Although this narrative has been split into two offerings for time reasons – both mine and yours – the action in reality, or in the reality of this fantasy, is continuous.
RECAP: A man with the sunny personality of an insurance salesman named Jim has informed Earl that, in an effort to reverse the continuing downward spiral of the human condition, a panel of international notables has decided upon a radical solution: Kill Earl Pomerantz and see if that helps.
When we left off, Jim has just explained to Earl that his impending sacrifice is optional. Earl does not have to agree to it if he doesn’t want to. To which Earl has immediately replies,
Jim: Earl, I would respectfully ask you to take your time. This is a very important decision.
E: You think?
J: I would also suggest that you cool down. So your decision can be rational, but also – and Earl, I would never tell you how to write – but do you really want to be regarded as simply a “one-note” character?
EARL TAKES A DEEP, RELAXING BREATH, SO HE CAN THINK MORE RATIONALLY, AND TO PROVIDE “COLORS” TO HIS CHARACTERIZATION.
J: That’s good. Now, speaking calmly and collectedly, why are you opposed to this suggestion?
E: Of surrendering my life for the betterment of humankind?
E: Two reasons come to mind. One, I’ll be dead. And the second reason doesn’t matter because of the first reason.
J: Earl, we’re just two guys talking here. Tell me your second reason.
E: Because it’s ridiculous.
J: What do you mean by that?
E: I would not dispute that the world is headed in a deteriorating direction. I have written about it myself. The movies are relentlessly unhopeful. To me, that’s an important reflection of the way things are going; the filmmakers are feeling it, and they are communicating it in their work. I know there are exceptions. But there appears to be, like Jimmy Carter never said, an undeniable malaise. It’s the times. The government is watching us. The terrorists are an ineradicable plague. The planet’s natural resources, don’t pin me down on this, but I think something bad is happening there. And except for the billionaires, people are uneasy about their prospects and about the future for their kids.
J: Forgive me, Earl, but I think you just made my case for me.
E: No, I didn’t. We may well be on a downward trajectory, but it is insane to believe that things will change for the better if you kill me.
J: To be honest, you can’t say that until we’ve tried it.
J: Okay, I can see we’re not there yet…
E: “He died for our sins.” Who ever said that worked?
E: One guy! And not everybody believes that!
J: A lot of people do.
E: Hardly anyone I know. And in that case, you are talking “Eternal Life”. Nobody’s saying conditions are better down here. If they were, you would not require a second sacrifice.
J: Point taken. Earl, can we try a little thought experiment?
E: Fine. But I am not changing my mind.
J: Let us accept for the moment that the sacrifice of a single person could eventuate the betterment of all humankind, the loss of one person could improve the lives of six billion…
E: Oh, please!
J: … and that person is not you.
E: (MOMENTARILY HESITATING) I am entirely off the hook?
J: Now be honest, Earl. Hypothetically, how would you feel if the person to be sacrificed were somebody else?
J: So, theoretically, you are not opposed to the idea.
E: No. I mean, yes! Jim, it is unimaginable that sacrificing anybody will change anything.
J: But isn’t worth taking the chance?
E: It’s crazy!
J: But is it impossible? Earl, think about it. The life of one person. To save billions.
AFTER A LONG BEAT.
E: Could they be killed painlessly?
J: So there’s a possibility.
J: It’s a step. Now, factor this in. Say it happens.
E: But not to me.
J: To somebody. And to everyone’s surprise and amazement and universal relief, it works. Can you imagine how famous the person who gave up their life for the betterment of humankind would be? There’ll of statues of them circling the planet, and their name would be remembered forever. Not like the Kardashians, who are already fading. They will be famous… for eternity.
E: And if nothing changes?
J: They will still be remembered, symbolizing the folly of a misguided experiment. Either way, we are talking immortality, Earl. And I know that appeals to you. You wrote that post where you wrote your first story and declared immediately, “I’m immortal!” Think about it, Earl. Guaranteed immortality.
AFTER A BEAT.
J: Then you’ll do it?
E: No. I just said that to see how it felt. It felt like I was throwing my life away.
J: And that’s your final answer. With future of all humankind hanging in the balance.
E: Sorry. I am not cut out to be a hero, a martyr or an idiot.
J: Understood. And I shall deliver my report. In the meantime… Earl, I hesitate to say this because I know you have somewhat of a guilty temperament…
E: You could say that.
J: But from now on, you look in the paper, or at the news on TV, and things continue to get worse? How are you going to feel about that? How are you going to live, knowing there was a chance – an infinitesimal chance, perhaps, but a chance nonetheless – that by your actions, you could have made the world better, but you refused to answer the call?
E: I am not sure I can feel guiltier. I just know that between me, somebody else, and best of all, nobody, my preferences, in order, are Option Three, Option Two and, under no circumstances, One. No matter how selfish that sounds. What I will do, because it is reasonable and eminently doable, is my small but hopefully meaningful part in making the world a little better myself. I’m sorry, but that’s as far as I can go.
J: No problem, Earl. The one little glitch in the operation is that my instructions were if I could not talk you into it, I would have to be sacrificed myself.
E: Oh, no! Really?
J: Unlike you, I could not bear the responsibility of saying no.
E: Can you tell ‘em you changed your mind?
J: I’m okay with it, actually. Maybe that’s why I didn't work harder persuading you. (EXTENDING HIS HAND) Earl, it was a pleasure to meet you.
E: (SHAKING HIS HAND) Jim, you’re a better man than I am.
EARL USHERS JIM TO THE DOOR. JIM EXITS.
E: (CLOSING THE DOOR) Well… that was interesting.
EARL CONTINUES ON WITH HIS LIFE. BUT NOT BEFORE MAKING A FEW NOTES.