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Charlie, the MTA and a Mobius strip

For this month's Scientae, Jokerine over at at Love Letters wants us to post on stories of cheer. I have a story from my friend, Adeline Naiman with a math twist that will make you smile.

Those of you who aren't from New England may not know the song Charlie on the MTA. The chorus is:

Did he ever return, No he never returned And his fate is still unlearn'd He may ride forever 'neath the streets of Boston He's the man who never returned.

I've sung the song all of my life and once you hear it you'll start singing it too.

Anyway here is what Adeline wrote::

This is for Michael J. Bailey, who wrote the (Dec.1st) obit for Bess Hawes.

The story of Charlie begins a little earlier than your record. In the winter of 1947-48, my new husband and I were living in our first apartment on Garden Street on the back of Beacon Hill. I was an editor at Little, Brown; Mark was a graduate student in physics at Harvard on the G.I. Bill. My boss, Angus Cameron, was the state chairman of the Progressive Party, and I was the publicity director. It would be my first presidential election. I was enthralled with politics but more passionate about science fiction. I particularly relished Mark's explanations of the Mobius strip and the Klein bottle with their continuous surfaces.

One night, we had a bunch of friends over for red wine and music. Among them were a Progressive Party pal, Jackie Steiner and a couple who brought a guitar--Bess and Butch Hawes. I think it was a Wednesday night because I waited impatiently for the monthly Astounding Science Fiction magazine, which appeared on the stands on Wednesday, and I was impressed by a story about a Mobius strip in the new issue.

Mark and I treasured our Library of Congress recordings of American folk songs produced by Bess Hawes' father and brother, John and Alan Lomax, so I was awed by her. I was explaining to these non-scientists about the Mobius strip. and we went on to joke about a subway that had no beginning or end. Collectively we chanted a story, and then Butch picked up his guitar and played some familiar tune that fit the rhythm. We had a great night.

The next time I heard our song, it was blasting from Walter O'Brien's campaign truck on Cambridge Street at the foot of our hill. I think the singer was local poet, John Ciardi. The rest you know.