He became the topic of conversation in the lunch room between a bunch of Engineers down at Boeing, Seattle’s big Aerospace Center. These guys were bright, interesting, curious guys and one of them had fashioned a fun little set-up .. probably using Boeing materials.
So .. imagine this – quite simple really: On the wall there an attached, round, black rubber diaphragm, maybe 6 or 8 inches across. It is hooked to a timer — not digital as it would be now, but clock-face like with only the equivalent of a second hand .. in other words one single ‘sweep’ hand. On the face is marked off maybe 10 seconds .. that would be one full sweep around from top (’12’ position) to top again. Just UNDER the black diaphragm is a small red light. all of this is properly wired in to itself. So, this was, apparently, set up in the lunch room and was just ‘there’ for guys to play with — to test their reaction time. And the way it worked was that you would stand behind the tape line that they had placed on the floor some 6 feet away from the wall, hands at your side, looking at the light. When you saw the light turn on, you would step forward, hit the diaphragm, and step back. The timer, above, would show you how long between the ‘on’ of the red light, and the timer, and your hand against the diaphragm. Couldn’t be simpler .. right?
So, word gets around Seattle about this little hot-shot with reputedly fantastic form and reflexes, and there starts to be the "Man I’d love to get that guy down here to try our thing out" conversation sprinkling into the lunchtime banter. Finally, and I don’t know how, one of them knows someone who knows someone or something and word gets passed on to Bruce that they’d love to have him come down to the Engineers lunchroom down south of town any afternoon that he might be able to, to try out their ‘reflex tester’ that they’ve put together.
Well Bruce was a STRONG self-promoter, and I’m sure this was like catnip to him. So, of course, one day there’s a knock on the outer door and one of them comes walking this lean, smiley little guy back into the lunchroom full of a bunch of thick engineers with their mouths full of sandwiches. Very informal, pre-fame, no cameras and no big deal — if you just happened to be there digging into your lunch at that moment you were about to gain one of the stories of your life — if you had decided to step out to a restaurant that day .. you’d only be hearing the story for years to come. So, Bruce is brought in and they all greet him and laugh a bit with him and tell him how they had heard that he was in great physical shape and that it might be fun for him to try their set-up.
They show him what the deal is and how it works, ( I have NOdoubt that within 3 seconds of entering the room he had seen it and understood exactly what the deal was), and he says ‘sure!’ .. he’d be HAPPY to give that a try! So, they all sit back, out of his way, and he stands at the line, takes a breath and exhales and rotates his head back and forth a bit (Bruce had a palpable sense of focused relaxation which, once achieved, made him look like he may NEVER move a muscle again). He’s standing there, moment .. after moment, with his hands hanging loosely at his side .. gazing as if casually at the wall … then he suddenly FLIES forward and SMACKS the diaphragm and is INSTANTLY back behind the line, relaxed again. Whereupon there is this OUTcry from the entire room of Engineers saying "NO! no .. you have to WAIT for the Red Light to go on BEFORE smacking the diaphragm! Get it?! You hit is AFTER!!!" And, of course, he stands there smiling back at them. And one by one there’s this growing little chorus of "Ohhhh my GOD!" .. and "Wait a minute! My GOD .. I don’t BELIEVE it!!!" as they one by one come forwards towards the timer to confirm what they think they’re seeing but can’t believe.
What had just taken place, of course, was that Bruce had perceived the micro-instant of illumination, and had stepped forward to instantaneously douse it, and not a single other soul in the room, with nothing else to do but watch the light and the timer, had been aware of its even having come on. The story goes that when they got up to the timer and looked closely at it they saw that it had, indeed, BAAAARELY moved from top center. Unfortunately, I cannot now recall preciselywhat the actual numbers were, but it was SOMETHING like "Most of the guys turned that light off in, at BEST, a second or so. When we looked at the timer needle with Bruce, it was registering 8/100’s of a second .. barely even see-able on the dial, and not even long enough for the rest of us to see the light".