Monica has a Birthday

Fifty strangers meet in a public park. Many have never met before, some have. They are dressed variously in matching outfits, funny wigs or hats, or just colorful sunny day clothing. They have come for a singular purpose. However, what exactly that purpose is none are certain—except one. They have placed their faith in a leader. This leader, a sprightly woman, short, young, with twin feathery poofs emerging from her brunette hair, and dressed in a festive old west leather skirt and cowboy boots, assembles the convivial horde. The mob slowly quiets.

Megaphone in hand, pointed in no particular direction, she announces her name is Monica. She is turning thirty. Cheers. Welcome to her birthday! she says. Cheers. Much commotion and fumbling in pockets and, shortly thereafter, a blast from the megaphone. Even greater commotion. Another signal tone, a pause, much clapping and yet more cheers, then ebbing to silence, as the crowd seems to contemplate their plight. No one knows where to look so everyone looks everywhere. Two minutes pass, and the group is silent. Except for some minor fidgeting, the fifty party-prepped people together on the green grass stay still on this bright, sunny Saturday afternoon in the park. But then, inexplicably, with no cue from Monica or anyone else, the crowd begins to cheer again.

This is when some sort of magic starts to happen. Over the next half hour, with no apparent direction, revelers flap their arms and pretend to fly around in circles, play tag, dance at random intervals, engage in staring contests, hum the theme from Super Mario (more or less), go hide elsewhere in the park, form a spontaneous line to spank their beloved leader as she crawls between their legs, and finally, carry her bodily to her waiting birthday cake, where they summarily deposit her butt-first into it… and of course, must then sing “Happy Birthday.” Maybe just one more dance party, the crowd seems to decide. Much applause follows for super-special birthday-girl Monica who has rightfully earned it by pulling off this ridiculous, puzzling, and joyful spectacle. Then the magical shenanigans are over. One by one, people in the crowd pull out their earbuds.

You knew there was a big reveal, didn’t you? Well, keep reading!

City of Cannibals

Reduce. Reuse. Recycle. Regurgitate. Reappropriate. Reclaim. Reconnoiter. Rectify.

This is a city that eats its old. Set them out on the corner, and they’re gone. See something you want? Take it away—it’s yours. If that microwave, or TV, or refrigerator doesn’t have its cord cut that means it still works. Someone doesn’t want it, but wants it off their front curb. It’s a flea market town. You know about trash and treasure, one man and another man? What if that guy lived next door?

I’ve always had this habit. My favorite art assignment: find a box, find some stuff, put the stuff in that box. I dug in the dumpsters behind Target near my college, found a tea-kettle package and broken mirrors and a whole bunch of wire, shone a light through the whole thing. It was real pretty, and appealed to my natural cheapness frugality, also.

Number BricksLove of the abandoned, the lost, the free-for-the-taking is what got me through college. And when I say “got me through” I of course mean gave me something to do when I became too frustrated or bored with the school on old Fort Ord, and fell back to the Ord itself. My room was furnished with the 10 year-old leavings of a different institution, the Army, while my classes seemed simultaneously filled with different leavings.

I traveled abroad, and the most consistent fun I could find was exploring the drains of another country, finding little secrets and incidental items, dumpster diving with locals despite what other locals might think. Did you know there’s a drain that leads directly from the rainforest in Airlie Beach, past its campsites, underneath the main highway, and emerges directly on the beach? I miss the Cave Clan, even though I was never a member.

No surprise I should be happy in my new town, one might guess. There’s a Cathedral to tagging right on the waterfront. It’s next to the abandoned bus yard. Art cars, stock metal piled and forged onto them, are here and there. At the moment I’m on top of a street-bedframe, typing on a computer which rests on a street-desk, next to another monitor on top of a piano bench begotten from a yard sale, all for free. We got a chair at that same yard sale, then covered it in cool fabric samples glean’d from Craigslist free. We put it in our sitting room which is filled with some free plants; the urban garden down the street supplies them.

Of course there was the one occasion where, wandering down Haight street, finding a nice (different) piano bench and carrying it off, I was accosted several blocks afterward by a wild-eyed guy saying I took his bench. A little bewildered, I figured out that he’d found it earlier that day and had been trying to sell it ever since. I didn’t pay him the $5 he wanted, even if it was decent furniture. Violates the spirit of the thing.

There’s a lot of free culture, which makes that incident so unusual. More than anywhere else I’ve lived people get it. I’m not looked down on if I desire something cool in a dumpster. Even if I’m in the Financial District, businessman don’t get suspicious when I take their discarded office chair with me. These aren’t company secrets, and that’s why you put this thing out to begin with: so someone else would take it away for you. At the dump they weigh you when you get in and when you get out—if you take as much as you brought, you don’t pay anything. Give me a week and a moving van; I’ll give you an apartment another city-dweller in another city would cry over.

It’s recycling. It’s healthy. It means there’s less waste, what with everybody using everything once and twice and thrice. So what if my cabinet is the same as my neighbors’ before they found another one? A little cannibalism, a little creativity, a good city, can go a long way.

All Over the Internet

I haven’t been paying attention. The place changes so fast.

I find it is a healthy and normal internet activity to Google oneself™. While some might characterize this activity as self-indulgent and call it “ego-surfing,” those 21st-century web-savvy digitally-enabled electronically-mobile young semi-professionals amongst us… we know better. We’ve got enough stuff up on The Internet that the FBI doesn’t even have to ask us where we were four nights ago—we’ll tell them. I’d suppose, what with all this stuff lying around right here on this website, that I am counted among the no-privacy generation.

So I should really know (since I’m in charge of it) what about me is going up on the web. That’s half the idea of this glot-thing: to manage digital identity—all my junk in one pile. I was amused yesterday when a friend stumbled on an article about how to dump your travel partner that featured one of my Flickr photos. They’re all Creative Commons licensed, which means anyone can use ’em so long as they say who took ’em. Then today, for whatever reason, I decided instead of googling my name I would google my flickr name.

I found a lot.

Specialized Civilization (and Clowns)

Let me become suddenly, emphatically clear on something: the pervasive specialization of human skills frightens me. Our civilization is endangered. Empirical knowledge compels me to think we have a fascinating, frightening condition called “Whole-Picture Anemia.”

In academia, one can major in increasingly specific subjects. The still-infectious ideal of scientific reductionism makes believe we can split things into smaller and smaller units. Until what? Until they all fit together and we understand how the watch was made. Hey, organizing into more complex forms worked for single-celled organisms, right? I read Future Shock. I’m not so sure it’ll work for us.

Doctors are a great example. Allow me to give an awful example of this example. Say you’re a dermatologist, and discover an unusual skin condition. It seems your patient’s top layer of skin is eroding, producing a mottled pattern over their body. While it doesn’t seem like it’s getting worse (and there’s no apparent bodily irritation), it’s interfering with his work as a children’s party entertainer a.k.a. clown. Let’s call this patient “the Mystery Clown.” Now I’m not a doctor, and I hate clowns. Clowns are scary old men who play with children (most clowns). But—bound by the hippocratic—you’ll treat him anyways. While it could be a lot of things, the only thing that works is having him wear gloves at night. Big polka-dotted clown gloves, let’s say. Problem solved (freaky excema and clown-shame aside, right?). On to the next doctor, his shrink, to whom he reports that he can no longer sleep at night. Hormones? They’re ok. Personal life? Same. No increased stress on the job? Nope, still a clown. Well, here’s some nappy-time pills. That works.sorrk..wko..rkr.wrso….s.k.rokrwossss… What’s this? My fingers are stuck to the keyboard? Hmm, that’s unusual. Seems this whole time the Mystery Clown had been handling children his hands had gotten so perilously and annoyingly sticky that he had to remove the child-goo by unconsciously scraping his skin off in the dead of night. That is one devoted clown—he loves at his work; it’s all he knows. He’d never admit his disgust by washing away all the friendly child-smells. Whoa, Mr. Shrink, you totally should have caught that “reverse OCD” thing. That and all the makeup still caked on, too. And wouldn’t he smell? As I said, this is the worst great example written. Take that, House.

I’ve lost my point. Clowns are still very disconcerting for me. Ah yes… I’d like to express my dislike for the idea of becoming a liver cell by age 30. Wait—lemme try again. The prospect of human beings becoming separated by unbridgeable esoteric chasms of knowledge is an alarming one. It seems to me that this thing called “the internet” could just be serving as a prosthetic to bridge the great divide.

Homo sapiens grew up in tribal groups, divvying roles out to who could do them. And we thrived! But can we really take biology meant for groups of about 200 (maybe) and use it in societies of, say, 300 million plus? It worries me that it doesn’t seem to be anyone’s job to oversee “the Big Picture,” and invigorate this damned anemia. I guess what I’m saying is that I’d like to be something greater than the sum of my part.

Caveman I.T.

Let me address, for a moment, a subject of male preoccupation: machines.

Damnable machines. The intricacies and interminglings of mechanical and electrical, the mystery and lure of esoteric knowledge, the elusive and seductive usefulness of them—such aspects evoke what the ancient ones would call the summoning of spirits. Caveman call to God with the same sticks and stones. A key turned, a button pressed, and a powerful and nigh-understood beast is yours to command. As spoken by Arthur C. Clarke: “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” Think about it. I haven’t.

Years ago American lore tells us that we men were fascinated with automobiles. We knew all the intricacies of engine parts, created mythologies (such as the ever-faulty Knuter valve), and “talked shop.” How quaint. Today these honored traditions are mostly just useless and annoying distractions. Example. Example. Example. Which of course makes them dishonored traditions. Because people have pooped on them.

Today, modern machines of manliness aren’t built from aluminum, but rather silicon wafers. By my scientific calculations the average american male knows a hefty 1.8 terabytes more in the category of “shit about computers,” as compared to the relatively clueless american female. Bear in mind this fake statistic takes no account of age and there are often pleasant exceptions. But by and large, I think you’ll agree, womenfolk have to deal with us cause it’s a man’s job to take care of the computers.

The ramifications: if you’re like me, there will be occasions when every-single-person-you-know will want you to fix their computer. Recently I had two computers break on me—the same day. The first, the PSU simply exploded… or, uh, imploded… I don’t know cause I wasn’t actually there… but am told the sparks were impressive either way. And the second? It’s PSU was momentarily temporarily disconnected. This (of course) caused catastrophic driver corruption. It’s now stricken with the condition I like to call “POS syndrome.” And, the day before, I’d picked up an old-timey laptop which needed to have everything reformatted, reinstalled, and re-gotten-working-again. Windows ME doesn’t seem to even exist on the internet.

And so, my essential caveman nature was faced with three highly sophisticated (highly busted) thinking machines. We’ve only evolved so much in 10,000 years, people. Let me assure you that only the best-placed utterings of damnation can sway a determined machine. General cursing helps, but not as much as besmirching the name of Engelbart. They hate that kind of besmirching.

How I eventually managed to fix all these problems isn’t actually important. Even though you probly’ve been lead to believe it is, by me. Although hint hint—my method did involve money and throwing. Needless to say the computer that’s mine is working again.