They say bad things happen to good people. Well, good things happen to good people too — but no one complains about that.
An investment banker cheats on his fifth wife with some gold-digging floozy, and the universe doesn’t care. Not one bit. Gnash your teeth about it if you want, demonize him until your throat is sore from rage. Sympathize with the poor woman if you must, stuck home alone in a penthouse condo with a pension’s worth of jewelery in a box on her dresser. Or a little yappy dog with a pink ribbon.
Or her Pilates instructor, hot and oiled and fresh from Samoa.
The truth is, no harm done. Mr. Big Shot Banker gets his rocks off, Ms. Floozy-What’s-Her-Name gets a gold necklace or some agent’s phone number or a few free lines of coke. Long-Suffering-Wifey is none the wiser. Or she is, and takes a new interest in Samoa.
You look at this situation and you say, gee, that’s not fair. What’s this world coming to? What happened to morals in this country? Or maybe you think, he’s setting himself up for a big fall. A messy divorce. Bankruptcy. Gonnorhea. Or you think, why’s he so lucky? Why does he get everything, and this too?
Or maybe you’re more cynical than that. Maybe you think, we’ll, life’s not fair. And you go back to frying chicken or pumping gas or staring at spreadsheets.
You’re wrong though; life is fair. It’s my job to make sure of that.
Make no mistake, the universe doesn’t care. Good, evil, everything in between; these are man-made constructs. What I do, someone had to have started. Most likely someone whose name was just a grunt. Someone who looked around and said, hey, all we ever do is kill and rape and eat each other. If we’re ever going to evolve beyond shivering in this cave, we’re going to have to step things up. This would have been back before we had anything; no culture, no language, no government. Nothing except our opposable thumbs and our big, oversized brains.
Oh, and war. We’ve always had war.
Who knows how it started. Maybe with chanting. A complicated prayer. A ritual sacrifice. A green glowing meteorite. But someone started it. That grunting loincloth guy started the job with a crude scale and a bunch of rocks. Or piles of colored sand. Or by alternately pissing into one of two holes in the ground.
It was probably thousands of years after the job got started that anyone started to notice. The idea that there was some balancing force in the world. That sometimes the strongest, hairiest alpha male didn’t get everything. That even the top dog can slip off a cliff or be struck by lightning or die screaming of an illness that caused him to bleed from the eyes.
Yeah, that probably took a damn long time, but we eventually woke up. Some tribe of stupid, hairy animals didn’t abandon the boy with the twisted-up arm even though he couldn’t pull his own weight. Then he invented a spear, or a raft, or figured out how to make a fire.
Somewhere else, another tribe decided to stay in one place to wait for their sick or wounded to heal rather than leaving them for dead. After a couple months of this they noticed the discarded seeds they threw on the ground eventually grew into fresh new plants.
When actions began to have consequences, even stupid knuckle-dragging us began taking our actions more seriously.
The rest, quite literally, is history.
The job takes a different form for each of us who works it. For me, it’s a calligraphy set. Two vials of colored ink; one red, one green. A brown leather-bound book. An old-fashioned feather quill. When I sit down at night one of the vials will have a little more in it than it had before. I use that ink to write something in the little book.
If I’m using red ink, I write: a trucker careens off a cliff. A kindergartener gets cancer. An 47-year-old former alter boy finally turns in his priest.
If it’s the green ink, I write: a struggling single father of three lands a great job. A waitress notices the nail in her tire before she merges onto the interstate. A serial rapist gets sloppy, leading directly to his immediate capture.
When I’m done writing, the vials of ink are even again. I turn off the light and, when my back is turned, one of them starts slowly filling up. A few more blank pages inexplicably appear towards the back of the little brown book.
Before you hate me too much, or love me, I should explain: there aren’t enough of us to cause everything. Sometimes when you drop your hot coffee in your lap, that’s just all you. Or when you find a twenty on the ground, someone just dropped it. Sometimes stuff happens because we at the job make it happen, and sometimes stuff just happens.
Whether it’s me or not, us or not, though, one of my little vials gains or loses a half a drop of ink.
And now you’re saying, wow, if it were me, I’d just give myself winning lottery numbers. I’d drive a Rolls Royce and live in a palace. I’d have a harem of virgins, and would never wake up with back pain again.
No doubt there are those who… abuse their position. It’s entirely possible some of those oil tycoons, rock stars and Fortune 500 CEOs have an old abacus tucked away in their basement, or a pair of hourglasses, or a mysterious text document that never takes up space, no matter how large it gets.
Of course, every time you make yourself rich someone has to lose a foot. If you have the stomach for it you can balance it yourself. You could carefully weigh your book deal or your fixed election against a tornado or the DUI that ruins someone’s life. Or, you know, you could leave someone else to do it.
Sometimes those of us on the job can recognize each other. You’ll see the budding starlet on TV accepting her first award and know how she got it. Six months later you’ll see her checking into rehab, and you’ll know how she got that too. Our job, see, is balance, and in the end we keep one another in check.
I’m not saying there haven’t been nights when I thought long and hard about making some overdraft charges go away with a bit of green ink. I’m just saying, it’s rolling the dice.
So that’s the big secret; that’s the meaning of the word “fair”. It doesn’t make us all equal, but on a grand scale it makes everything equalized. Thanks to some caveman doing a rain dance or casting mammoth bones or whatever else, karma seeks its own level.
And who can say what happens if either of my little ink vials overfills? Maybe we find ourselves back in caves, wondering what happened. Or maybe we’ve come far enough that, anymore, equilibrium is natural. After all, nowadays a man can kill someone and be brought to justice without any help from us. When a hurricane wipes most of a coastline away and people rush in to help rebuild, oftentimes none of it is us. Some nights I don’t have to write anything but: someone’s cousin will find their grocery stocks their favorite ice cream flavor. Or someone’s aunt will stub her toe in the middle of the night.
Because we have culture, now. We have language, and technology, and religion, and the arts. And we like it. Used to be you’d look at a guy who clubbed another guy on the head and took his woman and think, well, that’s just how it goes. Now most people want that guy put in a dark, cold box for the rest of his life.
But who knows. Maybe someday you’ll find a little brown package in your mailbox, containing a calligraphy set and addressed to no one. Or a strange app installed on your iPhone without your knowledge. You’ll know, instinctively, what to do with it. You’ll be on the job, too.
Whether we’re needed or not, anymore, the universe doesn’t care. Just us.