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The 50% Sleeper

From the LabLit short story series

Tal Yarkoni 4 February 2010

If I don't get any subjects scanned, I have to tattoo Yezerski's grandmother's name on my back in 50-point font

Day 1

6 a.m.

Ok, I'm locked into this place now. I've got ten pounds of beef jerky, fifty dollars for the vending machine, and a flash drive full of experiments to run. If I can get eighteen usable subjects' worth of data in five days, Yezerski mows my lawn, does my dishes for a week, and walks my dog three times a week for two months. If I don't get eighteen subjects done, I mow his lawn, do his dishes, and drive his disabled grandmother to physiotherapy once a week for six months. Also: if I don't get any subjects scanned, I have to tattoo Yezerski's grandmother's name on my back in 50-point font. We both know it's not going to come to that, but Yezerski insisted we make it a part of the bet anyway.

Some back-of-the-envelope calculations: at five days and eighteen subjects, I need to run approximately three-point-six subjects per day. Each scan lasts about 2.5 hours, including structurals, T2's, and 6-10 functional runs (depending on experiment). So we're talking about roughly 9 hours a day. I'll try to get 4-5 subjects done the first three days, and then I'll take it easy the rest of the time while I work out some anger on this bag of beef jerky. The deal is I don't have to do any of the scheduling myself – I just page Yezerski, and he sends a subject right on in. I don't know how he plans to get subjects to come in on such short notice, but that's why I put the Domino's clause in the contract: if it takes him more than 30 minutes to find a subject, the subject has to come in carrying a large pepperoni pizza.

11 a.m.

My first subject is here, and so is my first pepperoni pizza!

12 p.m.

Ok, we're underway. The subject has a brain, so that's good. The scanner is making unusual noises, so that's not good. The whirring and banging are normal; the clicking isn't. Where the heck is it coming from?

12:07 p.m.

It's coming from Samantha's shoe. She has a thumbtack stuck in the sole. I asked her why she doesn't pull it out and she said, "because I like the sound it makes." I can live with that; the important thing is that the scan is going smoothly. Samantha knows what she's doing. She's probably the best tech I've ever worked with. Boy does that subject ever have a large cerebellum.

2:30 p.m.

We're all done with the first scan! I just called Yezerski to gloat about it.

"At this rate, I'll be done in 4 days," I told him.

"Well you're only 5% done," he said. "Don't get excited; 95% is a long time."

He didn't sound sufficiently worried, so right before I hung up on him, I told him I'm going to ask his sister out on a date once I get out of here. Bet he doesn't get any sleep tonight.

8 p.m.

I'm done for the day. I ran four subjects. I was going to do a fifth and maybe a sixth, but where's the challenge in winning a five-day bet in four days? So instead I had an hour-long discussion with Samantha about movies, Italy, and hummingbirds. I'm pretty sure she likes me. Maybe I'll ask her out on a date – if Yezerski's sister turns me down.

4 a.m.

Yezerski just called me up to tell me he hates me.

Day 2

10 a.m.

The first scan is over. Samantha didn't come to the MR center today; Giacomo was here instead. I like Giacomo; he's a good guy. Maybe I'll ask him out on a date – if Samantha turns me down.

11 a.m.

Samantha turned me down. I just got an email from my PI saying Samantha had complained to him that I'd made her feel uncomfortable yesterday at the scanner. The exact words she'd used to describe my behavior were "creepy" and "vulgar". My PI said I'd be scanning with Giacomo the rest of the way, and suggested I make an effort to act professionally. Also, he wanted to know how the bet was coming along, because he and Yezerski's PI had made a meta-bet piggy-backing on ours. "I've got three months of post-doc money riding on you," he wrote. "So don't fuck this up."

4 p.m.

In an effort to act professional and not fuck this up, I'm already on my third scan of the day. This brings the grand total to seven! I'm tempted to call up Yezerski and politely suggest that he go to the store and lay in a supply of dish-washing liquid, but I think that would qualify as unprofessional behavior. So I'm letting him off the hook by paging him for another subject.

9 p.m.

Four more subjects scanned today, so now I’m at eight. Winning this bet is a lot like shooting fish in a barrel – if you pretend that the barrel is full of brains rather than fish. And that the shooting involves reconstructing 3D images of those brains from a series of radio frequency waves. Oh, and that the barrel is actually a giant metal box that wants to make sweet electromagnetic love to your data. But other than that, it’s a flawless analogy.

12 a.m.


Day 3

10 p.m.

Ahhhhhh!!!! The scanner broke!!!! I've spent the last 45 minutes poring over the contract, but I don’t see any provision for this. We've got three whole pages covering beef jerky and I couldn't squeeze in a single word about gradient coils?!

3 a.m.

Ok, the scanner is back up. I paged Igor, the on-call tech, repeatedly until he woke up and came down to the MR center. He wasn't happy to be here, but I explained the seriousness of the situation. He did some mumbo-jumbo to make the scanner happy again (what the heck do they do in that room back there?). So I'm back in business with another subject at 6 a.m. (no sleep tonight). HOWEVER, there's a catch: when I win the bet, Yezerski's now only going to be walking my dog two days a week. He'll be spending the other day getting to know Igor’s poodle.

Day 4

7 p.m.

Shouldn't have taken that bet.

Day 5

8 a.m.

Did you hear the AP story this past holiday season about the guy who spent Christmas Eve stuck headfirst in a septic tank? That's how I'm feeling right about now.

11 a.m.

Ok, I have a moment to catch my breath. Things were pretty hectic yesterday. A fire broke out!!! No, just kidding. The only fire that got started around here was the trail of data I blazed onto the MR center hard drives. Suck it, Yezerski!

But seriously, I ran six subjects yesterday. There's some uncertainty about whether all six of them will count; the last subject came in at midnight and fell asleep in the scanner around 1:30 am. Unfortunately I was pretty wiped out myself, and didn't notice she wasn’t pushing any buttons until the middle of the seventh scanning run. All the contract says is that a subject's data is deemed usable if over 50% of the scans are complete; it doesn't say anything about what happens if the subject was asleep for 15% of that 50%. I think I'll "forget" to mention it to Yezerski.

4 p.m.

I've become completely desensitized to beef jerky; I can now eat pounds of it at a time, and it doesn't even fill me up! I'm the black hole of salted meat products! The event horizon of preserved pemmican! The... hold on a moment, I'll be right back.

4:20 p.m.

Ignore that last entry, I just threw up all over the bathroom.

9 p.m.

I just finished scanning the 18th subject! After celebrating with Giacomo over the last of my vending machine money (we got Ritz crackers and an extra large Twix bar), I called Yezerski to tell him I'd be claiming my reward shortly.

"I hope your sister's free this weekend," I told him. "I'm going to have a lot of free time on my hands now that I don't have to walk the dog or do the dishes."

I think he screamed a little bit, but it may have just been bad reception.

Day 8

8 a.m.

Yezerski found out about the 50% sleeper! I guess he spent the last 24 hours sifting through all the data looking for some technicality he could use to get out of the bet. What a douche bag – it would have taken him less time to mow my lawn and make the first six down payments on the dog and dishes. Now he's insisting on being unreasonable, and is driving over here to talk about it in person. I think he wants to punch me.

6 p.m.

Litigation! We've agreed to settle this in small-claims court.

Day 32

Yezerski's grandmother is a nice lady. I'm going to miss her when this is over.

Other articles by Tal Yarkoni