"Congratulations from NBC."
"Thank you very much, Ahmad."
"You're the first person in the United States -- as far as we
know -- to successfully complete a ticket request form for the
1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta. While the rest of us are still
struggling with that 46-page instruction booklet, trying to
figure out if we want to pay $80 to see session SW76641 at the
GT-AQU or maybe pay $11 for TT80131 at the OC-GWC or $37 for
CT41711 at the SM-VEL, all being held at the same time on the
morning of July 25, you seem to have made all of your Preferred
Choices and your Alternate #1's and Alternate #2's already.
"Thank you again, Ahmad."
"How did you ever do it? The work, the concentration involved,
must have been mind-boggling."
"To be frank, Ahmad, it was a bitch. Can I say that on TV?"
"It was a real bitch, then, Ahmad. I never have been faced with
a tougher challenge. In comparison, climbing Everest was a walk
in the park, if I may use a cliche. Swimming the English
Channel? A few goose bumps from the cold, maybe a week in the
hospital afterward for the hypothermia. Filling out this ticket
application was a true test of a man's mettle."
"What exactly was the process? Did you request one through the
mail or pick one up at Home Depot or...."
"It came in the mail about a month ago, Ahmad. I have to admit
that at first I grossly underestimated the difficulties involved
in filling it out. I thought this was a normal sort of catalog,
a normal sort of purchase. I thought the family would gather
around the kitchen table, and we would pick out the events we
wanted to see, write them down on the form and go from there.
Hah! I thought this would be no different from ordering
snowshoes from L.L. Bean or a couple of black-lace bustiers from
Victoria's Secret. Little did I know."
"Then you got a look at all the abbreviations, all the prices,
all the options everywhere. They scared you a little bit, I bet."
"A little bit? The abbreviations! The rules! You could only use
a pen with blue ink or black ink. No pencils. No felt-tips. You
had to print clearly in capital letters. There were pages and
pages of computer-speak gibberish, different restrictions for
different events, opportunities to buy 'season tickets' for one
sport, 'luxury suites' for others. I'm a man who does his own
taxes, who scored 800 in math on the SAT when I was in high
school, a man who read the encyclopedia during a rainy vacation
at a cabin in Maine. I couldn't understand word one here. The
entire application was a mystery."
"So what'd you do?"
"For a week, maybe a week and a half, I came home every night
after work and devoted myself to the application. That got me
nowhere. So I quit my job. I worked on the application full time."
"You quit your job?"
"I was a nuclear physicist, Ahmad."
"And quitting helped?"
"I have to say it did. That, and the fact that after a week of
working on the application full time at home, my wife left me,
taking the kids with her."
"Your wife left?"
"The last thing she said was, 'Men like you are the reason The
Bridges of Madison County is going to make a billion dollars.'
What does that mean, Ahmad? I've been a little out of touch."
"Never mind. This is fascinating. So now it's quiet. No job. No
wife. No family. Just you and the application."
"Not exactly, Ahmad. I had a computer. I was on-line with some
of the brightest minds at some of the most prestigious
universities in the land. I was on the phone with scientists
from the former Eastern bloc. I had a calculator working 24
hours a day. In the background I played the collected works of
Kenny G. I plugged away and plugged away, and little by little,
with all this help, I completed the entire form, from the $636
ticket for the ZO99931 at the OS-STA (Opening Ceremony) to the
$265 ticket for the BK23471 at the OC-GAD (men's basketball
finals) to the $69 ticket for the BV27081 at the CC-ATB (men's
beach volleyball finals). I selected two alternates for each
time period. I filled in all the blanks, including the ones that
asked for my mother's maiden name and the last four digits in my
Social Security number. I folded the form on the indicated line,
enclosed a check and sent everything first-class. I'm done."
"It's an amazing story. You're an inspiration to all of
us. I call you the first gold medal winner of the '96
"Again, Ahmad, thank you."
"Now let's throw it over to Hannah. She has the touching story
of a woman who is willing to donate a kidney in exchange for
enough money to buy tickets for two nights of gymnastics finals
plus an evening of field hockey in Atlanta -- those are events
GA56521 and GA56341 at the OC-GAD and HO63992 at the AU-MBR --
assuming, of course, she can figure out how to fill out her
COLOR ILLUSTRATION:EVANGELOS VIGLIS [man scratching his head as he attempts to figure out maze on piece of paper with Olympic ticket at the top]