The Prisoner’s Dilemma, v. 2.0
If Amelia Dory had come to class, none of this would have happened.
But instead, Amelia had spent the night at the Gates computer lab writing code, noticing that it was morning only when the sun began to rise. By the time her twin brother Adam’s alarm went off at 9:38 A.M. (the exact optimal time to brush-teeth-grab-bagel-and-make-it-to-class), he had a text message from her time-stamped 7:14 A.M. saying that she was skipping PoliSci to sleep after another “accidental all-nighter.” After first feeling frustrated, Adam turned his sister’s absence into a positive: Rather than sitting in the front row with Amelia to make sure she paid attention, Adam entered the lecture hall and took a seat in the back row, where he could check out the girls in the class.
If Amelia had come to class, Adam wouldn’t have sat in the back row; he wouldn’t have been noticed by the professor or embarrassed by those girls; he wouldn’t have replied to that text message; he wouldn’t have gone to that party; he and Amelia wouldn’t have gotten into trouble; they wouldn’t have started the company; and the company wouldn’t have made them household names, because the company never would have been.
But, as it was, Amelia didn’t come to class.
Political Science wasn’t hard for Adam. He’d never been out of the country, so the international part was a little hard to grasp, but the idea that everyone wanted more power and that this often caused conflict was particularly familiar.
A cute brunette in a short plaid skirt took a seat in front of Adam. He’d never seen her before, but she was just right in that hot-but-not-too-hot-to-talk-to-him kind of way. He took a deep breath and was leaning forward to say something when she stood up and waved to … Patty Hawkins. Fuck. Abort mission.
Patty Hawkins was Amelia’s wealthy and preppy roommate. Adam wasn’t sure if Patty knew who he was, but he was certain that any girl who was saving her a seat in class was not the kind of girl who would give him a moment’s notice.
Professor Marsh, a legendary professor who was rumored to have once been a CIA spy, cleared his throat to begin the lecture. Adam slouched in his seat and settled in, peering at the cute brunette in front of him. Reading her g-chat conversation over her shoulder, he learned that last night at the Sigma Chi Derby Party the girl cheated on her boyfriend, Rob, with his best friend, Mitch. Of course, Adam didn’t know any of those people.
“Mr. Dory? Mr. Dory!”
Adam looked up. One hundred pairs of his fellow students’ eyes darted between him and a very angry political science professor. Why would Mitch do that to Rob? How could Rob not see them leave the party together? Was he cheating on her, too? While Adam’s head was swimming with strangers’ gossip, Professor Marsh continued to glare.
“Mr. Dory, I’m glad you could join us this morning. As you seem to be so riveted by today’s discussion, I was wondering if you might help me out. I described the Cold War’s arms race as the classic prisoner’s dilemma. Do you mind explaining the concept of the prisoner’s dilemma to the class?”
Adam swallowed nervously. “Well, I…”
He took a deep breath. “The prisoner’s dilemma … has to do with trust and cooperation. Let’s say you have a boyfriend and girlfriend named … Ralph and Bridget. They love each other, but one night at a frat party Bridget hooks up with Ralph’s best friend, Mike.”
“A frat party?” Professor Marsh raised an eyebrow.
“Sure,” Adam replied nervously. “Like the Sigma Chi Derby Party.” The class broke out into laughter and some even applauded. Adam felt encouraged. “So, Bridget cheats on her boyfriend, Ralph, with his best friend, Mike. The next day, they are both scared out of their minds of getting caught. Before they have a chance to talk to each other, they each run into Ralph. Bridget doesn’t know if Mike told Ralph, and Mike doesn’t know if Bridget told Ralph. If Mike told Ralph what happened, it’ll make Bridget look like a slut. But if Bridget told Ralph, then it will make Mike look like a bad friend. Of course, if they both keep their mouths shut, then neither of them looks bad … but they can’t trust the other one not to tell.”
Professor Marsh smiled. “And why can’t they trust each other?”
“Because they’re both cheaters. They know what the other person is capable of. That’s the point of the hookup—I mean the prisoner’s dilemma. Even though the two should cooperate to win, they can’t trust each other, so they both get caught.”
One hundred pairs of eyes turned anxiously to Professor Marsh, who paused before saying anything. An imposing old man with broad shoulders and a shock of white hair, his calm willingness to humiliate students made him one of the more infamous professors at Stanford. Everyone expected Adam Dory to get torn apart in front of the class, but Professor Marsh only nodded. “That’s correct, Mr. Dory. A very … titillating example, but a very good one.”
Professor Marsh held up his hand and stared at Adam for a moment before continuing. “Additionally, for your extraordinary disrespect earlier, I’d like three hundred words on what you’d rather be doing with your life than sitting in my political science class.”
“Ooooohhhhh … burned!” a lone voice belted from the corner of the lecture hall. Everyone laughed.
Adam’s satisfaction quickly gave way to embarrassment. The cute brunette turned around and shot Adam an I’m-going-to-kill-you look; he avoided eye contact with her by pulling out his iPhone, only to be greeted by an urgent text message.
“Call me ASAP. Need u to bartend party tonight in Atherton. Call me within 5 minutes or someone else gets the gig. Sheryl.”
Saved by the bell, class ended and Adam bolted out of the lecture hall to avoid the brunette and call Sheryl back. Just as the phone started ringing he felt a hand grab his arm.
“What the hell is wrong with you?” Patty said. “You like reading over other people’s shoulders?”
Adam froze, hoping that by not moving he would turn invisible. At the same moment, a woman’s voice answered on the phone: “Hello?”
“Patty, I didn’t mean to…” Adam stammered, not quite sure how to defend himself. He looked at his phone and held a finger to signal to Patty that he needed a minute. “Hello? This is Adam Dory. I’m calling back about the bartending gig?”
This only infuriated Patty more, and she ripped the phone from Adam’s hand, slamming her manicured finger onto the screen to end the call. Adam glanced around, looking for an escape route. “Hey, that was a really important—”
“Listen,” Patty interrupted. “I get that you’ve probably never hooked up with a girl and are seriously uncool, but what kind of game are you trying to pull? Do you think by spying on a girl’s g-chat conversations you’ll somehow figure out a way to get with her?” Patty was fuming.
“I was trying to…” Adam wanted to die. And he wanted to call Sheryl back about the party tonight before someone else got the slot.
“You should know your place, Adam Dory. My friends—Rebecca included—are way out of your league.”
Adam had no idea who Rebecca was, but he knew that Patty was right. Stanford had students who were legitimate big deals. Of the seven hundred female faces in his freshman class, it was impossible to figure out which ones had cured disease, participated in the Olympics, or had fathers who ruled their respective countries. But they were around, and knowing they were his new peers made Adam feel at once important and very, very small.
“Ugh, you’re such a lost cause. Such a geek. No wonder you don’t have any friends.” Patty tossed Adam his phone and headed back inside to console her friend. Adam took a deep breath as he noticed Patty rejoining a crying Rebecca: All things considered, that could have been worse.
Desperate to get back to Sheryl before it was too late, Adam hurried outside and sat his bag under a palm tree as he called Sheryl again.
“Hi, this is Adam Dory again. I’m so sorry about that. Is the spot still open?”
“Yes, I still need someone. The guy that was supposed to be here got food poisoning and Brett from Bartend-U said you were good.”
Adam felt his cheeks blush at the compliment from Brett, the trainer in the bartending class he’d taken to earn extra cash. “That’s great. I had plans tonight, but I think I can move them around.” By “plans” he meant dinner with Amelia at the dining hall, but he wanted Sheryl to think he was important.
“Okay, great. But listen: This is a very important client; we’ve got 376 guests coming. I can pay you double your usual, and tips should be good, but you’ve got to be in top shape.”
“Yeah, sure thing,” Adam said, doing his best to play it cool. “Where do I go?”
“I’ll e-mail you the address. Park at the elementary school down the street.”
“I don’t have a car.”
She paused. “Then how do you intend to get there?”
“I’ll ride my bike.” Adam felt his image being ruined.
“Fine. Just be here by five. And make sure no one sees you biking.”
“Will do, Sheryl. See you at five.”
So much for tonight’s homework, Adam thought. He sent Amelia a text: “Gotta cancel dinner 2night—just got gig in Atherton. They’re paying double! Will steal fancy dessert for you. ”
Copyright © 2013 by Palindrome, LLC.