Calculating Stan Walderman
Originally published in Freefall Magazine, Volume XXI Number 1, Spring/Summer 2011. Prose Contest Winner.
Stan Walderman was Unremarkable. Fourth place out of everyone assigned to the Unremarkable group. But now, at least, there was hope (h).
Test Subject 433—the one who wore the fuzzy hat and smelled like pork rinds—had just been promoted. Stan had seen it. 433 holding up his new pass-card during Free Association and Redemption for everyone to see, Remarkable stamped across the front in fresh red ink. They’d even given 433 a new picture, all smiling and bug-eyed and pinned to the front of his vintage Rush t-shirt. “You’re free to go,” they said. So 433 left, waving his new card above his head as the classroom door slammed shut behind him. Finally, Stan thought, third place.
Stan could do a few things the other Unremarkables couldn’t. He could dress in appropriate complementary colors, and had a knack for choosing smart, sensible shoes. When asked, he had interesting things to say and a 29.53% chance of relating those things to a conversation currently taking place. He had a 12.63% chance of impressing a member of the opposite sex, and a 2.81% chance of parlaying that into sexual intimacy. He had an Interest Rating of twenty-four (24). Not high as such, perhaps, but high enough to make him feel, depending on the day, just slightly less Unremarkable than his scores indicated.
There were a few things that hindered his movement within the group.
1) He liked to sleep in, a fact that had made him late to a number of daily meetings and thus lowered his Reliability Score (RS), by fifteen points.
2) His obsession with Star Wars figurines and similar memorabilia factored into his Sociability Recognition Index (SRI), whereby certain acceptable hobbies were given a rating:
Star Wars – 24
Star Trek – 19
Star Wars and Star Trek together – 5
Volleyball – 64
Volleyball without a shirt – 96
Volleyball without a shirt, on a beach, and with a tan – 126
Stan had never played volleyball, and burnt quite easily.
The numbers were calculated using a series of equations and graphs chalked onto classroom blackboards and pointed at with long sticks. “And repeat,” they’d say. “Once more everybody, from the top.”
And so this was it, the world run on equations after everything else had failed. The numbers by which all were now measured, and the reason Stan found himself here—classroom 40056, fifty-ninth floor, ward three.
They’d found him in a comic book store, two months after the transfer of power, gripping an issue of Flash Gordon and thumbing his privates though a pair of loose fitting jogging pants. “The keys to a better life,” they said. “Please come with us.” And so he went.
His Remarkability Rating was twenty-eight (28), and updated daily in large black digits screened into the back of his pass-card next to his title: Test Subject 219.
The Remarkability Rating was calculated on a number of factors. Directly linked to his habit of hiding in the corners of a room while participating in Standard Crowd Immersion Training (SCIT), whereby participants from different programs were released into a room and told to mingle while being watched through a Plexiglas ceiling. Stan tried his best to decipher the variables: his distance from the center of the room (C), the number of people in the room (p), and the number of females in the room (X).
Two-nineteen. Please move into the center of the room and engage, they would say over the bent, bullet-ridden intercom nailed to the wall. So he would move towards the center of the room, in a slow and calculated manner. Once there, he’d look towards the ceiling into the eyes of those with lab coats, clipboards, and busy pencils, and wonder how he’d done.
Meeting Sarah was a fluke (F). A fluke whereby one person (1), meets another person (2), and person one is an unremarkable woman (uw), and person two, an unremarkable man (um).
He had taken a break from the 4PM Parental History and Judgment class to get a drink of water, something he had never done before, and that had a 99.68% chance of never happening again. “Probability Theory,” they said after Stan returned to class and asked a question. “Page 679. Look it up.”
She was large, with legs that disappeared into shoes in a way that made ankles unnecessary. He would later learn that her penchant for sugary breakfast cereals and pizza crust stuffed with anything had slashed her Remarkability Rating to a low of twenty-nine (29).
They´d spoken by the fountain, slow and awkward at first. Stan spoke of Storm Troopers, Tribbles, and Flux Capacitors, and she understood. Stan talked of laziness, video games, and sleeping in, and she concurred. And even though their combined Universal Culpability numbers (3/57 and 6/57, respectively), put their Likely Pairing Success Ratio (LPSR) well below the norm, Stan could tell, instantly, that he loved her.
They kept the affair secret. Enrollees were dissuaded from mingling unless monitored. This secret love filled Stan with confidence. A feeling of strength that flowed though his life like never before. He was secure (s), agile (a), Un-Mathematical (UM). Sarah held for him the dream of Limitless Possibilities (LP), and the hope of Eternal Happiness (EH). In short, LP + EH = ∞.
The affair lasted six months. During that time his new-found confidence raised scores in all areas directly relating to his overall Remarkability Rating, placed him a close second behind Test Subject 433, who was back after lasting only three months on the outside. Stan could see himself reaching Remarkable. It was just a matter of time until Those That Mattered saw it too.
They found out about the affair on a Sunday afternoon. The day after she told him she loved him. The day after they had made love for the first time.
The affair—though not grounds for dismissal—took a bite out of his Reliability Score, reducing it to an embarrassing two (2), and bringing his Remarkability Rating to an all-time low of fifteen (15). Last place.
Some time later, he received word that Sarah had quit. Stan had seen it coming, this quitting, something no one in the program had yet attempted. She’d cornered him in the hallway the week before, “I’m bustin’ out of here,” she said. “Come with me, Stan. I love you, Stan. You can do it, Stan. We can make it on the outside, together!” But he could not. He’d seen Remarkable. So close as to nearly taste it. How someone turns away from that, he did not know.
And then the spin machine started up. Sarah left in defiance of her Carb-Intake Coefficient, they said one day over the speakers in the cafeteria. And everyone except Stan, laughed. “How could someone be so unremarkable?” a few said. “Disgusting,” said another. But Stan knew the truth. Sarah’s great strength, that was the woman he loved. He wondered how she was. He wondered if he would ever see her again. He wondered if she missed him.
And in that place. Last place. Sitting in the cafeteria, Sarah’s usual seat empty across from him. He thought about her. The way she would sneak bites out of a stick of butter when no one was looking. Eat the frosting off of the cafeteria cupcakes and throw away the cake. Suck mayonnaise out of mayonnaise packets, and scrape the cream out of Oreos with her teeth. Stan lowered his head, and began to cry (CRY).
We hereby inform you, the notice began, that your consistently low numbers have prompted a review of your development within the program. Stan’s heart sank, lowering his Vulnerability Rating (VR) to a disastrous two (2).
The last transmission came just fifty-five seconds later. Terminated.
Stan tried to find an apartment. This proved difficult for someone with such low numbers. He managed to find a job, answering an ad that claimed not to check Remarkability Ratings. He still had to lie when the question ultimately came up.
He managed some extra money, selling a Boba Fett in original packaging through an underground source. This helped him find a place: a windowless apartment in a tangle of towers near the perimeter. It came with a stove, a fridge, and a phone, the number for which he was never given and would never know. He knew the probability of receiving a call on a phone for which he did not know the number. There was no math involved. It was zero. 0 out of a possible 10,000,000,000 potential phone calls. 0 + 0 x 0 – 0 = zero.
So, he tried to forget about it, tried to push zero out of his mind. But it did not work. He had arrived at zero by way of his own Unremarkableness. The lowest of possible scores. Rock bottom. Grief took him over, panic settled in, and fate (f), sent a bottle of pills (P), to greet him. In short, f + P = ∞.
What he hadn’t counted on in that dark place—what no one in the program had thought to measure—was his capacity for luck. Luck that had led him to that drinking fountain. Luck that had found him a job. Luck that had found him an apartment with a phone for which he did not know the number.
The phone rang on a Sunday, one day after he had decided to end it all, and fifteen minutes after he was unable to follow through. “It’s Sarah,” said the voice on the other end. “You’re a hard guy to track down.”
Stan’s heart jumped, raising his Vulnerability Rating by fifty or sixty points. He could feel confidence take hold, and hope (h) began filling him up. He was happy. Of this, there was no doubt.
He sat in his windowless room, talking till dawn on the phone for which he did not know the number, and thought of Happiness—a quality for which the new world, in all its remarkable brilliance, had been hard-pressed to quantify.