At our last one-on-one, my summer intern and I chatted about our high school years. Over the soy latte I bought her, she told me about that one time she worked at an antique bookstore called 3WM.
It wasn’t really just a bookstore. They also carried vinyls and vintage computers. She wasn’t particular into those things—it was simply a job for her to save some money. She also didn’t learn too much about the antique book trade. The bookstore, she said, had such a well-digitized database, that her job in the beginning was really just operating their point-of-sales system, which they also developed in-house.
A month after she started, things got interesting.
The store owner asked her whether she would be interested in taking up three-way merge projects.
“What did an antique bookstore have to do with three-way merge?”
“I honestly didn’t know the actual meaning of the term until I majored in computer science. Let’s say it was a counseling-like service. Sort of therapy. Some customer came to the store and said they wanted to reconnect with someone they lost contact with, or just to relive some moments with their former partners… then the owner would check, and if the other person also happened to have come to the store and made the same request before, the bookstore would set up a new project, and assign it to someone like me to do the three-way merge.”
“This only got me even more intrigued. What the heck is three-way merge?”
“Basically the project assignee would contact the two persons involved and interview them separately to find out that one common thing they last had.”
“Let me guess. So you interviewed them separately to walk their respective paths back to find their last common ancestor node in their tree of events, and that last node would be where they parted ways, metaphorically?”
“Exactly. Get the two diffs from the last shared commit.”
She told me that project assignees usually would find the two paths eventually went all the way back to a single book, an album, a concert, or, in her case, a recital.
“For my project, initially I thought they parted ways from a Tori Amos concert, but then I asked them more, and it turned out that they attended a recital of Guillaume Apollinaire by a local poet, on a snowy winter night here in New York City.”
“You know Apollinaire?”
“Sous le pont Mirabeau coule la Seine / Et nos amours…"
“Huh, that’s uncanny. They parted ways exactly at the point where the poet recited that very poem…“
“What then? Did the bookstore sell them two copies of Alcools published in Paris in the 1920s or something?”
“Pas du tout. We were assigned to reconstruct the scene.”
“For my project, I had to find that poet and get those two persons together and have the poet recite the poem at the bookstore…“
“Who got to pay for this?”
“Whoever the two people were that wanted to go back to that moment.”
“Sounds like something that would need a lot of money.”
“If they had parted their ways at some Tori Amos concert, then yes, ha. Fortunately, when I found the forking point, the poet happened to be in New York, and all that was left for me to do was to schedule a time for everyone and have the two people fly to New York.”
“What kind of people?”
“I won’t say too much. All I can say is they weren’t super rich, but I could tell they both recognized the nature of the matter is something all the money in the world can’t buy.”
“In other words, the bookstore provided a service of reconstructing certain moments in life.”
“You can say that.”
“Ever heard of Koreeda Hirokazu’s After Life?”
“I never get to watch it, but I’ve heard the store owner talk about the director.”
“I think I got the idea… anything you could say about how the project ended?”
“Everyone arrived and we had a successful recital. The only issue was the season. But hey, it was my summer job.”
“What about the two people? Did they go to a bar to have a drink together, or did one of them go to visit where the other was staying in the city…?”
“No. After the recital I chatted with the poet a bit and even got a signed copy. The owner spoke with the two in a corner. The two hugged, and then I saw them leave the bookstore separately with their respective carry-on luggage.”
“Does that mean they came to the bookstore for that alone, and then they flew back?”
“That’s quite different from how I imagined three-way merge would work.”
“I felt the same. I asked the owner: that’s it? The owner told me that initially it was meant to result in something. Slowly it came to the owner that what a lot of clients wanted was the process of understanding.”
“Meaning, they wanted to know how they went on their own ways from that forking point?”
“Right. The owner had this theory that most counseling is like two-way merge: an attempt to have two persons with all their differences laid out on the table and tell them to ‘deal with it.’ But with enough efforts, it is often the case that these two people really ever had one real shared moment. It might be a book that they read together, or a film they went to see…“
“... Or on a winter’s night, a poetry recital.”
“Of Apollinaire’s Le pont Mirabeau, of all the possibilities.”
“So maybe the result doesn’t matter that much.”
“I think so. Plus, they may part their ways again from that merge point…“
“It’s two independent people we are talking about.”
“So very true.”
“Such an interesting summer job you had.”
“I’m surprised you know Apollinaire. What were you reading?”
“Well… let’s say the things I read when I was younger have nothing to do with what I do for a living now. You?”
“I never gave it much thought. Plus, it was just a high schooler’s summer job.”
“But I don’t think you would have such an experience if you had worked, say, at a boba shop.”
“You sure? Who knows how many lovers and partners parted their ways because of an oversweetened or unsweetened cup of milk tea…”