Saturday, May 26, 2012


One of the few firmly held beliefs that I possess, is that life is at its core a zero sum game. My victories, rare as snow in Algeria, are your defeats, and your victories are my defeats. I've even managed to expand the idea a little bit and work out a points system for adding up the sums. A plus/minus 1 is a small victory something like me getting the last black and white cookie at the bakery while you are the one behind me in line wanting the same cookie. A plus/minus 2 is akin to a 10 point win in American football, something like 17-7, sort of close but clearly one team was just better that day. A plus 3 is a blow out something like me getting my ass fired so that the company can give you a raise, plus 3's sting quite a bit. A plus/minus 4 is a rout, meaning the loser was never really in the contest to begin with. Something like two people trying for same job, and the person doing the hiring is one of the applicants cousin. Not even going to be close. A plus/minus 5 (and on my scale the highest number) is an ass handing. Something close to a German panzer and a Polish lancer squaring off against each other. We all know (even the Pole) how this is going to end, badly for someone.

In this zero sum game that we call life, your score is constantly changing. Almost anything you do has some sort of consequences (intended or not). A simple act like buying a new pair of shoes may affect any number of people in any manner of ways. Ways you did not, could not foresee.  And somewhere out there in the world, someone you may not even know, or have never met is right at this very moment taking some vague action that could possibly affect you in some massive (for good or bad) way. Maybe right now the parents of the person you will eventually marry are having the sex that will bring your eventual spouse into the world in around 9 months. Maybe the guy who will find you at that ATM at 4 p.m. on a random Tuesday, get panicky and shoot you dead, is just now stealing his first car on what will become his own personal 5 year crime wave that will end with a police officer drawing a chalk outline around your corpse. 

The trouble with all of these sums is that constant change. You probably don't know to any sort of decent amount of exactitude your score. You might not even realize that it is in the minus zone.  You may be singing show tunes to yourself right at this very moment drunk on the idea that you are well into the positive zone, and really not even be close to your actual score. This isn't like your credit score or  your blood pressure. This number really counts, not just to you but to everyone else on this rock at the same time. It's not something that you have to share, in fact, if you are able to ascertain the number, you probably shouldn't share it with anyone. After all, it is quite likely that the people you would share the number with are the very same people you are taking the pluses or the minuses from.

 For most of your life, your number will probably be X, that lovely letter than stands for the unknown, the not quite figured out value that remains a mystery to us all. A goal that is just ever so slightly out of reach, the brass ring that we are all trying to grasp. The top of the greasy pole that. like Disraeli, we are attempting to climb.  X does not really mark the spot. That spot is something that shifts second to second, while you are counting hours in your day. Something like X requires a lot of attention, like an extremely high maintenance girlfriend.  Attention that you probably can't afford to pay, because you have a lot of other shit to do, like laundry, grocery shopping, drinking yourself into a stupor, or just merely going to the john a certain number of times a day. The mundane, everyday shit that we all have to deal with, gets in the way of us calculating X, and some of that boring shit even may wildly affect X. 

Perhaps not knowing the numeric value of X is important. If we were to be suddenly struck with a bolt of genius, and figure out what our X score was it might be more than we could bear. What if it was something like minus 75? Then what would we do? Would we look around at our life, take stock, and a really deep breath and think 'seems about right to me.'? Or, would we be so horrified that we would immediately 'flip the script' and begin to behave in ways that we were certain would make our X less than minus 75, i.e. making sure we dicked someone, anyone over just to raise our score closer to the positive. Or what if we figure out it was plus 75? Would we suddenly realize what a complete douche canoe we had been being to people, and 'change our evil ways'? Or would we continue to pile the pressure on other people in the thought that if plus 75 is good, then plus 100 would be even better, and those poor unfortunate bastards that get in our way deserve the pounding we are giving them?

 Maybe there is no real answer to any of those questions that appeals to us. Maybe we just have to keep plugging away at this game of Life, and hope for the best while expecting the worst. X may never be able to be reduced to a number while we are still in the game. Rapidly changing, and wildly divergent, X may be the philosopher's stone of our time. The thing that we realize would be lovely to figure out, but that if we were able to actually figure it out would take a lot of fun out of the game. Perhaps X is just made to be elusive, like a greased pig, or unresolved like the issues you had with your mother, or unknowable like the meaning of life.  Perhaps the goal is to get X to equal 0, because 0 is still a number, and it might just be, in this context, the perfect number. The closest we can get to being a good person might be getting X as close to 0 as possible. One never knows about this things until, of course, it is too late, and by then one is past caring. 

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