Experiment #90

Maximized Utility Part 1

I met Jim at a coffee shop a half mile from the office park where he works. It was a local place filled with all the color and cultural significance the chain stores shoot for.

He had the build of a high school basketball player: tall, lanky and devoid of muscle. He had a mop of curly hair that looked like a still from a mortar shell explosion. His face was flat and long with a scraggly goatee that made it look longer. He ordered a double latte with cream and goat’s milk. He mused over his cup and talked about the weather before I asked him the big question. “What do you do on the weekends?”

Jim smiled. One of those wide, knowing smiles. “Why do you want to talk about that?” he asked.

“It’s why I’m here,” I said.

“I know…” he said, “but most people ask me that to make me say something crazy or try to prove I’m a moron.”

“Wait,” I said, “let me get out my recorder so I can get the crazy word for word.”

He laughed but his face didn’t show it. He paused, then stood up. “Thanks for the coffee,” he said. His feet suddenly turned traitor on him and refused to move.

“Come on,” I said with a conciliatory tone, “You haven’t even said anything crazy yet.”

He broke into a wide smile. “You’re the worst reporter of all time.”

“I prefer the worst ‘journalist’ of all time.”

He sat back down.

“Relax,” I said. “This is just two guys grabbin’ a cup of Joe. Shooting the breeze. So what do you do for a living?”

“I’m a web designer. I work for a small marketing agency.”

“You ever have plans for your own agency?”

“Me? Nah, not my thing. Too much bending over to kiss up.”

He slumped a little in his chair and seemed more comfortable.

“You got a family?”

“Not yet, but I’m working on it.”

“Anyone special?”

“There’s a girl who seems to like me.”

He traced the walls floral pattern with his finger.

“So your weekends are pretty free?” I asked.

His eyes darted to mine almost like I’d called his mother a name. He sat up and cleared his throat. “Train,” he said.

“For what?”

“We’re preparing for the worst.”

“The national guard prepares for the worst. You’re doing something different.”

“No, it’s the same.”

“Ok, can you stop beating around the bush?”

He sighed and laid back in his chair. “We prepare for the worst scenarios possible. Scenarios vary from week to week, but include such things as natural disasters, atomic winter-”

“And the zombie apocalypse.”

He shot me a nasty glare, but nodded. “We prepare for everything,” he said.

“How do you kill a zombie?”

“You honor, permission to treat the reporter as hostile?

“We train for all situations. Most of the time it’s plain survival skills, sometimes it’s martial arts or how to negotiate under duress, but all the time we’re maximizing our utility, getting ready in case society implodes. Zombies or otherwise.”

Experiment #91

Maximized Utility Part 2

“You know how that sounds, right?” I asked.

“You were waiting for something crazy, weren’t you?” Jim replied.

“I’m sorry.” I took a sip of coffee and backed down. “What do these training sessions look like?”

“It depends on the week, but generally a member of the group will present a skill or something they’ve learned and teach the rest of the group. Once a month we do an obstacle course.”

“I’ve heard those can be rough.”

“An apocalypse will be rough.”

“Yeah, but I heard a guy got hospitalized-”

A fired leaped into Jim’s eyes. “That’s on him,” he said. “He never told us he had asthma, so we pushed him the way we push everyone. If we’d known about his condition we never would have pushed him that hard.”

“He claims he did tell you-”

“You can speak to my lawyer then.” Jim stood up to leave again.

“Ok, ok,” I said, “I’m just trying to understand you, understand what you’re doing.”

“You catch more flies with honey.”

“Honey doesn’t help you understand the fly.”

“What do you really want to ask?”

“Why do you do it? Why do you spend your weekends preparing for things that probably won’t happen?”

“I’m a web designer,” he said. “If something happens I’m about as useful as a bath tub on a sinking battleship ship.” He looked at me for a long moment, sizing me up. He breathed out as if he’d come to a decision. He looked back at the floral pattern and said, “A few years ago I visited DC. I hung out with friends, caught the monuments, and saw the night life.

“The morning I left I packed my bags and caught the metro for a long ride to the airport. A few stops after I got on, an elderly couple got into the same car. They kind of shuffled to a seat and sat down. A couple stops later they got up to get off the train, but they were moving too slowly.

“The door chimed to warn it was closing. The man stepped off, but the woman froze with fear and started shouting for them to wait, to stop, to open the doors, but the conductor couldn’t hear or didn’t care. The doors started to close. A man near them jumped up to catch it but he was too late.

“The old woman pounded on the window and cried for them to hold on, to stop the train, to let her get to her husband. She wailed like he’d died in front of her. A woman near the window signaled to the elderly man on the platform to wait there, then tried to calm the old woman and tell her to get off at the next station and take the opposite train back. Finally, the old woman caught a hold of herself and calmed down. The man offered his seat and she sat down. At the next stop the old woman did what the lady said and as far as I know they lived happily ever after.”

He squirmed in his chair and folded and unfolded his hands in rapid succession. “But I didn’t.

“I just watched. Just watched the whole thing. It’s not that I was paralyzed with fear or couldn’t think of what to do. I watched it like a sitcom, like they were there for my entertainment. I could have done something. I could have helped. But I sat there and watched.

“That day I swore I’d never let that happen again. I’d always be ready, always prepared to help. That day I decided I wouldn’t just watch anymore.

“But you’re here, you found out about me because I didn’t shy away, didn’t run away when the carjacker tried to hurt someone right in front of me. I stopped him and probably saved that kid’s life.

“You’re here because the crazy man saved a life…

“You’re here because the crazy man isn’t crazy.”

That’s how I first met President James Thurgood Marshall and how, when the apocalypse came, he and his group of “crazies” saved us all.