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Second Chance

By
January 1, 2010

Now you can have it both ways. How does it work? Well, it’s like this: you’ve reached the most important crossroad in your life and you can’t make up your mind? Just head for the Second Chance outlet nearest your home and give them a full rundown on your dilemma.

On the face of it, it seemed like just another service—innovative, revolutionary, monstrous, call it whatever you want—but when you came right down to it, Second Chance was the greatest economic success story of the twenty-first century. Unlike most great ideas, which tend to be quite simple, the idea behind Second Chance was a bit more complicated: Second Chance gave you the opportunity to go to one particular critical moment in your life, and instead of having to choose either one road or the other, you could continue along both. Can’t decide whether to have the abortion and drop your boyfriend, or to marry him and start a family? Not sure whether you should start from scratch overseas, or stay put in your dad’s business? Now you can have it both ways. How does it work? Well, it’s like this: you’ve reached the most important crossroad in your life and you can’t make up your mind? Just head for the Second Chance outlet nearest your home and give them a full rundown on your dilemma. Then choose one of the options, whichever you want, and keep on living your life. Don’t worry, the other option, the one you didn’t choose, doesn’t disappear. They have it running on one of their If-Only-I’d computers (Reg. Tr.) carefully keeping track of all the variables. Once you’ve gone through your life in full, your body is taken to one of the Road-Not-Taken halls (also Reg. Tr.), where the entire data set is fed into your brain in real time, and kept alive through a unique bio-electronic process developed expressly for this purpose. So actually, your own brain can give you the experience of the other life you could have had, down to the last detail.

Miri or Shiri? Teary or cheery?
Placid old age or perhaps hara-kiri?
A child or a pup? IVF or adopt?
Move to Miami or pick up where you stopped?
At Second Chance, whatever you do—
You can have your cake and eat it too.

It’s perfect. Seriously. Nothing cynical about it. It’s a fabulous concept. I mean there aren’t many inventions that actually succeed in meeting some human need. Ninety-nine percent of them are just some ugly combo of pushy marketing and spineless consumers. And Second Chance is clearly in that single significant, useful percentile. Except what does that have to do with Max?

Our Max lived his life straight as an arrow, fast as lightning, no ifs, no buts, at least until now. Max’s dad—well, that’s a different story altogether. Max’s dad not only opted for Second Chance, he never stopped talking about it either: “If it weren’t for that rotten Second Chance, I’d never—and I do mean never—have married that revolting mother of yours,” he’d tell Max at least once a day. “I swear, sometimes I feel like putting a bullet through my head, just so I can finally make it to Road-Not-Taken. (By the way, a bullet through the head specifically is a very poor choice. Second Chance assumes absolutely no responsibility for the quality of service in case of major damage to cerebral tissue.) Max knew that his father didn’t really mean it, and he hoped that his mother realized this too, but even if she did, it didn’t make his dad’s behavior any less upsetting. “If he’d taken the Second Chance in connection with my being born instead,” Max tried to console her, “he’d have been just as obsessive: ‘I feel like putting a bullet through my head just so I can relive my life without that egotistical kid. If I went and died tomorrow I bet he wouldn’t even bother coming to the funeral.’ You know how Dad is, it has nothing to do with you.”

The truth is that his mother really did opt for Second Chance in connection with having him, but she was tactful enough never to let on about it. In her case, the Road-Not-Taken would have led her to a quick divorce, a successful business venture and a happy second marriage. No harm done, she’d get a chance to live that life too.

Max had always preferred women who were curvy, tan, with big tits and thick lips. And Shana, who was very very pretty, by the way, was the complete opposite. She was skinny, flat as a board, and her lips were about as thick as a credit card. But love, as the saying goes, is blind, and Max fell in love. Before the wedding, they didn’t opt for Second Chance, or before the twins either. Max was against it in principle. He said people ought to assume responsibility for their own decisions. And as for Shana, she’d already wasted hers long before that on a previous boyfriend, whose proposal she’d turned down in her regular life. The thought that after her death she’d experience marriage with someone else was pretty frustrating as far as Max was concerned, but it was also motivational. And the need to feel that he was the right choice often drove him to be a better husband.

Years later, about six months after Shana had used up her first chance and had left Max on his own, his grandchildren asked him what his Second Chance had been, and he said he hadn’t had one. They didn’t believe him. “Grandpa’s a liar,” they shouted. “Grandpa’s embarrassed.” People had almost stopped using Second Chance by then, and had moved on to Meany Miny Mo, which gave you an intriguing third option to explore, at no extra charge.

Cause two birds in the bush
Can’t beat three—all for you.
Meany, Miny, and Mo
Nothing different will do.

By Etgar Keret, translated from Hebrew by Miriam Shlesinger, © 2009. First published in The Nimrod Flip-Out, Picador, Australia, 2004 and Chatto and Windus, U.K., 2008.

etgar keret.jpgEtgar Keret was born in Tel Aviv in 1967 and is one of Israel’s bestselling authors. His books have been published in 25 languages and have won international acclaim. His writing has been published in the New York Times, Le Monde, the Guardian, The Paris Review, and Zoetrope. Keret was shortlisted for the Frank O’Connor prize, and won the British Wingate literary prize, the Book Publisher Association’s Platinum Prize, the Prime Minister’s Prize for literature, and the Ministry of Culture’s Cinema Prize. As a filmmaker, Keret has co-directed the feature film Jellyfish (“Meduzot”), which won the Camera d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival and other prizes. Many of his stories have been adapted into film, including the U.S. features $9.99 and Wristcutters.

Writer’s Recommendations:

Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer.
The number one advice I got from my brother: always try to let someone else fight your wars. As a vegetarian from the age of five following a traumatic viewing of Bambi, I always stammer when I’m asked why I don’t eat meat. So here’s a vegetarian who doesn’t stammer at all.

Capturing the Friedmans directed by Andrew Jarecki.
After watching it, the person I was with complimented the so-called main actors. The story is so amazing and complex, it takes a few moments to remember it is a documentary. One of the most thought-provoking films I saw this decade.

Bernhard by Yoel Hoffmann.
Yoel Hoffman is surely the best Israeli author you have never heard of. And it’s your loss. Hoffman has one of the most unique and singular voices in contemporary literature. A writer who manages to peacefully combine Zen culture, Yiddish culture, and the reemerging Hebrew culture.

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2 comments for Second Chance

  1. Comment by njh on January 12, 2010 at 12:54 pm

    great idea for a story. poor execution. too flip and superficial. characters lack soul and therefore interest.

  2. Comment by Tanuj Solanki on June 3, 2011 at 12:42 am

    I agree with njh. Very poort execution, except the verse bit.

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