McZeno’s Paradox

[Originally published as the 14th installment in my monthly wine column, PLONK, in Monster Children magazine.]

On our first day in Dublin, Tania and I decided to visit the Book Of Kells at Trinity College, which on our map appeared to be right up the street from our hotel. As we were leaving the hotel that morning, I stopped at the front desk to confirm the directions.

“Ah yes, the Book Of Kells, lovely, lovely,” the elderly man behind the desk said smiling. I noticed his nametag said “McZeno.” “To get to Trinity College from here,” McZeno began, “you’ll be taking Dame St., which is right outside here you see, and just carry on straight ahead and it will deliver you directly to the door step of our esteemed institute of learning.”

We thanked him and started for the door.

“However,” he said rather gravely, “you’ll note that it’s traditional that you can’t go anywhere in Ireland without stepping into a pub at the halfway point of any journey. May I recommend one to you?”

Sure, we nodded. We like pubs.

“Well then, I would recommend O’Connoly’s pub,” he continued, “which is equidistant from here to the Book Of Kells. You can’t miss it.”

“Sounds good,” I said nodding and turning again towards the exit.

“But of course if O’Connoly’s is your destination,” he said, halting us before we had even taken a step, “you’ll have to stop at O’Connoll’s, which is halfway between here and O’Connoly’s and a quarter the distance to Trinity.”

“O’Connoll’s,” I said, pretending to make a note of it. “Okay, we’ll stop there too.”

“But if you’re going to O’Connoll’s then you simply must stop in at O’Connor’s,” he bellowed, “which is a lovely place and it’s only halfway between here and O’Connoll’s, or an eighth of the way to Trinity.”

“Cool,” I said. “O’Connoly’s, O’Connoll’s, and O’Connor’s. Got it. We’ll be sure to check those out.”

“Aye! But I would be a terrible host if I didn’t also mention that halfway between here and O’Connor’s, and only a sixteenth of the distance from here to the college, is O’Connie’s. And if you’re going to go to O’Connie’s you’ll find yourself stepping into O’Keefe’s first, as it’s practically next door, yet exactly halfway between here and O’Connie’s, and believe me you’ll have quite a thirst after completing the first 1/32nd of your journey.” There was no stopping him at this point. “Before you arrive at O’Keefe’s, however, you’ll have to get half way to O’Keefe’s, and that means you’ll be fixing to drop into a fine establishment we like to call O’Kearney’s—even though it now says Molloy’s over the door—and have a pint to celebrate the first 1/64th of your adventure. Of course when your destination is O’Kearney’s the halfway point ‘tween here and there is…”

He was so immersed in his pub-crawl itinerary that he didn’t notice us as we quietly opened the door and exited the hotel lobby. Out on the sidewalk we paused for a moment, exhausted by the idea of trying to get to Trinity College. It was less than a mile up the road, but there was no way we would see the Book Of Kells with the infinite number of pubs we would have to stop into and the infinite number of pints we’d have to attend to within each. Looking around, we noticed we were in fact standing in front of an Irish pub. So we went in, ordered a couple of pints, and spent the day enjoying the Irish tradition of not going anywhere or doing anything.

The End.