Archive for the 'Absurdity' Category

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In which we discuss the voice in my head, and its tendency to yell at me

I don’t know what goes on in other peoples’ heads.
I mean, I’ve read articles on brain science, but I still feel like I don’t understand what’s going on in a person’s head when I’m talking to him/her.

Imagine a robot, who is taught human interaction solely by watching reruns of “I Love Lucy” and Adam Sandler movies.

I would make that robot uncomfortable.

Basically, when I’m talking to someone, it’s a three-way conversation, between me, the person I’m talking to, and the voice in my head, which is coaching me on how not to make a complete fool of myself.  However, that voice is also me.  You can see how this might cause problems.  A simple example:

Me: Hey, what’s up?
Voice: Good.  Nice, solid opening.  Neutral, but not boring.
Friend: Not much, and you?
Me: Not much.  Life is good.
Voice: Oh no!  This conversation is drab and unimportant.  Make it a meaningful interaction!  Say something interesting!
Me: I can fit my whole fist in my mouth.1
Friend: (awkwardly silent.)

And it doesn’t get much better from there.  There’s a reason I started a comic called “why I shouldn’t date.”  I was always shocked when girls agreed to a second date.  Part of me wanted to say, “You know that the awkward nervous thing isn’t a first date thing, right?  It’s a me thing.  This ain’t going away, honey.  It’s just going to get worse as we date more.”  It’s to my credit that I never came out and said that, but I think they got it.

Yes, I am now happily married, and marginally more at ease with my wife of 2+ years, but there’s a world of people out there, just waiting to be made uncomfortable by me.  The dialogue above was an example of how a conversation  with very little at stake goes awry.  When the topic is heavier, it only compounds the problem.  For instance:

Me: Hey, how’s it going?
Voice: Good.  You’ll get this one right.  Just avoid mentioning your fist. Or your mouth.  You know, just avoid mention of any and all orifices, ok?
Friend:  Not great.  I think I just failed my final in a very important course.
Voice: Ok, we know this script. This is where you commiserate.  Let him know that you understand him.
Me: Yeah, I’ve been there.
Friend: Oh?
Voice: Ok, now drive it home…
Me: 
 I failed all my courses in college, and set fire to the Registrar’s office.  Once, I cut a man, just to watch him bleed.
Friend: WHAT?
Voice:
No! No!  Overkill!  Make yourself look good!  Say something positive!
Me: I love puppies and marshmallows and jellybeans!
Friend: To eat?
Voice: Oooh, this is a tricky one.  Tread carefully. Say you don’t eat puppies.  Be very clear on that point.
Me: No, I only eat the puppies.
Voice: Damnit.
Me: Jellybeans and marshmallows!  Ha ha!  I mean, I only eat jellybeans and marshmallows.  Well, I eat other things.  But not puppies.  I eat other animals.  Um, dead ones.  Only the normal-to-eat dead animals, prepared in a normal fashion.
Voice: I think you just barely squeezed by that one.
Friend:
Riiight.  Um, what does this have to do with my test?
Voice: I have no idea.
Me: I have no idea.
Friend: Yeah, well this whole thing has got me pretty depressed.
Voice: Ok, here’s our chance. Cheer him up!  Say something happy!
Me: I can fit my whole fist in my mouth.
Voice: (sighs).

And that’s par for the course.  Welcome to my life.

  1. Truth is, I can fit my whole fist in my mouth. But that’s a story for another time.^

Pre-fixing it

Whoooeee! So I just got back to Israel about 2 weeks ago, after spending one of the more bewildering weeks of recent memory hopping from place to place. I won’t bore you with the details, but suffice it to say that I had 6 separate flights (4 international, 2 domestic) within 9 days, and that at one point I spent 9 hours in JFK terminal, and then a 9-hour flight later, I spent another 12 hours traipsing around downtown Istanbul. (Yes, the one in Turkey.) I think I’ll present one of the highlights1 here:

America seems to love the prefix “pre,” especially when it’s totally unnecessary. Among the precious pieces of mail still being sent to my parents’ house was a letter saying I was “pre-approved” for some sort of cellphone giveaway. I’m sorry, but is “preapproved” somehow a stage before approval? Because it seems to me that it’s just their way of saying “approved” while making me feel special: “Look, Mother! I’m not just approved for this, I’m pre-approved, before all those other chumps. I simply must order this product and/or service post-haste!” “Pre” crops up in other places, like a movie being exclusively “pre-released” or (one of my favorites) how the drinking before a college party (not that I went to parties in college…) is called “pregaming,” the “game” being (you guessed it) more drinking. But none of this tops my recent brief stroll into bewilderment with JetBlue. I walked up to the woman at the gate, and asked if I could board the plane.

“We’re pre-boarding,” she replied

I figured that this might mean that only the disabled and children were boarding. I was clearly not disabled, and, since I now sport a full beard, I also can no longer pass for a toddler. But I gave it a shot anyway: “So, can I go on?”

“Well, we’re pre-boarding.”

Then I came right out and said it. “How is that different than the actual boarding?”

“No, sir. We’re not boarding yet. This is pre-boarding.”

I kind of looked at her funny, shrugged, and boarded the plane. The Israeli in me was shaking his head and laughing, while the American was simply confused. I got to my seat and sat down without incident. Conclusion: pre-boarding looks an awful lot like boarding. Maybe they teach the difference in flight-attendant school.

Bonus story: I got a letter from Cornell, my alma mater, saying (yes, really) “We miss you as a dues paying class member.” I’m reminded of Conan O’Brien’s description of college fund-raising in his Harvard Commencement speech:

Here’s how it works. Your phone rings, usually after a big meal when you’re tired and most vulnerable. A voice asks you for money. Knowing they just raised 2.5 billion dollars you ask, “What do you need it for?” Then there’s a long pause and the voice on the other end of the line says, “We don’t need it, we just want it.” It’s chilling.

Yeah, I’m sorry, Cornell, but I seem to recall paying you about $128,000 in tuition. I think that should tide you over for a while. I did tell you not to spend it all at once, right?

  1. Note that by “highlights” I don’t mean the things I actually enjoyed, but the things that I think the reader will find entertaining.

Reality TV and Other Disasters

This whole reality TV thing is getting out of hand. I mean, it’s gotten out of hand already, but this is worse.

I mean, there are the maddeningly mad Martha Stewart-wannabes on “Wickedly Perfect” (the first reality TV show in CT….figures), the disturbing families on “Wife Swap” and “Trading Spouses,” the whole digging up emotional scars and picking at ’em on “High School Reunion,” and who can leave out that mucus-encrusted gem (or is that “gem-encrusted mucus?”) of the Fox lineup, “Who’s Your Daddy?” Please tell me that there’s a special level of Hell for the producers of these shows. Like one with both “holy wrath” and “great vengeance,” with some brimstone mixed in for good measure.
What is brimstone, anyway? You never hear about it these post-biblical days. You don’t see a newspaper with the headline

Seven-Year-Old Miraculously Survives Dangerous Brimstone Accident
“That Was Some Pretty Strong Brimstone,” Authorities Say.

But that would be cool, wouldn’t it? The headline, not the brimstone. I imagine brimstone is very much in the “not cool” category.

In any case, back to reality…TV. What’s next? Who’s going to be able to top that?

I’ll tell you. Fox is going to strike again, with a show where they just videotape real people being taken out back and getting shot. It’s called “When Guns Go Off,” and it’s sure to be a hit.

Ok, so that last one I made up, but admit it: for a split second, you believed me.

Hawaii

I have a birthmark on my arm that kind of looks like Hawaii (if you squint a bit). Yeah, I know people have interesting talents – being able to wiggle their ears, oppress the destitute masses of an undeveloped country, or conjugate Latin verbs (stuck up overachievers in the corner – are you listening?), for instance. But this is Hawaii! We’re talking about the 50th state on my arm, for Pete’s sake!

Wait. Who’s this Pete character, and why are people always worried about his sake?
Why don’t you worry about my sake every once in a while, for a change?
I bet you Pete isn’t out there worrying about your sake, while I….Ok, so I don’t worry about your sake much either. But hey, at least I’m better looking. And I have that birthmark. I bet you Pete can’t top that.

Butting In

I’ve been on vacation, and therefore too sluggish to write. Or slug-like, at least.

But I did get a chance to check out that bastion of excellent pop-media magazines, TIME.
(By the way, did you notice that TIME magazine’s site is actually www.time.com? Wouldn’t you think that such an impressive domain name would go to some person or institution who dealt with – I don’t know – time? Just my opinion. Then again, it is a magazine whose title is in ALL CAPS, as you can see on its cover as well as its website. That must count for something.)

So, anyway…where was I? Ah, yes, the article in TIME. This article was discussing happiness. I found it rather interesting, and thoroughly enjoyed it. I gave it 4 stars. Or, rather, I was going to do so, until I came across the following (completely unaltered) quote:

Asking people how happy they are, Kahneman contends, “is very much like asking them about the colonoscopy after it’s over. There’s a lot that escapes them.”

Did you catch that? I promise I’m not making this up. Ok, well maybe a bit of context would help you, but I changed nothing in this quote. In case you missed it, let’s look at it again:

Asking people how happy they are, Kahneman contends, “is very much like asking them about the colonoscopy after it’s over. There’s a lot that escapes them.”

I’m not sure what to say. Understand that this guy Daniel Kahneman is, according to the article, a Nobel-Prize-winning psychologist from Princeton University. Did he really just compare happiness to a colonoscopy? Did he honestly juxtapose a general feeling of elation and joy with one of the most uncomfortable medical procedures performed in a regular checkup? If this isn’t one of the signs of the apocalypse, I don’t know what is. Ok, maybe a heavenly rain of fire and brimstone upon the wicked. But in terms of pre-brimstone signs, I’d say that happiness-colonoscopy comparisons are right up there.

And furthermore, the double entendre there is just sick. (Go back and read it again. You’ll get it. Then you’ll wrinkle your nose in disgust.) I can’t touch that one. Not with a ten-foot pole, not with anything. I mean, I’m beside myself. Heck, I’m behind myself. You’d have to be some sort of uncaring bum to use people who need colonoscopies as the the butt of your jokes. Making fun of poor souls such as those is crueler than pulling an old dog’s tail. Sick, sick, sick.

Pants + Fridge = Excitement!

My pants are in my mini-fridge. No kidding. It’s partially due to the fact that I’m a computer science major. Yeah, alright. I may explain this. Later.