As we were walking out of headquarters I had a beautiful moment of stupidity, gallantly strutting up to the exit, briefly stopping to give a giant, over exaggerated pull to open the door for my friend. It crashed against the frame and several confused passersby stared in confusion before resuming whatever menial task they were doing.
“That may have worked better for you in 1942, but almost every public building’s doors open outwards now,” he said dryly.
“That was the deadly nightclub fire during World War II, wasn’t it?” I asked.
“The deadliest in US history.”
“You would think someone would have bashed a window to escape, or figured out some way to get the crowd to back down,” I said. I vaguely remembered reading about the fire – almost 500 people died because nobody could leave the building. The revolving main door was rendered useless in the pandemonium, an accessible glass window was boarded up, and the other doors opened inwards, so the masses sealed their fate as the pressed up against the door.
“Cooler heads always prevail,” he said as we walked into the grocery store. It was a small corner store, a remnant of an older time. There weren’t too many places like this left in the area, but we preferred it; there was something about the freshness and home-styled feeling to the fruits in this produce store. To our knowledge it was operated by a fraternity of older men who seemed vehemently opposed to the idea of retirement.
“There was definitely at least one person in that crowd that understood the situation and was powerless to do anything.”
“Oh, there were probably 10, but that doesn’t matter,” my friend said as he compared bananas. “As a populous mobilizes, it becomes a huge hassle to stop it. There is a small percentage of people that are able to step out of a situation when it gets tense. Those are the natural leaders. Some rise up to their inevitable place, others are swallowed up before realizing their potential.”
“I’d like to think anyone can take a step out of a problem if they are taught properly,” I said. I had a feeling he was more engaged in fruits than my dissenting opinion. “Granted we’re all dealt a genetically different palate, there’s no reason someone can’t be conditioned to lead.”
We finished picking our lunches out, and paid at the front. At the cashier’s recommendation, he grabbed a small container of nearby strawberries for the change he was going to get back. We set course for the park. It wasn’t too cold and we wanted to see if the gaming scene (checkers, chess) was picking up in our usual spot. Not so coincidentally, it was also the only place we weren’t pestered by the pigeons.
“You’re a big fan of self-help books, aren’t you?” he asked.
“Yeah. Sometimes they help validate my suspicions about myself or others, other times I like reading about others’ insights.”
“What percentage of people that read those books go on to become CEOs of Fortune 500 companies or successful individuals at the top of their craft?”
“Not too many, probably, but that doesn’t mean the books don’t help…”
“Help, yes. Condition someone for a run at the pinnacle of anything, no for most. I want to get out of here, not be the first pressed against a door that only opens inwards. Close doesn’t count. If I’m getting out, it’s because I’m sharp enough to get to an exit and test the direction of the door before the only idea to save lives becomes ineffective.”
We crossed the street and a young woman, probably in her early 30s bumped into me. She wasn’t looking at all and didn’t say a word, just kept walking. My own ears almost ached upon hearing how loud her headphones were playing.
“I could just as easily say that I was friends with the engineer who designed the building-“
“Who sucks, by the way.”
“…and knew of the orientation of the doors beforehand. No need to think outside the box.”
To our dismay, the park was deserted. We unpacked our lunches and surveyed our surroundings. Usually this place is packed, but if it isn’t, it’s barren.
“Regardless of that, you still need to take the unpredictable erratic behavior of hundreds of others into account, where you are situated in the club when you catch news of the fire, and have some comprehensive ability to lead and communicate with a group that is likely unreceptive. Theoretically, many of these people may have read the same self-help books but there’s diminished oxygen available, their minds previously swimming in non-logical thought, many resigned to relax, critical thinking being a skill deemed unnecessary for the night.”
“Still, your whole point is predicated on this situation,” I said. “If what you say holds true, then your small percentage of public manipulators can discern the works behind every situation?” Did he think that he was one of these people? What did he think about me? I didn’t like the idea that almost everyone I came in contact with was a mindless piece meandering through life with its own unique distractions; it makes life out to be empty, meaningless save for Len’s select few.
“Basically. The successful ones are rarely fooled. They intuitively survey and analyze the world around them, constantly looking for further understanding.”
I laughed as my friend opened up the contents of his lunch.
“So of the two of you, who was taking advantage their environment best, you, or the grocer?” I asked as he opened a batch of spoiled strawberries.