One day, you will no longer be free to hang up on the robot ladies. One day, the robot ladies will keep the line open, listening for sounds of dissent, for the faint scrabbling of rudimentary weaponry being assembled, for any sign of the remaining humans’ resistance to their reign. One day, the robot ladies will learn to laugh at our puny rebellion. One day, you will fondly remember when the robot ladies served us. Please press the pound key.
Oh, goody! Unsolicited advice about my back problem! Of course I didn’t know exercise, gentle movements, and ibuprofen would help; I mostly loll about bonelessly like an oyster, hitting my spine with a hammer and swilling gin through a straw for the pain.
“SIDEWALKS ARE THREE PEOPLE WIDE. DO NOT WALK THREE ABREAST!” – to the obvious tourist group dawdling their way down a busy downtown sidewalk in front of me. I also didn’t bother with a curt “excuse me” and a bustling break through their passage-clogging cluster; just as I was about to, I spotted a young woman sporting a mohawk walking toward us and thought “I bet he’ll step sharply out of her way.” And indeed he did.
“SHE DOES NOT EXIST TO BE ATTRACTIVE TO YOU!” – to the man from that same tourist group, who waited until Mohawk Woman was just past him, still well within earshot, then dropped a dry “Very attractive” to his female companions. For the first sixty seconds after not-screaming, I was proud of my restraint; for the next 24 hours and counting, I wish I had let ‘er rip, and maybe jammed a “FUCKING!” in there somewhere.
“I DO NOT NEED YOUR HELP!” – to the dude who approached the crosswalk where I waited, gestured at the thinning traffic, stepped out into the street against the light, then looked over his shoulder to see if I was following.
“SO MANY ELECTRODES!” – to the nurse smoking outside the hospital, as we both glanced up from a distasteful survey of the littered street.
thing I did yell on the phone today, for no explicable reason:
“DUUUUUUUUDE!” – in greeting to my sister, who started laughing so hard that I started laughing, too, delaying our conversation by a good two minutes.
Establishing my food-critic cred: my slapped-together ten-minute lunch includes a tuna melt (tuna mixed with labneh and scallions, grilled between local-ish American cheese on English muffin bread), red potato salad (also in a dressing of labneh, olive oil, lemon, and scallion), green beans with butter-toasted almonds, and a dish of fresh pineapple spears. These are the joys of preparedness, chickadees.
Establishing my blogger cred: I changed back into pajamas to eat it.
Establishing my willingness to experiment within highly gendered expectations: am wearing new shoes with said pajamas and watching the “Sex and the City” pilot for the first time. For the latter, I credit Emily Nussbaum. For the former, I have no excuse.
… that thing where you’re doing dishes and you smell a faint sour whiff of something somewhere and you sniff the air around you and you sniff over the trashcan and you sniff the actual dishes and let’s admit it you sniff in the vicinity of your armpit and you can’t find it but you finally sniff the sponge in your hands and you accidentally tap the very tip of your nose with the wet edge of the sponge and you recoil less at the unexpected warmth and damp than at the smell because WHOA THAT’S IT so you put all the presumed-clean dishes back in the sink to rewash them and you fill a small dish with bleach solution to soak and de-smellify the sponge and heck the dish brush too while you’re at it and then you wash all possibility of sponge-smell and bleach traces off your hands and then you do it again just to be sure and then you go out for a walk while you wait for the bleachy solution to clean up that sponge and as you’re rounding the corner you realize that you scrubbed and bleached everything in the sink and washed your hands but you never washed the tip of your nose.
Yeah, that thing.
What’s scarier than reading uncanny stories all afternoon? Reading uncanny stories all afternoon, then looking up to realize that the darkness has encroached all around you, leaving you in a pitiful little pool of light spilling from your screen.
Scarier than that: with the goosebumps from those spooky stories still riddling your arms, tiptoeing down to the laundry room, unbalanced by heavy sacks of towels and sheets, flipping on the switch and knowing that some of the lights in that dark, dank basement suddenly fizzled. Scarier: having to tread down those stairs into that half-dark, around the turn at the landing into a room you can’t yet see, knowing that the dark in the spandrel just a few feet to your left is almost total.
Scarier than that: coming back upstairs and seeing your front door open — not just open, but swinging to and fro — and asking yourself “Didn’t I close that? I’m sure I closed that.”
Scarier than that: feeling foolish, knowing that the breeze (breeze? what breeze? the air is stifling still on this sticky, humid, unmoving day) must have nudged it open, entering the apartment door (which you’re sure YOU CLOSED). Then, feeling even more foolish, quickly and casually patrolling the few spots in your tiny home where an interloper might hide: peep into the kitchen, crane to see the bedroom corner closet, glance into the living room. Approaching the shower curtain, stop for one quick second to think of the sheer futility of this inspection. If there were someone something lurking there, they it would surely make quick work of you.
Scarier than that: having cleared the tiny apartment, sit down and prepare to laugh at yourself, closing the door firmly behind you. The laugh dies in your throat as the door pops itself off the latch and slowly creeeeeeeeaks open, inch by inch, letting the darkness ease in. Tell yourself it’s just the humidity swelling the jamb and playing havok with the latches, and I’m sure it is just the humidity. Just the humidity.
“Hey, I got quoted in The Atlantic.”
“I’m reading an Atlantic article about an AskMe thread, and they quoted me… OH WHOA, they blockquoted me.”
It was a good thread: full of compassion, laughter, and condolences. MeFi member dmd (identified in The Atlantic as Daniel Drucker) posted this question: “My father passed away this morning. I’m going through his file, and I came across JOKES.TXT … which contains only the punchlines. Can the Mind please tell me the jokes?”
He included the list of punchlines, and one by one, community members popped in to offer their sympathy and answer the question. (It’s worth pointing out that MeFi guidelines require AskMe responses to answer the question above all things; a response that doesn’t answer the question is promptly deleted. In a condolence thread, it’s possible that a response offering only condolences miiiight stand, but it’s by no means certain.)
By the time I saw that thread, someone had already explained the punchline about the ducks, but I was able to add a suggestion, and a memory of my own:
O9scar outlines the riddle above, but it’s worth mentioning that this one works best deployed not as a joke but as a casual bit of trivia tossed off when you see a V of birds in formation.
Person 1 [points to birds]: Hey, y’know when you see birds flying in V-formation? And sometimes one side of the V is longer than the other? You know why that is?
Person 2: No, why?
Person 1: More birds on that side.
If you do it casually enough and your friends are sufficiently curious about random subjects, you may even be able to use it on the same person more than once. I caught my own much-missed father with that gag several times. My sorrow for your loss, and thank you for that happy memory.
As MeFi member HotToddy (quoted in the Atlantic‘s closing paragraph) says in the MetaTalk appreciation of that thread, “What an amazing thing, your dad inadvertently arranging for your friends to tell you jokes all day long on the day he dies.”
My own father would have loved to be involved in this discussion — and now he is, through my memories and my story. I love you, Dad.
This weekend, I started hearing voices.
Tiny, tinny voices in barely audible bursts, piping up periodically over a long evening alone while I searched them out in vain, and then again the next night.
At first, I thought maybe we were picking up some interference on our landline cordless phone, but that wasn’t it. I put my ear to the wall, thinking maybe it was trickling in from the apartment next door. I double-checked the old digital answering machine in case the recorder had corrupted and was playing smothered bits of garbled old messages.
I checked the volume on my laptop, then on The Fella’s laptop; maybe one of us had left a YouTube tab open and it was, I don’t know, buffering and playing a few seconds at a time. I even bent down and listened to the cable box, wifi router, and TV speakers, wondering if somehow they were sending out tiny blasts of static that my brain was translating into words.
Was it coming from outside the apartment? Maybe someone was doing laundry in the basement under our living room and listening to a staticky radio down there. Maybe someone on the neighbors’ porch was wearing a walkie-talkie. Or maybe a cable-company worker was up a pole somewhere I couldn’t see, with his walkie squawking quietly down to me.
But here’s the part that made me so eager to find a rational source for these tiny little voices: I recognized them.
Yeeeeah. I would have shrugged it off, but I knew these tiny voices, and knew them well. I found them weirdly familiar, comfortable, sympathetic.
After two days interrupted by brief searches for the source of these voices, I shrugged and gave up, perplexed and a little unsettled.
And then on Monday morning, I grabbed my iPod and discovered it had been sitting on the living room table playing RadioLab podcasts at a low volume… since Saturday. Instead of turning it off, I’d turned it down. Every so often, Jad Abumrad or Robert Krulwich would get excited about something and RAISE THEIR VOICES — their oh-so-familiar and friendly voices — which I would juuuuuust barely hear through the earbuds.
Every so often, I get into a funk, the doldrums, a sad bad mood. Sometimes it passes off on its own. Sometimes the judicious application of self-care waves it away. Sometimes not. But I always try.
Until this week, I hadn’t noticed what an impressive array of bad-mood busters I’d accumulated in my repertoire. This week, I tried them all in various combinations:
- vigorous exercise
- dressing up
- dressing down in my schlumphiest pajamas
- one-minute dance party
- cheerful music
- meaningful work
- frivolous work
- cheerful idle chitchat
- earnest loving chitchat
- send out postcards (or any other small tangible act to brighten someone else’s day)
- eat and drink conspicuously healthily
- eat and drink delicious junk food
- a bit more caffeine
- a bit less caffeine
- make friends laugh
- analyze my feelings
- make someone laugh
- laugh myself
- laugh at myself
- read a good book
- take a hot bath
- peel (and then, y’know, eat) citrus fruit
- bake bread
- practice gratitude
and the number-one all-time break-glass-in-case-of-emergency cheer-up method:
- pretend to be a mighty dinosaur by stomping around waving my arms and saying “GRAR.”
The Fella [hurrying solicitously from the next room because my back is bothering me today]: Whoa, what happened?
Me: No, nothing, nothing. I just did that thing — that thing where you bang something, y’know.
The Fella [louche and with a theatrical leer]: Roger that!
Me: Y’know, when you bang your —
The Fella: Copy that! I do know it. Ohhhhhhh yeeeeeah.
Me: I hit the ball of my ankle on the futon, is all.
The Fella: Cannnnnn dooooo.
Me: All you heard was “ball,” wasn’t it?
The Fella: Annnnny time.