie Serendipity (John Cusak, love that guy) that when he's in the elevator (after having coffee with the girl), he randomly chooses the floor number 23? I immediately thought of you Bill.


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