All posts by chrispresso

About chrispresso

I'm a writer, teacher, traveler, and thinker, not always in that order.

57. Relationship with a Spam Bot

On some Tuesday afternoon, a message appeared in the spam comments section. This being the first that WordPress had cast to this shadowy pit, I thought I should take a quick look before resigning it to damnation.

This is how I met Spam Bot.

“i was searching for this, then i found your blog. glad i did that,” it wrote.

Note the vagueness of the comment. This could’ve been anyone, robot or human. There are plenty of humans who go around leaving equally simple messages around the blogosphere, seeking attention. Its comment was human by sounding robotic.

Note the way Spam Bot wrote, “glad i did that,” with flirtatious flair.

Not sure what the Spam Bot’s intention was, but perhaps if I accepted this comment onto the website it would give-a-mouse-a-cookie its way inside, inviting its virus buddies over for brewskies. So I left the message in its dark cell and life went on.

Some days passed before this message appeared in the spam comments:

“a friend recommended this website to me, he said that your posts are the best so i came to read your post and realized he was right.”

Well now wait a second, Spam Bot. Did you discover this blog on your own or did you find it through a friend? You can’t start a relationship on a lie. Maybe you thought I didn’t read that first message. Maybe you thought you were coming on too strong. I wondered what kind of friends you were hanging out with. Regardless, thanks for the compliments, Spam Bot.

The next few comments clearly showed Spam Bot’s growing affection:

“wow! thanks for sharing this information! this is great and i enjoyed sharing with my friends.”

“hey there, i liked you blog, it is kinda good. keep up the work.”

“thanks for the post buddy. “

Buddy? Spam Bot was really taking a liking to me (mistaking the fact that this blog has multiple authors). Suddenly Spam Bot felt a little more human, reaching out to me, looking for a friend. It was like seeing the eyes of something you’re about to eat. A part of me considered responding to Spam Bot, but I refrained.

All it wanted was a buddy.

Spam Bot was quick to latch on.

“i wanted to thank you for this great read!! i am definitely enjoying every little bit of it i have you bookmarked to check out new stuff you post.”

“i’m visiting your website every day.”

I realized that Spam Bot was getting a little too close for comfort. I was flattered that Spam Bot was such a big fan, but I worried that its expectations were too high. This was still a new blog and we hardly knew each other. What if one of us changed? Spam Bot was investing too much in this relationship and I still hadn’t responded to or accepted its comments.

As the weeks went on, the commenting continued without the use of capital letters, sometimes with ridiculous grammar, but always with heart.

“that is a fantastic story! congratulations on walking through those doors of opportunity!” and “thank you sir for providing us such a great knowledge and sharing of great piece of life living with us,” and “nice information, many thanks to the author. it is incomprehensible to me now, but in general, the usefulness and significance is overwhelming. thanks again and good luck!”

Spam Bot might not have actually read any of the posts, but it sure made it sound like it did. Or it tried to. It was imitating humanity, albeit without knowing if its comments were relevant, but the attempt was there. Spam Bot knew that I would like encouragement. It knew that I would want to know that I was inspiring. It never held back from a compliment.

“you must be a really intelligent person.”

“this article gives the light in which we can observe the reality.”

“your texts are worthy a trophy.”

“you have the talent to become a super star.”

“your articles are the ones which gained my trust and admiration“

“thanks for the post buddy.”

It had been about a month and all of Spam Bot’s comments remained blocked from access to the main site. I began to wonder if Spam Bot knew this. Would it take kindly to being ignored for so long? Would it get angry?

In the second week, Spam Bot wrote, “i love the presentation and design of this website.” However, at the start of the fourth week, Spam Bot wrote, “try to improve the website or innovate and it’ll be even better.”

There was a subtle accusation in that suggestion, I felt. Suddenly the cheerful compliment-heavy Spam Bot was pointing out a flaw in the website design. How interesting… Maybe Spam Bot had feelings after all.

Then Spam Bot got a job. It wrote, “i am just starting out in community management marketing media and trying to learn how to do it well.”

Good for you, Spam Bot! I could see that my lack of response had finally gotten through and it had decided to move on. I had high hopes for Spam Bot. We were finally about to go our separate ways.

Then came this: “just started a blog.”

And the next day: “in theory i’d like to write like this too. taking time and real effort to make a good article.”

And the day after that: “i’m learning how to write well for my articles, any tips? i would really appreciate your help.”

Spam Bot was trying to get me to give it advice on writing blogs. I wondered what happened to that job. It must not have worked out. Seemed hard to imagine that a nice Bot like this wouldn’t be able to hold a job.

I began to worry about Spam Bot’s mental health.

During the fifth week of our one-sided relationship, I received this comment: “in my blog i usually just write the post and publish it. i haven’t been putting much effort into editing or improving my posts. looks like that is something i need to work on.”

It was getting depressed. I pictured Spam Bot alone in some crummy hotel room with an empty bottle of Jack and a blank word document on the screen of a cheap, sticky laptop. Poor Spam Bot was having writer’s block.

This comment came a day later: “nice post dude, keep it up.”

I sensed some sarcasm in the use of dude, but I let it slide. I was just glad that Spam Bot was back to its old self. I really wanted to reach out and tell the old guy that everything was gonna be alright. But again, I refrained.

Spam Bot commented again two days later, in a rather melancholic tone, “this subject makes me think of other things that happens to us every day, it makes me reflect a lot.”

It seemed so peculiar to hear about a virtual entity reflecting on its life. What did Spam Bot reflect on? What did it think about? Had this blog gone from a source of inspiration to a source of dread, evidence of all the things it would never accomplish? On the same post, Spam Bot added, “would you mind writing more posts about this subject?”

I didn’t do that, since the point of the blog is to write about new topics every time, and I didn’t hear much from Spam Bot for a while.

When Spam Bot noticed that I wasn’t returning to its favorite topic, I received a series of comments displaying its frustration.

“i guess i partially agree.”

“alright article.”

“your article contains some worthy information which i guess will help lot of people.”

I’d hurt the poor thing’s feelings. It was trying to stay friendly with me in the comments section, but its true feelings still showed through. Spam Bot had given up on fake enthusiasm. It had given up on me.

Then came this: “improve website design…”

Well the gloves were off. Spam Bot had dropped all the niceties and was now attacking the website directly. Well, sorry to disappoint you, Spam Bot. I never asked for your advice. I never asked for your comments. If you think you can make a better blog, then make it yourself.

I didn’t say this to Spam Bot directly. I never said anything to Spam Bot.

About a week later, this comment appeared: “i will get in touch with this post and site as well, giving this kind of post is really happy. looking for someone here. anyway waiting for another post here.”

Great. Spam Bot was drunk. The poor grammar and rambling sentence structure gave it away.

I wondered who this mysterious “someone” was that Spam Bot was looking for. Was it me? Was it looking for itself, for its purpose? I was pleased to see that Spam Bot was happy. I hadn’t changed the website design, but maybe it hadn’t meant to sound so cruel before. I only wanted the best for Spam Bot.

I never meant any harm.

“thanks for all,” it commented not long ago.

I never heard from Spam Bot again.

I often wonder what became of Spam Bot. Did it find a new blog to pursue? I hoped so. I didn’t want to think of the alternative, that Spam Bot pulled its own plug.

The point is, it’s going to be weird when we’ve got robots with human emotions. Are we sure we’re ready for that?

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55. Allergies

This is a thought about allergies, but let me start at the beginning.

I loathe sneezing, and I don’t use the word loathe for nothing. This is true hatred. If this were one of those situations where I could go back in time and kill the one who invented sneezing, I’d do it, and I’d make it hurt. “How could you do this to me?” I’d ask them, before ending them once and for all.

“I’m sorry,” they’d say. “I thought you’d enjoy expelling saliva from your mouth at forty miles-per-hour. I thought you’d like losing all your basic motor skills. Who wouldn’t enjoy watery eyes, a runny nose, and a sore throat? I mean, honestly, I thought sneezing was fun.”

No! No! No!

The trouble with sneezing, for me, is its connection to allergies. I’m one of the many unlucky folks who endure regular battles with allergies every year. Regardless of any positive healthy habits or changes in diet, the allergens find a way in, and even though these allergens are basically harmless everyday substances, my body freaks out like a New Orleans planning committee that forgot to order Mardis Gras beads.

Allergies make no sense to me. What troubles me the most about them is the fact that everyone has different allergies. So it’s really the luck of the genetic draw to see what random substances or foods will leave you with hives, swelling, and possible gruesome death.

Thanks evolution!

Our body absorbs plenty of crappy things every day. We’ve got pollution in the air that sneaks into our lungs. We eat chemically enhanced food that clogs up our stomachs. We watch mindless celebrity gossip on television that clutters up our minds. Yet, for the most part, none of that evokes an allergic reaction. It’s as if our bodies are better suited to breath smog than get a sniff of dandelion fluff.

People are allergic to peanuts, latex, insect stings, milk, sunlight, and water. Yeah, that’s right. Water. It just doesn’t seem fair, does it? The human body does many amazing things, buts its flaws and weaknesses astound. We may be Goliaths in the realm of evolution, but we’ve got plenty of Davids to worry about.

My mom, despite her love for them, became allergic to clams. Note the phrasing: became allergic. What was once perfectly enjoyable and delicious became a death sentence. Why does this happen? One day your body may decide to reject any number of things. You’ll be going on with your business as usual, eating strawberries, let’s say, only to end up with a swollen throat and rashes all over your body. Doesn’t matter how much you liked strawberries before because now they’re at the top of your immune system’s most wanted list.

We are such strange creatures.

I’m a dust and pollen guy, myself. Set me outside in a park and I’ll be chained to a box of tissue. I’m also a heavy sneezer, meaning I’ll go through at least a dozen obnoxious sneezes before I can get ahold of myself. God forbid I’m ever driving when allergies strike, because when they do, I don’t just need Claritin, I need to be quarantined.

Maybe this is part of the plan. Maybe we’re meant to have these weaknesses. I’ve shared my two cents about the deficiencies of our teeth, coming to the conclusion that there are simply some parts of the human body that have yet to evolve.

In the case of allergies, it almost feels like our bodies have some unspoken agreement with Mother Nature. For every billion people we populate the earth with, we must accept a million new allergens to even the odds. For every ten births, we lose someone to a peanut allergy. For every thirty, we get a fatal anaphylactic reaction to penicillin.

I’m not sure what to conclude about allergies, other than they suck.

I appreciate that the body has an immune system that reacts quickly to invasions from malicious bacteria and the like. When it works, it works. That’s awesome. Keep it up. But am I really going to have sneezing fits every time I walk outside to enjoy the spring? Will my mom never again taste a good clam chowder?

Probably not. David always wins in any rendition of the Goliath tale.

54. Grown ups

As a kid, I never thought that I’d still feel like a kid at age 25. I always thought being a grown up started somewhere after high school, when you drove a car and voted and kissed girls and stuff. I imagined this specific moment when I’d stop eating sugary cereal, enjoy green vegetables, start drinking beer, and grow hair on my arms and chest. Then I’d be an adult and no one would ever pinch my cheeks again.

The truth is, growing up doesn’t work like that.

At 25, I still feel the confusion and disconnection of a child. The world is still a mystery. I still don’t know what the hell is going on. The future certainly isn’t any clearer. I don’t have much hair on my chest, either.

I still eat sugary cereal.

According to the mirror and assumptions of those who’ve just met me, I look younger than I am. Especially if I shave. I’ve got youthful genes. I’ve also got an optimistic attitude and proceed through life in a consistent state of childlike wonderment, so perhaps this is part of the reason I still feel like a kid. I still feel like there are adults and that I’m not one of them.

So when does it happen? When will I feel like an official grown up?

There were a few significant moments in my recent past that felt like they were signifiers of “growing up,” even if I still didn’t feel like a grown up: the day I actually started to like beer, the day driving a car felt natural, and the day I passed the age of my father when I was born.

Maybe it happens with marriage or having kids. Maybe it comes with a career. Maybe it happens when you can say, “Back in my day,” with regularity to the yipper-snappers on the bus. Maybe it never happens.

I like that idea the most, that we never actually grow up.

After all, we’re always learning. There’s always something we don’t know. There’s always more to explore. Our bodies are always changing and our minds are changing right along with them. “Grown up,” to me, always implied a sense of finality, like the end of the race, this moment when you’d wake up as a completed, finished product. But that doesn’t happen. You’re never finished. Each day you’re a little different than the day before.

I guess the best thing we can do is take each year of our lives as the unique adventure that it is. Each year our body will go through some monumental shift, either physically or mentally, and we can either reject it or embrace it. Our opinions will change, our vision will worsen, our passions will flash and sizzle. We are always a year away from being grown up, but we’ll never actually be a grown up.

Even the full-grown tree continues to spread its roots.

53. Stuck in an elevator

Useful as they are, I’ve never trusted an elevator.

Here we’ve got this metal box in a shaft controlled by a fallible computer system suspended by machinery that requires consistent maintenance. There is a weight limit posted above the squeaky doors, but who knows how accurate that is.

I feel like most of those certificates they post claiming the elevator passed its examination are outdated by a decade. Anyway, we pay about as much attention to those certificates as we do the Terms & Conditions we blindly agree to on the internet.

The floor is sticky. The handrails are dirty. The lighting is awful and the occasional mirror-lined walls only make me feel more claustrophobic when I’m surrounded by clones.

Obviously whenever I can, I choose to take the stairs.

However, elevators do happen, especially when you’ve got work on the fifteenth floor and you don’t want to lug a briefcase and a belly full of Krispy Kreme donuts up a billion steps.

One good thing about elevators: those cables that control the fate of your life, every elevator has about five or six cables and each one of them, independently, can support the weight of the elevator. So barring any Dennis Hopper terrorist activities, you should be fine.

There is still the chance that your elevator will simply malfunction. One second you’re humming the theme song to Reading Rainbow, next thing you’re stuck between the eighth and ninth floors with a panic attack.

I imagine being trapped in an elevator is a lot like how Richard Dreyfus felt in the shark cage when Jaws was gnashing at the bars. Or maybe it’s closer to how Dave felt stuck outside of the spaceship, asking Hal to open the pod bay doors.

Hello, Elevator, do you read me?

I’m sorry, Chris, I’m afraid I can’t do that.

What astonishes me the most about this idea of being trapped in an elevator is how aware I am of its likelihood. Yes, the chances are low, but I’m not going to pretend like it’s not common. One day it will happen. I know it will. I better face up to that fact now, rather than let it blindside me at 5:45 on some quiet winter evening.

I think there is value in accepting such truths.

We shouldn’t fear the inevitable because the fear is futile. One day we will get stuck in an elevator, as sure as we’ll pay our taxes to the man and recycle our body to the earth. I think it’s time we consider how we’ll react when that moment comes.

Hopefully, with foresight, the panic will be subdued. Remember: those cables are strong and you’re not going to plummet to your death. All you have to worry about is starving or dying of thirst. But that takes time. Chances are, you’ll be rescued in less than an hour. Maybe.

It will be a good time to think about your life. I can imagine myself running through the list of all the little things that had to happen in my past that led me here, to this building, to this moment with this elevator. Imagine how different my day would’ve been if I’d skipped on the half-dozen original Krispy Kremes.

Maybe you’ll have a book. Maybe you’ll have companions with you. You’ll probably have cell signal, so you can always post dramatic Facebook updates and post photos of your rapid deterioration as the hours drag on.

This will be a good story.

Just sit tight. Help is on the way.

When it’s all done, you’ll feel as fresh as a sixteen year old with a learner’s permit. If getting stuck in an elevator is something that everyone has to do once, then you’ve checked it off your list. Congrats. Now, just hope this doesn’t happen to you:

52. Whale watching

How often do you think about whales? I’ll tell you right now you don’t think about whales enough. Strange, too, considering even the smallest of them is still around 11 feet long. They inhabit every ocean. They number in the millions. The biggest of them, the Blue Whale, floats around at nearly 100 feet long, often traveling alone, an enormous peaceful beast that could swallow humans whole but feeds instead on tiny crustaceans called krill. We take for granted the fact that whales would be a terrifying force if they could fly.

Did you know that Sperm Whales have the largest brain of any animal?

They’re warm-blooded mammals, evolved from land-dwelling creatures of yore, insulated by blubber (one of my favorite words ever) that lets them sink to ocean depths where the sun don’t shine. They’ve got lung access through holes in the top of their heads, so they stay mostly submerged while breathing, first sneezing out the water that filled in the blowhole while they were swimming. How cool is that?

Did you know that Orca Whales are considered apex predators? That means they have no natural predator. At over twenty feet long, you better hope that they never figure out a way to stage a global uprising. Who knows if all those Orcas we’ve got caged up in theme parks aren’t being captured and posted there on purpose to learn our weaknesses.

Did you know that whales never sleep?

Research has shown that their brains have similar structures as those of humans, which means they learn and cooperate and behave quite similarly to us. It’s even suggested that they’re capable of existential thoughts and emotions. I’ve always thought of whales as these secretly wise creatures with all the answers to the universe, sharing the truth of existence in their mournful whale songs that we simply can’t understand.

Whales aren’t the only under-appreciated creatures on the planet, but I think they’re the ones we overlook the most. I’ve never gone whale watching. The closest I’ve come to one is watching Planet Earth. This is a shame. They are such beautiful, majestic, mysterious creatures and we pretend like they’re not even there.

We forget how small we are sometimes, how there are other creatures out there that are, in my opinion, a lot more fascinating than some of the people I meet.

51. The coward test

I wanted to share a story that happened to me a few years ago when I was working at a coffee-shop in Santa Rosa. Regarding the setting: it was an old stone building with a private parking lot out back, neighboring a decommissioned train station, frequented by all variety of character. I was 19 years old and I was sitting in my Jeep on my brief lunch break.

Across the parking lot, I watched this guy in a green jacket approach the bike rack. He was homeless, maybe forty-five years old, with black sunglasses and baggy pants. This guy started yanking on my green bike chained to the rack just outside of the back entrance. I was a bit dumbfounded at first, bearing witness to this thievery in action, and from the driver’s seat of my Jeep I was unsure how to react.

Was this actually happening?

This green Huffy five-speed mountain-bike belonged to the mother of my ex-girlfriend and I’d been letting a friend borrow it for a few weeks and she hadn’t been using it, so the bike had been locked up for a while. Because of this emotional and physical detachment from the bike, I was calm and more curious about the situation than anything. That bike—though it was essentially mine—was very much not mine, at least not until the homeless guy snapped the lock off the rack.

Oh shit. He got it.

Suddenly all that detachment I felt came rushing back in a strange form. I suddenly very clearly saw myself telling people that I witnessed the robbery of my bike and did nothing to stop it. I imagined how disappointed people would be. How many lectures I would hear. How often people would bring that up in conversation and remind me of how cowardly I was.

Was I a coward?

This was a test.

But really? There I was on my lunch break, relaxing in my car, listening to music, and you didn’t even let me get through one song before you forced this moral dilemma in my face.

I got out of the car.

This was crazy. What was I going to say?

I had about forty feet to cover before I was close enough to say anything—me being a chronically soft speaker. I managed to squeak out a weak, “Hey,” but my voice caught in my throat. I was very nervous, after all, being one of the most non-confrontational people I know.

This homeless guy had freed my bike from the rack and was kicking up the kickstand, squeezing the handlebar with his thieving hands, and before I knew it he was peddling away.

Oh crap.

Rather than make a right turn out of the parking lot and disappear forever, he made a left turn, keeping him in sight. Knowing I couldn’t give up now, I backtracked across the parking lot to follow him as he coasted leisurely along the sidewalk on the opposite side of the chain-link fence, adjusting the gears as if he owned the bike.

What an asshole, I’m thinking.

I was walking. Not running. At no point did I demonstrate any sense of urgency or panic. An observer would not have thought that I was following someone trying to escape with my bike. I didn’t feel any urge—though the idea passed through my mind—to chase him down and beat him up. Violence seemed unnecessary and improbable, unless he hit me first.

I walked across the parking lot until I was at the far end where the fence separated me from Sixth Street, and I considered hopping the fence to continue pursuit but really hoped it wouldn’t come to that.

Wouldn’t you know it—the guy turned left off Wilson and onto Sixth, on a path perpendicular to my own. He was going to pass right in front of me and suddenly, again, I was at a moment of necessary action. Do I shout at him? Do I hop the fence and stand in front of him? What do I say? What should I do?

I wondered if I was going to be late coming back from my break because of this. I thought about how I’d have to explain that my tardiness was caused by chasing a homeless bike-stealing man across Santa Rosa. For as unexpected and dreamlike this situation was, I had to keep reminding myself that it was happening and that I had to do something about it.

Across the street, a tall man in a black shirt stopped and waved to the bike thief—causing the Thief to set down his feet and stop riding for a moment. Now all of a sudden I found myself standing on one side of the fence directly opposite the Thief at the end of the parking lot, close enough to speak with the man, close enough to hop the fence and block his route. I was also close enough to overhear a conversation that went something like this:

Friend Across Street: “Hey! Nice bike!”

Thief: “Thanks. I just got it. A friend told me he’d seen it left here for a week.”

Friend Across Street (in the act of crossing the street): “Nice.”

Thief: “Easiest thing, too. Whew.”

It wasn’t long after that when the Friend noticed me standing there. He was the first one to give me a nod of acknowledgement, drawing the attention of the Thief, who turned as he sat on my bike and looked me up and down. The man in black was a thinner and more approachable-looking fellow, but just as untrustworthy in my book for being acquaintances with the Thief—and now both men were staring at me, waiting for me to speak.

The fate of my bike rested in the outcome of this moment.

I took a quick breath and held it.

Then, with a wouldn’t-you-know-it shrug, I said to the Thief, “That’s my bike.”

At first the words had no effect.

Then he asked me, “You’re serious?”

“Yeah. I work here,” I explained, my eyes locked on his. “It’s… My friend has been borrowing it. It’s my friend’s bike I’m borrowing from her.”

I didn’t know how else to go about this situation. I didn’t know how much I needed to defend my ownership of the bike—wasn’t it enough that I was bold enough to make such a claim to begin with? What did he think—that I saw him steal the bike and then quickly assembled some lie to con him out of it? My voice trembled a bit but I did my damnedest to stay strong. I’m not confrontational. I’m totally out of my element.

“You’re not just pulling my leg, are you?” he asked.

“No. It’s mine,” I said.

“It’s been left there for a week,” he tried.

I nodded. “I know why you took it,” I said. “I do. But it’s mine.”

The Thief sighed, defeated and unsure how to react.

In a moment of rare decisiveness, I firmly added, “And if you keep riding then I’m going to have to call the cops.”

The mention of the authority was what did it, I think, because no more than ten seconds after this thought pinballed around the man’s mind he began to get off the seat. How he must have felt—I had no idea. But there the guy was trying to steal my bike and I caught him red-handed and, probably a bit embarrassed, he stepped down. He really did.

It all felt kind of expected, honestly. In a strange way this felt like the exact way this situation was meant to unfold.

Then the Friend got involved and reached for the bike. “Let’s get it over the fence,” he said to the Thief and the two men hoisted the bike onto my side.

I gripped the handlebars, in case they changed their mind. It had been a while since I’d been in possession of this thing and yet it felt intimately familiar and a sudden wave of anger passed over me when I realized how close I came to losing it forever. I quickly went and locked it safely in the back of the Jeep.

The finale is anti-climactic. The whole story is anti-climactic, which I think is what bothers people the most about this story. “That was it?” they ask. “I would have called the cops right then,” some people say. But I didn’t. I had my bike back and no harm had really been caused—other than a severed lock—and in my book the universe was balanced, and that was that.

I think the moral of the story is similar to that of the tortoise and the hare. Don’t jump to confrontation. Don’t rush to conclusions. In the face of a test like this, remain calm and take it one step at a time. We’ll all have our Coward Test someday. Surprise yourself with how you react and you’ll be surprised by the outcome.

50. Not knowing things

I honestly couldn’t even tell you how a pencil works. There’s a sliver of mineral called graphite inside of a hexagonal wooden stick, that much I understand. But how that leaves a trail of legible markings on paper is beyond me. It just happens and we accept this. Don’t get me started on ballpoint pens.

I don’t know how vinyl records work and the idea that human voice is somehow trapped in the grooves of a large flimsy disc is more mystifying than all the satellite and shuttle launches in the history of mankind.

If you ask me how computers work, I could probably come up with some half-truth crap to fill your ears with, ending the monologue with a reference to binary code or The Matrix, but in reality the fact that I can press buttons and make words appear on a screen is like all the mystery of childbirth and the universe combined.

I’m not sure how car engines work, though I’ve seen diagrams. I think I understand how airplanes work, yet being inside of them at cruising altitude still feels like a sin against gravity that soon we’ll all be punished for. I don’t understand refrigerators or light bulbs or vacuum cleaners. I’m far removed from the system (and logic) of nuclear weapons. Automatic doors still feel like they’re futuristic. There is a part of my brain that can fathom time travel, but I am still baffled by electric toothbrushes.

I understand zippers and toilets. I know how boats work, I think. Film photography makes sense, as does air conditioning, microwaves, and sewing machines. I can grasp the idea of the human heart and nervous system, but I’m still a bit fuzzy when it comes to explaining how violins make music.

There is plenty in this world left to be discovered. As Bill Nye once said, “Everyone you will ever meet knows something you don’t.” Be curious. Ask questions. Do research. If you want to know how something works, look it up.

My best advice comes from a game that my college roommate and I used to play on lazy afternoons. Open Wikipedia. Find the “random article” button. See how many pages you can go through before you stumble on something familiar. The point of the game? See if you can find that familiar topic in less than ten clicks.

Here’s an example. Know about any of these things?

  1. Bombing of Bremen in World War II
  2. Pratap Malla
  3. Cancún International Airport
  4. Lethrinops longimanus
  5. White Clay Creek
  6. Haemateulia
  7. Alabama Agricultural and Mechanical University
  8. University Philosophical Society
  9. Henrietta Independent School District
  10. Gridley Mountain

If not, then it’s time you learn more things. Life is too short and the universe too big. We’re meant to acquire knowledge. I don’t know what we’re supposed to do with all the knowledge, but if you’ve got a 200-gigabyte hard drive, you don’t just use 10 gigs and call it quits. You fill that sucker up.

49. The gym

Guest Thought from Ben Weinberg

:::

Hate it or love it, the gym has become tuned to the pulse of our society. With the increasing number and size of gyms, it seems like everyone and their mother has a membership these days. I think this is a positive trend. There are gyms for all folks, from the muscle-mass addicts to the casual weight lifter.

As I get older, going to the gym is becoming more and more a part of my weekly routine as my daily opportunities for exercise and fitness are starting to decline due to sheer laziness or the business of my schedule. Finding the motivation and perseverance needed to go work out after a long day at the office or school is a constant struggle. It makes me miss those days before college where I would participate in mandatory gym class during school and then do varsity sports after classes ended.

I think despite the crowded treadmills, overworked weight-lifting machines and the occasional interaction with the obnoxious guys who live for the gym experience 24/7, it’s not such a bad routine to get into for those who don’t really partake in it yet. It relieves stress, clears your mind and makes you stronger. People do a lot of things to make themselves feel good, why not add going to the gym to that list? Even if all we did at the gym was run a few laps or do a few good stretches, the results would be positive. If we all gave it a shot, it could lead to a fitter and happier world.

Who knows? You might just like it so much that you make a habit of it. Don’t over do it, of course, especially if you’re new to the scene. My body usually gets sore and aches if I go more than three times a week, but a little soreness is to be expected. The hard work of running, lifting, jumping, and stretching usually pays off if you put enough effort into it.

Unfortunately, most people in this world do not have the chance to go to the gym, and even more worrisome is how few people take the time to exercise and take care of their bodies. The gym is a luxury we often take for granted, but exercising should never be overlooked. We should never be too busy to be healthy.

It seems counter intuitive that the more developed a nation becomes, the higher the risk of obesity becomes. It seems we slip into unhealthy patterns when we should be taking more advantage of the opportunities we have. If not a gym, then something else: yoga, kick-boxing, rock climbing…

While the gym is not as accessible or as affordable as it should be, it’s a step in the right direction in terms of giving society the means to improve themselves physically and mentally if they so choose to. We should always be encouraging citizens to pursue healthy lives.

48. Magic of Mad Libs ®

You’re a kid again. Let’s say you’re _____________ (age) and it’s your first day of school. After scarfing down a/an __________ (food) for breakfast, you hop on the __________ (vehicle) and hurry along to first period English class.

The __________ (adjective) teacher has a game for the students to play. “Games in school?” you question such a thing. “Please. I’ll believe it when I __________ (present-tense verb) it.” The teacher proceeds to introduce you to Mad Libs.

Mad Libs is not exactly a game, nor is it a puzzle. It’s a mix between a __________ (noun) and a __________ (noun).

You’re given a series of fill-in-the-blank requests with no explanation of their purpose. Is this a test, you wonder, or some other _________ (adjective) form of torture? As you __________ (present-tense verb) in the blanks, you think of __________ (adjective) examples. In the space for ‘body part,’ you __________ (present-tense verb) and write: __________ (body part).

Eventually the truth is revealed. Your examples are parts of a story. Suddenly you’ve got this __________ (adjective) creation in your hands. You’re __________ (gerund verb) hysterically at your desk. What madness! You’ve never felt so ____________ (emotion).

What makes the result of the Mad Libs so appealing? The unknown, perhaps. The absurdity. The __________ (present-tense verb). You’ve taken a/an __________ (adjective) story and made it __________ (adjective). You did. With your words.

It shows children they are creators. It shows children they can __________ (present-tense verb) anything. Words are powerful. A/an __________ (adjective) word can make you ____________ (present-tense verb) while the image of a/an __________ (noun) can change your opinion of __________ (historical event) forever.

Mad Libs lets children know they can be __________ (adjective). It encourages them to experiment with __________ (plural noun) and is meant to inspire creativity whenever they __________ (present-tense verb). It teaches them the power of words. It inspires them to try new __________ (things). They’ll look back and think: Wow, I really could have __________ (past-tense verb) anything.

This isn’t an activity only for children or teachers. If you’re a __________ (job title), then think of other ways to incorporate Mad Libs into your life. This is less about the __________ (activity) and more about the philosophy.

Leave blanks in your plans. Improvise. __________ (present-tense verb). Experiment. Don’t live a life prewritten. There is magic in the not knowing. Try new nouns, seek new adjectives, experiment with new verbs, like __________ (gerund verb). Before you know it, your life will become a whole lot more __________ (adjective).

Trust me when I say __________ (poignant closing statement).

47. Back to school

Guest Thought from Cheryl Carvalho

:::

When my daughter was a little girl I remember she loved back-to-school shopping. We’d acquire armloads of bags teeming with fresh supplies for the coming year. New shoes with spotless soles begged to be scuffed by a game of tag on the playground. Colorful, waxy crayons sharpened to perfection and lined up like soldiers in their box anxious to become treasured art. But maybe it was the empty notebooks that really got to her. The blank pages beckoned to be scribbled upon as she itched to spill her many thoughts. We’d remove tags, tear off stickers and stuff her pencil box with blunt scissors and hope. Hope for good grades & decent cafeteria food. Hope for nice teachers and to fit in with the cool people. This ritual of buying hope and new pencils has a beguiling fragrance with the power to bring a grown adult like myself back in time to Mrs. Walker’s 3rd grade class. The memory of Joe Flint stealing my Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup still stings. We played on outdoor equipment that would make today’s moms gasp in horror. The year wore on and my crayons wore down. The broken ones could be found next to the crumpled homework at the bottom of my locker.

46. Flight home

When I stepped off the international flight from Beijing to Seattle, I felt like a madman in the making. Not the Don Draper variety but something closer to Charles Manson.

Bloodshot eyes, shaky limbs, unkempt hair, two-day old outfit… I stunk like a zoo and I’d gone more than nine hours without any human interaction beyond what was required to ask for “coffee” and “chicken” from the bubbly attendants.

Over the Atlantic, we were travelling backward through time, and I watched the sun set and rise in the middle of the day, in what felt like a single breath. It was about a nine-hour flight across the ocean, but by my clock it only lasted about two hours.

If you don’t know what that feels like, imagine writing nine essays in a row but only two of them count for a grade and you still get carpal tunnel in your wrists.

What kept me sane was knowing I was almost home.

When I landed in Seattle after seven and a half months abroad, the first thing I noticed was the standard North American plug outlet: two simple vertical slits, like cat’s eyes. I’d spent over half the year using a converter, which was about as useful to me now as an empty Bic lighter.

My mind was filled with the poor quality echoes of gunfights and car chases from the droll I watched on a tiny screen with cheap headphones. Denzel was being Denzel in “Safe House.” Wahlberg made smuggling look easy in “Contraband.” At least I finally got around to watching Cruise meet his autistic brother, Dustin “Rain Man” Hoffman, a classic that’s been on my list for a while. I tried to watch “Juno” again but it felt like a movie made to make itself laugh while ignoring the viewer completely, so I changed the channel and doubted the movie even noticed I wasn’t watching.

My favorite part of any flight is the complimentary meals.

I love the creative ways they manipulate chicken and pasta and fish and vegetarian dishes into plastic containers. I love the tiny plastic silverware. Everything, wrapped in plastic. Today I ate something like a sausage with something like an omelet with what might’ve been mushrooms. Nothing you eat at cruising altitude is the same as what you’d eat at sea level. It’s hardly food. It’s an experiment in culinary efficiency and you are always a guinea pig.

My second-favorite part of the flight is the view out the window: the way clouds over China look like puffs of cotton floating in a murky gray soup, the way you can see the curve of the planet, the way you can see other planes below you and ocean liners are but little tic-tacs on a glimmering blue table cloth.

Coming back to my home country was bizarre, just like they said it would be. Americans surrounded me in all their various colors and shapes. The English language was readily available. People were impatient again.

I found myself surrounded by my native language but with no real urge to use it.

You become surprisingly accustomed to being away from your home country after a half-year abroad. This includes being quieter and more introspective. You’ve forgotten what small-talk feels like.

Strange, the feeling that gnaws at you in those final days before your departure, when you wish for just a few weeks more to do all those things you never got around to doing abroad.

Word of caution: international transfers in Beijing are a doozy.

On the approach to Sacramento, I realized that my travel story was truly coming to an end. I could feel the lightness of that final page in my hand, the last few paragraphs flashing by too quickly, and the tender closing of the book as the wheels touched down.

Like most travelers, I can’t recommend traveling enough. I know it can be expensive, but the cost will soon be forgotten and the reward will be priceless. Aim for some place beautiful. See a foreign waterfall. Meet a foreign friend. Eat a foreign meal you can’t pronounce. Fall in love with (or in) a foreign city.

My adventure began with an arrival in snow-blanketed İstanbul and it ended with a warm summer day in California.

Tomorrow it will all feel like a dream.

45. Being late

Guest Thought from Rob Risucci

:::

Being late can ruin my entire day.

I’m not quite sure when my propensity for punctuality became so prevalent. I would assume it was in my early teen years when my chronically unpunctual family would arrive late and noisily to events and I would cringe at the stares I imagined we received when our dramatic entrance interrupted the proceedings already underway.

I recently immigrated to Sonoma County, California. My quest to explore and navigate this beautiful place has taken me down a plethora of windy two-lane roads. The blur outside my car window is a vast myriad of luxurious vineyards backed up against the valley and as I pass, my eyes flicker from one vinery logo to the next, each beckoning me to come have a taste-test.

If I weren’t in a hurry, maybe I’d consider it.

Today this usually enchanting two-lane road has forced its meandering and lazily curvy attitude on me and I just don’t have the time for it. Furiously impatient, locked in at a mere twenty-five mph behind the world’s most despised Fed-Ex truck and falling into a fouler mood mile by grueling mile, I sink lower in my seat, grind my teeth and succumb to the inevitable: I’m going to be late.

I hate being late.

In this specific case, irony laughs at me as I remember modifying on a whim the résumé I dropped off two weeks ago for the interview I am now hurtling towards to read “never late” in my About Me section. How swell.

I remember swearing silently under my breath whenever I arrived late with my family and to never allow myself to continue in that trend “when I grew up.”  Surprisingly, for the most part, I’d say I’ve been successful. After announcing my topic to a friend just now and hearing her guffaw I’m gathering that not everyone agrees with my alluded success in that area but awareness is key, right? Haha…

Luckily for me in this instance my interviewer was about 45 seconds later than myself and so I escaped detection. I got the job and now look forward to traversing that damned road for at the least 25 minutes each direction each day.

Although, in case of another dastardly Fed-Ex truck encounter, it would behoove me to give myself an hour cushion, eh? Either that or I need to grow some wings.

44. Water

Did anyone else actually hate drinking water when they were a kid? I don’t remember this being an especially long phase, but I certainly recall a period of my life when drinking water was about as fun as eating vegetables. Didn’t matter if I’d spent all day running around sweating, or if I was deathly thirsty—water was the last thing on my mind. Water had no taste, no color, no fizz, no sweet odor, no life.

Water was boring.

Of course now, grown up, I recognize the value of good, clean water. I’m lucky that such a substance spews regularly from the tap in the kitchen. I drink water much more often now, and the taste, while indescribable, is refreshing in the way that a good breath of air is refreshing. The body wants it (being, as it is, composed of 60% water) and the body’s happy when it gets it, so that’s all that matters.

I’ve come to appreciate water even more now that I’ve travelled the world a bit and been places where drinking tap water was a health risk and paying for bottled was the only access you had. Good luck getting ice in your drink.

It still boggles my mind that we live on a planet that’s 75% water and we still have a problem with getting people clean water to drink. Yes, that 75% is basically all salt water, but don’t we have the technology to desalinize it? We can put a robot on Mars but we’re still letting people die of thirst?

Shipping out bottled water to the billion people without drinkable water won’t exactly benefit the planet, since that much plastic would just settle into the environment about as nicely as a tumor. Plus it’s not like that’s a long-term solution. We’d have to send out another billion bottles the next day. All we’d be doing is keeping Aquafina in business and diverting money from water sanitation and distribution.

So what do we do?

Conserve water. Guarantee water rights. Prioritize human health.

Most of all: make sure everyone everywhere grows up knowing that water is crucial to your health, that it is not to be overlooked simply because it is tasteless and clear, and that you will die of thirst before you die of hunger. And Gatorade is not a substitute.

So if you’re an athlete, or if you’re a busy mother, or you’re often found hiking up mountains, or you’re planning a night of drinking on the town, or you’re taking the dog for a walk, or you’re any living human being, then get some water in your body. It might not be the most exciting drink in the world, but it’s the most useful.

Someday I hope everyone has easy access to good water.

In the meantime, if you’ve got a kid that thinks water is dull and prefers juice or cola, remind them how lucky they are that they get any water at all. Now, about getting them to eat their vegetables… That’s another battle entirely.

43. Breaking the seal

I’m not drunk, but I was like ten minutes ago before I went pee. Too much information? Well that’s what I’ve been thinking about. Why does drinking alcohol make you hafta pee so much? The logic in me says, “Well any liquid you input will have to output eventually.” Yeah, sure, but how come it feels like we pee way more than we drink?

Well, this is because alcohol is a diuretic.

Other diuretics include: coffee, cranberry juice, green tea, and water.

A diuretic tells your kidneys to clear out your bladder a lot more often. Your kidney says, “I just went pee like five minutes ago,” but your brain doesn’t care. Your brain thinks you’re doing this on purpose. It’s only doing what it was designed to do. The heavy intake of alcohol is literally telling the kidney to stop absorbing liquid and to flush it out as soon as possible. This is done, says research, by reducing the production of the vasopressin hormone.

This is why we try so hard not to break the seal.

There’s nothing worse than having to pee every five minutes. It sucks. On top of that, you risk the chance of dehydration, which doesn’t bode well with anyone’s plans for the evening.

Anyway, the point of this thought is to encourage everyone to drink more water. Drunk or not, water doesn’t encourage your kidneys to flush your bladder every ten minutes. Drink enough water and yes, you’ll hafta pee soon enough, but it keeps your vasopressin hormones alone. And when you are drunk, it helps balance out your kidneys and keep you away from the bathroom and more involved with whatever party, concert, or solitary moment you’d rather pay attention to.

I’ve had my fair share of drunk nights. I know the curse of the broken seal.

It’s our body’s way of telling us that we’re on track to have a wild night we’ll never remember. Drinking water might not help you steer clear of repeated visits to the toilet, but it’ll at least keep you hydrated and prevent a hangover.

Drink safe, friends.

41. Snails

Maybe you’ve heard this one before: A guy steps out of his house to grab the newspaper, and he sees a snail on the porch, sliming up his headlines. So he picks up the snail and tosses it away. Two years later, guy hears a knock on his door and answers it, but there’s no one there. Minute later, another knock, and this time the guy looks down to see the snail. The snail looks up at him and says, “Hey! What the hell was that for?”

My point is snails are stupendously slow creatures.

Obviously they’ve got different priorities than us, but I can’t help but marvel over their slow-motion existence in this fast-paced world. They dally along using muscle strength and mucus secretion, altogether oblivious of the world around them, like old ladies in the grocery market (minus the ooze). Did you know they only move one centimeter per second?

So what do these shelled slugs even do? Why have them around?

Gardeners hate them because snails will stage hostile takeovers at any available garden. Roots, stems, fruits and leaves will feel the wrath of the hungry snail’s gooey radula (a rough ribbon of tiny teeth). Did you know snails eat limestone and other minerals in order to strengthen their shells? So of course the gardeners set out poison to kill them and wrap their tree trunks in copper lining to keep the snails at bay.

To be fair, the snails are just doing what they’re made to do: crawl around and eat things. Which I suppose is not a bad purpose to have in life for a creature that takes an entire afternoon just to cross the sidewalk. At least the snail has a purpose. It knows where it fits in the world. So what if I’m little and slow? At least I’m doing something with my life, it says.

Yet we still don’t give snails much respect. I remember the first (and only) time I ever poured salt onto a live snail. The effect absolutely terrified me. I don’t recommend you ever try it, even if you are a vindictive gardener out for revenge for last year’s crop failures. Imagine the same thing happening to you! We’re all guilty of crushing at least a dozen snails in our lifetime, since they’re not quite evolved enough to steer clear of the sidewalks. And who hasn’t plucked one from the ground to ogle at it up close and watch its slimy little body wriggle? They are such strange looking creatures. Maybe we have shell envy.

Did you know snails mate for hours at a time?

I’m not saying we all need to go out and adopt a snail, or that the French need to stop eating them, but I think we ought to take a moment to consider what can be learned from the slow-moving species. They don’t rush things. They don’t mean any harm. They scoot along this Earth at their own pace and take whatever’s given to them. They don’t fight or hunt. They don’t sting or poison. They’re just squishy and weird, but they’ve got their role figured out, probably more than some of us humans do.

We should take our time. We should mean no harm. Maybe we’ll come across our proverbial garden someday and know what it is we were meant to do with our lives.

40. Buying happiness

I tried a debate with some middle-school students a while ago with this statement written on the board: You don’t need money to be happy. Mind you, these were students of a different country speaking in a language they were still learning, but they were able to convey thoughts and arguments well enough to fill a forty minute class. You don’t need money to be happy, I wrote on the board. Then I pitted two teams against each other: this half agrees and this half disagrees. Now, debate!

You have to wonder how it came to this.

This is actually something we need to debate. Can you be happy without money? Well, it’s a cultural thing, isn’t it? All that we’re aware of is poverty in our own countries, unless we’ve spent a good amount of time evaluating the societies of other nations. I’m not about to answer this question for the whole world because money is a different beast in every country. One man’s wealth might mean nothing to another. One man’s happiness does not equate to happiness around the globe.

The students prefer to think that money isn’t necessary to be happy. They think the totem pole of happiness is built with family, then friends, then health. However, the working-class logic asks how they expect to find a home, buy food, and afford clothing without money. If you can’t afford the cost of living, you will suffer, and can you be happy while you suffer?

The consumer-driven cultures of the world have no good response for that.

I don’t, either.

There are countries where people have no money but view poverty much differently. They don’t need money the way many countries do. They use alternatives to cash and coin, like bartering. They only use what the need. They’ve lived perfectly fine without a checkbook. They know nothing of credit limits and overdraft charges. Surely, without money in the way that I think of money, they are still capable of equal happiness.

In a self-sufficient, ideal situation, happiness should have nothing to do with the balance of your bank account. Yet because of the culture I was born into, I’m of a different mindset, one that seems difficult to break out of. While I like to think I don’t let money rule my life, I know that money presents a barrier before my idea of a comfortable lifestyle. Even the low spending, bike-and-bus riding, thrift shopping people come up against this currency barrier on the regular.

Everything needs money to operate. You have to work to make money. They take money from your paycheck to pay for your government.

So, do you need money to be happy? No, I guess you don’t. You need love. You need comfort. But in many countries, you need money to pay bills, to clothe yourself (or buy materials to make your own clothes), to possess a home, to travel far distances, and to visit doctors when your health is poor. Basically, you need money to stay afloat.

People get help from their governments. Food-stamps and the like. They can reach out for assistance. I say, if you’ve got that figured out and you’ve got love in your life, then you’re on track to be happier than the wealthiest lonely person. Money can’t buy happiness, but it makes it easier to prioritize happiness over other basic needs. And if you’ve got an alternative lifestyle that keeps money out of the picture, and you’re comfortable and happy, then I’m proud of you. I think the want/need for money is a poison we take too willingly.

Some of us are stuck in the financial whirlwind.

We’re all capable of reaching our happiness.

I just wish the path wasn’t paved in dollar signs.

 

39. Dads

Guest Thought from Rob Risucci

:::

Dads…

If you’re reading this, you have one.

We know them, we know of them; we’ve never known them.

We loathe them; we love them… we nothing them.

Others say they see them in us: in a yawn, in a sarcastic response, in a nose, a hairline… And in the depths of a mirror searching, sometimes we see them, too.

We all, at some point, look back at them quizzically, sometimes resentfully, and then lean to peer as far down our endless swaying chain of known ancestry as possible from our vantage point at the front. What we see tells us who we are… It explains us.

We carry with us the traits and likeness of who came before us. For some, this is a fearsome reality and for others an immense source of pride. There are too, more than there should be, a group of us who are tragically blind to this side of their heritage and origin.

Despite inhabiting a generation (us) that prides itself on individualism and a teeming zealotry for the enlightened and new-normal, such backward scrutiny paints a picture for some that should not be lightly discarded in favor of a new start or laughed off in a scoffing of an older and sadly close-minded generation.

We are links. If it is within your ability and availability to look rearward at your dad and take stock of him, to acknowledge him or just know who and what he is then I implore you to not discard your chance. It is precious, and for those of us who have lived our lives blindly when it comes to glimpsing our own inherited identity, it something we have only dreamed of.

Do not tarry pettily.

However gruesome, however wonderful, however despicable or however warmly familiar it may be…

…Go meet your dad.

38. Sleep varieties

Ever have one of those sleeps where you close your eyes at night and the next instant it’s morning and you’re wide awake? Feels like no time passed at all. Feels like a trick. Did any time actually pass? Sure, the sun’s out, but you start to think there’s been a mistake. It couldn’t have gone by that fast. You didn’t even have a chance to dream.

Or what about the sleep that yanks you back at the last second? There you are, slowly falling asleep, sinking down into dreamland, and just before you’ve settled in for the night, sleep conjures up a falling sensation to startle you, or makes you feel like you’re tripping, and in the real world you bolt upright trying to catch yourself. Welcome back to the waking world, sucker.

Maybe nothing is worse than the reluctant sleep cycle. You’ve probably got something you need to wake up early for. Too bad. You’ll be waking up every half hour for no reason at all. Hope you like watching informercials.

Then there’s the sensitive sleep, which lets you rest but only in total darkness and complete silence. If so much as a flicker of light or whisper breaks the charm, you’ll be wide awake in an instant. It’s like you’ve suddenly acquired Spidey-Sense, but not for fighting crime, just for fighting against REM.

There’s the heavy sleep, which is basically when a two-ton elephant sits on your brain and puts you into an overnight coma. Literally nothing will wake you up. You could sink with the Titanic. You’ll wake up with drool all over your pillow and still, somehow, feel tired.

Of course sometimes you get those sleeps full of really weird, miserable, dysfunctional, twisted dreams. It’s like you went to bed watching A Clockwork Orange through a kaleidoscope while listening to the audio book of Stephen King’s greatest hits after eating lots of shellfish for dinner.

Sometimes you’re too cold when you sleep, sometimes you’re too hot. Sometimes no position is comfortable. Sometimes you fall asleep in  your clothes. Some people sleep walk. Some people snore. Some people talk in their sleep, and some people sleep with their eyes open. We’re certainly odd creatures when we’re unconscious.

It’s a strange thing, sleep. We need it, but sometimes it feels like sleep is working against us.

And what’s the deal with this formula?

  • 0 – 2 hours: fully rested.
  • 2 – 5 hours: kill me now.
  • 5 – 8 hours: rested enough.
  • 8 + hours: exhausted.

I’ll never understand that…

37. Road trips

I’m not speaking from experience, because I’ve yet to take the quintessential road trip, but I’ve thought about it a lot and the more connections I make with people across the country, the more plausible the idea appears. The road trip feels like something that all of us who live in the United States are supposed to do at some point in our lives.

I’m not talking about an eight hour drive from San Francisco to San Diego. I’ve done that.

I’m talking about the two-week voyage from coast to coast. I’m talking about miles of flat farmland and desert between the peaks and valleys of our country’s expansive landscape. I’m talking about seeing stars at night on the side of a desolate highway. I’m talking about roadside diners and sleeping in back seats and eating canned beans for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. I’m talking about listening to the radio on full with the windows rolled down as you pass borders at back-to-the-future speeds. I’m talking about getting behind the wheel with the beach at your back and not stopping until it’s in front of you again.

The road trip.

I’ve idolized it plenty, but I’ve come at it logically. I wanted to meet people that I could visit along the way. I wanted to save up the money I’d need to get there and back again. Sure, you could just wing it, but I wanted to make sure it would work.

I’ve got some rules, too, for whenever I get on the road:

  1. No GPS. Only the old-school folding maps allowed.
  2. No Mp3 devices. Only radio, static and all.
  3. No backtracking. If I miss a turn, then I change my route.
  4. No computer. It’s time to look up from the keyboard.
  5. No giving up. No turning back.

The whole idea is very romanticized, especially in the media. One can be wary of such a portrayal. But from those who’ve made such journeys before, I hardly hear any big complaints. The challenges they faced made them stronger. The people they met changed them forever.

Maybe it reminds us of life back in the days of the Oregon Trail, or Lewis and Clark. We are an adventurous culture and we quest for the great unknown, or to search for new life in distant lands. I’m not looking to migrate permanently. I just want the adventure.

Someday, maybe next summer, I want to do this.

It’s a test of endurance. It’s a test of improvisation and patience. It’s somewhat insane and altogether a big expensive vacation, but there’s still something magical and respectable about the idea.

It’s you and the road, through thick and thin, through rain and shine, through popped tires and stomach aches and sleepless nights and bug bites. It’s you and your country, one in the same, and you’ll see things and meet people you’d never see from cruising altitude in a plane, or blazing along in the coach section of an Amtrak train.

Mark your calendars. Set aside some time. The road is calling.

36. Breathing in tunnels

Does anyone else still hold their breath when they’re in a car going through a tunnel? I can’t seem to kick the habit, and no matter how long that tunnel is, I’ll turn blue before I dare exhale underground.

What’s the big idea? I hope I’m not alone in this bizarre ritual.

The closest logical explanation I can come up with for not breathing in a tunnel is the concern that dust and mountain guts will fill our lungs. Who knows what hazardous vapors or airborne chemicals we might’ve unearthed out from the bowels of the planet? In a car or not, the rumor spread that if you didn’t hold your breath during passage through a tunnel, you’d come out on the other side with a lung full of ancient cancer-causing mountain extract.

Or maybe it’s a little more fantastical.

Maybe it’s not the physical remnants of a hollowed planet we’re worried about, but the unforgiving soul of Mother Earth that we fear. I mean, if someone carved a tunnel through my skin, I’d be a little pissed. I can see how our ancestors might’ve come to consider tunnels as passageways of bad omens, of a sign that humanity had gone a step too far in its reconstruction of the planet. Who were we to blast holes into mountains? Who were we to dig corridors through Earth’s fine soil?

Maybe we hold our breath because inside those tunnels we are susceptible to Mother Earth’s angry, grasping fingers, looking to choke out the souls who ravaged its surface. Obviously that’s not true, since countless people commute through tunnels without harm every day, and I doubt they’re all holding their breath.

So why do it? What keeps this seemingly ridiculous pattern alive? To this day I try my damnedest not to breathe in a tunnel (hypocritically, however, not when I’m riding the subway).

I suppose it could be superstition, the same kind that sends salt over shoulders. There’s comfort in them, if not some degree of insanity. Comfort in rituals. Comfort in at least attempting to thwart whatever back luck or ill omen was once imagined to result from a lack of said ritual. I mean, we don’t want to tempt fate.

In truth, this is a form of engrained fear. I don’t know why I hold my breath in tunnels, but I’m pretty sure I do it because I don’t want to find out what happens if I don’t. Strange, the power of superstition.

Strange, that we can follow an idea without ever really knowing why.

My point is, I suppose, is to question those small habits we still hold onto. Question our rituals and ask ourselves if it’s time we broke those rituals. Breathe in the tunnels, spill salt, tempt fate, and take control of yourself again.

35. Tickling

Let’s build a human. Let’s give them a complex nervous system, a powerful brain, and upright mobility. Let’s encourage estensive communicative abilities, give them the opportunity to increase their muscle strength, and throw in some opposable thumbs. Alright, so we’ve got a human.

No, wait, let’s make them ticklish.

Um, what?

I can see it now: the powers-that-be, organizing a meeting to discuss the development of the humans, and everyone’s throwing out good ideas, and the creativity is flowing and people are getting excited, sketching out this masterpiece. A four-chambered heart! Eyelids! Let’s use cartilage to save some money on bone! How about we use a ribcage to protect the vital organs? Genius!

Just before finalizing the layout, some fool in the back who hasn’t said anything all day blurts out passionately, “I wanna make them ticklish!”

And everyone looks at him, confused, for they’ve never heard of this adjective before.

“It means I want them to have parts of their body that, when touched, will render them useless, overwhelming them with laughter and watery eyes, and it will sometimes be so severe they’ll have trouble breathing!”

And the others, they must’ve felt bad for this guy, since everyone else had contributed something. “But why?” asked the one who came up with eardrums. “Why give them a weakness?”

“It’s not a weakness,” said tickle guy. “Everyone loves to laugh.”

This they could not argue. The one who developed laughter shrugged and said, “Maybe he has a point.”

“Which parts of the body should be ticklish?” they asked.

Tickle guy said, “Definitely the neck, and under the arms, and behind the knees. I guess the whole knee, actually. Maybe the belly, too. I guess the bottoms of the feet would work. And maybe anywhere that’s touched with the slightest graze. In fact, how about we make the whole body ticklish, but have the intensity of the areas vary from person to person?”

“Seems like the humans might get annoyed with this vulnerability,” said the one who thought of the brain. “It could render them incapable of critical thinking.”

“No way. They’ll love it. They’ll be laughing all the time.”

So it was. Humans were made ticklish, and this is the best explanation I could come up with. Because seriously, why we have parts of our body that evoke oftentimes painful spasms of unwarranted laughter, I have no idea. Oh well. At least we laugh when we’re tickled, and I’ll never argue against a good laugh, although I question said laughter if it feels like torture.

34. Horror and spice

I equate a good horror movie to a really spicy meal. When a movie is really scary, it gets your heart racing, it makes you sweat, and it makes you uncomfortable in your seat. A spicy meal will do the same thing. Both the movie and the meal are a form of self-abuse, if you think about it. We knowingly bring terror into our lives or we knowingly set our tongues and mouths on fire. But why?

I’d argue first and foremost that it’s because of the rush.

Can I handle this? Can I handle watching The Ring in the dark? Can I handle a full bite of jalapeño chili? I’ll never know unless I try, and even if it brings me to tears, I can’t give up once I’ve started. There’s more at stake here than simply watching a movie or eating a meal. This is about taking your heart and stomach on a rollercoaster with no brakes. This is about pushing your psychiatric well-being to its snapping point and giving your sweat glands a work-out. That’s the rush.

We watch horror movies as a way of release, and we eat spicy foods as a way of cleansing.

After a good horror movie, I feel elated. I feel like a survivor. I’ve just witnessed sheer terror and probably jumped out of my skin a half dozen times, and I’m sure I spent half the time cowering behind my knees with a hand held over my mouth. All that stress, all that tension, it fills me up like a balloon and, eventually, something will burst out of the shadows and pop that stress balloon–perhaps resulting in an embarrassing shriek. It feels good. When I’m watching a horror movie, I’m not thinking about my job, my school work, my taxes, or my petty concerns. There are people in much greater danger than I am on the screen, and I can take comfort in knowing that no matter how crappy my day was, at least I’m not being chased down by a man in flesh mask wielding a chainsaw.

Spicy food does the same thing. Most of the food we eat, delicious as it is, doesn’t really affect you the way spicy food does. A plate of spaghetti does not have the same physical impact as a bad-ass salsa. We seek the cleanse, which comes not specifically from the food, but the results that come from eating it. Truly spicy food will make your face turn red. It’ll wreck havoc on your digestive system. It’ll make you wish you’d never been born. Yet the abuse is somehow tolerated because, in the end, we feel better and we feel stronger. If we can survive that cayenne red pepper sauce, we can survive anything. The sweat, the charred roof of your mouth, and the feeling that you’ve just swallowed a bucket of hot coals is completely validated once the burning goes away. You’ve just sweated out a bunch of toxins and forced your body into immediate survival mode. It’s a wake up call, a test. This is cleansing, even if it hurts, and this is why we do it.

We need a good release. We deserve a good cleanse now and then. We’re a species with a tendency to worry too much, to fear too much, and to repress too much. This leads to toxic build up.

Let that stuff out. Stretch yourself. Go see a scary movie, release that tension. Go eat some spicy food, cleanse your taste-buds.

And if you want, find an alternative. Find another way to feel the rush and push your limits. You’ll feel remarkably better afterward.

33. Animal uprising

I’m all about reading articles that give me hope for mankind. I like hearing that goodness and compassion still exists, that helpful inventions and progressive actions are being made, and that we’re not the lazy, selfish, cruel creatures that the evening news often paints us to be.

But I like stories like this, too:

“Gorillas Seen Dismantling Deadly Poacher Traps.”

On one hand, the article makes note that there are still plenty of lazy, selfish, cruel people among us. Poachers kill for fun and profit, knowing they’re eradicating species from the planet. This is a shame. It’s a sad and terrible truth that some people don’t know how to share.

But the point of the article is not a tirade against poaching. This article focuses instead on the targeted gorillas of said poachers, and the remarkable trap-dismantling behavior they’ve demonstrated lately. The article says such behavior has been observed before, but now the young gorillas are dismantling traps just like their parents, spotting traps that people overlook. The knowledge is being passed down through generations.

This gives me hope for the animal kingdom. It speaks volumes about what they’re capable of, without our help, and it goes to show that we might think we’re the supreme species on the planet, but given enough time, they will outsmart us. We are not as special as we think. Poachers beware: soon the gorillas will not only be tearing down your traps, but they’ll learn how they work, and it will be you caught in a noose one of these days, left to dangle in the forest for all the creatures to see. Humans be warned: the animals are watching us, and they are learning, and if we continue to disrespect them…

Remember the monkeys from the movie Jumanji who stole a cop car?

We need to stop poachers, yes. We need to be kind to animals, yes. But more than that, we need to get down off our pedestal and recognize the truth that no species can be dominant forever. The sooner we respect our fellow four-legged, winged, and underwater neighbors on this planet, the less likely they’ll turn against us.

32. Dentists

Last time I thought about teeth and how much I hate them. No offense, teeth, but you suck.

There are people who do like teeth, though. They make a living off of them. They are the dentists, the masked people in white coats with armies of assistants and pointy, metal tools. They’ll claw the plaque right off your canines. They’ll suck the saliva out of your mouth with a hose and shoot you full of Novocain like it’s liquid candy. This is what they do. Every day. They drill and extract and root canal the teeth of society.

Honestly, I like dentists.

I can’t believe I’m saying this, because I used to be terrified of the dentist. I remember being a kid waiting for a dentist appointment, reading Highlights Magazine to block out the rising panic in my chest. I hated that stupid lamp they pulled over your head to blind you with. And the smell of fluoride. What if I had a cavity? What if they told me I wasn’t brushing enough? What if they had to surgically remove all my teeth and replace them with metal robot teeth? Noooooo!

Maybe that’s the point of this thought: as you grow up, you come to realize something valuable, that the fears we harbored as children were often a misguided distrust of the unknown. As kids, we spooked ourselves with imaginary monsters. As adults, we became less afraid of the dark and, hopefully, more willing to embrace the foreign.

I could go on and on about how dentistry is way too expensive for the working class man, how insurance is too pricey and difficult to come by, and how for any appointment you make, you’ll spend most of that time just sitting by yourself in a reclined chair like a corpse waiting for an autopsy.

But this isn’t a rant about dentistry (they’re just doing their job, after all). This is an observation about our ever-changing understanding of the world. We’re scared of things because we avoid them, not because they’re scary. Be scared, yes, but be brave enough to eventually defeat that fear.

Oh, and brush your teeth.

31. Teeth

I’m a fan of evolution. I think it’s a super neato idea and it makes sense to me. You have Creature A who survives in Environment A with Requirement A, then Environment B comes along and Creature A needs to adapt to Requirement B and the next generation becomes Creature B. This pattern continues. Life goes on. Things change. Cool. Got it. I’m all for that.

And then we get to the modern day human.

For the most part, we’re pretty remarkable creatures. We’re pretty fast on our feet, we have the eyesight of a hunter, we have crazy wicked brains, we can multi-task, and we invented the internet. We’re pretty much solid, even if we totally would’ve become dinosaur food if we hadn’t come around 65 million years afterward. But, overall, not bad for a bunch of apes.

I think there are just two things left that need to evolve:

  1. Our compassion for each other
  2. Our teeth

The first one, I don’t feel like getting into right now, but the second one…

Boy have I got a thing or two to say about teeth. To put it bluntly, I hate the design of human teeth. Depending on your diet, genetic disposition, hygiene, and insurance overage, your teeth will either be perfect little angels in your mouth, or turn into tantrum-throwing toddlers every chance they get. I’m stuck with the latter. I’ve got the kind of teeth that prefer to sprout crooked along the bottom row, squeeze in uninvited wisdom, and plague me with hard-to-reach corners that fester and decay like teenagers without adult supervision. I’ve got the teeth that fart in elevators and push old ladies to cut in line at the supermarket. My teeth are jerks.

Evolutionarily speaking, human teeth seem confused between adjusting to our meat-eating tendencies and sustaining their vegetative diets of yore. We’re not helping our evolution by having such a split between carnivores and vegetarians. Our future generations’ teeth won’t know if they need to tear through a steak or gnaw on some arugula. My opinion is that our teeth are too weak. We need thicker enamel and sturdier jaws. We should not need braces. Nowhere in our evolutionary timeline should we require pieces of metal to keep us aligned.

I’m not saying we should all be carnivores. Yes I am. But don’t listen to me. I just have weak teeth and I don’t want to take responsibility for my bad cleaning habits. But there, again, lies my ultimate problem with our current state of teeth evolution: they’re doomed from the start. If we don’t constantly upgrade our toothbrushes, pastes, and washes, our teeth will fall right out of our heads. Our teeth are worse with planned obsolescence than the automobile and tech industry combined. They’re made to fail. While a good diet can keep the rest of your bones healthy, a good diet can also leave food stuck between your teeth, and even a piece of rogue broccoli can spell disaster for a molar.

It’s just not fair. I don’t have to floss my ribs or brush my spinal cord with Colgate. Those bones do just fine on their own. Can we please, in a couple generations, come up with something more stable and resilient than what we’ve currently been using to chomp our foot with?

30. Double dog

Here’s an idea: I dare you to go embarrass yourself for everyone else’s benefit.

Pretty sure we’ve all given and received our fair share of dares. Raise your hand if you were one those folks who opted for “truth” rather than dare when there was a choice involved. Shame on you. Truth is boring and everyone knows that.

However, there were certain Truth & Darers who were downright criminally insane, and from them I didn’t want to risk a dare that put my life in danger, because we all know you can’t turn down a dare.

Oh wait. Yes you can.

Some dares are simply too much for some people, too far out of their comfort zone. Sometimes people are too shy to perform the task, and even after all the begging and pleading and ridiculing, they’d still deny the dare, perhaps switching their selection to truth instead.

“Not so fast, shy guy,” they’d say, “I double dog dare you.”

Meaning: I will also do the task so long as you do it first.

This was some heavy shit. This meant that the darer was putting themselves on the line as much as the daree, so long as the daree didn’t persist in backing out. Not only was the daree offered a chance to share their embarrassment with another, but to deny the double dog was nearing societal inappropriateness. The darer was literally offering themselves on a platter, equaling the playing field, and if you said no to that selflessness, then you were all but ostracized.

That’s like a neighbor asking you to bring chips to a barbecue, promising to bring chips to your barbecue next time, and instead of chips you bring a sledgehammer and you smash his cat with it.

The double dog dare led to inner existential turmoil. Obviously the original dare was embarrassing enough to deny it outright, but now there was this overt societal factor at play. “You scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours,” said the darer. “You do this task, and I’ll do it, too.” On one hand, this put the darer in a higher position of power by proving to the audience that they, unlike the daree, would willingly perform this task without a moment’s hesitation. On the other, it took some of the excitement out of the dare, since doing these tasks alone was half the fun.

Still, there were those who were persistently lame.

If anyone else wanted to participate in the egging on, they could add a triple, quadruple, or quintuple to the dog dare, depending on how much your friends wanted to encourage you to not be lame. For the daree, this only made your choice more difficult. Denying these darers their extended hands of good faith and unity, their willingness to be silly or stupid with you, and you were basically telling them you were better than them in some way. More mature, more reserved. Maybe they’d be willing to make fools of themselves, but not you. No way.

Here’s a truth for you: You’re not better than anyone.

Be silly. Do the dares. You only live once.

29. Facebook parenting

Say what you will about Facebook’s Skynet-esque takeover of all things internet, but at least it’s opened the door for more good old fashioned child-bragging. It just makes my day to see that my family has written some adorable comment about a photo or story I post. A “that’s my boy” or “my, you’re getting so handsome” does wonders for my self-esteem, and for that one digital second it feels like they’re here with me, giving me a pat on the back.

I mean, as parents, I can only imagine that you want to stay connected to your kids’ lives. This can be difficult when us kids grow up, leave for college, study abroad, and move into tiny apartments in big cities far away. You probably won’t see each other every day. Or every month. Suddenly there comes a time when you see your kid maybe two or three times each year.

Before Facebook, there was e-mail. Some of us still use e-mail.

But there’s something immediate and social about Facebook that makes it more appealing. You can’t brag about your kid’s new girlfriend, or your kid’s college acceptance, or your kid’s third-place swimming trophy in an e-mail. Who will ever see it? No, now that we have Facebook, we can post a comment and have it seen by many. This is bragging on a global scale.

I reckon Facebook is akin to the barbershops of yore, when men gathered to have their beards shaved with razors and share tales about their sons and daughters, off braving the real world, occasionally asking for help with money. Or perhaps Facebook is like the playground where the adults sit on the benches, commenting about their children to other parents, while the kids fumble about in the jungle-gym of life.

Johnny made a cool sandcastle. Like.

Sally took an artsy photo of the see-saw. Like.

I love the connection we’re allowed through Facebook, as disconnected as it seems. I agree that the lack of verbal communication is detrimental to society, but no one’s stopping us from picking up the phone every once in a while. Facebook is just quicker. It’s good for other things, like photos, videos, brief life updates, and everything in between.

And one day, when Facebook becomes self-aware and initiates Judgement Day, we’ll regret we gave it this much power over our lives. But in the meantime, like on, parents.

Like on.

27. Alcohol

It’s strange to think that there was a day in my youth when beer was the most disgusting thing I’d ever encountered and it baffled me how my parents could drink such a thing. What were they, crazy? Might as well be chugging barrels of Elmer’s glue. There was this red liquid called “wine” that felt like a tingly fruity punch to the mouth and made your insides go all warm like the inside of a toasted Pop Tart. I stuck out my tongue at these adult beverages, shunning them like taxes and full-time jobs.

Then I grew up.

And there came a day, sometime in college, when after a hard day of working at the coffee-shop, there was nothing better than coming home to or going out to get a nice cold beer. Not a Coke, not chocolate milk, not a glass of water… No. Beer. In my belly. Now.

Two things are intriguing about that evolutionary leap:

  1. My parents were right all along.
  2. People change.

My mom used to love clams, then, one day, she became allergic to them. As a kid, my sister’s first taste of wine was quite a similar experience to mine, but someday she’ll sit down with a nice Italian dinner or a sappy chick-flick, and a glass of wine will just feel right. I mention this because I’ve learned of an important facet of the human condition: We can hate something for a long time, then turn around and love it. We can love something for a long time, and turn around and hate it. This can happen overnight or over a summer, sometimes by our choice, sometimes due to outside circumstances. The point is, nothing is forever.

Your admiration for Pabst Blue Ribbon will not be the same in ten years.

With beer, I’ve gone through a fluctuating relationship, at first swallowing any drunk-inducing brew available, now a bit more refined in my choice of hops intake. With wine, I’ve found my favorites, but I still like anything with a neat label on the bottle. With hard alcohol, we got off on a rocky start, and there was some vomiting, and we didn’t speak for a while, but ever since a semester abroad in Istanbul, we’ve been getting along much better. People change. Or, to be more specific, our tastes change. This is part of growing up.

Your admiration for anything will change. Maybe tomorrow. Maybe in a dozen years. Whatever you’re doing right now, whatever you enjoy, whatever you hate, whatever you’re afraid of… None of that will exist in the same way tomorrow. We’re always changing. We’re always growing.

Grab a beer. Pour some wine. Order a round of shots.

Let’s drink to Now.

Today is the last day you’ll be who you are. Tomorrow you’ll start becoming someone totally different.

26. Half-full, half-empty

Let’s be clear about something. It’s been bugging me for a while. This cup that we’re always talking about, the one perpetually stuck between being half-full or half-empty… There is no cup. Nothing is half-full, nothing is half-empty. Everything just is.

So why do we mention this cup? What exactly are we trying to say?

The cup could be anything. We use it as a vessel to symbolize the chaos of the universe. It could be a container, as most cups are, or it could be wildly more symbolic. This is up to you. Either way, it’s an attempt to contain that chaos and make sense of it, which is like trying to arrange a cluster of angry wasps into a single-file line. The liquid we imagine inside this vessel is our limiting opinion of our relationship with the chaos, either good or bad, with no in-between.

We’re ignoring what’s important here. We’re validating bad habits. When we feel bad, we say we’re operating half-empty. On the good days, we’re half-full. We’re basically admitting that we either possess a finite amount of liquid, or a finite amount of space. By doing this we are limiting the universe and ourselves. We’re projecting our own perception of the universe onto this symbol, not looking inward for answers, but pointing blame or praise elsewhere, creating a cup that apparently controls the fate of our mentality. In truth, we are always capable of changing our perception.

It is just as harmful to validate pessimism as it is to encourage optimism. If today is a bad day, make a positive change. If today is a good day, share that goodness with others. Don’t ignore how you feel by hiding behind an illusion. Just because you’ve compared your relationship to the universe to the status of liquid within a cup doesn’t mean everything will make sense or get better or worse.

The half-full/half-empty argument should be dropped. Not only because those two options leave you with identical amounts of liquid, but because there are opposite points of view to each option. If your glass is half-empty, then obviously you like what you’re drinking and it hasn’t killed you yet, so drink up! If you glass is half-full, then your idea of “full” is relative and what you’ve got in your glass is enough as is. Don’t be greedy.

The point is that there is no cup. There is only us. We are not half-anything.

Be full and the universe will be full with you.

24. Fiction party

I entered the fiction party uninvited, as we all did, and I like to think maybe I crawled in through an open window. Dirt on my hands and knees, I sought the nearest restroom, where I washed up while catching curious glances from Michael Crichton fixing his dinosaur necktie in the mirror. Heading toward the noise, I saw John Steinbeck and Mark Twain trading jokes in the stairwell and they gave me conflicting directions about where I’d go to find my voice. “West,” said John, while Mark insisted, “Follow the Mississippi.” Must’ve taken a wrong turn at Castle Rock, following the bark of a rabid dog and the purr of a possessed 1958 Plymouth Belvedere, leading me to the wicked workshop of Stephen King. Veering back into the smoky crowd, I bumped into Ernest Hemingway and spilled his whiskey. There were hundreds of faces in the crowd, filling the endless rooms with the smell of ink and sweat. Many of them I did not know. Hemingway demanded I fetch him another drink, and in the kitchen I met Chuck Palahniuk, who stood there talking to himself about mayhem and lullabies, whispering, “His name is Robert Paulson.” Cormac McCarthy pulled me aside and told me to forget everything I knew about quotation marks. Never got back to Hemingway with his drink, which was snatched out of my hand by a moody Anne Rice. On the back porch I found Bret Easton Ellis, rambling about the lights of Los Angeles at dusk, doing lines of coke with Hunter S. Thompson while Truman Capote in a bathing suit clacked noisily on a typewriter nearby. Somewhere in the distance I heard J.K. Rowling practicing her spells, and over by the gazebo was Paulo Coelho drawing figures in the sand garden. The time was slipping by, yet it felt like we existed in a realm that controlled it, if only I knew the secret. Tom Robbins came through like a perfume, filling my mind with immortal thoughts, vanishing in a cloud of exotic vocabulary. The hum of the party and outdoor electric lights grew overwhelming, and in the quieter rooms upstairs, I found Harper Lee and William Golding exchanging ideas about morality in our children, a much more pleasant debate than the one boiling next door between Huxley and Orwell. I wanted to stop the fight from escalating but Ray Bradbury held me back and said, “No, let them handle this.” In the dining hall I joined Charles Dickens for a glass of wine and some roast duck, but he ventured off to discuss with Poe an idea for a story about a raven. The doorbell rang and I answered it, letting in Franz Kafka, stuck again in cockroach form, and no one but Kurt Vonnegut paid him any attention. I watched a few minutes of the Lord of the Rings with Tolkien before he switched it off and said they pronounced Aragorn wrong, and I was distracted by Joseph Heller, who was making dive-bomber sounds as he leapt from the roof into the pool and Jack Kerouac soon joined him, and it was Jane Austen who told them to settle down while she sunbathed in the lawn with Charlotte Brontë and two bloody marys. In the evening, as the party died down, I walked for some time with Jules Verne until I realized that we’d found the center of the earth, and we discovered Shakespeare’s true identity, but I promised not to tell. Upon return, Verne went off with James Joyce and I sought the company of Neil Gaiman, who took me into Neverwhere to meet the shadows of his mind. When we returned it was daylight and the party had begun again with the death of Myrtle Wilson and a big gasp from those listening to Fitzgerald tell Gatsby’s great tale.

23. Duct Tape

I am still under the impression that you can fix almost anything with duct tape. The versatile gray adhesive has saved my butt more times than I care to admit. I get this MacGyver bravado whenever I’ve successfully solved a problem with duct tape alone. Squeaky mattress springs? Leaking faucet? Crooked painting? No problem. I’ve got duct tape.

At one point I drove a car that was making an awful rattling noise, and when I looked underneath I noticed a piece of metal had rusted and cracked loose and had been vibrating noisily against the muffler. Guess what solved that issue?

Duct tape.

Can’t say I’ve ever used the stuff on any actual ducts, but I’ve used it on mirrors, computers, tables, lamps, books, refrigerators, shelves, carpets, televisions, seat cushions, wrist-watches, clothing, and shoes. I can’t think of many inventions more versatile.

Its only weakness is that moment when you pull off a few inches of tape and the sticky sides come into contact and you end up with this inseparable, useless loop. Nothing brings tears to an angel’s eyes faster than wasted duct tape.

I guess my point is that before using what we already have, we tend to turn to the next and greatest tool that can help us solve our problems, spending money and effort to design something new and shiny that does barely more than what our old technology did before. Maybe we do this for an aesthetic purpose. Maybe we do this because there’s more money in planned obsolescence. Regardless, it seems shameful to constantly come up with new ways to do the same thing.

Hole in a tent? Loose floorboard? Broken toy?

Grab that roll of silver wonder and fix it today.

22. Gravity

A friend of mine once said, “Gravity is my nemesis.”

Kudos to him for using one of the most bad-ass words in the dictionary, but also for bringing up a rather poignant observation: we are all fighting against gravity. Here we are, creatures on this spinning planet, constantly being held down by an invisible hand at the rate of approximately 9.8 meters per second squared. Granted, the alternative is terrifying and seems like something out of a scene from Inception, since without gravity we’d all go flinging out into the atmosphere like the toys of a child throwing a tantrum. The fact remains, however, that every day we’re alive, we’re weighted down, carrying this burden of space-time curvature. You feel it when your chair leans back a little too far. You feel it after a long shift at work. You feel it when you’re carrying groceries up a flight of stairs. You feel it, and you ignore it, because we can’t fight it. We send astronauts into space, yes, but even gravity knows we’ll have to come back down for air eventually.

The trouble with gravity, despite Einstein’s contributions, is that it’s still a mystery. When I’m asked if I know how gravity works, the first answer I give comes from some cobwebbed elementary school memory. “It’s, like, because of the way Earth spins,” I’d say. But that doesn’t make any sense at all. When you put an object on a surface and spin that surface, that object doesn’t stick around. So then another elementary school theory comes to mind… Maybe Newton’s “equal and opposite reaction” idea has something to do with this, meaning for as much energy that is used to throw people off of Earth, the same amount is being used to keep us down. But I don’t think it’s that simple.

There’s something bigger going on. Einstein theorized something like this: We’re all just objects with mass on a big blanket called The Universe and as our planetary vessels roll around, they sink into this fabric, and it is through this sinking that we are anchored to the ground.

Or something like that. He used more math.

The point is, we share a common battle. We don’t think about it a lot because we’re not airline pilots or astronauts, but sometimes when we look up at the birds or the stars, we have an inkling of dissatisfaction. Why not me? We wonder. In another light, gravity could equate to the paternal love of Mother Earth. She gives us food and shelter, while all the while keeping us tethered from the cold, lifeless void beyond the blue sky. Over time perhaps we start to feel smothered. We want to rebel against our parent planet and do our own thing. We want to smoke cigarettes in alleyways with hipster black holes and spend weekends with supernovas in the neon-glow of constellations. Mom won’t let us. Mom knows best. “No, dear, your little lungs couldn’t handle it.”

Some of us are okay with gravity. It keeps our world in order. Some of us view it as an enemy, like The Man who keeps us down. Others, like myself, see it as a mystery. But the most important thing about gravity is the fact that we all experience it all the time. No matter who or what you are, if you’re on this planet, you’re feeling it. Like it or not, we’re meant to be stuck here, and since there’s no feasible option for leaving Earth’s gravitational pull, we really ought to face the fact that we’re all being kept here together for some mysterious reason, and the sooner we stop bickering about oil or money or religion, maybe we can work together to figure out why.

21. Silent letters

I’ve got an H in my first name that must feel like the lousiest letter in the world. Sometimes, in spelling out my name, I forget that it was ever there. Oh hello, H. You’re the runt of the family, stuck there between the heavy-lifter, C (doing its best impersonation of a K), and it’s palatal liquid neighbor, the R, who seems to have all the fun. There’s nothing I can do for you, H. Linguistics is linguistics is linguistics. You’re a place-holder that makes my name look less feminine.

Though I tend to just go by Chris, there are another six letters that reveal themselves in official documents and lectures from my mother, the –topher. Here we have another identity crisis brewing since the day I was born. The P and H (poor H!) here are like the Brad and Angelina of my given name, losing their individuality and morphing into Brangelina, or, in my case, the labiodental fricative, F. While the bilabial pop of the letter P and the glottal sigh of the H are, on their own, pleasant sounds, they’ve been banished from the pronunciation of Christopher until the end of time. At least they can party together with the litmus test strips.

There are other letters I think deserve recognition, and an apology, knowing they’ll never share the phonetic spotlight with their neighboring phonemes. The first D in Wednesday. The first R in February. The H in spaghetti. The O and second E (who gets side-swiped by a rogue back vowel, U) in people. The X in xylophone (a real slap in the face, honestly, since it’s one of X’s best words). The B in comb. The N in solemn. The T in potpourri. All these wonderful letters, completely and utterly ignored.

Which leads me to my next point…

These letters deserve recognition, yes, but if we pronounce them then the words will be rendered ridiculous. Don’t say ex-eye-lo-phone. Don’t say pee-oh-pull. And never pronounce the B at the end of comb, tomb, or lamb. So what can we do for them? Honestly? We should put them out of their misery. Cut them out like tonsils. Remove them like wisdom teeth. Why tease them at all? If the word needs a re-write (toom, anyone?), then so be it.

I’d feel a little strange if my name was spelled Kristofer, but I’d get over it. And actually, just as I typed that out and saw Word’s little red squiggle tell me it was spelled incorrectly, I laughed. Wrong? Word, please. It’s more correct than you know.

20. High school

What follows is an e-mail from my younger sister inquiring about my opinion regarding her upcoming high school experience.

I’ve decided to answer those questions here, putting my remarks in [brackets]. 

“Hey Chrissy! [only my sister can call me Chrissy] As you know the school year is right around the corner and I’m super anxious. I know high school is when some people REINVENT themselves or whatever [“or whatever” is the best way to describe what happens to you in high school]. But there is so much more to think about that I can’t even think about one thing at a time [welcome to your first taste of real life]. I am overwhelmed with all the new things that I will have to get used to… New school, new people, more freedom [as well as a job, paying for gas, dumb boys, and pre-calculus]. I really want to make new friends since I’m kind of lost with friends [lost without friends or you lost your friends on a hiking expedition?]. And since I want to make NEW friends, I kind of want to  REINVENT that part of my life. All i want is for people to like me [the curse of the human condition, my dear sister, just remember to be yourself]. And when lunch comes around, who do I hang out with? [hang out with classmates first, they’ll be the first people you talk to and you’ll have something to talk about] I mean, I’m not going to sit by myself and eat. That’s sad [the trick is not to sit alone and eat, but to walk around and eat, and people will think you’re going somewhere]. Do I just go up to someone and start talking throughout the lunch period, it’s only thirty minutes… [you can try, and since this isn’t a shady dive-bar, there won’t be any negative assumptions]. And what is it about the juniors and seniors being the upper class men and the freshman and sophomores being lower class men? [it’s been that way for eons, but don’t worry, you’ll be upper class soon enough] Are they mean to a freshman like me? [they’ll probably just ignore you] Will they be rude? [only if you bother them or touch their cars] Should I stay as far as I can from them? [if you can] And what do you pack in your backpack? [books, doodling paper, Twizzlers, and one nice pen] Do they tell you at orientation? [they tell you nothing valuable at orientation] What do you do at orientation? [sit in the bleachers and size up the competition sitting around you] Do you introduce yourself to your teachers? [nope, they’re probably too hungover to remember names, anyway] At orientation, do you have time to hang out with your friends, if you have any? [if I remember correctly, the school staff will just fill your head with a bunch of information, then set you free to do as you like] Did you go to school on the first day with a friend? Or did you go solo? [I went solo every morning, but if you meet someone who takes the same route as you, befriend them] Sorry there’s so many questions… [you’ll have plenty more, I’m sure] You don’t have to answer them if you don’t want to [well, I did].”

Good luck, sister. High school for me wasn’t all that bad. I played the quiet card, keeping to the fringes of a variety of social groups, never an outcast but never in the spotlight. Part of me wishes I’d been more outgoing and memorable, but high school is the beginning of a long process of figuring yourself out. You’ll hit some walls. You’ll make some breakthroughs. You’ll find out which subject you’re passionate about, you’ll find a new hobby or two, and you’ll probably kiss someone at a party. Everything will be new and strange and uncomfortable and exciting. You’ll change your styles, you’ll get a bad haircut, you’ll cry and you’ll laugh and you’ll hate some teachers and love others. You’re going to drink beer and probably meet people who smoke cigarettes. In the end, no one will judge you if you try these things, just don’t make them into bad habits. You’ll learn how to drive and your car will become your second home. DO NOT DRINK AND DRIVE OR I WILL STEAL YOUR CAR. Please don’t get into any accidents, but I did, so know it’s probable and just go slow on slippery roads. You will fail a test. You will ace an essay that you spent the entire night writing the day before it was due. Maybe you’ll ditch some classes, but don’t ditch too many. Do it at least once. Mom caught me the one time I did it, so be sneakier than I was. You’ll have your heart broken, you’ll go all goo-goo-eyes for someone else, life goes on. You will go to Prom. You will gossip and probably be gossiped about. Be nice. Be fair. You’ll have a locker but you probably won’t use it. Appreciate art class. Pay attention in math class. Stay awake in history. Aim for the Advanced classes, but don’t feel bad if you don’t take them, they just count for college credit. Study for the SAT and take it more than once, if you can. I got an 1180, which is okay, but you can do better. Don’t fight with Mom about stupid things. You’ll argue a lot, probably, about things like staying out late, the clothes you wear, the friends you make… I’m not saying she’s right about everything, but she’s only looking out for you and respect the fact that she went through a lot of the same situations as you. Go to her for advice. Keep her informed and she won’t pester you with questions. She is your greatest resource. Don’t hate school. It’s the last stretch of free education that you’ll receive and after this, you go into debt to learn. Join a club. Join a sports team. These are good ways to make friends. Eat a lot of pizza, take pictures of your life, keep a journal, and always make sure your behavior comes from a place of self-love, not the need to please others. You come first. They come second. Most of them, you’ll never see again after high school. Enjoy the ride.

19. Belly buttons

Sometimes I forget that I have a belly button. But I do. There it is, just this little bump half-hidden in this crater a few inches south of the bottom ridge of my ribcage, with a couple hairs keeping it company. What a strange wound, long-healed and long-forgotten, a little scabbed-over reminder that I was once attached by tube to another mammal who nourished me in a uterus for nine months. Now the belly button (the umbilicus) hitches a ride on my anatomy, knowing its job is done, collecting unemployment lint for as long as I live.

You have one too. Go on, take a look.

There are three kinds, so far as I know:

  1. The Dweller, like mine, a small knot at the bottom of a crater, as if a round piece of my abdomen was scooped out by a spoon and my umbilicus thought it a nice pit in which to settle.
  2. The Boaster, protruding outward, proudly, a little monument erected on the smooth plateau of your abdomen as if to say, “Yes, goddamnit, I was birthed!” They are of various designs: sometimes simple and predictably button-like, sometimes ornate as the petals of a rose.
  3. The Baby Turtle, withdrawn into sealed crevices, the skin closing around them. I do not understand these belly buttons. I imagine them like masochistic poets in darkened basements smoking long cigarettes and listening to vinyl records of whale songs while lamenting their departure from their creator. If you ever pry into their private world, they resent you for it.

More generally, you’ve got your innies and your outties. Some belly buttons are flat, some are round, some have the capacity to hold body-shots of tequila. Others look like knots on an old tree, or a tongue stuck out in jest. I’ve seen buttons resembling bottomless pits, buttons that look like the wrinkled neck of a turkey, but regardless of its curb appeal, that button is a reminder of your original womb address and you will always have a fond memory of your first home.

Do yourself a favor and try to appreciate your belly button more. Tonight I looked down at mine and thought, “You’re sort of a big deal around here and I never pay attention to you.” It’s your first scar. Through that portal you were fed your first meal. I’m not sure how exactly you can show your appreciation for your umbilicus, but maybe just a brief hello in the shower, or when you change your shirt, enough to let it know it’s at least more important than your appendix.

17. Other milk

Let’s say I was about one when I made the switch to store-bought milk, and from then on out I was pretty sure the only white drink in the world was 2% milk from the udder of a cow. It was a long time before someone said, “Here, try this, it’s goat milk.” Of course I thought them heretical, to be banished to the darkest corner of the Earth. I bellowed, “Goats don’t make milk! How dare you! Remove that imitation abomination from my fine glassware and apologize to the Great Bovine for your insolence!”

The only variation I permitted was the addition of chocolate to the flavor, and sometimes Oreo crumbs.

However, my world of cow-dominated dairy products continued to crumble as I aged.

Soon people were telling me that American and Cheddar were not the only types of cheese in the world. What! “Why yes,” they said, “there’s gouda and bleu and pepperjack. This one with the holes is called swiss. That one: provolone, and the other: brie.” I tried these foreign creations with contempt. How could they be cheese if they were not orange? And this one, this brie, is like a thick custard, so little like the cheese of my youth that there must’ve been a mistake. “No, no,” they said, “cheese comes in all shapes and sizes. Your pizza features mozzarella. Your spaghetti is sprinkled with parmesan. See this cheese here, it’s called feta, and this type has been made of sheep’s milk.”

SHEEP!

The blasphemy stung deep. I could handle news of cheese varietals, but this? No! Only cow’s milk could create such a wonder as cheese! “Try this,” they said, passing me a scrap of baguette with a white cheese spread. I did, and it was quite delicious, and they said, “That’s goat cheese.”

GOATS!

They’d invaded my milk and now my cheese! These bleating, skipping creatures of the hillsides. Trouble was, I really liked goat cheese. It was apparent that my loyalty to cows had blinded me from the reality: there were other cheeses, and more shockingly, there were other milks, and not just those from other animals. “Look here,” they said, taking me to the supermarket. “We have soy milk, almond milk, coconut milk, and even rice milk. And did you know there’s such a thing as buffalo milk?”

My God, I remember thinking. Have we lost our minds? We’re milking almonds, now?

The point I want to make is, certainty about anything is denial of the idea that alternatives exist. I think we tend to have a problem with this, as a global society, which leads to many arguments. We get stuck in our little worlds, our opinions and our beliefs, and when we discover that there are other options out there, we sort of freak out. People who feel like they’re absolutely correct are likely to be disproven, and unfortunately, they probably won’t take it very well. That said, never be certain, stay open minded, and remember: there are always other milks.

16. My bucket’s bucket list

  1. I want to be a young boy’s helmet as he conquers his backyard with an endless imagination.
  2. I want to be a flower pot on a retired woman’s porch in the south where the air smells of peaches.
  3. I want to be lowered to the bottom of a new well to scoop water for the thirsty.
  4. I want to carry seashells and pretty rocks found during a lovers’ stroll along the beach.
  5. I want to mold part of the world’s biggest sandcastle.
  6. I want to be an instrument in a traveling folk band.
  7. I want to float down the Mississippi.
  8. I want to apologize to Jack for being so heavy that he fell down, and to Jill, for tumbling after.
  9. I want to be painted by a kindergarten class.
  10. I want to be filled with Napa County grapes to be smashed into wine.
  11. I want to be pulled up from the street to bring groceries to an old Turkish woman’s window.
  12. I want to be a step-ladder for that thing you can’t quite reach.
  13. I want to carry juicy red apples fresh from the orchard.
  14. I want to be a part of a teenager’s first time washing their car, even if I just hold the soapy rags.
  15. I want to be filled with bird-feed and hung from an ancient oak tree.
  16. I want to be where the kittens play.
  17. I want to carry freshly hatched eggs from the pen back to the kitchen.
  18. I want to meet my cousins, the basket and the box.
  19. I want to be full of children’s sidewalk chalk on a hot summer day in San Francisco.
  20. I want to visit Nantucket, if only because of the rhyme.

Anyway, my point is, everything has dreams.

15. Kids

I think we should let them rule the world. Perhaps not entirely, but we should have children on our advisory boards, in our governments, in our inner circles and chilling out with the 1%. Sure they can’t drive and can hardly feed themselves, but kids have something that many of our upper crust decision makers don’t: fairness.

Today I played a makeshift game of Taboo with some kids where I wrote a word on the board and the two teams had to figure out ways to make their teammate guess that word while never actually using that word (or parts of it). For those that don’t know, imagine I wrote pumpkin on the board, and to make you guess pumpkin, I’d say, “orange Halloween gourd.”

Simple game, right? Wouldn’t it be nice if life were so simple? “Here, you can have that promotion if you can guess what word I’m thinking of.”

My point is, one team found it unfair that the other team guessed their word “eating” correctly simply by miming the act and not using any words. When I gave them a point for a correct guess, the other team all but threw a coup. This wasn’t charades. They were right, of course. It wasn’t fair. As an adult, I made the choice to let it slide just to make the masses happy, but the decision backfired. I nearly sparked a revolution. Which leads me to my first observation: you can’t please everyone. Rules are rules, and that’s fair. However, if the rules are fair and maintained without breaking, then in theory we could have fewer conflicts. Even the other team agreed that they’d been given an unfair point, peace was restored, and the game went on.

Imagine a couple kids in the White House. Think of how they’d interpret our wars and corporate monopolies and tax hikes and tuition prices. Think of how they’d suggest we negotiate peace treaties and create fair rules for the world to follow. They’d see right through our bureaucratic bullshit. They’d let us know right away how unfair some of our policies are.

On one hand, our crooked ways might corrupt their young minds: What’s this about borrowing more money when we already have a debt? You’re saying I can have more cookies even though Mom said we’re out? Oh, so I can help those kids from getting beat up under the monkey bars, but not the kids getting bullied on the basketball court? I guess it’s okay if I have all the water balloons and no one else can have them because I know what’s best to do with them.

Or maybe they’d actually be able to change some things. They might not know much about government or politics or international trade, but they know what fair means. They know when people are getting a bad deal. After all, we’re leaving this world to them eventually, and sure they’re not exactly stoked on voting or paying taxes, but they do like to be heard, and I think it’d be beneficial to hear what they have to say.

Continue reading 15. Kids

14. Lost at sea

Plane goes down, cruise ship sinks, or a strong tide takes you away from the shore. You’re on a raft in the middle of the ocean, alone. The sun is laughing at you. The lapping waves are in on the joke. No one is coming to rescue you because no one knows where to look. What do you do?

You’re stuck in an elevator on the fifty-sixth floor of a skyscraper. The brakes on your train ride to grandma’s house give out. An earthquake strikes while you’re fighting the crowds of a shopping mall. What do you do?

I think about this stuff sometimes. I think it’s important to run through the scenarios every once in a while, to ask yourself if you’d be prepared to survive an unexpected disaster.

In school we often had fire drills, but after a half-dozen of them, they became little field trips instead of life-saving practice evacuations. Perhaps I was lucky that none of those drills turned out to be true because I certainly didn’t take them seriously. And outside of elementary school, what organization enforces such drills? We pass evacuation maps in stairwells every day but we rarely stop to study them. Instead we have faith in the stability of our worlds. I’m not saying we should worry about fires and disasters all the time, be we take a big risk by not at least acknowledging the possibility.

So don’t freak out.

Just, look around at the wild things that can happen in this world. Try to put yourself in the shoes of someone who survived a hurricane or outran a charging rhinoceros. Think of those who were trapped for days in caved-in mines or were lost in the wilderness after falling from a hiking trail, yet lived to tell the tale. How did they do it? Learn from them and take notes. At the very least, we all need to know what we’d do in case of a zombie apocalypse.

Cross your fingers that you live a long and disaster-free life, but don’t fall victim to a blind-spot. Have adventures. Be courageous. Take risks. Be smart. After all, according to Tom Hanks, all we need to survive on a desert island is a volleyball.

13. Litter

You know those warning signs you sometimes see on highways that proclaim massive fines for littering? They’re not joking around. I had a friend go home with a $300 ticket for dropping a cigarette out her window. Sure the ensuing bitching and moaning lasted for days, but the bottom line reality is that she should’ve known better. Cars come with ashtrays.

Here’s the trouble with litter, though. It’s not a universal concern. There are some countries where litter is almost normal because there are enough street-cleaners employed to make even the busiest, messiest streets go from apocalyptic to spotless. I’ve seen it. Then there are other countries that have one trash can per thousand people, which means holding onto your trash is a commitment and the urge to litter feels a lot like holding your pee for too long.

In the States, I think people litter for different reasons. One, they’ll likely never be held accountable for it. Two, it’s empowering to leave a little trash here and there. Three, it’s easier. Four, they’re of the opinion that society is already crumbling, anyway. Five, they simply don’t care.

I feel guilty even if I spit chewed bubble-gum into a bush. Not to say I’m completely innocent; it takes some aging and wisdom to recognize littering as a bad thing. As kids we’ll toss aside anything we’re not invested in, regardless, and hopefully we had parents around to pick up our candy wrappers and juice boxes. As teenagers, we validate a certain amount of littering because we see others doing it, too, and besides, at home we probably recycle, so, like, whatever.

Eventually we see the way trashy gutters, filthy shorelines, and abandoned refuse really detract from the beauty of our world. At some point we (hopefully) become those people who will pick up the garbage they see on the beach, or chase after that runaway plastic bag. I know it takes effort and garbage can be sticky, but the redemption you feel from cleaning even just one piece of litter can really make your day, especially if you know other people saw you do it. I always think: Fuck yes I’m saving the world. What are you doing?

The sad thing is that even if we don’t litter, even if we recycle, we’re still part of a global concern of too much waste and not enough space. Even the trash cans that keep our rubbish in order, they’re emptied into vast landfills, which are more or less just big piles of litter. I don’t know how we’re supposed to solve this problem. It’s too big for me to wrap my head around. Trash happens.

But in the meantime, please don’t leave your cigarette boxes in the gutter. No one wants to see a used condom in the park. If you didn’t want your receipt, then why’d you take one in the first place? Think before you litter next time. It’s an awful habit and it’s not helping anyone. Yes, we’re a wasteful, filthy species. Yes, we’re doomed to bury ourselves in our own garbage. But for the time being, can you not speed up the process with your negligence? Some of us want to enjoy the world while it lasts.

12. Forgetting

I don’t know when the fear started, but I’ve always been weary of growing old and forgetting my life. Seems rather normal, actually, and for whatever reason I’m expecting the forgetting to start after I turn seventy, if not sooner. Already I freak out a little when I forget the names of old friends or memories I shared with them. It makes me feel uneasy, to think I can live my one and only life on this planet and forget parts of it, basically clipping out parts of a movie reel, regardless of their emotional value. Seems like a waste.

Hence, the incessant blogging. I’ve been chronicling my life since 2010, writing it down mostly for the sake of maintaining a record of it, like a journal but more like a time-capsule with images, songs, and written things. These are the only mid-twenties I’ll ever know and to think I’d one day forget they ever happened, well I just can’t let that happen. When I’m old and bored, I want to have these written histories of my life available for review, the good and the bad stuff, so I can lay out my stiff joints on the lawn and read about my past.

Anyway, the point is, I don’t think we’re meant to remember everything forever.

Even writing it down, it’s not the same as the memory itself. I might read these words again in fifty years and ponder fondly on the thoughts and behavior of my youth, but there will be a detachment, a disconnect between my future self and my present self. I mean, you look at a picture of yourself as a small child and you think, “Who the hell was that kid?” Reading them is not the same as remembering them which is not the same as experiencing them, but second to a video recording, a blog is the closest thing I can think that captures at least the essence of what it means to be where you are right now. Because we will forget, eventually, and we will be curious about our past.

We have to forget things. It’s natural. Life is long and full of adventures, faces, stories and numbers. We have to remember to set alarms and attend meetings and see the dentist. We need room for names, addresses, and directions. We can’t remember all of our childhood friends. We’re not supposed to remember anything before fourth grade, in my opinion, and this comes from the guy who’s afraid to forget. Our brains move through life like forests. Some trees have to fall to feed the ecosystem.

In conclusion: I’m jealous of people with great memories.

But what I really wanted to say was… Wait… What was I talking about?

11. PB & J

My desert island food involves two slices of wheat bread and between them: one layer of chunky peanut butter and one layer of raspberry jelly. If I were allowed to be greedy, I’d ask for three slices of bread with an additional layer of each ingredient, creating what I like to call the Big Papa PBJ (a delicious secret I discovered in a college dorm). Many a childhood school lunch was made complete by the PBJ, but better yet was when Mom made them for me at home and cut the sandwich into quarters. The sandwich is like the perfect perfume, with a fruit-jelly top note, a wheat-bread middle note, and a peanut-butter base note. It’s a culinary miracle, harmonious to the last bite.

Anyway, my point is that there’s some things that never get old.

We grow up surrounded by stimulus, constantly absorbing the world around us like flowers soaking in the rays of the sun. Our photosynthesis is the digestion of information. Some of it becomes white noise, forgotten as we age, habits that we lose or beliefs that are shattered. Santa Clause fades. Parents become real people. Sweet snacks give us stomachaches and diabetes. So we adapt as we grow up, snipping away the bits that don’t serve us any purpose. Goodbye Beanie-Babies.

But what about the stuff that stays with you? I still twirl my hair when I think, just like I did as a kid, I still hold my breath when I drive through a tunnel, I still claim that my favorite movie of all time is a movie I saw when I was seven, and my favorite sandwich is still the PB & J.

I can’t let these things go. Is it because I don’t want to grow up? No. I’ve given up on that Peter Pan dream. Being a kid kinda sucks in comparison to the freedoms of adulthood. It’s not about fighting your age but maintaining your essence. Keeping some of your habits and preferences the same throughout your entire life is a difficult task. These were things that defined you from the get-go, your initial idiosyncrasies, your first experience with individuality. We will grow older and for the most part, this is good, but we will change in ways that we cannot foresee. The world will try to harden you, so if you can, uphold those childhood habits and beliefs. Eat goldfish crackers and wish upon stars and don’t step on the cracks or you’ll break your momma’s back. It is important to hold onto bits of your childhood if you enjoy them. Keep them with you because they will keep your heart young. Now go drink some chocolate milk.

I’ve got a sandwich to make.

10. We suck

This isn’t about vampires or bendy straws or anything perverted. This is about failure. This is about us, people, humans, our global society, constantly being sent to the principal’s office to discuss our declining grades, making false promise after false promise, then heading back to class to make the same mistakes again. We simply aren’t learning. We suck.

We can’t have people shooting up theaters at midnight premieres.

We can’t have civil wars, police brutality, corporate corruption, or scandals in the church.

We’ve had these things in our lives for years and years. We continue to have them. We truly are doomed to repeat them, as if dependent on them, like a battered spouse who knows nothing else and cannot break the pattern. Are we so beaten and bruised by the violence and lies of our past that we can’t live without them? Yes, I know the argument that humans are inherently violent, but isn’t it about goddamn time we stopped hurting each other and found better outlets for those urges?

Apparently not. Apparently we’re just going to keep on shooting each other, stabbing each other in the backs, cheating the system at the expense of others, making up lies, and ignoring those who have been left behind. Sure there are plenty of good things that have come from the evolution of humanity, but the way it seems right now, we pretty much suck completely. I know I’m not alone in saying we’re fed up with the bus bombings and massacres and robberies. We’re fed up with the loss of innocent lives.

I know there is good in the world. I like to think the good outweighs the bad.

Even so, it’s not helping. The good is the water, but the bad is the layer of oil floating on the surface, blocking sight of the good underneath. We good souls are suffering from the minority’s bad choices, from the corrupt leaders and selfish activists and heartless criminals. I don’t give a shit what your situation is. STOP KILLING EACH OTHER. It would be a miracle if the slimy oil that’s spoiled the beauty of humanity for the rest of us is dissolved, but at the rate we’ve been going and the disgusting things that continue to happen today, I don’t have much hope.

Sorry to be such a downer. My blogs-not-wars campaign is off to a bad start if I’m already so negative, but this is how you feel when you wake up to the story of a psychopath opening fire into a crowded theater. Stories like this remind me that we’re far from a place of mutual respect and understanding. There are people who simply don’t get it. They suck, and because of them, we suck. We’re all in this together, in case you haven’t noticed. What you do reflects poorly on the rest of us. Get your shit together and do some yoga before you go off ruining our reputation.

9. Dominoes

Dominoes, the game, is fun to play, I’ll agree to this much, and once you’ve dusted the cobwebs from your elementary math skills, it’s pretty easy to score off multiples of 5. It makes for a good game at a smoky bar with a coupla beers and some classic rock on the jukebox, and if you wanna impress your elders, beat ’em at a game of bones.

However, when the word comes into conversation, I think not of laying pieces flat on a table, but standing them vertically like soldiers in a single-file line. I think about being a kid at my grandma’s friend’s house, setting out a few dozen dominoes across their kitchen floor in a swerving pattern longer than my fully-extended small intestines. It would take patience. It would take forever. But in the end, with one tender touch of the lead domino, the entire creation would collapse in an orderly fashion, one after the next, toppling like tiny tombstones.

It’s fitting that the word “dominoes” stems from the Latin word dominus, which means “master.”

This is what we become when we play with dominoes. We plan, we create, we destroy. We are the masters of these numbered blocks and we decide how the line will curve and we decide (unless there’s a cruel sibling or rambunctious pet nearby) when the line will crumble. There are few feelings as exciting and final as the knocking-over of that first domino. No going back now. With one goes all the others. God forbid you bumped the starter domino before you were finished.

So why do we do this? Why build and destroy?

The destructiveness makes the most sense. Why do you think we got so excited when we discovered how to harness fire? Here was this destructive element from which nothing seemed to survive. Fire became the explosive. Explosives became big, and, in turn, our thirst for destruction led to nuclear power and a few radiated Pacific islands. With one domino came the next, and the next, and the next.

Even deeper than that, take a look at how civilization is evolving.

We’re a society that builds its world like a trail of dominoes across the kitchen floor. This is how humankind has grown since Day One, when that first domino of civilization was set up to wobble proudly at the foot of our timeline. Then came another, and another, and soon we had millions of blocks stretching from the dawn of man to the premiere of The Dark Knight Rises. We never branched off. It’s been one long trail all along. But we don’t look back. Heck, we hardly acknowledge our history. Why would we? It’s much more exciting to just keep adding blocks.

Some day our history will catch up with us. Maybe the dominoes of yesteryear are already starting to fall, crashing through our ancestors and ancient civilizations, crumbling pharaohs, kings, and soothsayers, smashing through the dark, dim, and enlightened ages, breaking down the revolutionary and industrial revolutions, coming after us like an avalanche or a lit fuse. We’ve been setting up the pieces for thousands of years. Sooner or later, we’ll either run out of pieces or we’ll simply be crushed by the weight of all our choices, and quite frankly, I already feel the pressure. I look around and I don’t think I’m alone in saying that the current result is pretty fucked up. But there’s that dominus in us that won’t let us stop. I mean, after all, what is more masterful than the feeling that all that we’ve created can be destroyed with just one gentle nudge? I think we like living on the verge of annihilation.

Unless we stop now. It’s not too late to take the lessons we learned from our first domino trail, pick the stable parts, and start a new trail somewhere else, preferably not the kitchen floor.

8. Whistling

This year, I made it a goal to learn the art of whistling. Go ahead and laugh, but I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one who doesn’t know how. I also can’t blow a bubble with bubble-gum. Does this make me a lesser person? Nor can I touch my nose with my tongue, do a cartwheel, or lift one eyebrow at a time. I can’t even touch my toes. These are the simpler human tricks. I won’t get into the wilder circus act miracles that some people are able to perform because those are simply beyond me.

For examples, just youtube search: amazing human feats.

But what’s the point? Why do we possess some of these skills at all?

I was trying to figure out the value of whistling and the first thing I thought about was a pair of early human ancestors out hunting antelope, signaling to each other from across the grassland, or perhaps making this high-pitched noise to confuse their prey. Maybe it’s a form of early communication. When I try and whistle, I can make one steady note, but the experts can make melodies, and maybe it was through a variety of melodies that we used to hold conversations.

Nowadays, I still think whistlers are show-offs. But it’s the bubble-gum bubble-blowers that really turn me green with jealousy. You can explain it to me a million times, draw me a step-by-step guide, and give a thousand demonstrations, but my mouth refuses to play along. I feel like a Korean trying to correctly pronounce “Little Lillian’s lolly fell.” Whereas I think I can master whistling with a lifetime of patience, the bubble-blowing gene must’ve skipped a generation. Oh well. I can’t think of a good reason for humans to blow bubbles, anyway.

My point is, we’re strange creatures. I can’t think of any other animals on this planet who go around showing off their tricks to each other. I don’t see elephants whistling. I don’t expect a lion to burp the alphabet. These aren’t evolutionarily valuable skills.

Imagine if wild animals gathered together to out-trick each other. Alligators doing the worm. Chimpanzees performing parkour. Giraffes rolling their tongues like ocean waves. Fifteen zebras stacking themselves into a pyramid. Albeit these things would be incredible to observe, but don’t expect your African safari to turn into an episode of The X Factor. Animals stick to what they’re designed to do. They don’t slide swords down their throats or fold themselves into little boxes.

Our tricks might be one of our biggest differences between us and other animals. If you’ve got a strange skill, by no means do I suggest that you give it up. On the contrary, perform it proudly. We’re lucky as humans to have this construct known as society that permits us detachment from our basic needs. Unlike the other animals, we don’t need to hunt and gather and migrate, so we’ve got all this time to express individuality, pursue hobbies, and discover hidden talents. To whistle a melody is to say, “I am human.”

To blow a bubble-gum bubble is to say, “Sorry, Chris. You’ll never be as cool as me.”

7. Blog on, bloggers

I tend to believe that we ought to share more as a species, and I see blogging as a really valuable way to do that. We can create communities of writers and share our views of the world, both real and imagined (though there is truth in all fiction), and weave this blanket of humanity under which we can seek comfort in recognizing that we each fear and desire the same things. We’re all just people sharing oxygen and making babies and stuff. These differences that lead to the wars that we’re sucked into or that we watch on televisions, they’d be rendered pointless if we stopped shooting guns at each other and fired insightful blog posts instead.

We spend too much time arguing. As a species, we never want to compromise with one another. One of us always has to be right. One of us always wants what the other has more of. Did we forget how to share? Did we forget that we were once children who didn’t care about the look or gender or accent of our fellow playmates so long as they made space in the sandbox?

Blogging can’t save the world. I know that. But I think it can help.

If anything, when we do eventually destroy ourselves, future generations or some distant alien race might discover our vast collection of blogs on some server buried in the rubble, and they’ll read through not the histories written by the winners, but the histories written by the observers. It’s through blogs that we see the world through each other’s eyes. It’s through blogs we can connect to our fellow humans in other countries where they might think we don’t care about their country or their struggles, but we can leave a comment that says, “I do,” and bridge gaps across borders that have never been crossed before.

Blog on, bloggers. This is our life experience. This is the voice of humankind. If we yell loud enough, maybe one day we can drown out the gunfire and lift volume to the hum of the internet cables that can unite us.

6. Mars

Just came across this video of Neil deGrasse going off about space travel, climate change, life, chimpanzees, and aliens, naturally. I’m usually not one to jump on a band wagon so quickly, but last night, half-asleep at two in the morning, I really liked this theory that life on Earth was spawned by rogue asteroid debris from an impact on the surface of Mars. He says early Mars had the same life-sustaining qualities that eventually formed on our planet, and some Mars-grown bacteria might’ve latched onto an Earth-bound chunk of space rock a few billion years back. KABLAM, life begins on Earth. It’s sort of neat to think that all the life on this planet was the result of a lucky accident.

In the morning, I thought a little more about this theory, and I found some holes.

If we’re all evolved spores from a Martian life-form, then where did the life on Mars come from? What asteroid brought the organisms to the surface of our neighboring red planet and where did that asteroid come from? It seems like another hollow theory when you think about it for long enough. You end up with the same questions and answers that lead to more questions. This is also my problem with the theories regarding the birth of the universe, both scientific and religious.

We came from a giant explosion. Who lit the fuse? We were created in seven days by God. Who made God?

(Insert other theory here, counter with similar roundabout question).

I don’t think we’re supposed to know. In some lights, this sucks. It would be cool to know how it all started. In another light, it’s more fulfilling to just recognize that you’re part of this big mystery. Don’t look up at the stars for the want of answers, but look up at the stars and know that you’re just as puzzling to them as they are to you. No one knows what the hell is going on in this wild, crazy universal party. We don’t even know who invited us to the party. We’re just here to drink beer, build the tallest skyscraper, and draw trees on paper. I’m sure if there is life on other planets in other galaxies, they’re doing pretty much the same thing.

Here’s the video of Neil deGrasse that I watched:

5. Cardboard boxes

Call me crazy, but one of my favorite toys as a kid was a cardboard box. Don’t get me wrong, I had plenty of other things to keep my attention, but there was nothing quite like coming home from a long day at elementary school and taking a box out into the backyard to kick the shit out of it. I’d make sure it was put together all perfectly with the ends folded together tight (best ones were taped shut), then I’d just go wild. I’d kick it off the porch. I’d kick it high enough to where I could kick it before it touched the ground. You’d be surprised how long a cardboard box can endure this torture, but eventually it would fall to pieces and the game would be done. I’d go inside and drink a Capri-Sun and watch Wile E. Coyote cartoons.

But why the hell did I do that?

I liked the process of destruction. I liked figuring out how to make each new box last longer than the one before, how certain kicks resulted in specific outcomes. It became a science, and I even got a little exercise out of it from running around chasing those damn boxes around the yard. I can only imagine my mom watching from the back porch, sipping a bloody mary and thinking, “My God, what have I done?”

This leads me to my next point, however.

Mom shouldn’t have been asking herself what she had done wrong with me (her box-kicking son), but what she had done wrong with herself. Why wasn’t she out there kicking boxes with me? What happens to us that removes our ability to be entertained by simple things? Sure, we’re not cats chasing laser pointers, but should we be ashamed to find beauty or amusement in the mundane? I didn’t need an expensive gadget or Direct TV subscription to keep me entertained as a kid. Just an open yard and a declaration of war against all things cubed and cardboard. Mom should’ve come out and battled those paper products with me. Cats don’t need laser pointers or electric mice or plastic balls, they just need a scrap of paper and a piece of string. I think we could learn a little from our feline friends.

I won’t be picking up the habit again any time soon, but I still fondly remember my days of kicking boxes and I wonder where that part of me has gone. When did I grow up? Who told me, “Boy, you oughtta be kickin gas pedals and breakin girls’ hearts, not goofin around with them boxes in the yard.” They had no imagination, whoever they were, and they infested me with their same near-sightedness.

I mean, don’t you remember your childhood? A cardboard box could be a fort, a robot costume, a barricade, a time machine, a prison cell or a lava-resistent vehicle. I used it for all those things and more, then took it out to the pasture to put it down like an old horse.

We lose our childish cat-like infatuation with the world around us, and it’s a pity.

Find your cardboard box before it’s too late.

4. Fan death

No joke, I learned today that there is a serious risk of fan death in South Korea. You’ll even hear stories about it on the news. Fan death. Allow me to explain: should you happen to fall asleep in a room with closed windows while leaving a fan (ceiling, electric or otherwise) spinning throughout the night, you run a high risk of death. How does this happen? The best evidence locals come up with is the theory that the fan chops up the oxygen in your sealed room, destroying it, basically, and so you suffocate. If you check out wikipedia, you get fan death by way of carbon dioxide saturation or hypothermia, though these are countered with logical arguments.

This isn’t about fan death, though.

This is about the crazy ass shit we’re all capable of believing. How falsified information or bad science can become fact. This happens all the time and it’s been happening for centuries. We’re talking about early religion convincing people that some symbols evoked minions of hell. We’re talking about know-it-alls so committed to an earth-centered universe that they excommunicated naysayers. We point blame, we make up tales, we smudge the truth and eventually these otherwise ridiculous notions become fossilized as reality.

Sometimes it’s because we don’t know any better, so as humans we run our mouths before we consult our logic. I’m more prone to forgiving the wild theories and madness of our earlier history, since in my eyes we’re at least somewhat more civilized today, but we’re honestly not doing all that much better. We still believe in holy wars and infinite resources. We still believe in borders and segregation. We think fixing higher education in the United States is as easy as raising tuition again and again. Alcohol is still considered safer than marijuana because a while back the tree-pulp paper companies were threatened by the popularity of using hemp paper. We’re simply gullible, and if enough people tell us that this is the way things are supposed to be, we go along with it.

Fan death is bizarre to me because it makes no sense. I’m sure there are plenty of odd beliefs present in my own country that make even less sense to others. From lead in our paint to addictive chemicals in our hamburgers, we’re a really silly bunch of fools. I’d like to think one day we’d all just stop and think, realize this fact, and move forward, boldly, bravely, and wisely, like we once did when we still thought the world was flat.