Monthly Archives: May 2012

Vision quests and inner lights

Last year while I was in Ecuador I paid this old man a hundred bucks to take me on a vision quest. He told me I had to fast for a whole day before I could begin my journey, but I got really hungry about halfway through the first hour and made myself a sandwich. I was a little worried that by ignoring his instructions I was going to turn my vision quest into some kind of a stomach quest, but my metabolism is much faster than everyone else’s, and so I felt that this was an acceptable breach of our agreement. We left in the middle of the night, walking straight out of town, off the only road, right through the woods.

About two months earlier, I had attempted a vision quest, but after asking everyone about where I should go, I found myself in this really dingy optometrist office. I realized my error too late, but the eye doctor was so thrilled to have my business that I felt more than a little guilty just walking away without at least having had my eyes checked out. It was a huge mistake. There were way too many weird drops in my eyes. My pupils felt dilated and constricted all at the same time. I couldn’t see the color green for a week after, and when it finally returned, I realized that the seemingly regular looking black-framed glasses I had bought at his office were in fact, yeah, lime green.

On this real vision quest I was told not to bring anything. When the guide said this to me, I assumed a flashlight was the obvious unspoken exception to this rule. I mean, what’s the point of a vision quest if you can’t see anything? When I pulled it out about an hour into our hike, my guide starting screaming, accusing me of breaking the sacred traditions of his ancestors. “Whatever man,” I tried to tell him, “It’s just a flashlight.” But I think he was getting even angrier because I was pointing it at his face, switching it on and off while he was yelling. He started dancing around and, assuming it was all a part of the vision quest, I tried my best to mimic his moves. But what really wound up happening was that, I’m guessing because of the flashlight, a giant moth had flown out of the darkness and had somehow gotten stuck under the back part of his shirt. I turned it off and played dumb until the old man got a hold of himself.

He took two thermoses out of his satchel and handed me one. I opened it up and was overcome by this horrible smell. It’s what I had always expected of a vision quest, drinking some disgusting mix of herbs and spices and whatever else might be in there. I didn’t want to prolong the agony so I downed it all in one gulp. Then the old man said, “And now we honor my ancestors by partaking in this most ancient of traditions. Hold your cup to the sky and allow the sacred spirits of the forest to infuse this divine brew.” It was really dark and I’m guessing that without a flashlight he couldn’t tell that I had already jumped the gun. After an hour or so of speeches and cup holding, the guy poured the contents of his cup onto the ground. He instructed me to do the same. At this point he must have heard my cup clearly not getting emptied, and he told me to get on with it. “You see,” I told him, “I, uh, drank mine already. Was I not supposed to?”

“You fool!” he cried out. That’s when things got vision-questy. I reached for my flashlight only to find that I was surrounded by flashlights. I tried to turn one of them on, but my fingers weren’t working right. That’s when I realized that I didn’t have fingers at all. Instead of arms, I found that I had two really long flashlights. And Instead of hands, I had two smaller flashlights. And where my fingers used to be now sat ten tiny flashlights, like those freebie flashlights that are usually included in the box when you buy a real flashlight.

I was more flashlight than man at this point, but maybe that’s what was supposed to happen. If only I could figure out how to turn even just one of them on. The old man called to me. “Rob!” he said. I couldn’t see him. Was he made up of flashlights also? I could only hope so. “Where is the power button?” I asked him. He responded, “Inside! Look inside!” And I knew that he wasn’t talking about anything physical, like a switch, but more about something deeper, like an inner light or something. And I stretched out my flashlight body to the heavens and screamed out, “On!” and everything went on. There were illuminated flashlights everywhere. And there it was, right in front of me, the little flashlight that I was told I shouldn’t have brought along in the first place.

“I’m so sorry,” I tried to tell the little flashlight, “I didn’t know that I wasn’t supposed to bring you here!”

But it turned to shine right on me. It gave me a gentle, knowing look and said, “It’s OK Rob! This is how it has to be!”

Just then another group of flashlights called out to it. It was its family; I just know it was. It smiled and waved goodbye to me and then hopped on over to be with them. “Goodbye!” I said, but I’m not sure if it heard me. Then everything got so bright that I couldn’t see anything.

I woke up the next morning lying on the ground, mosquitoes devouring my exposed skin. The old man was gone. I reached for my flashlight but I couldn’t find anything, just a couple of size C batteries lying a few feet away.

I just can’t wait for the future

Pretty soon we’re all going to be wearing those new Google glasses that incorporate the Internet into our actual view of reality. I personally can’t wait. I absolutely hate the fact that my Internet experience is limited to my staring into a tiny mobile screen or coming home and sitting in front of a slightly larger small screen. I want the Internet everywhere.

There are so many practical applications that are going to be made possible by these glasses. Just watch the Youtube video and you can see a guy getting directions around town without having to look down at his phone. He can have a face-to-face conversation with his girlfriend while she’s miles away. These innovations all seem great, but I feel like they are just scratching the surface to an endless world of what will soon be made possible.

I think that these glasses are going to eliminate the awkwardness of dining out with family and friends. Doesn’t anyone else think it’s a little lame that every time a group of people sit down to eat, out come the phones? It’s practically become a fixture of contemporary life. I know you’d probably rather be browsing the Internet than watching me eat, but couldn’t you at least have the decency to try and pretend that my mealtime conversation is somewhat engaging? Internet glasses are going to make this problem all but disappear. Now people can do all of the stuff they want to do online, while at the same time facing their fellow diners, pretending to be interested in whatever is going on in real life.

Not only will the Google glasses make real life more palatable; I think they are going to enhance and make pleasurable what would normally be terrible situations. Imagine yourself stuck in a conversation with someone who is boring the hell out of you. Worse yet, this person fancies himself a comedian, but the jokes are just awful. You have two options: sit there and not laugh, which is rude, or to sit there and pretend to laugh. Every time I fake laugh, people call me out on it, so this is probably even ruder. I’m imagining a cleverly programmed app that, at the sound of a terrible joke, will automatically pull something actually funny from the Internet, and play in right in front of my eyes, unbeknownst to my unfunny companion. That way the laughs will still be genuine even if the jokes are a bore.

This could work for literally any situation for almost any emotional response. How many times have you been to a funeral, but have just been unable to conjure up the right triggers to start crying? I’ve been to so many services where everyone is bawling and blowing their noses and I’m just sitting there, unable to feel any connection with anybody else. People must think I’m some sort of a sociopath. All I’d have to do is play the ending of Star Trek II, where Spock sacrifices his life for his crew, and I’d be sent over the edge. People would probably come over to start consoling me, handing me tissues and saying things like, “there there, Rob, there there.”

With this technology, I think it’s finally time that we’re going to start winning over the built in deficiencies of human nature. Everybody’s heard of fight or flight, right? Hasn’t the flight aspect run its course? Imagine if nobody had to be scared anymore. Soldiers could march onto the battlefields and instead of shooting down their fellow humans, they could take aim at legions of undead zombies. It would make the horrors of war a little bit less emotionally destructive, desertion would all but disappear, and PTSD, well, I’m sure somebody will develop an app to that can placate a veteran reliving a nightmare zombie flashback.

Racism might finally disappear if white supremacists could just program their Internet glasses to make all minorities look like white people. Obesity would cease to be a problem if all fat people saw worms and insects instead of food. I’m so excited. I love the future. I want it to be here so bad, I feel like I’m going to puke.

Classic literature review: Moby Dick

I just finished reading Moby Dick. Wow! What a great story! I can’t believe how big that whale was. And so white! That’s pretty crazy. I’ve seen whales a few times, but they were all very dark gray. The whale from Free Willy had white spots, but it was mostly black, definitely not what anyone would call a white whale. The book was awesome, but I kept wondering why the crew never tried to go inside the whale. It seemed like an obvious solution. They could have cut down on the majority of those repetitive chase scenes. Once they made it inside, and the whale started its dive, they would be in the perfect position for a pursuit. And maybe they could have found Ahab’s leg while they were in there.

People had warned me all about how challenging it is to read Moby Dick, but I didn’t really understand the difficulty. Well, there was this one chapter I had to reread a few times because I mistakenly thought the whale had taken over as narrator. Although after realizing my error, I was surprised Melville hadn’t even attempted to write at least something from the whale’s point of view. I mean, this guy’s a writer, right? Where’s the imagination?

OK, I’ll be real. I’ve never read Moby Dick. But there is this guy at work who spent like eight months reading it. I felt like I read it vicariously through him. Every day I had to see him walking in with this ridiculously oversized book. It didn’t even fit inside his bag. At first I thought it was just a joke, some sort of a prop. Maybe he planned on hurling it at would-be attackers on the train. But week after week he would walk into the restaurant and plop down his novel while I’d be forced to take note of his white whale-shaped bookmark, swimming slowly but surely towards the end.

At first I mocked him silently in my head. “Ha!” I thought to myself, “That guy isn’t going to make it through the first chapter.” I imagined him carrying it around to appear a little more interesting, a little bit more sophisticated than everyone else. What a jerk. But he didn’t give up. Then I thought he was just taunting me. Every day, I thought, he might just move the bookmark just a little bit ahead, just to show how much smarter than me he thinks he is. But then he started having these really deep, really interesting sounding Moby Dick conversations with the ice cream scooper. I started to worry that he might actually be reading the book.

The whole idea of actually reading it is completely ridiculous. I always thought it to be some sort of a big national joke. Like every other high school junior in America, I was assigned to read Moby Dick. We spent maybe a day or two taking turns going around the room reading passages completely devoid of context that did absolutely nothing to capture anybody’s attention. Now that I think about it, I’m pretty sure only select chapters were required reading, not even the whole book. I’d even bet good money that our teacher had never so much as cracked it open outside of his own classroom. We had a stupid quiz at the end of the week, but it didn’t matter, because we had quizzes every week, and the lowest two or three quizzes of the trimester would always get dropped. For the final exam, the teacher just repeated the same questions from the quiz, so it was just a matter of looking up the answers to get right a very small fraction of a very stupid test to get a couple of nonsense multiple choices correct which, by the way, even if I didn’t put in any of that effort, I still had a one in four chance of getting right.

The closer my coworker got to the end, the more infuriated I would become every time I even so much as thought about his face, buried inside of his precious book, his eyebrows furrowed in such a way as to show everyone just how pensive he is, just how well-rounded this amateur English professor is, scratching his chin in mock confusion, but only for a brief moment, before he lifts a finger subtly in the air and opens his mouth slightly, as if to say, “Ohhhh, I get that part,” then giving himself a small smile of satisfaction, nodding almost imperceptibly once or twice before taking that finger out of the air and bringing it to his lips, where he wets the tip and uses his moistened digit to very slowly turn the page over, starting the whole maddeningly impossible process all over again.

I hate Moby Dick. I wish I could read it, but I know that the task would be so daunting, so hopelessly huge that it would consume me, it would drive me mad. I’d lose my job. My family would abandon me. I’d wind up on the streets. But still I would press on, reading every word slower and slower until the book would ultimately devour everything that I am. I don’t want that kind of a life.

This post is super good

For most of my life now, I’ve been preoccupied with a certain question: if I could have one super power, what would it be? This question is inherently difficult because there is always the argument over what constitutes just one super power. You might think it would be enough to say, “I’d choose the powers of Superman,” but what is Superman if not just a collection of various super powers? There’s the flying, the super strength, the ice breath. It’s a total copout. And that’s why Superman is just this huge loser. And that’s why all of the Superman movies are terrible. What about Spider-Man? He’s definitely got a lot going on, Spidey-Sense, wall-crawling, he’s kind of strong. But in this case I don’t think it would be fair to be limited to choosing just one of his kind of mediocre powers.

I think that in Spider-Man’s case, you could argue that his one power is a collection of weird spider-like attributes. All of his powers together make him a little more super than the rest of us. But then again, you have Superman, where any one of his powers would usually merit their own superhero. It’s obviously just a little too much. So when choosing super powers, I’m going to argue that it has to be something less than a god, but obviously more than a human. If you, after reading what you’ve read so far, say to yourself, “well I’ll just pick Batman, he’s pretty cool” then the joke’s on you, because Batman doesn’t have any powers. And if you really said that to yourself, and really didn’t know that Batman doesn’t have any powers, then something is wrong with you, because what, you’ve never seen a Batman TV show or one of the very successful Batman movies? Actually, Batman is super rich, which sounds about as realistic of a super power as any other.

My approach to the super power question has evolved as I’ve grown up. When I was little, it was enough for me to read Spider-Man comics and then wish that I could be Spider-Man. But he’s been around since the sixties, and after spending nearly two decades of my life following his many adventures, I’m just not sure that Spider-Man’s powers would be compatible with the kind of lifestyle I’m used to. Even if I were smart enough to invent my own web shooters, for example, which I’m not, I doubt that I’d have the balls to use them to jump off of tall buildings and swing around the city. What if I missed? I’d be dead. Maybe I’d sneak out of the second story of my house every now and then, but I probably wouldn’t, because there is absolutely no reason to. I’d most likely be more comfortable using the front door.

Now that I think about it, most of your classic super powers seem kind of just a little too much for what I would want in my life. I wouldn’t be able to pick anything too dramatic. What would happen if the media got wind of some guy that could suddenly fly or run at super speeds? The government would have that person confiscated and dissected very quickly. If I can fly, what am I supposed to do, fly away from a government fighter jet sent out to bring me in? I would need super speed on top of the flying, which would technically be picking two powers, which I already labeled as copping out. Also, if you could fly, and you didn’t have super strength, wouldn’t you have to keep yourself in ridiculous shape just to be able to go any significant distance? It’s like, everyone can run, but for how long can they keep it up? It has to be the same with flying. It just sounds like way too much work.

And then I think about the super powers that you could keep hidden, like mind reading, or invisibility. But I think that these powers would just suck the humanity out of me. If I could read everyone’s thoughts, I might not like what I’d hear. And unless I saw every movie or TV show before anyone else, I’d constantly have the endings of everything just totally ruined. And even if nobody saw anything before me, there would always be the chance that I’d run into one of the show’s writers, and then not only would that season be ruined, but all the potential ideas for any future stories would also be prematurely revealed. In the case of invisibility, I think that would turn anyone into a huge creep, because wouldn’t you have to be naked all the time? There are no easy answers here.

I think that what I’d like best is a really obscure kind of super power, one that would grab everyone’s attention as it was happening, but afterwards, everyone would just be kind of like, “eh, I’m over it.” I think I’d have to pick as my super power the ability to win at rocks-paper-scissors every single time. It’s the perfect supernatural gift for where I’m at in life right now. Just think about how many ridiculous chores or arguments I could completely avoid. “I don’t feel like taking out the trash either. Rocks-paper-scissor you for it?” And I can’t think of anything else I’d like to do more than to go out to a bar with a group of people and, after we’ve all had way too much to drink, making the announcement that I cannot be beat in rocks-paper-scissors. Everyone would object, thinking that I’m full of shit, and people would start lining up to prove me wrong. I wonder how many rounds I’d have to play before a hush would fall the entire bar, people slowly gathering around to see me beat the odds every single time, over and over and over again, and eventually someone starts clapping, until the whole place is going nuts and lifting me up on a chair parading me around the room chanting, “Rob! Rob! Rob!”

The G. in Rob G. stands for Gun (or, which way to the gun show?)

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about getting a gun. But my problem is, I know that whatever gun I wind up buying probably won’t satisfy me in terms of everything that I’m looking for in a firearm. I’m not sure gun technology is where it should be. In many ways, a lot of the qualities that I think would make the perfect weapon don’t yet exist in any gun. For example, I would love to own a gun that shot out energy beams in addition to traditional bullets. Do any gun companies have working ray gun prototypes? I’m not sure. But even if they do, I doubt that space weaponry will be available for commercial use any time soon. But what about appearance? Couldn’t somebody invent a regular gun that at least looks like a ray gun? Why does every gun have to be so boring? Would it be too much to ask to have guns available in different colors, like iPods?

Bullets must cost a fortune. I have no idea, and I’m too lazy to look up online to see if it’s the case. (Also, I don’t want my Internet browser thinking that I’m looking up stuff about ammunition. If I ever get mistakenly accused of a murder, I don’t want the detectives saying to the judge, “Well, your honor, he was doing some research about guns. Looks open and shut to me.”) Let’s just assume that bullets cost a lot. And once you use them, you can never get them back. That’s why I’m really looking for someone to invent a gun with only one bullet, but the bullet will be tethered to a tiny cable so that, after you’re done firing, you can just press a button on the side and the bullet will return right back to the barrel, ready to be shot all over again. I’m sure bullet companies would be reluctant to introduce this kind of reusable ammo, because then people wouldn’t be throwing all of their money away on bullets. Also, are there any independent bullet companies or just gun companies that also make bullets in addition to guns? Somebody do the research and get back to me. I promise I’ll read the results.

Does anybody have any idea how hard it is to break into the bullet market? Assuming it’s feasible to start a new bullet company, I think I should give it a try. I have so many ideas for new types of bullets. Like, what about bullets that release a scent when fired? It could be anything, fruit flavors, colognes … I’m just thinking of how to really personalize the shooting experience. Which leads me to more obvious innovations, like engraved bullets, or bullets that, instead of ending in a point, come to the shape of a backwards letter, so that when you shoot something, or someone, it will leave an imprint of a letter instead of just a circle. These would totally help reduce crime. Say for example that somebody gets murdered, and they died of a letter B gunshot wound to the head, and you only have two suspects, and one’s name is Barry and the other’s name is Pete, well, I think I’ve just solved your murder right there.

What about a gun that fired a bullet, but just slightly slower than a regular gun? Or what about a gun with an adjustable speed setting, so that you could choose how fast you want the bullet to fire? This way kids could learn to play with guns in a safe and controlled environment. Also, instead of going out somewhere to play paintball, we could all just use real guns but on a light-to-moderate setting. It would be more realistic and dangerous, and therefore more fun.

What if you and a bunch of your friends went out to play paintball, and while you were there, a group of criminals raided the place, armed with real guns, and tried to hold everyone hostage? How confident are you in your team’s paintball skills? Confident enough not to back down? I would have my team run through our various defensive and evasive maneuvers, “just like we drilled, boys,” counting on the fact that we could outplay and therefore beat the gang of robbers. It would be the most exciting game of paintball any of us would ever get to play in our entire lives. If one of the gunmen somehow sneaks up behind me, covered in paint, ready to send me packing, I’d play stupid, like, “Whoa! You guys are for real? I thought this was part of the game!” and then when he hesitates, I’d do something crazy to disarm him, or at least sneak back into the woods. We’d all have to be wearing pretty convincing camouflage. But I’ve never actually played paintball, so it’s really anyone’s guess as to how that would turn out.

I’ve never even fired a real gun. The closest I ever came was this one time recently where my grandfather was showing us a bunch of his rifles from the Army. One of my uncles handed me a gun and I started aiming at things around the house and playing with the trigger and the loading mechanism, making “Bam! Bam!” sounds as I pretended to mow down everyone in my family. My uncle abruptly took the gun away. One of my little kid cousins came up and asked to see the gun, and my uncle gave it to him but said to him in very stern voice, “Never touch the trigger! Never point any gun at anybody! Always assume it’s loaded!” I think he was saying it so loud because little kids today are barely paying attention to anything, so you have to really drill it into their skulls, whatever it is you want to tell them.