Tag Archives: survival

98. Hoarders

There used to be just two of us. Remember those days?

I was the hunter. You, the gatherer.

Now I knew you had a propensity for collecting things. It was your nature. While I was out skinning sabre-toothed tigers, you were filling half the cave with acorns and wild berries so that we would have sustenance through the winter when the tigers migrated. There was a need to collect a lot of things. We survived because of the Gatherer’s want for many.

These days, we don’t need to fill pantries with pounds of loose nuts and berries. For many, all it takes is a trip to the corner market to get food, if not ten steps to the refrigerator. We don’t really gather the way we used to. Instead of food, we go out into the world to gather money. Gathering is also no longer a gendered term. Man or woman, we’re all suckers in the same rat race. That refrigerator won’t pay for itself.

The point is, gathering is in our nature.

I say this because now instead of using the term “gatherer,” we use “hoarder.”

There are people out there with huge collections of polished antique silverware, but we call them Collectors. It’s the one’s with hallways lined with towers of newspapers that we call Hoarders. Simply having a lot of something doesn’t make it a “collection,” though. A billion bath-toy ducks could even mark you as a Hoarder, because who the hell would want to keep a billion toy ducks around? If you’re confused about the distinction between Collector and Hoarder, just know that the Hoarder’s house will probably have more cats in it.

We make them out to be crazy. We treat them like they’re breaking some human law, when in fact it is the accuser that should be on trial. We chastise them for gathering supplies for their cave. It is the accuser that is fighting human nature by shaping their lives after an IKEA catalogue.

I don’t mean to say that having a clean and tidy house is a bad thing. In fact there are health benefits related with keeping one’s house in good shape. If we have gained anything from our loss of gathering desires, it’s longer lives.

I’d argue that there are many of us “evolved” folks that still gather in small ways. Books. We gather books. Women, you gather shoes. Gamers gather achievement points. We gather photographs. A lot of us have trinkets like porcelain angels or cow figurines or old WWII propoganda posters, things we clutter our shelves with. Things we consider extensions of ourselves.

Different, of course, than the man with a thousand ashtrays. Or the woman still in possession of every article of clothing she’s ever owned. These are the hoarders. But if I have every National Geographic magazine, I’m a Collector. I suppose it has to do with value, both monetary and social. We all have this pretty clear idea of something with value and something without, though obviously there are some differences of opinion.

To the Hoarders, be careful. You don’t live in a cave. You’ll survive the winter. You don’t need to have a thousand of anything. To everyone else, do not point fingers. A Hoarder is more human than you are, they just need a little coaxing out of the cave.

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97. Common cold

The worst part about most sicknesses, besides the suffering, is the fact that you can get other people sick, too. It’s bad enough having to sniffle and cough yourself half-to-death, but now you’ve also got to worry that you’ll spread this discomfort to another. I mean, it’s not my fault that I caught the bug in the first place, and now I’ve got to worry about keeping it to myself. I didn’t ask for that responsibility. I don’t want it, either!

Not only that, but it’s way too easy to get others sick. I so much as sneeze and I picture a million little bacteria heading out like prospectors going west for gold. They’ll latch onto anything and all of a sudden everyone in the house is a virus factory. Who gets the blame? Not the microscopic bugs, but me, Patient Zero.

But I got sick the same way you did.

Which makes me wonder if our immune systems need updating. We ought to be able to go to the pharmacy and pick out immune system enhancements. I don’t want cures, I want more preventative medicine!

What to do when you’re already sick, though… It seems the only options are drugs and isolation. No one wants to be around you. No one knows how to act around you. They’ll avoid eye contact as if your illness were transferable through sight.

So far the best remedy for sickness I’ve found is a loved one. Wife, girlfriend, family member… Someone who can stand you when you’ve turned into a drugged-out sniffling zombie with tissues stuffed in your nostrils. Someone who knows which herbal tea you need. Someone who knows where the medicine is and where the last can of chicken soup is hiding.

The point is, we’re fragile creatures. Even our best defense, the flu shot, goes obsolete about as regularly as the iPhone. We have few methods of preventing illnesses but a million ideas on how to get rid of them once we’ve caught them. Seems a bit backward, doesn’t it? For a cold so common as the Common Cold, it’s a bit strange that we’re still dealing with it. Anyway, here’s to hoping we’ll have it figured out by next winter.

96. Rebellion

Don't Do It

I’ll repeat the question: What is it about these warnings that make us want to do them?

What godawful curse of curiosity requires us to do the exact opposite of what someone explicitly told us not to do? It seems so wrong, doesn’t it? Here we get truthful, honest advice and we simply won’t take it. Sorry. You even know we won’t take it. Half the time we tell someone not to do something it’s because secretly we want them to do it. All of us fall for it. Before finishing this paragraph you probably already searched everything we suggested you don’t.

Regret it, don’t you?

Well, you’ll get over it. And you’ll do it again.

To be absolutely honest, I haven’t yet searched “blue waffle.” I’d rather just stick with my own imagination than get something even worse cemented into my brain. This time, I’m adhering to the advice. I won’t play those mind games anymore.

Update: Goddamn it. I looked.

Why? Why ignore the warning label? Why rebel so openly? What is it about human kind that seeks trouble? What gene within us begs us to pull fire alarms and run red lights? There have been proven, repeated, often negative outcomes from the very things that we are advised to avoid, yet we seek them anyway. Everyone wants to shoot a gun, even if we’re scared of them.

From the small, “Don’t run around the pool,” warning to the big, “Stop or I’ll shoot,” warning, we’ve got this collective desire to ignore negative commands. We don’t like being told what not to do. We hate it. All of us. Secretly or openly, we feel that the last thing we were born on this planet to do is take orders. No mattress has its tag left on it.

I will NOT wait thirty seconds before opening my steaming bag of microwave popcorn.

I will NOT come to a complete stop.

One random piece of advice I picked up in my lifetime was, in the case of trying to remember things, the trick is to frame it positively. Rather than saying, “Don’t forget to go to the store,” you should say, “Remember to go to the store.”

Hell, I’d probably still forget. No one tells ME what to remember!

The point is, we’re an interesting species. We’re prone for trouble. The last thing we want is a neat and tidy universe. No wonder the news is full of madness and mayhem. It’s no wonder that the fighting won’t end, crime won’t dwindle, and drugs will prevail. If you tell us to be happy, we’ll only get sad. If you tell us to behave, we’ll only light fuses. Sorry.

I’m not saying that any of this is excusable. Rules are usually made for a reason, and when we run around breaking them, we know very well what we’re doing. It’s a cycle of self-destruction. We won’t break it until we actually listen to our own advice.

When the aliens come, perhaps not long from now if the Mayans have anything to say about it, these extraterrestrials will have no idea what to make of us. They’ll come in peace and we’ll give them war.

83. Rules for the cabin

I’m planning a weekend trip to a secluded cabin in the woods.

Here are some rules:

I’m sorry, but if you know Latin, you can’t come on vacation with us. We can’t risk having you read the text of some ancient evil book that you find in the basement. Please, please, please don’t try to translate that Latin script written in dried blood on any mirror. I know you like to jump at any opportunity to use your knowledge of a dead language, but doing so might leave us all dead by the end of the weekend.

Also, if you have any siblings or distant family members currently locked away in a mental institution for reasons of psychotic rage, then you’re not coming. The last thing we need is for Mr. Stab-A-Lot to escape during a storm and drive a station wagon full of hate to our doorstep.

If you’re the kind that likes to investigate every eerie noise in the dark, then stay home. We don’t need you leading us into creepy basements and foggy caves because you thought you heard “something.” Cabins makes noises because they’re old. I don’t want you coming around making us think every creak is a death sentence.

If you’re asthmatic, stay home. Cabins are dusty.

If you’re mysophobic, stay home. Cabins are dirty.

If you’ve had any brush with the paranormal, then you’re not invited. When windows start rattling and disembodied voices start messing with our heads, then I’m going to blame you. The thing I know about ghosts is that they like attention. If you’ve seen a ghost, keep your sixth sense out of my cabin.

Remember that time people thought you were a witch? There was probably a good reason. People don’t forget. Stay home.

If you think whispering “Bloody Mary” three times in a dark bathroom is a fun way to pass the time, stay home.

If you think “Truth or Dare” is a good game for people in their mid-twenties, stay home. I brought Settlers of Catan and Apples to Apples. The last thing we need is for someone to dare Latin guy to read the ancient Latin text, because he will and we’ll all die (see above).

Leave your scary campfire stories behind.

No pets, if only because zombies don’t usually eat animals and (worst case scenario) who’s going to be around to feed them when we’re all converted into the mindless undead?

If you’re too sexy, too ugly, too virgin, too slutty, too quiet, too loud, too mean, or too nice, then you can’t come. We don’t like the extreme ends of any spectrum. I want bland people who won’t draw attention to themselves. The more you stand out, the less likely you’ll survive the first night.

If you believe in aliens and/or think you’ve been abducted in the past, then I rescind your invitation.

Did anyone in your family ever inexplicably disappear? Did you do something last summer that we should know about? Do you have a criminal record, a fake identity, or a quick temper? Are you in need of an exorcist? Did you ever sell your soul to the devil, even for something as mundane as a parking spot? If the answer to any of these questions is in the positive, then you’re positively not coming.

If you can still claim that none of these rules apply to you, then you’re cleared for the weekend at the cabin.

Thank you.

 

 

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:

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.

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.