“Average to the Point of Forgettable”
My senior year of high school I took a bullshit math class. I took it because you had to have 4 years of math, and I sucked at math, and I heard this was an easy A. It was.
Every day we would do a “warm-up” problem with a difficulty level roughly equivalent to that of a 4th-grader’s IQ, which took up the first 10 minutes of class. Then, we would spend the rest of the class watching a vaguely educational show about mathematicians who solve crimes called “Numb3rs”. This was my kind of math class. Once I had finished copying the answer to the warm-up problem from the fat girl next to me, the lights dimmed, the play button clicked, and the next episode of Numb3rs began to play while 27 cell phones were expertly whisked out of teenage pockets, and their melatonin-filled light shown up from underneath the desks onto the faces of a classroom full of shitty, apathetic 17 year olds.
Every episode of this show was the same. To be honest, every episode of every crime show is the same. If you didn’t already know that, then now is as good a time as any to learn. The episode would open with intense or secretive music playing in the background. A dreary night, or sometimes broadly lit, but always deserted setting would fill the screen, and suddenly the audience is in the midst of a crime. The crime is different every time, but it doesn’t change the dynamic of the episode. A murder is carried out by a hit man paid for by a white-collar businessman, a jewelry store is robbed of its prize diamond in the dead of night, or a drug deal potentially worth millions is made behind the abandoned apartment complex. The culprit gets away- the perfect crime. The next day: enter a team of well-dressed and offensively handsome detectives who are hard at work uncovering minute shreds of evidence of a crime that had been committed while they were asleep in their cheap, inner city flat in bed with their latest one-night-stand.
The episode carries on through a series of ups and downs, leads and losses of defining evidence, and eventually the reputation of the entire city’s police department falls on the shoulders of two brothers. The two brothers in this show (Charlie and Don if I remember correctly) are the main characters. Don is a playboy police detective with a sad history of growing up privileged and Jewish, while Charlie, Don’s nerdy but lovable math professor younger brother, is significantly more introverted, but always seems to solve the crime in the nick of time with incredible intellect and a myriad of absurdly complicated math equations that must have been being researched by the show’s director since at least 12 B.C. The beauty and distinction of this crime show however, as opposed to any other show, is that every crime is solved by Charlie’s unbelievable ability to find a way to solve the crime at hand using an ancient form of geometry or algebraic equation or perhaps another mind-fucking theory of Chinese arithmetic. Whatever the case may be for the individual episode, the end-result is always the same: the criminal is locked behind bars thanks to Charlie’s intellect and Don’s dashing good looks and stick-to-itiveness. A Hollywood duo that boasts “true American hero” from the highest peaks of Trump Towers, I’m sure.
But I digress. One fateful day in my terribly un-educational math class, I was half paying attention to how many retweets I had gotten on my last tweet about why boloney is circular, but bread is square (a story for another time), and half paying attention to the episode of Numb3rs showing on the Smartboard at the front of the classroom. What I had grasped between furtive glances at my phone and the Smartboard screen was that in this episode, a college student at a local university had shot and killed one of his former professors, and the team of cops and detectives was gathering Intel on the subject to make sure they were hunting down the right guy.
I wasn’t expecting to hear anything that rang a bell in my head while watching this episode. I wasn’t expecting to walk out of that math class having gained any more insight into literally anything than when I had walked in. However, what I heard from this episode hit me when and where I least expected it, and it’s made me uncomfortable in my own skin ever since. Don and his too-hot detective partner were walking around the campus on which the shooting had occurred, interviewing potential students and teachers who might have been associated with the killer. They got all the usual answers you might expect from the dialogue of a B-minus show like this. “He seemed so nice”, “I didn’t know him that well but I wouldn’t have pinned him as a killer”, “He was in my Bio 101 class freshman year and sold my cousin’s stepsister weed once”, blah, barf, whatever. But the way that one former professor described the killer as has stuck with me to this day:
“He was average to the point of forgettable.”
Holy fuck. That’s quite a load to drop on unsuspecting me in my shitty ass math class on a Tuesday afternoon. Average to the point of forgettable. I didn’t know how to process that feeling that crept inside me immediately, and I still don’t really. I block it out of my mind and continue to busy myself with other menial tasks, like working piss-off minimum wage jobs on evenings and summers, or doing homework, or hanging out with a couple of friends and reminiscing on the stupid things we did when we were kids, or switching between the same 5 goddamn websites over and over again in my free time until I finally declare “I’m going to sleep” and then lie in bed with my iPhone glaring soullessly into my face in the pitch-dark until my eyeballs sting and I fall asleep, not ever completely content with where I’m going in life or what I’m doing.
Average to the point of forgettable. I think that’s the feeling I’ve been afraid of my whole life, without ever actually being able to put it into words that make sense to tell another person how I feel. I’m terrified of it. I’m terrified of becoming that kid who, after I’ve gone off and shot one of my former college professors for attention, someone describes as “average to the point of forgettable.” Whenever I get in this loop of thoughts in my brain, there’s sort of a cyclical process that I go through to rationalize why I wouldn’t, or shouldn’t be described that way. “Come on, man you’ve got friends who care about you, you’ve kissed people and hurt people, you’ve written songs, and become a DJ and learned 2 languages, and you even got way too drunk last Halloween after you drank an entire 5th of vodka in a fucked attempt to try to impress that girl who you wanted so badly to like you back. You’re not that guy from the TV show. People will remember you.”
Since I saw that episode of Numb3rs, I’ve looked really closely at myself, and been overly critical in an attempt to improve how I’m perceived by others, and I honestly don’t know whether it’s done more harm or good. There are things that I’ve done to build the best possible version of myself, so that I’m not forgotten, so that I’m not “average.” Because, in a world where there are 7 billion people and counting, it becomes increasingly important to make yourself stand out from the rest, and in turn, increasingly difficult to make yourself stand out.
We’re all trying to accomplish the same goals here in life though. And here’s the thing: no one gets out alive. Think of the best person you have ever known, or read about, or heard from. They’re going to meet the same fate as you one day, and their end probably won’t be anymore spectacular than yours or your mother’s. So, with that in mind- do we try infinitely hard to make set ourselves apart from the rest, even if it’s ultimately just going to end the same for us as it would for the guy in the TV show who shot and killed his old professor? This is something that’s always eating away at me, and nagging me in the back of my mind all day every day. Is there a purpose? WHY THE FUCK DOES ANYTHING MATTER. I know it’s a stupid cliché question that adults will probably chuckle and shake their heads at, but guess what? They don’t know the answer either. Nobody does. And so making a goal of being remembered by everyone, I’ve decided, is inherently non-realistic and categorically unachievable. There, doesn’t that make you feel better? Me neither. But it’s okay. And here’s why:
1.) Nothing matters in the long, long run. Accept that now and then move on to step 2.
2.) All we can do while we’re here on this decrepit planet is utilize the time we have in the most effective manner possible.
2a.) Create things, love people, and wear sunscreen
3.) We’re all stuck here together, so be nice and people will be nice back most of the time.
4.) Experience everything you can except meth. Show genuine interest in other people and cultures and ideas, and the karma will come back to you.
5.) Do what makes you happy, even if it’s just in your spare time.
6.) If you follow all these steps you will be remembered for as long as it’s necessary that you be remembered. Then, like everyone else, you’ll be equally forgotten and your space will be filled by someone else. It’s a harsh reality.
Because there are way too many people on this Earth- who have lived, who are living, and who will live- for each and every one of us to have the audacity to think that we matter. But what you can do is make your time count, and who you are will matter in that time.