The specialist called Joshua

January 11, 2013

Just to look at him, Josh Higgins was about as ordinary as you can get: 5-foot-10, a somewhat paunchy 180 pounds, clean-shaven, brown eyes, brown hair, brown suit, he could never be picked out in a crowd. But under that cloak of invisibility he was something else again: a repository of information gained by incessant reading of forgotten documents. 

Jack O’Brien

Jack O’Brien

For example, if you need to know the structure of the chlorophyll molecule, you naturally go to Wikipedia on the web and you get an informed answer in seconds. But if you happen to composing a monograph about the Roman Emperor Justinian and decide that for the sake of verisimilitude you should mention his favorite breakfast food, your only hope is to download www.Joshinfo.edu, and you’ll get the answer within minutes, at a price of course (oatmeal porridge with goat’s milk, washed down with Falernian wine, because the water supply was undrinkable and coffee or tea hadn’t been invented).

That in fact was precisely why it was so dangerous to consult Josh; you had to wade through a mountain of irrelevant detail to get to the bit you needed. Of course, on the web you could simply delete everything beyond the first 20 words, but Josh had a nasty habit of saying he needed time to research, and would be glad to deliver the answer over lunch. I have had many a three-hour lunch and emerged without an answer, simply because Josh couldn’t stop talking.

Amongst well-brought-up people, when someone seems to be dominating the conversation, you break in when he pauses to draw breath, but Josh never seemed to need air. It seems that he had once trained as a baritone, and latched on to the trick of never seeming to draw breath, thus depriving his audience of their only weapon short of walking away.

One time when Josh trapped me into a lunch, I unthinkingly complimented him for being on time, and got a 60-minute dissertation on Timekeeping, starting with the sundial, the water clock, the spermaceti candle, the escapement, springs versus weights, the Chronometer, the piezo-electric crystal, the argon laser and its descendants etc., until I let out a scream and left the scene, without ever getting an answer to my original question.

I did, however, eventually learn how to stop the flow. I poured an extract of rotting catfish in formalin into an after-shave spray bottle, and under the cover of the table pressed the plunger at the height of his peroration. The atrocious smell stopped him for the precise second it needed to break the flow, and I didn’t give him an opportunity to interrupt for the rest of the meal.

Of course, he never again responded to my e-mails, much less invited me to lunch, so I was the loser in the end, but I never really regretted that glorious moment when he stopped talking for a second.

You may be interested

Of snow, kindness and Northern Lights: a Costa Rican in Manitoba, Canada
Please Send Coffee!
1138 views
Please Send Coffee!
1138 views

Of snow, kindness and Northern Lights: a Costa Rican in Manitoba, Canada

Gustavo Díaz Cruz - December 14, 2017

My mom named me Gustavo Adolfo. I was born in Puntarenas, next to the sea, but my home was in…

Response to disaster: aid successes, struggles in post-Maria Puerto Rico
Weather
1138 views
Weather
1138 views

Response to disaster: aid successes, struggles in post-Maria Puerto Rico

John McPhaul - December 13, 2017

As Costa Rica joins many other nations in looking back upon the horrendous 2017 hurricane season, longtime Tico Times contributor…

Looking back at Hurricane Maria: the initial impact
Weather
2014 views
Weather
2014 views

Looking back at Hurricane Maria: the initial impact

John McPhaul - December 12, 2017

As Costa Rica joins many other nations in looking back upon the devastating 2017 hurricane season, longtime Tico Times contributor…