In high school I felt untouchable. But at a large university, it was easy to compare yourself to others and realize you just aren’t that good. I was a B+ student getting wrecked by all the Asians in my computer science classes. I was a red shirt on the soccer team filling in for the guys who were exceptionally talented. I wasn’t very tall or short. I wasn’t very rich or poor. I was run of the mill. But on one Saturday morning, I scoffed at the mill and exceeded everyone’s expectations.
I was sitting with my roommates at Wahoo’s Tacos in Costa Mesa. It was 10am and my face was deep in my palms as I tried to sooth the pain in my head that was roaring from the night before. It had been a long night and I had only gone to bed a few hours earlier. I don’t want to risk my reputation or station in life, but let’s just say that the night before involved a lot of alcohol, marijuana, and cocaine.
In the middle of my second taco, my shitty japanese knock off palm pilot “DINGED!” at me with a message saying:
11am: Go be experiment at Physical Sciences building 2a for $100. Woop!
Two weeks earlier I was asked by a random person on campus if I wanted to be a test subject in a Science Experiment. They would pay me $100 and it would last 3 hours. I didn’t need any more details. I was in. The only other pre-requisite was that I could not eat or drink for 12 hours prior to the experiment.
So hangover and all, I raced my motorcycle to the Science building and prepared to lie through my teeth about the last time I had put any sort of substance into my body, food or otherwise.
As I entered the building, I was greeted by a grad student who asked me to fill out some paperwork while he asked me questions about my mental and physical health. I averted eye contact and speaking more than necessary to avoid any automatic disqualifications from pupil size or bad breath. All seemed to be going well and he moved on to explain just what exactly they were going to do to me.
The goal of the experiment was to determine just how soon they could release a patient from the hospital after they had received general anesthetic. The sooner the patient could leave, the more beds would be available for more patients, and thus more money. So I was either going to be given a low dose of general anesthetic (to add to my cocktail) or I was going to be given a placebo. I would then be asked to perform tasks and they would measure me. Seemed simple enough.
I was led into another room that was no bigger than 15 feet squared with no decorations and a single window looking into an office. At it’s center was a big brown leather chair and the grad student told me to take a seat. At this point, I would like to imagine this grad student, who was reaching the climax of his educational career and about to finish all over the faces of his advisors with this experiment, put on his headphones and began the final jerks. He casually strapped my shins and biceps to the chair so escape was not possible. He effortlessly stuck me with an IV and flicked the tube as he looked into my increasingly concerned eyes. He roughly attached electrode sticky things all over my chest and neck. He then walked behind me and almost caressingly, placed a breathing mask over my mouth and nose and gently tightened the straps above my ears. And finally he rolled a cart directly in front of me. It had a computer monitor about 18 inches from my face and a special keyboard that had four big buttons on it labeled one through four. One and two on the top row, three and four on the bottom.
“OK, I think that’s everything. How do you feel?” he asked while he stood in front of me looking over the various connections and straps as if there was no human behind them.
“Actually, it’s a little tig…” I began to muffle through the mask but he quickly continued before I could describe any discomfort.
“Excellent. OK, we have already began giving you either the placebo or the drug. There is no way for you to know so stop trying to smell it. Once I leave the room, the monitor is going to start showing you images. If and when you see a red dot in one of the four corners, as quickly as you can, press the button that corresponds to the corner the dot is in. One is top left. Four is bottom right. Understand?”
Now, at this point, it did occur to me that $100 was not worth whatever the fuck they were about to show me. But I meekly and groggily nodded my head in agreement, and he left the room.
The lights were dimmed and the monitor flickered on. The first image came up. A picture of a family laughing in the park. It stayed on for two seconds or so and was followed with a cat sleeping that had a red dot in the top right. I pressed two. The next picture came up of a gruesome car accident with blood flowing from the head of the dead driver and a red dot in the top left. I pressed one. Then a picture of students studying. Poppies in a field. African children with flies in their eyes. A car driving with a red dot in the bottom left. I pressed three.
This went on for at least 100 pictures and then the screen was turned off and the grad student entered.
“So how was that?” he said to me while he checked the connections and straps.
“I don’t know man, that was pretty fu…” I tried to blurt out from behind the mask but again I was interrupted.
“Excellent.” he said coldly. “OK, now we will begin the actual experiment now that the medicine has had time to enter your blood stream.”
Now, at this point, it did occur to me to Godzilla my way out of this situation, ripping out IVs and straps and running through campus in a hospital gown. (I was’t actually wearing a gown.). But I again weekly nodded my head in resignation and looked towards the monitor as he walked out.
The lights dimmed and the process began again. The process was the same but it went on for a lot longer and the time intervals between images were never the same. A few times I was left looking at a child crying with a gunshot wound and a red dot in the bottom left for what seemed like an eternity. Flowers. Rape. Love. Violence. War. Language. Travel. Starvation. Open wounds. Dead babies. And red dots.
After roughly two hours and one five minute break where I was allowed to not have the monitor directly in front of my eyes, I was unstrapped and unplugged and told to go wait in the first room I had been doing paper work in. I was then asked to write down as many images as I could remember that had the red dot on them and in what corner. This was not easy as I had seen hundreds but I made a best effort and handed them the paper. They asked me to wait a few minutes while they reviewed the experiment and would be out shortly to give the results and the money.
Now, at this point, it had occurred to me that these people were fucked up. What computer were they on looking up all this child porn and animal killing images? I paid tuition for those computers? How many people had seen this stuff? Why would people coming out of a surgery care if a grand mother cut in half by a hack saw has a red dot in the top right corner? My thoughts were interrupted as they came in.
It was now the grad student and an older looking professor who was carrying a manilla folder full of papers. They didn’t seem happy and anxiety and guilt began to surge through my veins. Guilt for lying to them about not eating or drinking or whatever else I wasn’t supposed to do before these last three hours.
“First Luke, thanks for coming in today and helping us. We understand Saturday mornings are valuable.” the professor began which immediately made me feel I was in the clear and I had just a few more nods and smiles to give before I would get my hundred bucks.
The professor continued, “But it seems we have some anomalies with your results, and we are not really sure how to interpret them. In fact, we are not positive we can even include these in the experiment. In all my years of Science I have never seen anything like this. In every aspect of the word, you are an outlier.”
“Outlier?” I questioned with a twist of my head as the possibility I wouldn’t get my money came back into play.
“Ya. You see, the human body has a minimum time that it must take to perceive something, process it, and then react. In your case, it was to see a red dot, determine what corner it was in, and then press the appropriate button.” the professor explained while pointing his fingers at his eyes and brain and hands. He continued, “The whole point of this experiment is to measure that time while the affects of anesthetic are present in the body.”
They seemed to be waiting for me to say something but I stared blankly at the two of them. Not because I didn’t understand, but because the hangover was demanding I go get some sleep.
Eventually the professor ended the silence, “You are an outlier because you repeatedly were reacting significantly faster than what science believes is the human minimum time. And this was WITH the anesthetic!”
The professor seemed to want to jump up and scream that last sentence but restrained himself when he noticed me not giving a single fuck. He composed himself, straightened his jacket, and stood up gesturing for me to as well.
“Again, Luke, thanks for your time.” and he handed me a white envelope with a hundred dollar bill inside and sent me back into the mill.