There really is such a thing as “Fuzzy Decision Making”; all the rest is mere fiction.
GEORGE Walling dreamed that a spotlight had picked him out of a crowd and was following him as he ran through a darkened theater. No matter how he twisted and turned, the light was always directly in front of his face and was getting hotter and hotter. Suddenly his eyes popped open, and he was momentarily blinded by the sunlight in his face. He sat up quickly and grabbed the clock at the head of his bed and peered at it. He could clearly see the hands but for a bit he could not comprehend what they meant. “Eleven-thirty,” he said. “How the hell could it be eleven-thirty? Is it a.m. or p.m.?”
After a moment of complete confusion, he realized that it was unlikely that the sun would have awakened him at eleven-thirty p.m. He groaned and then found himself laughing. “Don’t laugh, you idiot,” he said aloud. “Now you’ve done it. Your last chance has just gone down the drain.”
Where was Lisa? How come she hadn’t awakened him? Why was the house so quiet? Then he remembered it was her day to work at the museum and she had had to leave early to be sure of a parking place.
“Well,” he thought, “the job’s gone. By this time either Bruce Odell or Chuck Hadley has been selected, and it’s all over. What a hell of a way to lose out.”
Until a month ago he had not considered leaving his job at the university where he was an associate professor of mathematics. But one day, a long-time acquaintance, Tom Latchford, had dropped in to see him and said that his company, Data Analysis Corporation, would like George to apply for the position of chief of their newly-created research division. “We think we are on to a completely new method of database management,” said Tom, “but the fact is that the people who are developing it are not dry behind the ears. No one in the company can tell what they’re really doing. We’ve got to have somebody head the division who has the respect of these whiz-kid programmers and who can translate their stuff into language that management can understand. Your work on databases has held up well in a fast changing field, and we think you might be the man.”
“But I’ve done nothing in that field for over five years,” George protested. “And I’m making real progress in my decision-making work; I can’t just quit on it now.”
“Look,” said Jim, “we’re talking about big money, at least two-and-a-half times your present salary. I don’t want to sound brutal, but I know you are 55, and you’re not going to get many chances like this. We are interested in you and in two other people who have already applied for the job. Charles Hadley is one of them.”
“Chuck! But he was my student.”
“Sure, it’s the work he did with you that interested us in him. Bruce Odell, who I’m sure you know, is the only other candidate. We’d like you to come down for a preliminary interview on the 10th. If you are not interested in the job after your interview, we would like your assistance in picking one of the others. This appointment is viewed by our board as a vital one to the future of the company, and we can’t afford to make a mistake.”
In the days that followed, George found himself distracted from his work by thinking more and more about the possible position. It wasn’t quite the money that intrigued him. Well, it was in a sense. Anyone can always use more money, but though George was quite happy with his work, now and then he felt that he had not been anywhere near as successful as most of his contemporaries. It seemed that he was always running into old acquaintances who had high-paying and powerful jobs with the government or industry, and in their company, he felt like a dusty old mathematics professor. “Associate,” he always added to himself. Clearly he was not keeping up. He felt that this should not bother him, but it undeniably did.
His present work on what someday would be a standard management tool would net him only the grudging respect from a dozen other applied mathematicians who were involved in the field of fuzzy decision making. But no one ever made a nickel publishing in Applied Mathematics Journal. In fact the university would have to pay $120 per page to the journal for his papers. As his work on databases had been, it was too far ahead of current practice to make any money, but that’s where the fun was. The early birds had all the fun, and the later ones got the worms. Except in his darker moments, George thought it a reasonable bargain.
He did have a plan for immortality – a mathematician’s immortality. His major contribution to the field was to be a matrix of weights to be applied to the decision criteria. As soon as he published his definitive paper, his friend, Ansel Woorley was to write a letter to the editor of Applied Mathematics Journal discussing the matrix and calling it “the Walling Matrix.” George had already done this deed for Woorley, and there was an obscure and little used function that was known as the Woorley Probability Function.
When George had appeared for his interview he had met Charles who was just leaving the building after his interview. Charles had greeted him with outstretched hand and had said, “If I’d known you were applying for this job, I wouldn’t have bothered. After I found out, I just went through the interview for the experience. I know you’ll get the job.”
In spite of himself, George had searched through the words and tones of voice in which they were delivered and looked closely at Charles, but he failed to detect any insincerity or false note. He reflected briefly on how permanent the teacher-student relationship is.
A week after the interview, George was called by Jim Latchford who said he thought George’s interview had gone well and that a final interview with the entire board of directors would be held on the 24th. He had said that each candidate would be interviewed for about an hour, and the final selection would be made and announced immediately following the interviews. George was to appear at nine o’clock. “Personally, I think all you have to do is show up, and the job is yours;” Jim had said.
“And that’s exactly what I didn’t do,” said George to himself as he became aware of the aroma of coffee. Lisa would have left a pot for him. He went to the kitchen and poured a cup and tasted it. Black and strong from hours of evaporation. Just the thing to bring him to. He wandered back to the bedroom bringing the coffee pot with him and sat on the bed to drink his coffee. A thought that had been lurking somewhere suddenly became clear. “This is not the first time I’ve done this,” he thought. “How long ago was it? Could it be 35 years? Must be.”
George had been in his junior year of college when the United States entered World War II. He had already been declared 1A in the draft, but had not received any further notice from the draft board. In the months following Pearl Harbor, the mood of the college world underwent a palpable change. The war and the inevitable necessity for participating in it were on the minds of all the young men, and this mood seemed to rend the fabric of scholarship to make the college world seem false and even frivolous. With the Japanese scoring victory after victory in the Pacific, how could one seriously read Victorian poetry. At best there is something unreal about college, but it was never so obvious to George as during this period of stressful anticipation.
Like most of the young men, George had started looking around for opportunities in the military. Men with the right degrees, electrical engineering, for instance, were often directly commissioned by the army as second lieutenants and sent somewhere to teach electronics to soldiers in army schools. There were constant rumors about jobs offered by the army or the navy, but when George investigated any of them, it always turned out that he was not qualified. They wanted people with degrees or, at the minimum, people who would get degrees within a few months. George was more than a year from his bachelor’s degree in math, and he was more and more aware that he did not have a year left before the draft clamped down on him.
He had about given up when an ad appeared in the college newspaper in which the Air Corps was looking for men to train to be meteorologists. Those accepted were to be commissioned immediately as second lieutenants and could, according to the ad, expect to become captains upon completion of their training and assignment to an Air Corps unit as a functioning meteorologist. The necessary qualifications appeared to George to have been taken from his course list. When he finished his current partial differential equations course in a couple of months, he would have exactly the required math and physics courses listed in the ad.
He felt as if someone had designed an opportunity for him and was jubilant until his math teacher attempted to dissuade him. “It’s just rubbish,” said the old man. “You have the makings of a mathematician. Weather forecasting is merely witchcraft. It’s not even applied mathematics. You can’t fill your mind with rubbish and then do mathematics.”
Everyone knew that old Felsenstein was crazy. To him the only worthy field in the world was pure mathematics. Even applied mathematics was beyond the pale. He had no sense of the real world. Yet Felsenstein was the man whose opinion George most highly valued. His very singlemindedness in a world of diverse values had a purity and rightness that George had felt attracted to. And to be told by Felsenstein that you had the makings of a mathematician was something like being knighted by King Arthur.
George had to balance his advice from Felsenstein with the prospect of spending the war as an enlisted man against applying to the Air Corps and possibly spending the time as an officer. He had little doubt that if you had to be in the army, it would be much better to be an officer. So George sent his letter of application to the Air Corps and spent two or three weeks filling out the multitude of forms they sent him and gathering letters of recommendation from his teachers. Finally he received a notice of a physical exam and interview to be held in the college armory.
On the appointed day, George had overslept the stated time by more than three hours. He did this in spite of placing his clock out of arm’s reach and in spite of the fact that the time he should have arisen was his normal, daily getting-up time. In a panic he had thrown on his clothes and had run all the way across campus to the armory.
“No, it’s all over.” rumbled the old sergeant at the desk. “The officers that came here for this business left over an hour ago.”
“But surely they’ll give me another chance, they wouldn’t count me out just because I overslept, would they?”
“I don’t know nothing about it, Sonny,” the sergeant replied. He seemed to be both sympathetic and amused at George’s plight. “I guess they’ll be doing this at other colleges, and you can go somewhere to take your physical and get your interview. But I’ve been in this damn army far too long to try to guess what they’ll do next.”
George had written to the address where he had sent the application, but when no answer came, he had not written again. He had lost interest in it and made no further attempt to become an Air Corps meteorologist. George very seldom thought again of the missed opportunity; it was almost as if it had never happened.
George drained the last of the coffee in his cup and poured another. “I didn’t want to be a weatherman,” he thought. “It’s obvious now that I didn’t. Wonder if old Felsenstein would have bothered to give me any advice if he’d known that I’d wind up in applied math?” He sat quietly sipping his coffee as his mind worked at examining something else from the past. “And Joyce,” he thought. “My God, Joyce, too. Haven’t thought of her in years.”
There had been a time when she was seldom out of his thoughts. When George was 18 and just beginning his last year of high school, he had met Joyce Almann at a dance in Mt. Pleasant, a neighboring town, and had instantly and irretrievably fallen in love. He was a serious, studious boy whose greatest pleasures were omnivorous reading and learning mathematics. Although he had a few dates with two or three girls and was aware of the intense interest his friends professed to have in girls, he had truly no inkling of the matter until the night he met Joyce Almann. He could not have been more unprepared for that experience.
George and Jimmy Edmonds, the boy he was visiting, had gone stag to a high-school dance and just after walking into the gym across a rug in the foyer, they came up behind a couple who had also just entered. Jimmy had swatted the boy in the back, and when he turned had said, “Tommy, I want you to meet George.” The boy was taking off his coat and did not offer to shake hands with George but grinned his welcome. The girl appeared to be scanning the room and without glancing at George, offered her hand. As their hands almost touched, a spark of electricity zapped between them and both jerked their hands back. But the shock succeeded in getting her full attention, and their eyes locked and held for interminable seconds while incomprehensible, but vitally urgent messages rushed back and forth and struck a fire that raced through George’s blood and left him immobilized and brainless. Finally she turned away and he took a deep breath and was able to get his jaw muscles to operate to close his gaping mouth. His first thought was that he had stood there like a complete dummy and had not said one word to her.
“Listen, George,” said Jimmy, “I think I’d better tell you something. That girl has been engaged. Not to the boy she’s with. To a guy in Clarkston. They had a fight recently and broke up, but they’re a cinch to go back together. Damn it, don’t stare at me like I’m an idiot. I’m telling you for your own good. She’s bad medicine.”
As Jimmy talked, George was searching the floor trying to get another glimpse of her. He was trying to remember what she looked like. All he could recall was that she was short and slim and had black hair and fathomless blue eyes. He was afraid he might not even recognize her if he saw her again. He had to see her again right away to be sure. He scarcely heard what Jimmy said, and in any case was beyond taking any advice that in any way was not aimed at helping him to see Joyce again. Right then that was the only thing that mattered.
A week later he was back in Mt. Pleasant, and he called Joyce. As he attempted to explain who he was, she said, “I remember. After all it’s not every boy who tries to electrocute me.” When George explained that he hadn’t called because he didn’t live in Mt. Pleasant and this was his first opportunity she said, “I know where you live. I asked Jimmy all about you. I was hoping you would call me.” When George finally asked if he could see her that night, she said, “Of course.”
And that was the tone of their relationship. Joyce accepted the knowledge that George was in love with her, and she never attempted to deny that she found him very attractive. This was perhaps the most confusing thing she could have done to George who was more mentally prepared for rejection than for conquest or acceptance.
Throughout the school year, George’s main concern was to find a ride to Mt. Pleasant every Saturday and Sunday. In between he wrote letters to her, and she was in his mind constantly. His mathematics which had been an end in itself, became nothing but a time passer toward the weekend when he could see her again.
Years later, when George needed to think of something wonderful, he would remember sitting in the swing on her front porch in the nights of that summer. Her head would be on his shoulder, his arm around her, and they would talk quietly and occasionally kiss sweetly. After the pain of his loss was gone, and in the years when he did not expect that it could ever happen again, there was still that vignette of the joy of loving and being loved.
There was, however, as the summer wore on, trouble developing in their love affair. After their graduations, George was looking hard for a job, not easy to come by, and he wanted to get married as soon as he found one. But to his surprise, Joyce showed no enthusiasm for marrying him. He had long since become aware that there were major incompatibilities between them. George lived in a world of books and Joyce cared nothing for them. School which was a pleasure for George was an irritant to Joyce. She was not dumb; she was ignorant, and she intended to stay that way. During their courtship, George had often not had a spare dime to spend on their dates, and Joyce never let him feel any embarrassment about it, but she also made no bones about the fact that now she wanted things. “I’ve lived all my life in near poverty,” she said, “and I don’t intend to keep it up. I want a husband, a house, a car, and children. I want everything.”
When George protested that someday he could give her these things, she said, ‘Let’s be realistic. You are a mathematics prodigy – a damn genius of some kind. So you have to go to college. You’ll have to have a doctor’s degree. How long is that going to take? Seven years? Eight years? Who knows? How are you going to support a wife during those years? All right, let’s say I work and support you for those years. When you’ve got your degree, then what? What can a mathematician do but teach? Do you know what teachers make? Suppose you get a job teaching in college; do you think I’d be a suitable wife for you? Or that I would like that kind of life? Even if there were no money problems, it couldn’t work. The only thing we have in common is our physical attraction for each other. That’s just great but it’s not enough for marriage. Maybe it wouldn’t last, then we’d have nothing.
This was the first of many agonizing discussions of the matter, and George knew well that Joyce was stating the simple truth. At times he would think he could give up his hopes of college and math, but she wouldn’t hear of that because she said he would hate her later for it. And actually, George could not imagine himself in an environment that did not revolve around academics. By the time he left for college that fall, they had agreed to quit seeing each other, and George soon heard from Jimmy that she was again engaged to the boy from Clarkston. This was a painful thought to George, but there was nothing he could do about it.
He soon lost himself in the turmoil of being a freshman in a new world. He soon found he was by no means a math genius and found at least one person in every class who was as good, but he did find he could do the work and soon was as absorbed in his studies as he had been before he had met Joyce. The school was on the quarter system so he was literally in attendance on a year around basis, and by his second year was already taking some advanced math courses. He still thought of Joyce often and tried to keep track of her through mutual acquaintances, but he never tried to write to her or call her.
After he had been drafted into the army and was in the last stages of basic training, he received a friendly note from her. He hastened to reply, and soon there was a letter every two or three days. He wondered what had happened to her engagement, but he couldn’t ask her. Her engagement had never been mentioned between them, and George had never learned the name of her fiancé. George began longing to see her again. Two months after basic training, he was sent to Baltimore to learn to repair radios. “What good’s a mathematician to the army?” his classifier had grumbled. George suggested that they made excellent truck drivers, but the classifier looked at his list and chose radio repair.
When he was due to get his first weekend pass, he decided to risk the 450-mile trip to Mt. Pleasant instead of the allowed 60-mile radius, so he called Joyce to ask if he could come to see her. She said, “Of course.” He had determined that he could just make it by taking a train after his release on Friday. It would get to Mt. Pleasant at 10 a.m. Saturday. He would have to leave Sunday noon to get back to the school early Monday morning before his pass expired.
The rigors of wartime train travel were forgotten when he saw that she was waiting on the platform. “I’m walking,” she said after their embrace. “I finally managed to get a car, but, of course, there’s no damn gas. The story of my life. I reserved a room for you at the hotel.”
“Will you come to the hotel with me?” asked George.
“No, I can’t do that. You know how this town is. Everybody would know about it before dark. Don’t look like that. Tonight. There’s tonight. War or no war, Saturday night is still Bingo night at the lodge.”
George laughed and hugged her. “Bless the consistent hearts of the B.P.O.E. I ought to make them the beneficiary of my GI insurance. They have certainly been very benevolent to me on a number of occasions.”
“And to me. But I always thought of it as having to do with Bingo. Bingo is such a sexy word to me that I’m always surprised when people use it in mixed company. But let’s drop your bag off at the hotel and go home for lunch. Mother is going to fix lunch for you. Stand back and let me look at you. You are much more beautiful in your uniform than I thought you would be.”
Before they parted in late afternoon for George to go to his hotel, he again asked her to marry him. “What would you do if I said yes?” she asked.
“I would take you back with me tomorrow, and we could get married in Baltimore. I’ve got it all planned. It would work; I’m sure it would. You could easily get a job now in Baltimore and stay there until I go overseas.”
“I’m tempted,” she said. “I hope it’s not because things haven’t worked out well for me. I do love you, you know that. If I only thought marriage would work for us, I’d do it in a minute. I’ll think about it, and we will talk more about it tonight.”
He kissed her goodbye. “Bingo?” he asked softly.
She grinned. “Of course.”
In his room George propped his pillow against the wall and lay down to read the newspaper for a few minutes before taking a shower.
George opened his eyes and looked at his watch. Three-thirty! Had his watch stopped this afternoon? He jumped up and went to the window to look out onto the dark and deserted main street of Mt. Pleasant. His heart pounded in panic as his reeling brain tried to make sense out of the bewildering information. Impossible as it seemed, the only solution seemed to be that he had slept over eight hours. And Joyce? My God, what of Joyce?
George paced the streets for the interminable hours until he felt he could call her. His explanation to her sounded false and improbable to his own ears, and her voice had a cold, hard tone he had never heard before. “Look,” she said, “I don’t know what’s going on. But consider this. When you didn’t show up, I was worried about you. I called your room. I even called the desk, and the manager said he had knocked on your door with no answer.”
He hopelessly went through his story again, and she finally said, “I don’t know what to believe, but it really doesn’t matter. I was just dreaming anyway. Getting so mad at you brought me back to my senses. It would never work. You know as well as I do that we’re not suited for each other. Just get on your train and leave, and this time let’s make it permanent. Let’s quit torturing each other.”
George put down his empty coffee cup and ran his hand over the stubble on his face. “Oh man,” he said to himself, “I’m supposed to be an expert on decision making. I’ve spent years developing the techniques for making sensible decisions, and it is quite clear that three of the most important decisions of my life were made by sleeping. Not only that, but each time the result was contrary to my conscious decision. Yet, I’d have to say they were the right decisions in each instance.”
As he applied lather to his beard, he found himself looking his mirror image in the eye, “Now who the hell…” he said aloud to his image, “who the hell is making these decisions?” He waited a moment, half expectantly, for an answer, but none came.
Hand set in Deepdene; cover is Bold Italic. Paper is Ivory Sunray Vellum 70-lb. Text and 65-lb, Cover. Edited and published by Jake Warner who printed 460 copies on a 10 x 15 C&P at the Boxwood Press, Greenbelt, MD 20770.
ERRORS (sigh) noted during press run:
Page 13: fiancé has an extra e.
Page 14: In half the copies the carried over part is missing from benevo-lent.