Anyone stepping for the first time into the lobby of the Federal Bureau of Census Taking and Actuarial Services would say there are seven people waiting their turn to meet with the Executive Director. Their error would lie in the naiveté of a simple head count.
There are only six if you count as one the conjoined twins who share a shoulder, half of their chest, and presumably at least a few vital organs. They are sitting on one of the office’s long, padded benches—which were specifically installed instead of chairs to accommodate these twins, the morbidly obese, and other such contingencies—and paging through an outdated People they finally agreed upon, although the one on the left, who is merely looking at the pictures, is clearly growing impatient with the one on the right, who is casually skimming the articles.
If they looked up they might recognize from page twenty-three the man sitting across from them. While he takes up only half the space of the twins, it is not physical size that matters. Rather, it is his size in the collective consciousness that will lead him to count for much more. According to the article: his latest movie was hailed as, “an inspiration to anyone who has ever experienced the full force of what it is to be truly human”; his charity organization has helped stall the inevitable extinction of three distinct animal species; and his abs required surprisingly little airbrushing for the photo shoot.
That number may or may not go up because of the pregnant woman sitting with her back to the twins. She claims she should count as two when it comes to things like tax preparations and driving in the carpool lane, but only one in situations like all-you-can-eat buffets and seats at the symphony. She claims the best hope for the world lies not in economic policies or environmental conservation but in providing every opportunity for her unborn child.
The man on the stretcher attached to an IV stint, who doesn’t seem to have moved since he was wheeled in by a pair of orderlies, will certainly not count as one. Two-tenths might even be generous.
It is safe to assume that the number could be reduced by about three-tenths because of the amputee sitting on the opposite side of the room. His uniform and medals may earn him sympathy and respect, but these admirable qualities are difficult to quantify numerically and may, after all, be mitigated by the telltale signs of mental illness.
Subtract yet another half for the elderly man attached to an oxygen tank seated next to him.
Where that puts us count-wise I’m not sure. I can, however, say with absolute certainty—and more than a little disappointment—that as I pass through on my way out the door, the number momentarily, and officially, increases by six-tenths, as decreed by the Director himself.