At the supermarket, I bought a copy of Evil Cosmopolotian ("How To Kill Your Man With An Axe: You'll Make Him Beg For No More!") and was reading through it, taking the left-hand-path quiz, when I came across a guy at a table with a brightly-labeled coffee can, asking for donations.
"What's it for?" I asked him, strangely careful of my word choices after recent events.
"I'm raising money to become the greatest flosser ever," he replied. I found myself relaxing immediately.
"Aren't all flossers pretty much equal?" I don't know why I waste my time with crazy people who want my money, but I was sucked in, alright.
"Nonsense. I mean, some people must be worse, right? Like, some people completely miss spots, or make their gums bleed, or take too long, right? So, there's at least some parity between flossers. It has to follow, then, that there's got to be people who are better, and I want to be the best."
"What if there's just a minimum. Like, if you don't cut yourself or take an hour, everyone's about equal?" I felt my hand drifting toward my wallet.
"Nonsense. It just seems that way because you don't pay attention to who's better, because you don't care. Well, pal, I do." He looked a little insulted.
"Okay, fine. So, who judges whether you're better? I mean, how do you know what's most important? Maybe someone else - some other flossing fanatic across the globe - is a little faster than you, but you're a little more thorough. Which is more important? I mean, each person could have their own formula for weighting importance of different factors. Maybe for one person it's just speed plus decorum plus double-weighted thoroughness plus economy of floss use. Maybe for another person it's speed TIMES painlessness, plus thoroughness squared. There's really no standard, and, in a lot of cases, it's really hard to measure these things." I was waving my hands emphatically, kind of making different shapes to show the mathematics of what I was trying to get across.
"Well, as long as all the positive traits are non-contradictory, I can still be the best. I mean, unless someone judges slowness or bleeding to be a good thing, and I don't think anyone seriously does, I can just exceed the world in every possible trait, and then I can be confident that, by any scale, I'm still the best." He matched my gestures as he spoke. Good sales technique, I guess.
"Well, okay. What do you need the money for?"
"Good question. This kind of freakish extremism requires a lot of money. First, there's training costs - I plan to study under dentists, Zen masters, floss manufacturers, kinesthetic therapists, and so forth. Second, there's opportunity cost - all this time I'm spending improving my flossing is time I could be spending earning money. Last, and probably most important, is promotion - I won't really be the best flosser unless I'm known to be the best flosser, and that costs money."
"What if someone else is a better flosser, but doesn't promote themselves as well?" I said as I dropped a few bills into the can.
"Well, I guess, sometimes the best flosser isn't the one who flosses best - it's the one who does the best job of raising flossing funds."
I punched him in the gut, took back my money, and spent it on floss.