by Brooks Riley
Remember the winter scarf? A long strip of knitted wool, the two ends knotted, crossed, or wrapped around the neck. I’ve worn them all my life, struggling to keep the ends from unwinding in a cold wind, or retrieving a loose end from my latte as I reach across a table to shake someone’s hand. A shroud would be an improvement, long and fulsome, but it too comes with loose ends, to be saved for later.
Loose ends, the obvious metaphor for a life in limbo, is simplistic. And just what are those ends anyway? Bookends to the main event, the Alpha and Omega of existence, birth and death—useless but inevitable.
Recently, in search of a new scarf, I came across a woolen loop, slightly elasticized so that it could be wrapped twice around my neck. Look, Ma, no ends! It’s nothing special these days, but for me it was a revelation: I was liberated from the struggle to make ends meet or stay put. Now I felt safe, in more ways than one: A woven furnace caressing my carotid arteries, I was wrapped in a security blanket without issues, clearing the way for worries of the endogenous sort, the kind that don’t come bundled with small physical irritations.
Delighted with this new-millennial improvement on age-old warmers, I shopped for another one. My second scarf went the first one even better: a brilliant woolen Möbius strip that didn’t even have to be doubled—a fat Möbius which sits firmly on the shoulders, its twist neatly snuggled at the nape of the neck, allowing the fullness of the rest to fortify the shoulders and throat. While others might be drooling over the latest wearable tech, my needs were answered by a 5 € purchase, made possible by two 19th century mathematicians, August Ferdinand Möbius and Johann Benedict Listing, who came to the same conclusion simultaneously in 1858 in their land of Zeitgeist or the zeitgleich. (Poor Herr Doktor Listing: Möbius won the posterity game.)