The first nonabsolute number is the number of people for whom the table is reserved. This will vary during the course of the first three calls to the restaurant, and then bear no apparent relation to the number of people who actually turn up, or to the number of people who subsequently join them after the show/match/party/gig, or to the number of people who leave when they see who else has turned up. The second nonabsolute number is the given time of arrival, which is now known to be one of the most bizarre of mathematical concepts, a recipriversexcluson, a number whose existence can only be defined as being anything other than itself. In other words, the given time of arrival is the one time at which it is totally impossible that any member of the party will arrive. Recipriversexclsions now play a vital part in many branches of math, including statistics and accountancy and also form the basic equations used to engineer the Somebody Else’s Problem field. The third and most mysterious piece of nonabsoluteness of all lies in the relationship between the number of items on the check, the cost of each item, the number of people at the table and what they are each prepared to pay for. (The number of people who have actually brought any money is only a subphenomenon in this field.)
The baffling discrepancies that used to occur at this point remained uninvestigated for centuries simply because no one took them seriously. They were at the time put down to such things as politeness, rudeness, meanness, flashiness, tiredness, emotionality or the lateness of the hour, and completely forgotten about on the following morning. They were never tested under laboratory conditions, of course, because they never occurred in laboratories – not in reputable laboratories at least. And so it was only with the advent of pocket computers that the startling truth finally became apparent, and it was this: Numbers written on restaurant checks within the confines of restaurants do not follow the same mathematical laws as numbers written on any other pieces of paper in any other parts of the universe.
The single statement took the scientific world by storm. It completely revolutionized it. So many mathematical conferences got held in such good restaurants that many of the finest minds of a generation died of obesity and heart failure and the science of math was held back by galayears. Slowly, however, the implications of the idea began to be understood. To begin with it had been too stark, too crazy, too much like what the man in the street would have said “Oh yes, I could have told you that.” Then some phrases like “Interactive Subjectivity Frameworks” were invented, and everybody was able to relax and get on with it. The small group of monks who had taken up hanging around the major research institutes singing strange chants to the effect that the universe was only a figment of its own imagination were eventually given a street theater grant and went away.