My Ex-Colleague’s Calculations

I need to reconstruct or entirely recreate my raison d’être, in such a way that it does not so heavily incorporate the notion of contingent worth in its various forms. But first, I need a slice of pizza. Possibly two. So I go to the pizzeria I frequent when pizza goes from being luxury and distraction to necessity and imperative.

It’s the kind of place you are addressed as “man” or “dude” when ordering and receiving pizza (my preferred terms of address when in need of pizza), with the latter applied more frequently when ordering and receiving whole pies; at least this is the corre- lation I’ve found in my experience. Located in an artsy quarter of the downtown, it is run by, so far as I can tell, four radical, mellow guys, but there may be another guy or two in the back of the pizzeria I’ve never seen. There seem to be no girls involved in the operations of the pizzeria, but again the activities in the back are utterly opaque to me. There could be a very affectionate llama in the back for all I know. If so, that would be fine with me; it doesn’t seem to be interfering with the quality of the pizza and if anything, is probably enhancing it by offering a source of moral support.

Shortly after arriving at this pizzeria, I run into Ruod, an old colleague. Or perhaps, we run into each other. I can’t be sure who bears primary responsibility for the jarring, bodily bumping; it all happens so quickly, but judging by the force of the impact, the fault is likely shared.

Carelessly, oblivious to each other’s identity, we’ve collided in our haste for pizza, somewhat miffed as we rebound off one another, until we each realize just who the other party involved is. At which point our mutual annoyance diminishes rapidly.

“Sorry about that,” Ruod begins. “Just one of those times when the desire for pizza is running rampantly through me.”

“Same here. Utterly rampant. Intractable even, this need for pizza I’m caught in the unyielding grip of right now,” I reply in attempts to describe this visceral craving.

“Well, let’s take care of that then,” he says amiably, waving a hand in the direction of the counter.

“Gladly,” I reply

The pizzeria is not yet bustling as it often is, so we have our pick of places to sit. I head towards the empty stool at the end of the counter by the mirror that spans almost half the length of the brick wall it is mounted upon.

We sit down, and one of the four guys approaches us, asking me, “What’ll it be, man?”

“A slice of olive and a slice of onion,” I tell him quickly, having formulated my choice of pizza toppings during my walk to the pizzeria.

“Okay. How about you, bro?” the guy asks my former col- league. I’m taken aback this term of address I’ve never heard here before, and I can’t help but wonder why it has been applied to Ruod. Maybe he comes here really often.

“Two slices of corn and mushroom,” Ruod answers.

“All right,” the pizzeria guy says and saunters off.

“What are you up to these days?” Ruod asks as we wait for our slices.

I elect to avoid discussion of my raison d’être situation and tell him (inaccurately), “I’m working on re-confirming validity of socially instituted norms on a gross level.”

“Yeah, that’s tedious but important. Someone’s got to do it to avert widespread dissatisfaction,” he remarks. “I’m doing some- thing similar, actually. Computing the complacence in the world. A lot of number crunching, really.”

I nod nonchalantly. Having suspected he’d be continuing along the line of work in which we were once associates, this current work of his isn’t surprising at all.

“But you know what really interests me? Something I’ve been doing on the side. Calculating the angst in the world.”

My eyes widen at his disclosure. Nonplussed by his honesty, all I can do is wait for him to elaborate, which he does after running the dangers of his right hand through his mussed, orange hair.

“Turns out you can adapt the algorithms used for calculating complacence to calculate angst from largely the same data set for complacence,” he explains. “So I’ve begun to do that. From what I’ve got so far, it seems there’s quite a bit of angst out there. More than you might think. And here’s the kicker: it seems you can also calculate the latent angst from this data as well, and the number I’ve gotten for that so far is just huge. From what I can make out, the scale of latent angst is dominated by only a few factors, one of which is an inverse correlation to the degree of validity of socially instituted norms.”

“Well, if that’s the case, haven’t you indirectly shown that they have a low degree of validity?”

“No, not conclusively. That’s just a possibility. I can’t be sure all the methods I’ve been using are accurate. I may have screwed up something. We’ll see what your work yields. I expect it will disconfirm the inference you’ve just drawn.”

“I’m not so sure about that,” I reply. Although I’ve since veered away from what was once our mutual line of work, the intuition I gained for some of its manners remains.

“Really? What does your data show right now?”

Hearing him ask this, I begin to think his honesty was offered in exchange for my own concerning information he thinks I’m in possession of, that which is very pertinent to his calculations.

“Actually, I don’t have any data to substantiate any claims on the matter, but I think your calculations are more accurate than you believe them to be.”

Ruod becomes utterly bug-eyed upon hearing this.

“Here you go, dudes,” one of the pizzeria employees says, plac- ing our slices of pizza on the counter before us. They exude thoroughly appetite-whetting aroma luxuriously, our nostrils filling affluently with this heady fragrance.

This is exactly what we both need right now.

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