Monthly Archives: December 2012

Look everybody! It’s the Internet!

I keep having this nightmare where I wake up in the morning, come downstairs to use my computer, and instead of having a cool laptop, it’s my family’s first computer from when I was growing up at home. I try to get online but the AOL number is busy, over and over again, and I’m stuck just staring at a boring boxy monitor.

OK, I’ve never had that nightmare. But I’ve been thinking a lot about the early Internet and how, regardless of how new and incredible everything was, it wasn’t nearly enough. Of course, what I’m referring to as the early Internet isn’t really the early Internet. I know that before AOL the Internet was just a bunch of nerds networking their college computer labs through modems.

AOL wasn’t even like real Internet. I mean, there was a browser in there somewhere, but AOL was its own software, and it tried to tailor the Internet experience for you as it saw fit. Chat with your friends through AOL Instant Messenger. Read some news articles by clicking on the AOL news button. There were buttons for everything. AOL was basically a huge catalog.

Thankfully, that only lasted for a few years. New York got hooked up with fiber optic Internet pretty shortly afterward, a golden age of Internet exploration. Whereas before I could never really stomach non-AOL straight Internet, mostly because everything took so long to load, now I could do whatever I wanted.

Which is why I think it’s weird, the way the Internet is going now, almost backwards. When everybody had dial-up, we, by necessity, looked at the Internet through these filters that we paid for, AOL, MSN … what else was there? Prodigy? I don’t really remember. But it’s not important. Once we started paying for direct Internet, there wasn’t anymore need for these filters. You have your browser and you can do whatever you want.

But with cell phones and tablets I feel like the Internet is, like I said, it’s going in reverse, back into a world of ready-made preparedness. Instead of opening up a browser, we just tap a news icon on our devices. It doesn’t feel open anymore. It doesn’t feel like there’s a whole world out there. I feel limited to what apps are on my iPhone and what they can do over a 3G or WiFi network.

Facebook isn’t the same anymore. Not that it was ever anything great, but now I feel like it’s just people posting meme jokes and videos that I’ve already seen before. And who’s making these memes? Is there one centralized source where all of this stuff is being disseminated?

And now I’m going to sound a little conspiratorial, but we’re still going through the frontier years of the Internet. Business models are still being established. The main players, companies like Google, they’ve only been around for a couple of years. The government has yet to really restrict any access. But what if that changes? In China, whole swaths of the Internet are blacked out, unable to be accessed. What if some clever politician convinces all of us that that’s what we need?

And then they’ll put in limits on the hardware, on our phones and on our computers, so that even if we wanted to go outside the limits of our devices, we wouldn’t be able to. Is it so hard to imagine a future with no Internet browser, no individual web sites, just buttons on your phone, a news app, a music app? What if companies start charging huge licensing fees to start your own web site? It’s not how it is now, but it’s not at all outside the realm of possibility.

What is the Internet, just a bunch of connected computers, right? Maybe I’ll make my own Internet, a new Internet, and I won’t let anybody connect to it. And little by little news of my new Internet will spread, until people are driven crazy, lining up down the block to ring on my doorbell, begging to be granted a high speed new Internet connection. And I’ll wait and deliberate for years, making gestures like I might open it up, but I never will, it’s mine, because I’ll be the only one that can keep it safe.

A Christmas Miracle

It’s Christmas morning, exactly. Nobody else is up yet, but I can’t go back to sleep, even though it’s still dark out. I’m not even sure I ever fell asleep in the first place. I’ve been just squirming in bed, hoping this night might pass by quickly. I just want to run downstairs and check under the tree. What I’m asking for, it’s a little farfetched, but I hope Santa found some way to make my dreams come true.

I want a time machine. I think. My goal here is to go back in time and stop the September 11th terrorist attacks from ever happening. I’m not asking that my Christmas present this year be a time machine for the sake of owning a time machine. If I can get that done without a time machine, then so be it. But I’ve gone through this over and over again in my head, and a time machine seems like the best way to make this happen.

But then I think about, so much has happened in the eleven years since that terrible day. I can’t just go back and change history. If I prevent the attacks from happening, so many people that are alive today will be dead, maybe, there’s no way to know. Maybe they’ll never be born. It would create a whole alternate reality.

And that’s even if I could go back and actually change anything. Didn’t the CIA warn George W. Bush in August that an attack from Bin Laden was imminent? If they couldn’t stop it from happening, what chances would I have? How do you get in touch with the CIA, the FBI? And then what, I just rush in and tell them, “You guys have got to act quick! Al-Qaeda is about to attack the US!”

They’d probably look at me and think I was crazy. Maybe they’d lock me up for a few days just because, you know, you can’t just go running around government agencies screaming about terrorist attacks. But this one would happen. And then there I’d be, locked up, and they’d say, how did this guy know about the attacks? And this was all under W’s watch, so I’d definitely get tortured and waterboarded and sent away to rot in Gitmo.

I’d try to tell about the future, about my time machine. One of them would obviously ask, “OK, so you have a time machine. And you’re using it to warn us about 9/11. Why would you come back on 9/10? Why not 8/11? Or earlier? Give us a chance to do something with this information?”

But I know that regardless of how many months ahead of the attack, nobody in the military would believe me. It would always end in me getting imprisoned. No, I’d have to go back even further, maybe farther enough back so I could catch Bin Laden when he was a kid, young, impressionable, less full of hatred toward the West. If I could befriend him, maybe I could show him that he shouldn’t go through with 9/11.

Then again, that’s a lot of work for one Christmas present. I really just wanted to undo 9/11. But yeah, alternate timelines. It’s too much. I think it would be great if, instead of the time machine, Santa, could you just maybe make the Twin Towers zap right back into reality? Right where they stood? Right before the plane crashed into the first tower.

Can you imagine how great that would be? Everybody alive again, safe. And it would be Christmas Day, so they could go right home and open presents. But then maybe the families, maybe it would be too much, all for this to just magically appear. A Christmas miracle, sure, but what about all of the grief of the last decade, all of the trauma? Widows might embrace their resurrected loved ones while thinking to themselves, who did I lose on that day? What about all of that debris that we had to sift through?

And were there any survivors from the original wreckage? If the Twin Towers were to somehow appear tomorrow, would there now be two of the same person, but one eleven years older? That’s got to be a tough integration, all of the sudden you wake up and your life has gone by eleven years, without you, but with somebody else who looks and acts just like you.

I think this is getting a little out of hand. This is probably too much for one Christmas wish. I think I’d like to change my mind Santa, maybe just give me that Wii-U I was talking about earlier. I hope he didn’t come already. I always do this. I can never make up my mind on a present. I’m always back and forth, back and forth, pros and cons, Wii-U or 9/11. I don’t know.

What to wear?

Probably one of the best things about being a little kid was never having to worry about what clothes I was going to wear. I know this isn’t a novel reflection, that most little kids don’t really spend any time considering their outfits, but it’s still something to think about, to put life into perspective, into a point of view that makes me feel like I took my childhood for granted, like I used to be able to just go outside and feel great without caring at all about how I looked.

I don’t remember ever going clothes shopping as a little kid. My mom would just buy stuff and there it would be in my dresser drawers, shirts, pants, whatever. We did have to go to the shoe store to buy sneakers, because with footwear I guess you need more of a precise fit, and that shoe guy needed to get out his foot measuring device and everything. Oh yeah, and no laundry, that was another great thing about this whole setup. I didn’t have to buy my clothes, didn’t have to pick them out, and I just threw everything in the dirty pile to have washed and folded for me by my mom.

I did have some cool outfits that I remembered preferring over others. One summer when I was like seven or eight I remember having this neon green mesh tank-top/neon green and black shorts combo. I felt so cool all decked out in neon green. I felt a Power Ranger, even though Power Rangers wouldn’t be around for another four years or so, but you know, I’m just remembering this stuff, and so it doesn’t have to be exactly chronological.

And when you’re a little kid, you’re constantly growing, so nothing ever fits right, but it doesn’t really matter. Who cares if your pants are inch too short? It was the same with holes in your jeans. Whatever, just give me something clean. Or not clean, who cares? Just give me something to wear so I can get back to playing video games and tormenting my little brothers and sisters.

I remember exactly when things turned sour. Seventh grade. I had just switched schools. Going to a Catholic school, I had the whole uniform thing to buy me about a month’s worth of time, time enough to go about my day to day activities without really worrying about my clothes or what my friends were wearing. But I remember the first time I got together with some of my classmates outside of school, one of the other kids said, “Nice shirt,” in a mocking way that I didn’t even get until much later that night. What was wrong with my shirt? I think my grandmother had given it to me for Christmas one year, maybe two years ago. I had never even considered shirts something to be made fun of.

A couple of weeks later, my parents signed me up for basketball, and it was the same thing. I showed up for the first practice wearing a blue and white tie-dyed Bill & Ted t-shirt. I have no idea where it came from. I definitely didn’t pick it out. But whatever, it was a t-shirt. I think I was wearing plaid shorts also. As soon as I showed up, my coach asked me, “What did you get dressed in the dark?” Again, I couldn’t even piece together the joke/insult until much later, that’s how far my mind was from clothing.

As I settled into my new school, I figured out that everybody wore JNCO jeans, these super baggy pants that outside of hindsight, even right in the moment, they looked ridiculous. I realized this during our first dress down day at school. Seriously, the only good thing about Catholic school was that you got to wear a uniform, you got to remove clothing as something you had to be self-conscious about, which, until this first dress-down day, I was never conscious of. I wore a Pavel Bure Vancouver Canucks jersey, a favorite of mine from the 1994 Stanley Cup finals when, unfortunately, the New York Rangers won the playoffs. Those assholes.

Dress down days are a cruel joke. You can’t go from uniform to dress down in a single day and expect there not to be any problems. I had no experience in dressing down. It’s like if all of the sudden the school instituted a Braille day, where everybody had to read with their fingertips. I go into school wearing my hockey jersey, and the first thing I’m greeted with is some uptight teacher screaming at me that my shirt was too baggy and that I had to tuck it in. Tuck in a hockey jersey? Right this second! Now!

I looked like a huge loser. And then there was the whole JNCO thing. Being new to the school, I had no idea that every other person in my class owned a pair of JNCOs. I think I was wearing a pair Wrangler jeans from JCPenny. I had never wanted a day of school to be over faster in my entire life. For the rest of the year, any time we had dress down, I just wore my uniform instead and claimed I had forgot. Much better than trying to figure out how to put together a cool outfit.

I’m glad those days are behind me, but I’m still scarred. I’ve been left super self-conscious, about my clothes, about my appearance. But since I really don’t have a sense of style, I just stick to very utilitarian items, jeans, t-shirts, hoodies. That’s kind of like a uniform for guy in his late twenties. I’ll go to a bar and everybody’s wearing the same thing. And it’s much better. I wish there really were uniforms, for life, nothing to worry about, nothing to get all self-conscious about, constantly checking your self-image in any reflective surfaces, worrying that your basketball coach is going to pop up out of nowhere and make a crack about your shorts in front of all these new kids.


I keep trying to get the perfect photograph, a picture of a bolt of lightning as it’s happening in real time. I know it’s possible, because you can just go onto Google and type in “lighting” and you’ll get tons of pictures of actual bolts. But I don’t want any of those pictures. I want my own lightning bolt. Besides, if you type in “lightning” on Google, you don’t just get photos of lightning bolts. Sometimes you get lightning graphics. Or sometimes you’ll get pictures of hockey players for the Tampa Bay Lighting franchise.

Sometimes you’ll get a screenshot of somebody playing Mario Kart, in last place, but holding a lightning bolt in reserve, just waiting to unleash its lightning shrink powers on everybody else, maybe on the final lap, with just enough time to race into first place and steal the lead. The only problem with that strategy is, chances are, the longer you hold onto your lightning bolt, the sooner one or more of the other racers is going to be given a ghost, and obviously they’ll steal your lightning. Nobody ever says steal your lightning. It’s always steal your thunder. But not in Mario Kart. There’s no thunder at all in Mario Kart. It’s one of the only representations of lightning that I can think of on the spot where there is no accompanying thunder, no mention whatsoever. Also, if somebody has a star, well, it goes without saying, but I’ll say it anyway, that if they use that star while you use your lightning, it won’t have any effect at all, not on them. And while that’s a really tough trick to pull off in a head to head match, when you’re playing Grand Prix? Versus six or seven computer players? Everybody knows what I’m talking about. It’s almost guaranteed that it’s going to happen.

What I’m getting at here is, lighting comes in a lot of forms, and I just want one of them, one picture of one bolt of lighting. It would be my lightning, my bolt. That would be the closest I’d come to owning that particular shock of static electricity, or, at least, nobody else could claim any more ownership of that specific lightning than I could. One time I was at home during a thunderstorm. After way too much deliberation, I found my camera and put it on video recording mode and just took a video of the sky for a couple of minutes. I got a few lighting bolts in there. My plan was I’d then upload that video onto my computer, fast forward to where the lightning bolts appeared, and then I’d just make a little freeze frame, have my own lighting bolt picture, finally. But for a number of reasons, which I’ll get into, in detail, I never followed through.

First of all, what inspired me to think of this plan, this video recording plan, was that I was looking out the window and seeing all of these amazing bolts of lighting, in real time. And after two or three of them I thought, man I should have gotten my camera, this is about as good a time as any to try to get that lightning photo. But I thought, nah, I’ve already seen two or three great bolts of lighting. What are my chances of seeing any more? So I didn’t get my camera just yet, even though it was waiting, right there in the next room in one of my desk drawers. So I was still sitting there looking outside the window and the lighting just kept getting bigger and better. Five, six, ten, twelve bolts of lighting.

And that’s when I was like, all right, I should really get the camera. So I went for it, and then I went upstairs, to the upstairs bathroom, because it has a higher vantage point, and I turned on the camera and clicked it to video mode. And a minute passed by, and then two and then three and no lighting. I really should have tried it, like I already said, after bolts number two or three. But then finally, some lightning. Crack. But it was like, looking at it through this tiny screen wasn’t even close to just looking at it through my window with my eyes.

First of all, and I keep saying first of all without getting to a second of all, but think of this as a separate first of all, or a continuation, but when I look out the window I see everything. When I look at my camera looking out the window, the majority of the screen is taken up by sky. Everything else looks so much disproportionately smaller. Is it the lens? I have no idea, this camera only cost like two hundred bucks. I think my iPhone takes better pictures to be perfectly honest. And whereas when you look at lighting out the window, you can see the bolts like actually travelling through the sky, cutting these paths that almost appear preordained, but when you look at the video, it’s kind of just like, flash, lighting bolt, flash, no big deal, flash, how long am I really going to stand here in my bathtub (the window is on the side of the tub, that’s why I was standing in it) pointing a camera at the sky taking a video of mostly nothing, intermittent lightning, totally lackluster when compared to the real thing.

That’s the first of all of why I didn’t get around to then doing the freeze frame stuff I was talking about. The second of all isn’t as introspective, isn’t anything cool about looking at life through a screen versus through your own eyes. It’s all about me saying I’ll do something, planning to do something, but then never following through. What am I going to have to find the USB cord for my camera? Hook it up to the computer? Try to ignore all of that lousy built-in photo and video editing software that always comes with cheap cameras? Figure out how to get my photo into some editor that I’m, well, slightly more comfortable with than the built-in stuff, still not really knowing how to use? And then searching through minutes of sky, just to find the lightning? In theory, I could do this. I could zoom, enhance, zoom, enhance. I guess a real photographer could do something with it.

But then again, I was looking through a window, and on the other side of the window was the screen, so there’s that to deal with, the reflection on the glass and then the little wire shapes from the screen. So even if I were to do something cool with it, it would be “artsy” at best, nothing like what I’m really going for, a fucking huge fucking monster shot of some lighting, like totally bad ass lighting, something you’d see on the cover of National Geographic magazine, just that shot, and then the caption: “Lightning.” Because you wouldn’t need much more of a title. The shot would say it all. And inside there would be even cooler shots, and then really cool articles about how lighting strikes and why and all about science, and little side articles about getting struck by lightning and surviving. I’d buy that issue. I wouldn’t subscribe to the monthly because, let’s be honest, who has time to commit to National Geographic every month? But I would read the shit out of that lightning issue.

I invented the everything bagel

I’m feeling ripped off. This morning I got up and went out to the bagel store for breakfast. I’d get bagels for breakfast everyday if I could, but that would get to be kind of an expensive habit, for breakfast. I ordered my sandwich, went home, had some coffee. It was great. It’s always delicious. I’m not feeling ripped off about this breakfast. I’m feeling ripped off in general, because I shouldn’t be paying anything at all for bagels, ever. Because I actually invented the everything bagel.

One time when I was a little kid my dad took me to the bagel store for some bagels. “And what kind of bagel do you want Robbie?” my dad asked. I couldn’t think of an answer. Poppy seed, cinnamon raisin, pumpernickel. That’s not true, I never ordered pumpernickel. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever seen anybody eat a pumpernickel bagel. If you ever ask for a dozen assorted bagels, they’ll never just throw in a pumpernickel. You get egg-onion, you get sesame. But pumpernickel? Never. I’d say it’s because they’re gross, but I’ve never tried one, and so I’ll just assume that it’s disgusting.

But on this day I couldn’t make up my mind, so I said to the bagel guy, “I can’t decide, I wish I could have a bagel with everything on it … an everything bagel.” And my dad was giving me one of those looks, one of those facial expressions that communicated how frustrated he was with me, just pick a bagel, Jesus, why did I have to take you along with me, you make every little thing more complicated than it has to be.

But he never got to complete his thought, because the bagel guy looked at me and said, “You know what? That’s not a bad idea. Not a bad idea at all.” And sure enough, the next time we went to the bagel store, there was a hand-drawn sign at the counter that said, “Try our brand new ‘everything’ bagel.” There was a line down the block, everyone hoping to get a taste of that bagel, with poppy seeds, with garlic, onion, everything. Even salt.

Nobody likes salt bagels. Nobody likes them, but they’re somehow marginally more popular than pumpernickel, because every once in a while you’ll order a dozen assorted bagels and they’re throw in a salt. And maybe your parents bought a bag early in the morning, and you got up at eleven and your mom says to you, “Hey Rob, sit down, we saved you a bagel,” and you can tell by her poorly concealed smile that something’s up, and sure enough, you look down in the bag and it’s a salt bagel. And you hate salt bagels, everybody does, but you’re so hungry you decide to make a go for it, to scratch off as much of the salt as you can.

But those bagel guys really loaded that thing up with salt. Coarse salt, the kind usually reserved for de-icing the streets after a blizzard. And since nobody ever buys salt bagels, even the bagel itself, the dough, it’s just old, staler than the rest, they probably threw it in the assorted dozen just to get rid of it. And what kind of a topping is salt anyway? It’s a seasoning, not a topping. You’ve got to have a pretty dead tongue to find a salt bagel at all appealing.

But spread out, mixed among all of the other toppings, salt actually works well with the everything bagel. And so that day with the line down the block, we finally got to the counter, and I tried to get the bagel guy’s attention, “Hey man, you did it. You used my idea … the everything bagel.” But the guy looked at me with a face of, I don’t know, scorn? Fear? And he said, “Hey kid, I don’t know what you’re talking about,” and then to my dad, “You guys going to order some bagels or what?” And I tried to get my dad’s attention, “Dad, you remember, right? The everything bagel?” But he wasn’t interested. In fact, the place was so busy, he didn’t even ask what kind of bagel I wanted, “Just give me a dozen. Assorted.”

So I didn’t even wind up getting to try one of my everything bagels for like another five months. It was torture. Everybody at school was talking about how much they loved the new bagels, how their parents stopped buying assorted bagels and only bought everything bagels, and sometimes they were getting bagels not just on weekends, but during the week, even on school days. Of course nobody believed me that I actually came up with the idea, that it was my creation. I didn’t even get to taste one until way after they came out, and so I couldn’t even share in the enthusiasm of my classmates without having tried what they were all talking about.

Oh yeah, and did I tell you what that bagel guy threw in with my dad’s assorted dozen? A bialys. Come on, that’s not even a bagel. I get it, it’s round, and it’s bread, but there’s not even any hole. Bialys are even worse than pumpernickel. In fact, I’d rather order an all-pumpernickel dozen than be forced to so much as look at a bialys in my bag of assorted. “It’s a bonus,” my dad said, “A baker’s dozen.” Please, if it were really a baker’s dozen, that would be the standard. You’d ask for a dozen and you’d automatically get thirteen. It wouldn’t have to be a sometimes bonus, a special treat. And secondly, what kind of a profession makes its own dozen with an extra bagel? If I were in charge, a baker’s dozen would only be eleven, and people would complain, “Hey, what’s the big idea? Where’s the twelfth bagel?” and I wouldn’t say anything, I’d just point to my own hand-drawn sign that read, “Baker’s dozen = 11 bagels.” That’s how you make money, not by giving away a free bagel for every dozen.

Man, but I’ll never get to try that out, because I’ll never have my own bagel store. But I should. I should be in charge of every bagel store, because I invented the everything bagel. They all owe me a cut, every one of these bagel places. At the very least I should get free bagels for life.