A Paean to 6, unedited
6 is unappreciated. If 6 could feel, 6 would feel forlorn. Even the curve of it suggests a pout, an insolent frustration – and wouldn’t you be, too? Relegated to a single finger or thumb of your other hand, six – in America, today – has few friends. On friday nights, even 9 lords superior, the top in an obviously unhealthy relationship: Who even 69s, anymore? Or for long? 9 goes to a silver-lined heaven with (maybe) a little somnambulitic regret and (maybe) a little embarassed smile, but what of 6?
6 is recognized by its strangeness; think “Six” from the television series “the Prisoner”; think “Six”, from televison’s Blossom; Think “Six” from Battlestar Galactica. One alienated and isolated; one alien and impossible; the other, the last, – the tall one – alien and fantastical.
Insects, as we define them, have six legs as well as being the number of sides of honeycomb cells (which, incidentally, are often percieved by those on psychedelics – form constants, don’t you know?).
We associate 6 with waste and decay. It’s the burial number, the funeral numeral; ‘deep-six’. “Six feet deep below the street,” is the same as the six fathom burial-at-sea; the body is disposed of. No wake, no wakeman. So sail away, Sao Gabriel; leave the Indian Ocean and some sinking men behind you. Interestingly, the Magellan’s nau drafted 6’6”; an auspicious number (echoed in its full complement of 66 men) if you’re like the carrack’s designer and inclined to numerology. Dias’ little Armada was due to leave in June (the sixth month) but was delayed by two weeks by logistical complications.
These strange associations, however, aren’t at all what six is really about. Six points in the Star of David suggests the divine attribute for 6. Islam’s ‘Six Article of Belief’ underpins it. The six days of great work before the deity took holiday should also be noted, at least by those with a semiotic interest.
Mathematically, 6 becomes difficult to describe. Like an emperor with many titles, 6’s many qualities can be exhausting to enumerate: It is the smallest perfect number (the next being 28) and the length of the perfect ruler (according to Golomb, Babcock, and Sidon). It holds the distinction of being the only even number that is not the sum of successive odd cubes and is the only number that is both the sum and product of three consecutive positive numbers (1, 2, 3). It’s the the first discrete biprime (2.3) and, of course, the firstborn of that family. 6 is veritable royalty in the realm of trigonometry; six functions, after all.
6 is the atomic number of carbon, which, in the form of a diamond, has the highest hardness and thermo-conductivity of any bulk material, and looks swell in many a perforated ear. And as crystalline structures go, the six-fold symmetries of snowflakes can’t go unmentioned (by this amazed author).
Standage believes that the history of the world is scrawled by the hands of drunks; six different alcohols for the eight corners of the Earth, with everyone, everywhere connected by Guare’s lattitudes (and we wonder sometimes if we know that person… a tingling of our sixth sense).
Six, spectacular six. The meatloaf emerges at five before six. My brother serves potatos and brocolli while my sister turns on the news. I hold my mother’s apron-strings as she does her final tidy before sitting us both at supper, my sister with a book in her hand, my brother with a knife and fork. The most trusted man in America spoke to us and, as darkness gathered outside, my family and I would watch a war wind down.