April 16, 2010
Several years ago someone showed me a web site that would predict how and when I would die, which would be a pretty scary thing, except I knew it was all based on statistics, and as we all know there are lies, there are damn lies, and there are statistics. To find out how and when you would die you had to enter all sorts of information about where you lived, whether you drank or used drugs, your family’s health history, your phone number, your mother’s maiden name, your bank account number, and how regularly you exercised. In my case it told me I was going to be killed by my wife when she found out I’d plugged our bank account number into a random web site. Actually it told me I was going to die at the age of eighty-two of a heart attack.
One of the questions I remember was "Do you talk to strangers?" And I always said "No", although it would be more accurate to say "Not unless they talk to me first." I was tempted to go back and answer that question "Yes", even though I was scared to death I’d go from dying at the age of eighty-two of a heart attack to dying at a much younger age in a dark pit in the basement of some guy who kept telling me "It rubs the lotion into its skin. It does this when it’s told." I thought of this the other day when I stepped into the elevator and a woman who was already in there looked over at me and asked, "Do you still work in this building? I hardly ever see you anymore." I smiled and tried to say something halfway coherent about how maybe we were just on different schedules even though I was pretty sure I’d never seen this woman before in my life. And yet I can’t be absolutely certain of that. I’ve worked in the same building for nine hundred and four years and I’ve seen a lot of people come and go, and even though I would like to remember the name, phone number, mother’s maiden name, and bank account number of every one of them most of us haven’t even been introduced. Unfortunately I can’t always remember people whom I’ve been introduced to, which is a really awful thing, especially when they remember me. Once I was at a dog show with my wife and I held a door open for a complete stranger who said, "Thanks, Chris." Admittedly it is possible that the person who said that just called everyone Chris. When I was in high school there was another guy in my history class named Chris, and he would always complain bitterly that walking down the halls of our school and yelling "Hey Chris!" was kind of like going to a heavy metal concert and yelling, "Hey, you in the black!" At the time I thought about changing my name to Steve. Why Steve? For one thing I didn’t know anyone named Steve at the time. And also because of a story someone once told me about the movie producer Samuel Goldwyn. Goldwyn opened up a film script and saw that the hero’s name was Steve. He yelled, "Steve? You can’t call him Steve! Every Tom, Dick, and Harry is named Steve!" Goldwyn’s real name, by the way, was Goldfish. So here was a guy who obviously knew a thing or two about names, and probably statistics too.