Monthly Archives: August 2013

I spend too much time on reddit

I’m on the Internet a lot, way too much really. It’s gotten to the point where I have an app installed on my computer that actually blocks the Internet for a preset amount of time. It’s kind of sad, that I can’t sit still for more than ten minutes without having my consciousness hijacked by the overwhelming urge to see what’s happening on Facebook (tip: nothing’s ever, ever happening on Facebook.) But it’s a real thing, the Internet sucking away minutes and hours of my productivity. Even when I’m not on the Internet, I’ll start thinking about the Internet.

the safe

It’s funny how certain trends get started online. For example, I’m on the web site reddit a lot. It took me a while to really figure out how it worked, but it’s basically a giant forum where people post links to pictures and articles. It’s a rabbit hole that’s easy to fall through and get lost. Under each post, users can add comments, other users can add comments to those comments. You’re given the option to upvote or downvote anything, with the idea being that the cream always rises to the top. There’s more to it than that … actually, I’m trying to think what more to it there is, and I don’t think there is any more to it. That’s it.

And with a ceaseless stream of new information and stupid jokes and cool pictures it’s easy to get lost, to have five minutes turn into two hours. I’ll pry my eyes away from the screen, I hadn’t noticed that the sun set while I was reading people dissect the different possible meanings of a stupid image macro, or watching like a voyeur as two online strangers engaged in a vicious verbal war over who best captained the USS Enterprise (tip: Picard.)

While there’s a lot of stuff out there to keep me entertained, there’s also a lot of nonsense. Like the grammar nazis who make it their virtual life’s mission to scour the web and tear apart the grammatical errors of complete strangers in the most condescending way possible. Or people who add nothing to discussions but copy and pasted segments of previous discussions.

It’s actually pretty cool when you find yourself reading certain forums and you’ll notice patterns begin to emerge, subtle inside jokes that would only make sense to certain people who happened to have been on reddit at the same time. For example, and this is totally going to be one of those stories that’s not at all entertaining when explained by someone else, a few months ago, this redditor posted a picture of a giant safe he found in the basement of a new house he just moved into.

“I wonder what’s in this safe?” he asked the Internet, and the Internet got interested, like yeah, what is in that safe? And that was it for a while, there wasn’t any more news about the safe. But people kept referencing the safe in random conversations about stuff that had nothing to do with the safe. It became the punch line to a joke that was never fully articulated, like any time a comment thread started to unravel, someone would link back to a link that had something to do with that safe. Subreddits popped up dedicated to figuring out what could possibly be hidden away inside. Other users created various hoaxes, claiming to have cracked the safe open.

I have no idea what eventually wound up happening, as much of the safe trend has subsided by this point, but every now and then something about the safe will pop up in random conversation, and I’ll sit there and laugh to myself at my computer, and the sound of my laughter snaps me out of my Internet, brings me back to reality. I’m like, what am I laughing at? A safe? I can’t even really explain why it’s at all funny or even worth my time. But I’m engaged, it’s so weird, this little online world that I spend way too much of my time in.

While I’m on the reddit topic, I just wanted to complain about two pretty annoying trends I’ve been noticing for a while now. The first one is the word “this.” It’s a lazy verbal trick that people use as an affirmation when seeing something that they agree with. Like if I see a funny picture on a subreddit and someone makes an interesting comment, it’s like everybody else has to write out the word “this” as a reply. Yes, this. I like this. This. It’s a waste of everybody’s time. If you like something enough that you’re actually moved to write out the word this, just click on the upvote button. Nothing’s more annoying that reading a thread where every other paragraph is littered with “this, this, this.”

The second annoying little tick is somewhat similar, although used to express a different sentiment: “nope.” People write out “nope” as a reply to something that’s scary or uncomfortable. Like if there’s a picture of a giant spider, or a story about a guy who goes down to his basement and thinks that saw a ghost, everybody’s like, “nope, nope, nope.” “I would have noped out of that basement fast.”

Anyway, I realize that the only thing more annoying than spending too much time on the Internet is then getting off the Internet and spending even more time writing about the Internet. This is like a big Internet circle jerk. It’s like I unplug myself but I’m still somehow wired in, my brain is still firing off thoughts and comments as if I were still online. I’m sure everybody deals with this problem in one way or another, like everybody’s got their favorite web sites that they spend too much time on. Or maybe it’s just me. How would Jesus have managed his life/virtual life balance? I have no idea. I should just get away from my computer for a while.

I hate the PATH train

I want to start out here by saying that this isn’t anything against New Jersey. I’m not going to waste my breath belittling the denizens of Jersey City or Hoboken. I’m sure they’re all terrific places to live. No, my beef isn’t with the Garden Sate. It’s with the PATH train, the sort-of subway that links Manhattan to various locations across the Hudson. It’s a sorry excuse for public transportation, and I hate it.

path train

I’ve only ever taken the PATH three times, and each occasion has been seared into my memory. No matter how hard I try to shake the experience, I still find myself haunted by the little engine that couldn’t. Each time I’ve taken that trip to and from New York, I’ve found myself breaching the surface afterwards like a prisoner who’s seen the light for the first time in years.

If you’re not from New York, or if you’re lucky, if you are from New York but you’ve never had to take the PATH, you might think I’m being slightly dramatic. I’m not. If anything, I’m sugar-coating the experience. I can’t believe that people actually use this system as a means of a daily commute.

You start out at a regular NYC subway station, one that connects to the PATH. You can’t really find the PATH, and I think that this is a safety mechanism, constructed so that unknowing New Yorkers don’t find themselves accidentally heading toward the PATH. If you really must take the PATH, you have to follow miles of signage, underground tunnels that get narrower and tighter, all making you feel like the subterranean world is about to close in on you at any second, and then right before you really start freaking out, there you are, it’s the PATH entrance.

Standing in that PATH station, it’s like traveling back in time, in some other city, like Cleveland or Washington DC. Everything’s laid out as if by an architect who’s never heard of the subway before, or maybe he’s heard of it, but he’s never actually been to one, he’s only seen footage of stations on TV.

The ticket machines are relics from another century. The unfortunate looking piece of equipment that I tried to purchase my fare from read in stenciled-on wordage that it didn’t accept any bills bigger than five dollars. And then even after I went to buy some candy from the newspaper guy to make change, the machine almost refused to take my money. It was only grudgingly, after smoothing out each dollar bill, having them go in and out, the stupid machine making an obnoxious beep each time it considered, then rejected my less-than-pristine bill.

Finally it spit out a MetroCard. It looked almost identical to its NYC counterpart, but it read “PATH” on the back, “Cannot be refilled.” Whatever, I don’t want to refill you’re stupid wannabe MetroCard, OK PATH train? Getting through the turnstile was a huge pain. The reader ate my card, said OK, but then refused to let me through. Apparently only after taking your card out of the other side does the turnstile unlock. Why the confusion? Why not make the system uniform with the rest of the regular subway? Why does everything in the PATH have to be stubbornly, annoyingly, just slightly out of whack with everything else?

This is my biggest issue with the PATH. There already exists a whole etiquette involved in riding mass transit. The subtle flick of the wrist used to gain access with your MetroCard, the process by which I can navigate a touchscreen blindfolded to buy more fares, the way that the tracks are labeled so that you know in which direction you’re traveling from any station in the system.

The PATH takes all of regular subway convention and throws it out the window. I waited at the end of the platform because on every other train in New York, the cars in the middle are full while the two ends usually have some empty seats. But not on the PATH. In fact it was the exact opposite. I watched several empty cars pass by until the last one stopped in front of me, and it was jammed with commuters. What the hell people? You guys are all choosing to sit on top of one another?

And you get in the car, it’s not the same type of train used on every other line. These are like baby trains, it’s making me feel like I’m riding a shuttle in between parks at Disney World. There were these TV screens positioned along the top that looped the same asinine clips over and over again. Some genius transportation planner must have been like, “We’ll make the PATH train entertaining! We’ll put in TV screens and we’ll scroll through random pictures of celebrities for people to look at! And we’ll do games and stuff, like word scrambles! But we don’t want to make them too challenging, so we’ll cycle through the same three word scrambles every two minutes or so!”

I hated everything about the PATH. It took forever. It smelled bad. They don’t let you know in which direction you’re going to be headed, so you have to stand there like an idiot and ask people, “Excuse me, is this one going to Jersey?” Every public service bulletin uses the ridiculous slogan, “The PATH to success,” like, OK, I get it, you’re using PATH as path, but it’s coming off as really forced.

And what do you have to look forward to after having been subjected to one of the worst transportation systems in the world? New Jersey. Again, I’m not trying to bad mouth New Jersey, but come on, if I have to go to there, if I can’t get out of it, it would be nice if the blow could be cushioned somewhat by getting there without taking the PATH. The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey should be ashamed of itself for running such a horrible subway. I hate it. I hate the PATH train.

Who hates chocolate?

One of my really good friends hates chocolate. Whatever, to each his own, right? But I couldn’t stand it, I don’t know why but it drove me nuts, every time I’d be eating snacks, like chocolate covered raisins or Hershey’s kisses, I’d be like, “Hey man, you want some candy?” and he’d ask, “What kind of candy?” and I’d remember that he always asks this, because he hates chocolate, and we’d go through the same old song and dance, me eating chocolate, him saying, “No thanks, I hate chocolate.”

skittles mms

Who hates chocolate? Who hates anything that bad, to choose to completely abstain one hundred percent? It’s like, I don’t really care for cucumbers. It’s not that I dislike them, but they’re just kind of a pointless food, pretty flavorless, they’ve got those mushy seeds, the skin makes a squeaking noise on my teeth. Whenever I cook, I rarely use cucumbers. But if you give me a salad, I’m not going to go picking them out. I’ll just eat it.

And besides, chocolate’s great, one of the shining achievements that defines us as a species. Doesn’t anybody remember second grade social studies? They talk about the Incas or the Aztecs, I can’t remember, but they figured out how to turn cacao into chocolate, it’s a pretty hard process, you have to separate the seeds, leave them to dry and ferment in the sun, crack them open and separate the solids from the oils. Who thought to do that? They attributed it as a gift from the gods.

If God gave me a box of chocolates, I wouldn’t say, “No thanks G, I don’t like chocolate,” no, I’d learn to like chocolate. It’s great, dark chocolate, Milky Way bars, I like all chocolate, the way it melts in my mouth while providing the satisfaction of having eaten something of substance. If there’s one junk food that I could eat as a meal, it would definitely be chocolate.

So I decided to see if my friend really didn’t like chocolate, or if he was just saying that he didn’t like chocolate. Like maybe it was one of those early repressed childhood memories, like he was enjoying some chocolate one day and then two seconds later he got bit a spider, and because he was so little, his brain couldn’t separate the two events, and he grew up convinced that chocolate was to blame, that he couldn’t explain why, but whenever he thought about eating chocolate, his skin started to tingle, like a hundred invisible tiny spiders were crawling across his skin.

That made sense to me, my theory, and so I decided to help undo the damage. I bought a big bag of Skittles and poured them into a bowl. “Hey man,” I called him over, “I got Skittles.” He was like, “Thanks dude, I love Skittles,” and he started grabbing them by the handful and shoving them into his mouth.

My plan was working. Unbeknownst to him, I had secretly mixed in a small amount of M&Ms. Just a few thrown in, just enough to make sure that he’d definitely eat at least one or two. And wouldn’t you know it? He didn’t say a word. Not at any point did he stop his chewing, roll his tongue around the inside of his mouth and say, “Hey Rob, are there any chocolates in these Skittles?” No, he finished the whole bowl.

I figured I’d best stick with the plan for a while, gradually increasing the amount of M&Ms until there’d be no way for him to escape the reality that for however long I’d been providing him with free Skittles, he had been eating and enjoying the hidden M&Ms.

This went on for weeks. Finally, I was at the point where there were more M&Ms than Skittles, and so I was about to let it out, the big reveal. “Hey, there’s something I wanted to tell you.”

“Yeah Rob, there’s something I wanted to tell you also,” he interrupted as he poured another fistful of candy into his open mouth, “I just wanted to say that I appreciate how nice you’ve been to me lately, always buying me candy, I know it’s not a huge deal, but it’s a nice gesture on your part, always lifting my spirits with a huge bowl of Skittles.”

“Yeah don’t mention it,” I replied, “What I wanted to tell you was …”

“It’s just that,” he continued, “You’ve been so great to me, all the free candy and everything, and I feel like I’ve been such a mope, just kind of hanging out, eating candy, not really expressing exactly how happy you’ve made me. You see, and I can’t believe I’m about to tell you this, I’ve kept it a secret for so long, but I have no sense of taste whatsoever. I can’t taste anything. I don’t like or dislike any type of food at all, and it’s incredibly frustrating, not being able to share in the joy of a good meal or a midafternoon snack.”

I looked at him, “But what about the whole …”

“The chocolate thing?” he knew where I was going, “That’s just a story. I’m actually really, severely allergic to chocolate. And so instead of getting into the whole no taste thing, I just tell everyone that I hate chocolate. I hate having to constantly ask, but I feel like people would understand the no chocolate thing as opposed to me getting into the whole inability to taste. I don’t want pity. I don’t want people to not enjoy their food in front of me. It’s just an awkward situation and I get pretty down about it.”

“So the Skittles?”

“Well, it was nice to be able to enjoy a snack without having to ask about chocolate, to appreciate a simple act of kindness on your part without having to make a big deal about it.”

“Well why don’t you just tell everyone that you’re allergic to chocolate.”

“Because I don’t want people to go out of their way to make non-chocolate stuff for me, because I can’t taste it, and so what’s the point? They’ll probably get upset, like I’m being ungrateful, when it’s not true at all. Sometimes it’s really hard to fake the level of enthusiasm necessary to express appreciation for a specially made chocolate-free dessert. It’s just much easier to be a little standoffish about the whole thing.”

I felt terrible. But I also felt vindicated. Because seriously, nobody hates chocolate. Chocolate’s delicious. A chocolate allergy, I guess it sounds possible. But my friend didn’t look like he was allergic to chocolate. Maybe he was mistaken about that also. “So, how are you feeling?” I asked him.

“I don’t know,” he said, “For the past week or so I’ve been having a lot of trouble swallowing, taking really deep breaths. It’s almost like … It’s almost … It’s …”

And then he looked me right in the eye, and I couldn’t tell in that moment if he knew or not, if he even suspected that I’d been spiking his Skittles. But there was definite eye contact, for a moment, he saw into me, into my eyes, we were locked. I think he did figure it out, in that last second he knew just what I had been up to, but he couldn’t do anything about it, because he couldn’t spit out his words, he was struggling, choking. He raised a hand up in the air as if to accuse me, but then his other hand clutched his throat, and then he dropped dead, falling headfirst into the coffee table, right into that big bowl of half Skittles, half M&Ms.

Reflections on the 2013 VMAs

I meant to write this yesterday, but for the love of sweet Jesus, I’ve been too shocked to manage to get myself to sit in front of a computer. And can you really blame me? After Sunday night’s MTV Video Music Awards, there’s no telling what’s going to pop up at me when I put any sort of screen in front of my face.

2013 MTV Video Music Awards - Show

I’m horrified by what I saw. Horrified. Ever since Sunday night, I’ve been planted in the corner of my bedroom, rocking back and forth catatonically, unable to answer my wife as she stood panicked in the doorway, “Rob! What is it? What were those screams? Are you OK? Rob? Answer me! Somebody call an ambulance!”

I’m such a stupid, naïve, idiotic fool of a moron. Was it really that simpleminded of me to think, OK, MTV’s putting on an award show, maybe I’ll make a bowl of popcorn and see what’s going on? Maybe Beavis and Butthead will present another award this year.

Why didn’t anybody warn me about what my innocent eyes were about to bear witness to? Did I mention that I’m still horrified? I am. And disgusted. Disgusted. I’ve brushed my teeth like twenty times already and I can still taste that throw-up taste in the back of my throat. Because that’s what I’ve been doing for the past twenty-four hours, trying not to think about the indecency that went down, fighting the images popping up in my head, and dry heaving as I transitioned from rocking in the corner to lying fetal position under the bed.

I couldn’t face the light, not after the VMAs, not before I had a chance to call my pastor. Several pastors. How can I look the world in the eye? How can I walk out of my house and pretend like everything’s OK, like what happened on Sunday night didn’t happen?

I didn’t even know twerk was a word. And it’s bad enough as a word, as letters on a page. But the action to which it’s referring to? Hold on, there’s that throw up again. I can’t. I can’t talk about Miley Cyrus anymore. I didn’t know that human bodies were capable of such … I shouldn’t. It’s just … oh man. I’d better call my pastor. Out of everything that I’ve seen in my entire life, that Miley Cyrus dance was definitely the most outrageous. There’s nothing in this life that could have upset me more than watching that woman do what she did on stage. Even in the darkest crevasses of my mind, I’m unable to come up with any scenario, real or imagined, that comes close to equaling even half of the depravity evidenced upon that stage.

And let’s talk about NSYNC. You call that a reunion? That was it? I’ve always been a huge NSYNC fan. It’s probably one of the only reasons why I decided to watch this year’s VMAs in the first place. I kept hearing everybody at work talking about it, “Oh my God! NSYNC is having a reunion at the VMAs!”

But it was just Justin Timberlake singing a bunch of Justin Timberlake songs. And I was like, where’s Lance? Where’s that other guy? I swear when I was thinking about writing this I was able to name three NSYNCers, but it’s slipping my mind right now, jeez, this is kind of embarrassing. Well, I’m just drawing a mental blank, I assure you that I can name three of them. If it comes to me later, I’ll let you know.

And then finally after like fifteen minutes of solo JT, he gets on the stage. He’s like, “You wanted it!” and I was like, “Yes! I want it!” and there they were. NSYNC. But it was just a tease. They sang like one line from two songs, cracked a pose, and that was it, back to the Timberlake one-man show.

I was upset. It was like if I happened to come across two guys in a random bar that I went to high school with. I wouldn’t take out my phone, shoot a picture, post it to Instagram and label it, “High school reunion!” I’m not even entirely convinced that all five of those guys knew exactly what it was they were doing. Didn’t Lance look a little lost? Maybe he just took a wrong turn during the JT performance. Maybe the NSYNC reunion was just a weird coincidence.

And I loved how they cut to One Direction several times throughout the performance, each one of those kids had the same blank expression, the same panicked thought going through their minds: “Jesus Christ. I hope that in twenty years I’m not that guy, the one two to the left of Justin Timberlake. That guy just looks really sad,” before reassuring themselves, “Nah, I’m the real talent of this operation. I am One Direction,” and then they all started smiling that nervous smile again.

But back to the shame. MTV should be ashamed of itself for the “show” it put on Sunday night. But I doubt MTV is capable of such serious self-reflection. No, the US government should shut it down. Congress should pass legislation ensuring that what went down two nights ago never happens again. And everybody involved in the VMAs should be sentenced to life in prison. And Miley Cyrus should be publicly executed. I’m still just so … just so shocked. Shocked.

Push button for green light

The other day I was driving my car and I saw this lady at the corner. She didn’t have the light so she put down her grocery bags and walked to the pole at the intersection. And then she started pushing that button, the one that I forgot was even there, it says, “Push here and wait for green light.” Not just once, she kept pushing it, over and over again, I imagined her saying in her head, green light, every time she pushed, green light, green light, green light …

green light button

I don’t know why, I couldn’t stand watching her do it, I know I should have just minded my own business but something about that push, push, push, I rolled down my window, “Hey lady! What the hell are you doing? You really think that button’s connected to anything? You really think the light’s going to change faster because you’re standing there pushing it again and again?”

And she looked at me, she was definitely pissed off. I shouldn’t have said anything, it was totally pointless. And I wanted to say so much more, I wanted her to respond, to tell me that it does work, that I should mind my own business, and then I would have kept going, I would have been like, oh yeah? Well why do you keep pushing it then? Shouldn’t you just have to push it the one time? What do you think, it’s a button designed to speed up the changing from red to green based on how many times it’s pressed?

She was just staring at me, still pressing the button at the same frequency, but not paying attention to the light, it changed to green, she ignored it, she was locked on me. I felt kind of bad, but I didn’t want to let her know, I was hoping that she’d maintain eye contact long enough for the light to change again from green to red, and then I could really point out to her the futility of pressing the button.

So I engaged her a little more, this time in a more contrite tone of voice, again, I was feeling bad, she reminded me of my grandmother. Not my grandmother exactly, but somebody’s grandmother. She was old. And I thought back to how I started the conversation, well, it wasn’t a conversation, not yet, she hadn’t said anything back yet, although I could tell she was trying to communicate something with her eyes, but man, finally I was like, “What the hell lady?” I didn’t really need to say hell, that was a little harsh, I wouldn’t have said hell to my grandmother.

So I started again, “Excuse me, ma’am, but you can’t really think that that button is actually connected to anything, can you? I mean, it doesn’t do anything. All of the lights in this city are timed out, like a grid, it’s all measured out in even intervals, to help traffic maintain as good of a flow as possible. And again, I’m sorry I said hell before, but I just hate to see you standing there, pushing it over and over again, and why push it so many times? When you’re at home watching TV, how many times do you push the on button? That’s not really the same, I get it, like with the TV you’re getting an instant result, whereas here … well just imagine if that remote didn’t have any batteries, and you stood there pointing it at the TV, click, click, click, nothing, how long would you keep that up?”

All the while, the light hadn’t changed back to red, I couldn’t believe it, it was actually taking forever, and the lady was still just staring at me, totally giving me the stink eye, so, whatever, I told her, “You know what? I’m sorry lady, just, be careful with your groceries on the floor, someone might knock them over.” And I rolled up my window.

But I couldn’t go anywhere because the light in front of me was stuck on red. One minute, two minutes went by, this thing wasn’t changing. And then I realized why. It was the lady. She was still clicking that button, click, click, click. It must have actually been connected, and her constant pressing was keeping the light green, for her. For me it was red. I was stuck.

I rolled down the window, “Hello? Hi, hello,” she was still just staring at me, unwavering, “Yeah, look, I feel really bad, and I’m actually thinking that maybe that button does work, and listen, I feel really terrible, coming at you like that, berating you, you’re clearly in the right here, I think the button does work, obviously it works, that light hasn’t changed in a while now. Anyway, you’ve proved your point, and I’d just like to … I’m sorry again, I’d really like to … yeah, so.”

But she didn’t stop. Now I was getting pissed again. But what was I going to do, knock her groceries over? Force her to stop pushing the button? I looked left and right, making sure no other cars were coming, and I inched into the intersection. Immediately I saw the red and blue lights behind me, a cop car perfectly hidden from view, watching me run the light.

“Officer, I’m really sorry, but that lady, she kept pushing the button, the light wouldn’t change. And I was going really slow, come on, I’m sorry.”

And the officer was like, “What are you stupid? Those buttons aren’t connected to anything. Nice try pal, now hand over your license and registration.”

But that lady, I turned around, she was gone, no lady, no bag of groceries, nothing. What was she, a ghost? Was this like some sort of a haunted intersection? Am I really going to have to go down to City Hall to fight this ticket? Because there’s no way that the judge is going to believe any of this. I guess I could just hope that the officer never shows up, and I could just make up some other story. Or maybe a reduced fine, something. I’m telling you, I know it sounds crazy, but she had to have been a ghost, because how else can you explain any of this stuff?