by Gary Inbinder
Bob Beasley was desperate. It was almost six months since he’d been downsized, after five years in the same job. His unemployment compensation was running out, bills were mounting, and the rent on his one-bedroom apartment was due. His live-in companion, Nan, had already bailed on him.
“You’re a loser — always were, always will be. Why don’t you just die? It would be the one truly social and civic-minded act of your pathetic loser life.”
Nan, a poet and lead singer of the band “Edible Road Kill,” left their relationship owing Bob $2,500, money he badly needed and would never see again. Perhaps her advice was worth considering. He contemplated suicide from time to time, and he thought about the many different ways he could accomplish it: shooting, hanging, asphyxiation with gas, poison, jumping from the metro-link platform, leaping from a tall building or a bridge, getting high on drugs and alcohol and swimming out to sea, etc. However, all these alternative endings lacked appeal, and he clung to the vague hope that he was not doomed to be a pathetic loser all his life.
In his twenty-eighth year, Bob did not look entirely pathetic. He was a little above average height and not overweight; he was fit, and his features were regular and perhaps almost handsome. He was healthy and his mind was sound, although his increasing dependence on alcohol and controlled substances threatened to change this condition in the near future. However, the near future was not Bob’s concern; it was the immediate present.
Bob checked his e-mail, and opened a message from Vic, a former co-worker laid-off during the same round of corporate downsizing. Vic now worked for the State. There was an upcoming civil service exam, and he was giving Bob a “heads-up” along with a copy of the government employment notice. The exam was for the new civil service position of “End of Life Coordinator.”
Due to a recent U.S. Supreme Court “Right to Die” decision, euthanasia had become big business for the State and its contracted “End of Life” clinics. The Court’s decision permitted people to die by lethal injection according to their own advanced directive, their expressed wishes testified to by the next of kin, or an appointed guardian ad litem.
There were many socio-economic reasons for the Court’s decision, not the least of which were the failing Social Security and Medicare Systems, the continually rising cost of health-care and long-term care, and the decreasing birth rate, which resulted in fewer young, healthy, people to support the needs of the aging, infirm and useless, commonly known as “gorks.”
Like all such Court decisions, this offended some people morally; however, it also benefited many people economically by opening up new entrepreneurial and job opportunities; and, in a free-market battle between morality and socio-economic utility, the majority of the Court were inclined to choose the latter.
The entrepreneurs who benefited most from the decision were doctors who contracted with the government to provide end of life assistance in state-subsidized and certified clinics, and Lawyers who advocated for the gorks’ right to die. The Court’s decision also created a new class of state workers who staffed the clinics. These workers were called “End of Life Coordinators.” The street term was ‘exterminator’.
The position that Bob considered was End of Life Coordinator I. The pay was good, the benefits generous, and there were several openings at nearby and conveniently located clinics. Bob didn’t give too much thought to his decision. He thanked Vic in an e-mail reply, adding a friendly, “Let’s get together sometime — lunch, drinks, whatever?”
Bob clicked the link to the government website, and downloaded the application. He forwarded all the required information as instructed and was very pleased to receive a response scheduling his civil service exam.
He arrived for the exam at the State Building downtown and was heartened to see that the group of applicants was small. Bob thought, “Cool, I might actually beat the affirmative action odds on this one.”
It took about one month to receive the exam results, and Bob was thrilled to learn that he placed very high, in an interview-assured category. Further, only two weeks after receiving his exam results he got notice of an interview at a nearby clinic.
Bob cleaned himself up, got out his one and only suit, and planned his trip to the clinic to make sure he arrived a half-hour early for his 9:30 a.m. appointment. He filled out the necessary paperwork, and took his seat in the waiting room. He noticed just three other applicants, all male: one white, one Hispanic and one black.
After a brief wait, a clerk called his name, and an attractive young woman with a friendly smile escorted him to an office for his interview. There were three interviewers: a doctor, the District Supervising End of Life Coordinator, and the senior End of Life Coordinator for the clinic.
The doctor, whose name was Vulnificus, was a middle-aged male with thinning gray hair and a neatly trimmed white beard. He was slightly overweight, and wore small gold-rimmed glasses over his squinting, myopic brown eyes.
The Supervisor, Fred, was a burly black man in his middle-thirties who looked like he could have played linebacker for a pro football team; the senior exterminator, Hank, was a steely-blue-eyed blonde, clean-shaven with close-cropped hair, in his late twenties, who looked like ex-military or a cop.
Fred spoke first. “Well, Bob, we were very impressed with the results of the exam, your work record, and your education. Frankly, we don’t get too many Philosophy majors turned computer game designers applying for this position. In fact, to my knowledge, you’re the only applicant we’ve had that even closely fits that description. Could you tell us what motivated you to apply for this opening?”
Bob had to think fast. Answering, “Your government-sponsored death squad appeals to me” was not likely to please the committee. Instead, he responded, “A former co-worker, who is now an End of Life Coordinator, recommended this as a good career opportunity. I gave much thought and consideration to the matter. You provide a vital public service, a real benefit to humanity. You relieve the suffering of the unfortunate and act for the greater good of the greater number. Aside from the fact that the pay and the benefits are very competitive, this just seemed like the job for me, something that would give me the opportunity to reach my full potential in service to the community.”
Fred and the doctor smiled. Blondie Hank never smiled, but Bob thought he noticed a grimace, like the sardonic rictus of a stiffening corpse. The interview continued with routine questions, all of which Bob handled with aplomb.
Then, Dr. Vulnificus spoke, “It seems, Mr. Beasley, that you have the right sort of attitude for this position. Frankly, many people are just not suitable for this work. Therefore, if we decide in your favor, you will still be subject to a strict background check and a thorough psychological evaluation. You have, of course, already agreed to this in your application, but I ask again in case you might have any reservations.”
“No reservations at all,” Bob replied. “I just want to let the committee know that I am very enthusiastic about the position, and appreciate the time, consideration and courtesy you’ve extended to me.”
Bob had been “clean” for some time prior to the interview, so he was not worried about urinating in a cup, and he didn't have a criminal record. As for the psychological evaluation, he believed he was no more mentally challenged than the three whackos on the interview committee. The interview ended, and Bob returned to his apartment confident he had nailed it.
Bob spent a couple of anxious weeks waiting for the results of the interview. Finally, he received a phone call informing him of the committee’s favorable determination and the satisfactory outcome of his background check. All that remained was the psychological evaluation.
Bob made an appointment: he appeared as scheduled, answered a battery of questions, and talked to a shrink who deemed him suitable, i.e. he was as sane as anyone else who did the job. Consequently, the State offered Bob the position at an attractive starting salary. Bob, who was nearly broke and living on his little remaining credit, was overjoyed. He celebrated by getting stoned.
Bob entered a thirty-day training program. His job at Level I was to help move the gork from the departure room, hereafter known as the “sayonara room,” to the departure room annex, hereafter known as the “big sleep room.” The sayonara room was a place where spouses, family members, domestic partners, friends, etc. could say a brief farewell to the gork.
The gork was then moved from a bed to a hospital gurney and wheeled into the big sleep room, where the gork, securely fastened and immobilized with heavy leather straps, was administered the big sleep. A three-person crew of exterminators, with the crew led by a senior exterminator, typically accomplished this.
A doctor was required only to pronounce death or, in cases where they couldn’t find a vein, to make an incision to permit insertion of the IV. The procedure, and the drugs and poisons used were the same as those used in executions, before the U.S. Supreme Court ruled capital punishment “cruel and unusual” and therefore prohibited by the Eighth Amendment to the Constitution.
Bob learned quickly, and performed his duties well. He worked on a crew with Hank and Vic, and it wasn’t long before he was promoted to Level II, which qualified him to be a team leader in Hank’s absence.
Vic remained a Level I until an unpleasant incident led to his resignation. It involved a sweet old lady gork who reminded Vic of his grandmother. Like many her age and in her condition, she didn’t have good veins for the IV.
A doctor was called, and this particular doctor was a taciturn and unpleasant young man. He took a scalpel and began cutting the old woman without anesthetic. She screamed and struggled against the straps, and tears streamed from her wildly staring eyes. Vic yelled,
“You bastard! You’re supposed to give her a local before you do that.”
“How dare you criticize me? Didn’t they teach you anything in training? The gorks don’t feel pain. Using a local is just a waste of time and money.”
“If she doesn’t feel pain why did she scream? Why are her eyes running with tears? Why is she sobbing and struggling against the restraints?”
The doctor sneered. “You ever eat a lobster? When they kill a lobster, they drop it alive into a pot of boiling water, and it ‘screams’. Gorks are in a persistent vegetative state; they don’t feel pain. That’s a medically established fact. Further, according to the U.S. Supreme Court, they are non-persons — sub-humans, like lobsters. I’m putting you on report. Now do your job and finish her, and don’t call me until it’s time for the death certificate.”
Vic tendered his resignation the next day. As for Bob and Hank, they figured Vic was out of line. Who were they to question the authority of a doctor and the U.S. Supreme Court?
Bob performed his duties efficiently, and he and Hank worked well together. A new guy named Hector joined them, and he fit in with the team. Hector had a great sense of humor–his gork jokes were so funny they even got a rictus out of the dour Hank.
It wasn’t long before the State promoted Bob to Level III. This made him Hank’s equal, but the team remained intact, Bob and Hank sharing leadership responsibilities, with Hector their happy-go-lucky sidekick.
Bob was doing well financially: he paid off his debts and moved into a nicer apartment. He met an attractive young woman, a neighbor at the new complex, and within a year they were married.
The Beasleys purchased a lovely exurban home — they were living the American Dream. Nine months later Bob’s first child was born, a beautiful baby girl. Bob believed he was on the fast track to extermination management. Things were going very well for Bob when, in his fourth year as an exterminator, an attractive young female gork was checked into the clinic by her spouse.
The young gork had attempted suicide with an overdose of drugs: her failure left her in a persistent vegetative state. Since she had no advanced directive or “living will,” her spouse, a woman named Chloe acting on her behalf, filed a right to die petition with the court. At the hearing, Chloe testified that, on several occasions, her partner expressed her wish to die if ever in a “PVS.” That testimony was sufficient for the court to sign the gork’s death warrant.
The time arrived, and Chloe bid a tearful farewell to her companion: Bob, Hank and Hector lifted the gork onto a gurney and wheeled her into the big sleep room.
They strapped her down securely, and Hank and Hector prepared for the IV while Bob stood by silently and watched the procedure. The gork reminded Bob of his ex-girlfriend Nan. She was very much like the pretty, petite blue-eyed blonde-haired woman he used to sleep with. Those vacantly staring eyes seemed fearful — but that must have been an illusion; as the doctor said, medically and legally, she was nothing more than a “lobster” waiting for the pot to boil. Watching gorks die reminded Bob of something: the death of a trapped squirrel.
Several years earlier, Bob was visiting a friend who lived in a converted garage. Squirrels under the roof pestered his friend, and his landlord gave him some traps.
Bob’s friend said, “I hate the little bastards. They run around under the roof and drive me nuts. When I started trapping them, I used to drive them out into the wild and let them go. Until this one mean son-of-a-bitch attacked me. Can you imagine that? I drove ten miles to the middle of nowhere, opened the trap, and this little scum-sucking squirrel attacked me. After that, I resolved all trapped squirrels must die. No mercy will be shown.”
At that moment there was the sound of scampering little squirrel paws, followed by a metallic click, bang and plaintive squirrel screams,
“Got the little sucker. Want to watch while I give it a long drink of water?”
Bob’s friend retrieved the trap, which was a cage, securely restraining the panic-stricken rodent. They took the varmint to the laundry room, where Bob’s friend placed the cage in a basin, and turned on the faucet. As the water rose, the squirrel squeaked pitifully and its beady eyes opened wide with terror as it pushed its snout against the top of the cage in a futile attempt to escape drowning. However, the cage was soon under water: there was a brief spasmodic struggle, a few bubbles rose to the surface, and it was over.
Bob’s friend said, “Requiescat in pace, little critter.”
Bob responded, “Amen.”
The gork’s mindless eyes stared wildly into space; the drugs and poison flowed into her veins. Her eyes closed, and she seemed very peaceful for a moment; then she gulped, gasped and shuddered convulsively. Her face became ashen. Clean and efficient, it was a job well done.
Bob addressed Hank and Hector: “The gork you just put to sleep reminded me of a woman I loved. When things were tough and the future looked bleak, that woman walked out owing me $2,500. She never paid me back. She was cruel. When she left, she said, ‘You’re a loser — always were, always will be. Why don’t you just die? It would be the one truly social and civic minded act of your pathetic loser life’.”
Hector said, “Man, that’s cold... really cold.”
Hank just stared at Bob with typical stoic impassivity.
Bob continued, “That hurt... it really did. However, as I watched this pretty young gork take the big sleep, peacefully checking out of this sick, sad world, I felt no malice toward my ex... no animosity toward her or anyone else. So now, I just want to say a few words in memory of this gork, and all the other ‘trapped squirrels’ among us: Requiescat in pace, little critter.”
Hector grabbed his mouth, suppressing laughter.
Hank laconically added, “Amen.”
Copyright © 2006 by Gary Inbinder