Friday, 17 April 2009

Mathematical Apocrypha Redux: More Stories & Anecdotes of Mathematicians & the Mathematical

by Seven G. Krantz

Mathematician Robert A. Bonic (1932-1990)--who made his first appearance in Mathematical Apocrypha--smoked marijuana one night in 1969 and had a vision. Like Kronecker, he deduced that God made the integers and that all else was derivative material concocted by man. He decided therefore to become a computer scientist.

Using connections he had, Bob managed to land an Assistant Professorship in Computer Science at the Courant Institute in New York City. There was just one catch. Bob had been a tenured full Professor of Mathematics at Northeastern University. He resigned that lofty position in order to move to Courant. He had grown accustomed, since he had a high-paying sinecure at Northeastern, to fight and argue with everyone all the time about everything. Bob continued this tradition as an Assistant Professor at Courant. The unfortunate upshot was that he was fired. So Bob started a new life.

Bob Bonic had many interests. One of his avocations was playing darts, and he was so good at it that he was banned from most of the dart bars in New York City. He ended up opening his own dart bar in Manhattan. His partner in business was Phil Ochs (1940-1976), the famous folk singer. Bonic's bar became quite the hangout: actor Robert De Niro and punk rock singer Patti Smith used to spend time there.

Phil Ochs was manic depressive, and he ended up committing suicide. Bonic was the last person to see him alive before he went off and hanged himself.

Ultimately Bonic was run out of business because the Cosa Nostra wanted his space. He became an itinerant mathematician, traveling from university to university and doing a variety of jobs for different math departments--some of them quite essential (like supervising the calculus curriculum)--in order to keep going. He died at a young age of a brain tumor.

2 comments:

Tom Zatar Kay said...

Hi was so very smart I will miss him! One of the first computer masters... boom

Anonymous said...

Bob was my roomate in '83 on Franklin St in Tribeca. He was a brilliant, funny, "Nutty Professor". One Sunday morning... before our first joint, I knocked on his bedroom door. He was looking around in that irritated manner that he had. I watched him poke around for a couple minutes before asking him what he was looking for. "My shirt... my blue shirt." I asked if he meant the one that he was wearing, the one in which he slept... he looked down and smiled... "Yes... this one... thanks." That was Bob.