brad baker was an ordinary guy. he did not deny it.
he was forty-eight years old.
he was a senior systems analyst in a mid-level consulting firm.
he had a wife, his second, and two children, a 24 year old boy from his first marriage who still lived with brad and his wife but who was sincerely seeking employment, and a 16 year old girl from the second marriage who was a junior in high school and played cornet in the high school band.
one evening brad was sitting at home alone eating a pepperoni and sausage pizza and drinking a miller lite and watching tapes of old american idol shows. american idol was his favorite show, although dancing with the stars was a close second. he also liked to watch golf tournaments.
his wife, linda, was at one of her classes - yoga, or whatever, brad junior was out doing god knew what with his buddies, and carol ann was practicing with the high school band.
the doorbell rang.
who could that be, brad wondered. he was not expecting any packages. hare krishnas and jehovahs witnesses and their ilk were for the most part successfully kept out of the community by its slightly overzealous and gung ho police force.
he decided that linda or one of the kids must have ordered something online.
but when he opened the door , he did not find a deliveryperson from ups or amazon but a couple of men in well-cut gray suits.
one was young and tall and bald, and the other shorter and older with thick glasses and white hair like noam chomsky’s.
“good evening, mr baker,” the taller man greeted brad. brad did not think to wonder why the man was so confident of his identity that he did not ask him if he were brad baker but assumed that he was.
“my name is mr gray,” the tall man continued, “and i’m from the government. and this is my colleague, the professor.” he flashed his wallet at brad so quickly that brad couldn’t see anything. the tall man seemed to think that was introduction enough.
brad assumed they were some sort of scam artists, but was amused rather than angry.
what could they do to him? tie him to a chair and torture him for his passwords and social security number? he welcomed them as a diversion from his familiar evening routine and thought they might be good for a few laughs and a story to tell at work.
“well, come in , gentlemen, come in,” brad waved them in with a smile meant to convey that they were not fooling him but he was willing to humor them. he didn't ask them for any i d.
“what can i do for you?” brad asked when they had found chairs and pulled them around so that they faced him. brad stopped the tape he had running, but decided it would be going too far to offer them coffee or anything else.
“i’ll get to the point, mr baker,and not take up too much of your time,” “mr gray” said. “i am what you call a bureaucrat,” he smiled . “and i am required by regulations - one of the infinite government regulations so maligned by one and all - to inform you of the results of a scientific study.”
“oh?” was all brad could think to say. “why?“
“because you were the subject of the study,” mr gray replied. “or i should say, you turned out to be the result of the study.”
“meaning what exactly?” brad asked.
“to put it as simply as possible, the study determined that you were - are - the most average - or the median - person in america, what do you think of that?”
brad stated at mr gray. “you went to the trouble of finding the most average person in america?”
mr gray smiled at brad. "yes."
“so now what?” brad said. “am i going to go on some kind of secret mission?” brad had almost forgotten that he had considered them scam artists.
mr gray and the professor both laughed. the professor had a really deep, nasty laugh.
“nothing of the sort, mr baker,” the professor said, “nothing of the sort. but tell us, what do you think of being the most average person in america?”
“so you don’t take offense?” mr gray asked, leaning back and putting the tips of his fingers together.
“no, not at all.”
“i’m glad to hear it,” mr gray replied.
“but what was the point?” brad repeated.
“the point,” growled the professor, “as with so much scientific research, was simply to see if it could be done. we wanted to determine if it was indeed possible to pinpoint and identify such an entity as the most average person, and it turned out that it was, and you happened to be that person. and as my colleague explained, we were required by regulation 1-2-3-fuck-all to notify you , and here we are.”
“and that’s it?”
“not quite,” mr gray said, with a deliberately “serious” look, “ there is one more, very important matter. and that is, that we have to ask you not to reveal this information to anybody. i mean anybody, anybody at all, not even your nearest and dearest.”
“you mean,” asked brad, “ that i can’t get a book deal out of it, or a mini-series, or go on dancing with the stars, or - or - even get a story in the local paper?’
“no - absolutely not.”
“but, what happens if i do? suppose i get an agent, and try to get a book deal or something?”
“in the first place,” mr gray answered, “nobody will believe you, so you will just look foolish. and in the second place,” he added with a scowl, “we can and will make it very unpleasant for you. very unpleasant indeed. do you understand?”
“i guess,” brad told him.
“good,” mr gray put a smile back on his face. “then in that case we will be on our way.” he started to get to his feet.
but the professor held up his hand. “hold it. hold it, pardner. i’d like to ask mr baker here a few questions. in a spirit of disinterested scientific enquiry, you might say. i suspect he might not be quite the ordinary guy we took him to be.”
brad just stared at him.
“you seemed awfully eager, mr baker, awfully eager indeed, to cash in on one what you thought was a chance at fame - what is the old cliche, fifteen seconds of fame - “
“fifteen minutes,” brad corrected him.
“fifteen minutes, excuse me. tell me, mr baker - “ the professor stared at brad - “what would you do - just how far would you go - to grab a little bit of fame - to grab the brass ring - there is another good cliche - eh?”
“just about anything,” said brad. “of course.”
“just about anything,” the professor repeated. “would you be willing to sacrifice your loved ones - your wife and two children?”
“in a heartbeat.”
“in a heartbeat. tell me , exactly how would you be willing to go about sacrificing them?”
“i don’t know,” brad laughed. “ feed them to the alligators, throw them in a burning pit, whatever it takes. just win, baby.”
“i don’t really like them much. i’m sick of them, and they are of me. you know how it is.”
“well, that’s very interesting , mr baker, very interesting indeed. might put our researches in a whole new light.” the professor stood up, and mr gray got on his feet again.
“does that mean you will study me some more?” brad asked the professor.
“i really can’t say, mr baker. i really can’t say. there are so many factors. funding and all that. you know how it is.”
“i understand,” said brad.
the pair left without saying anything more.
brad had been so caught up in talking to them he had forgotten they were almost certainly con men.
now he laughed. what a crock!
but they had never hinted at money.
or his passwords, or his social security number. of course, if they were for real, they would know those things anyway.
maybe they would come by a second time, or call or e-mail him.
but brad never heard from mr gray, or the professor, again.