April 5, 2007

Jerry Alderman rose early every morning. On this day, the sun was just rising as he finished his morning rituals. Ready to go to work, he was putting on his coat when his heart stopped.

It only stopped for half a moment, the barest instant of time – yet even this, one would think, would be enough to cause significant internal difficulties for the frail human form of Jerry Alderman.

Instead, it merely gave him a moment’s pause. A moment short of breath, he stopped in the doorway, and leaned against the doorframe for a full ten seconds before taking a deep breath to clear his head.

He got into his car ten seconds late. He pulled out onto the street outside his fine suburban house, and spent another five seconds glancing at the bright red door to hise house, where he had stopped not so many moments before.

With a shake of his head, fifteen seconds later than he would have been, he drove away from home. Three streets later he came to a stop at the turn out of the quiet little neighborhood he lived in, and onto a main street occasionally filled with traffic. By merely fifteen seconds he missed the last gap amidst the flowing cars, and two more minutes passed before he was able to pull across the two momentarily empty lanes and take his place amidst the current.

His gas light came on just before he reached the highway, and two minutes and fifteen seconds later than he needed to be, he pulled over for gas. He filled his tank, and headed to the cashier to pay in cash, for he was a firm believer in only using credit cards for the most dire of emergencies. He arrived just behind an elderly figure of indeterminate race and gender, a seething mass defined only by the contrariness that filled their soul. Jerry Alderman stood, and waited, as they argued over the price they were being charged for gas and cigs. He waited nearly 8 minutes before they were finally placated, and he could hand over his money and continue on to work.

Running ten minutes behind, Jerry Alderman arrived on the beltway just as the morning rush hit. While he had waited in line at the gas station, no less than three cars had impacted upon each other in an accident that was remarkable for its lack of casualties – but had nonetheless brought the traffic on the road to a deafening stop.

This was why Jerry Alderman was an hour late to work. Despite his tardiness, he kept his day moving smoothly, and made all the meetings on his schedule. He cut his lunch criminally short, only took half as many of his usual smoke breaks, and managed to complete almost every task on his agenda with surprising efficiency.

In fact, the only result of his morning’s difficulties came shortly before the day came to a close, when he noticed a product left at his desk for review that he had missed amidst the rush and roar of the day. His inspection was hardly cursory, and he made sure the spider-man action figure was in proper working order, before giving the approval for it to go into mass production.

But his inspection, while competent, was not as thorough as it would have been on any other day, and his glance over the product’s casing failed to find a single typo that had slipped by all other agents in the production process. And so it was that case after case of “Genuine Classic Satan Lee’s Spider-Man!” were churned out and sent to thousands of stores before the error was noted.

When it was, a recall was ordered. This took up a precious dozen minutes from twenty-three thousand, six hundred and eighteen store owners across the country as the material was reboxed and reshipped. It added three minutes to a similar number of postmen and postwomen as they delivered the erroneous goods, and the company’s staff took the better part of an afternoon placing the defective packages in a private storeroom. This was followed by the better part of several weeks producing the corrected product, and then a similar amount of time in transporting that material back to the stores themselves.

All in all, a single heartbeat – or the lack thereof – had cost the combined peoples of the world thirteen million, five hundred and eleven thousand, one hundred and fifty six minutes in lost time.

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