Entries: January 2003

The Approach

From “Tools of Survival in the 21st Century,” Chapter 18.

Another possibly soul-decimating experience is seeing someone from some distance away. Assuming you know the person, how do you go about filling the time from the point you make eye contact to the point where you might engage them in a witty exchange without rupturing the eardrums of the people in your immediate vicinity?

There’s no escaping it now—your fate was sealed at the point of eye contact, when you unwittingly acknowledged them by meeting their gaze. This is tantamount to entrapment, of course, but the burden remains on you to maintain some semblance of social grace, even though you are quite aware that they’re watching how you walk even now.

Are you a loper? Do you swing to and fro like an orangutan when you walk? Do you bob your head like Gomer Pyle, or shuffle your feet? Or maybe you shuffle just one foot. Perhaps you’re completely lopsided. You can feel invisible forces of realization tugging you to the side even now, and this person is witness to the entire humiliating scene.

But these thoughts alone aren’t what keep you from maintaining eye contact throughout your journey. Rather, it’s because you don’t want to present yourself as predatory. No one maintains eye contact while they’re walking except for certain types of cats who weigh more than you do, so it’s an acceptable social behavior that you would look away as you continue. That’s well and good, but the burden remains to be addressed.

As you approach your comrade it is essential that you do not look at your surroundings, for the danger exists that you will make eye contact with yet another acquaintance, and that might very well destroy you. Instead, allow your face to go slack as if you are somewhat lost in thought, and look down at the ground in front of you.

Caveats: First, do not think too hard about anything. If your face is frozen in a wince, or if you cave in to the pressure and begin to weep, then why bother even trying to fit in? Why did you leave the house this morning? Why even clean the vomit from around the empty coffee can next to your bed? And second, be sure to tilt your head down when you engage in facial neutrality, and not just your eyes. You are aiming for contemplative, not besieged by inner voices. Only one type of person forgets to move their head: a psycho. So look down correctly.

Now, when to reengage? No peeking! A psycho peeks, because a psycho sees things that aren’t there. Your goal, in contrast, is to not see things that are there, and to do it in a way that seems natural even though you planned it all out weeks ago, and have been practicing in your basement using the trusty doll-head that you stole from your little sister in grade six.

You’re coming up on the person a little too quickly, so slow down. To convey a laissez faire demeanor, manufacture an itch, even if you don’t have one. Scratching an itch has been shown to be a social disarmer, as long as you’re not scratching incessantly at your eyes or tongue.

And at last you’re close enough to them that you can see them in your peripheral vision. Now it’s up to you: you are free to engage them in friendly conversation (as covered in Chapter 12). Remember that it is not always possible to come off as a “normal,” but you should always strive to keep the choking, gasping sobs at bay for as long as possible.

Good job! Later on, as you squeegee the last of the Crisco from the can with your tongue, you can look back on your encounter as a successful step in your ongoing, pathetic quest for social integration.

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Tell me, did you see that brief light? It fell fast, but when I looked it was still there, farther away, but in the same place. Did you hear that there are children on Mars? They found them hiding among the rocks, and even though they smiled, they would not speak of their homes. Did you see the cow painted on the face of the moon? It was flat, but its eyes would blink and follow you as you danced. The houses, they were made of blocks, and everything fit together just so. Did you see that? And if you did, where did it go?

Did you ever find a music box behind a crate in the attic that still played the song your mother used to hum? It was sad to be moving away from there, I’ll bet. And did you notice the marks on the back of your hand? Do you remember the book with the pages ripped out? You could still see the stress creases on the ragged flaps that remained, and they brought back…

The refrigerator clicking on, and the crickets outside, and the door that no one else could see that was there, sometimes. The figurines. The lace, the ribbon, and the bell (kept from before). Did you ever wonder why they could only see you when you saw them? The whispering, the magnets in the walls, and the secret passage that you suddenly remembered forgetting? Did you find out who it was who was living in your room when you got back? Did you read about the elephants being born with no tusks? Green lollipops? Did you hear the ticks as the house settled? That’s normal, especially in the summertime.

But if you find out what to do, and about what happens next, let me know.

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Joseph Cornell

“Sometimes the romance of the motion pictures seemed to spill over into Cornell’s own life. In what was perhaps the most poignant of his early attachments, he became interested in a young woman who worked as a cashier at the Bayside Motion Picture Theatre. Day after day she stood in a little booth in front of the theater selling tickets, and Cornell grew accustomed to admiring her from afar.

“It gave him pleasure just to walk by and see her encased in the quietude of the glass ticket booth, like a delicate instrument inside a bell jar. Did he ever talk to her beyond asking for a ticket? All that is known is that one afternoon Cornell showed up at the movie house with a bouquet of flowers, which he proceeded to present to her. But when he tried to say hello, he became tongue-tied, so he just hurled the flowers at her. Startled by his gesture as well as by his frightening intensity, the cashier mistook the flowers for a gun and screamed. The theater manager promptly rushed out and wrestled Cornell to the ground, holding him in place until he noticed the bouquet and realized that the suspected robber was merely the most hapless and awkward of suitors.”

from Utopia Parkway: the life and work of Joseph Cornell
by Deborah Solomon

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Open Letter to Tire Slasher

Oops, bad move. See, the way you know that someone else is already parking in the place that you just noticed is: you see them backing into it. It’s fair to call this behavior universal, and as such it’s hard to imagine how it could have taken you by surprise to such an extent that you would so brutally assassinate my tire when the coast was clear. And I certainly can’t imagine that the act was worth the diarrhea and impotence that you suffered once my voodoo curse on you took hold, let alone the nightmares, the high ringing sound, or the spider eggs that keep hatching from the large pores around your nose. Rest assured that the atrophy to your tongue will abate once you finally stop calling mommy to make the air-vipers go away. Just relax and enjoy the colors while your eyes can still perceive them, because the end of this ride is much darker indeed.

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Arthur Crew Inman

David Lynch said, “Crew spent his life writing a diary from 1919 to the time of his eventual suicide in 1963. In that time, he lived confined to a dark room in Boston and, through newspaper ads, hired ‘talkers’ to tell him the stories of their lives. He then wove these histories into his own diary. Young women were a particular fascination. According to his brief bio, he bought them clothes, studied their moods, ‘fondled them,’ and gave them romantic advice. Inman’s edited diaries were published in 1985 by the Harvard University Press in two volumes. That’s where I first heard of him and his strange life’s work.” [read more]

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The Design God

We’re down to the wire now. Tomorrow the review board will focus their arc lamps upon me and judge the efficacy of my labors.

My reaction? An impenetrable self-righteousness. My willful (and liberal) use of non-party propaganda during earlier presentations provoked much uneasy stirring among their ranks. To be precise, I referred to our earnest corps of workers as “[our] dedicated team of trained monkeys.”

Now I see my latest composition circulating much farther from my desk than I’ve intended, eventually finding itself among the true company troglodytes—those whose faces have never been blighted by even the hint of a genuine smile. And when these drones espy my wayward child, they look at one another with sparring-eyebrows cocked, yet say nothing.

I laugh in the face of their consternation. “Perhaps they have forgotten,” I bark with sudden irascibility, “that if they don’t enjoy the compositions then they’re free to bite me. In fact I invite them to bite me!”

Heads turn to where I was standing a moment before, but I’ve already left the room, bored with their puerile games.

Or maybe it would be more effective if I just pictured them naked.

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America Has Gone Mad

The following are two of the most accurate, lucid accounts of this rogue nation that I’ve come across.

In The Times, John le Carré writes: “America has entered one of its periods of historical madness, but this is the worst I can remember: worse than McCarthyism, worse than the Bay of Pigs and in the long term potentially more disastrous than the Vietnam War.” [read more] [alternate link - until timesonline gets its act together]

In Time, Brian Eno writes: “How is it that a country that prides itself on its economic success could have so many very poor people? How is it that a country so insistent on the rule of law should seek to exempt itself from international agreements? And how is it that the world’s beacon of democracy can have elections dominated by wealthy special interest groups?” [read more]

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Midget Pickles?

Wait. No. Midget pickles? Is that what it said? There’s a whole shelf of Del Monte midget pickles (sweet sweet midget pickles!) at the Safeway, and… no one’s saying anything about it. Where I come from, calling a little person a “midget” is about as savory as calling them—or anyone—a “fuckhead.” It’s not the same species of word, of course—as different as “wop” and “retard,” say. But right along those same derogatory lines, you see. I like pickles, and I like little people—and together I’d call them irresistible—but maybe I’m just out of touch.

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How I Met Her

Mine was an aged building that sweat under the pressure to remain standing. Mold had bruised its damp walls, like storm clouds from an artist’s brush. White awnings like sails webbed freshly-carved stone buttresses hewn long ago, and that once seemed to herald a new prosperity. But these too turned a uniform gray. The moon was keeping me awake. The moon and seventy three chinchillas that had made a nest for themselves in my pantry.

I was lying on a mattress I call “Sadie,” watching projections of the phosphenes frolicking in my eyes when I saw the tear. In truth, I’d noticed the flaw in the wallpaper before, but from this angle the curled ridge looked far more prominent—more inviting. I leapt up, danced a little dance, edging gracefully over to the tear in the wallpaper, and heard as tiny feet skittered across linoleum in response.

With a graceful but precise maneuver, similar to those I’d honed in Central American jungle dales, I swung my arm around and caught purchase of the torn edge, and then stepped away from the wall, tearing the damp paper down to the yellow, varmint-stained moulding. And then I stood still in spent victory.

The webs between my toes tingled and I realized that I’d been standing for hours, staring at the newspapers that lined the walls beneath the faded wallpaper, spongy and moist. I pressed my thumb into a block of text and it gave away almost immediately. I felt something cold, and there was a sucking sound as I pulled my thumb free. I don’t remember which came first, the high-pitched ring in my ears, or the uninvited tears. My sadness, though, was absolute, and I sought solace in the fuzzy words on the pages I lived in. I curled up by the warped floorboards with my hand against a column about a provocateur who arrived by rail in NOLA.

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Blah Blah Blah

In 1996 Alan Sokal, a NYU professor of Physics, published the article “Transgressing the Boundaries: Toward a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity” in Social Text, a leading a leading journal of cultural studies.

His article was 100% intentional jibberjabber.

After it was published as a legitimate article Sokal exposed it as a parody in Lingua Franca, where he talked about the troubling “decline in the standards of intellectual rigor in certain precincts of the American academic humanities.”


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Innovative Interface

Some MetaCreations expats (including Kai Krause on the advisory board) had something to do with this. CoOperating Systems’ HelloWorld looks interesting, though, as with PDAs, I don’t know if it’s something I’d use—my comrades are all located in an area roughly equivalent to two pixels on the interface shown. And who wants to talk to them anyway?

Note also “CoSI’s” appreciation of subtlety, even in a web presentation: If you click on the right half of a screenshot it takes you to the next page, and the left side it takes you back. Clever monkeys!

(I can also personally appreciate the fact that Christopher Franke, formerly of Tangerine Dream, is also on the advisory board.)

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Tearing Down Walls

There’s always a new guy. Frankly there are too many of them, and only so many hours in a day. This is why we usually remain tucked behind our little social membrane—the alternative would be interacting with every single person around us, and filling our precious and dwindling supply of brain cells with dozens of otherwise useless proper names.

If I can possibly avoid meeting someone, I will. I’ll tie my shoe or go to the bathroom or call in sick or move, just please don’t tear down that third wall.

Earlier this week I needed to confirm an assumption I had about the project I’ve been working on. I can usually work in solitude, but soon enough I became entangled in a complex series of events that all seemed to be leading toward an inevitable interaction with a new guy. The maddening bit is that I was pretty sure I was right in my assumption, but it was an essential piece of information just the same. I had to be sure.

Desperate not to meet the new guy, I asked a anyone else who might be able to help me—people I already know—but to no avail. As a last ditch effort I tried looking up the new guy’s email address, but he’s just too damned new to be listed. Plus I didn’t know his name. It was like all of the universe’s controlling forces had suddenly become legion in their campaign to foil me.

You know when you’re going to knock something over, and you think hmm… if I don’t watch out then I’m going to knock that over, and then you do knock it over, and it’s happens even more slowly because you predicted it, and now you have to sit through it and watch it happen for real? It’s terrifying and frustrating and banal all at the same time.

So I took my little piece of paper over to the new guy and asked him if this thing was supposed to be there, and he said yeah, and I went back to my desk, defeated.

This morning I was trundling to my desk along my favorite route when I passed the new guy in the doorway. I looked up at him, looked back down to my shoes, recognized him, looked back up, saw his cordial I know you expression, and met it with my own, sustaining it just long enough so that it didn’t look like a twitch. All that work drained the life out of me.

In The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat there was a guy who enjoyed a neural disorder that rendered him unable to remember anything for longer than about 60 seconds. I think I can beat that if I really assert myself.

In The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat there was a guy who enjoyed a neural disorder that rendered him unable to remember…

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Building Walls

Nothing shatters this perception of free will more quickly than when you notice the razor wire-tipped fences between you and the grass. Why can you not walk on the grass? Seen from afar, the fog enshrouded hills of Berkeley are so moist and inviting, but when you get anywhere near them you come face to face with the fences. They’re everywhere, like cobwebs in your cellar. Are they to keep you out, or the happy cows in? The Central American expats who work on the new gate around the community refer to themselves as guardas. You’ve heard them laugh about it as they build walls around the big houses. Nor iron bars a cage your ass. Hey guardas, a few more bricks to seal the top and you’d make Poe proud.

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Wait—You’re Serious?

The audience had barely finished roaring from that whole “Bush declares a National Sanctity of Life Day” thing last week when the inevitable question was asked: “How will Mr. Bush top himself?” This would surely be a challenge, but he has risen to meet that challenge with aplomb. Witness: “Bush plan gives huge tax break to buyers of big SUVs”. Sterling performance, Mr. Bush! Now I need to wipe the snot off my monitor.

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Look at that woman, will you?


She looks old, doesn’t she?

Her? She sure does. I’ll bet she’s 70.

And you can see every year on her. It’s too bad that she didn’t have Juvox in her day.

Jew-vox? As in “voice of the Jews?” What’s that?

No, silly! It’s only the most revolutionary, most effective vim-restoring system ever devised, and it’s got more than Jews talking about it.

It sounds like I’ve really been missing out!

Well fortunately we’re not a moment too late. Let me tell you about the wonders of Juvox. You lead an active life, but somewhere along the way you’ve lost the passion you had when you were younger.

It’s true, I really have.

You look disheveled at best, your features have all stretched toward the floor and melted together like wax, and your friends all share one thing in common: A strong sense of sympathy.

Boy, I feel terrible.

But what if I told you that there was a way to restore your youthful vigor? To put the fight back in your fists, and to regain that nervous energy you felt as you saw someone cute from across the compound?

I’d say who’s your supplier!

Ha ha. Well it’s not a drug, per se. And Juvox isn’t just a topical cream either. We call it the Juvox Vim-Restoration System. By going step by step through our specially designed process, you’ll be tampering with your chemical makeup in ways that mother nature could never have foreseen.

But is Juvox safe?

It sure is! Juvox is all natural, and is made from only two base ingredients.

That’s really amazing! How can Juvox be so effective without containing at least several industrial grade pollutants?

Well the methods of extraction and refinement are proprietary, but I’ll tell you that Juvox contains only death row inmate testosterone, and the sweet, soft forehead sections from third world babies.

You’re kidding!

And as for potency, nothing else comes close. The steroid hormone testosterone is one of the essential building blocks of aggression. It’s also primarily male—that’s how the inmates got to where they are! So we went right to the source. Juvox is infused with enough testosterone to bring the gleam back the the eyes of a cataract patient.

But isn’t it difficult to extract enough testosterone?

It was at first, but Vitubus, Inc.—the makers of Juvox—forged many mutually advantageous relationships with judges in several southern states in the early 90s, and access to dead men walking was as easy as electrocution!

But didn’t the Supreme Court recently rule that it was unconstitutional for judges rather than juries to decide whether to sentence a killer to death?

It’s true that there have been setbacks in the capital appellate process. But that’s why Vitubus, Inc. wasn’t content just to rely on hushed mandatory donations from inmates. Thanks to several key scientific advances Vitubus, Inc. hedged its bets by employing orchidectomy to populate its own testicle farms, and now the supply of grade A testosterone is on the rise, so to speak!

Ha ha.

And when you talk about soft, supple skin, what’s the one thing do you always use for comparison?

Why the foreheads of babies, of course!

Exactly. And we’ve scoured the planet and set up Missions in several of the most impoverished countries you could ever hope to find. People there are never lacking for babies, and these babies in particular have some of the softest foreheads in the world! Most people in these cultures simply have no access to the nutrients essential to building strong bones, and as a result infants often keep their soft foreheads until the age of about three! By fostering a belief in ritual trepannation, Vitubus Missions have more vital tissue than they know what to do with.

Wow. But hold on a second—isn’t eating babies wrong?

Not according to the Bible. And Juvox comes in a refreshing gum too, for people on the go!


Yes. Let me tell you, the results are just amazing. For the past four months I’ve been using the system myself.

How old are you anyway?

I’m 24!

Holy mother of fuck!

Mm hmm! The Juvox Vim-Restoration System isn’t available in stores, but if you call the number on your screen one of our operators will work with you to come up with a payment plan that works for you.

That sounds too good to be true.

You should start using it as soon as you can. And, as anyone on death row can tell you, the clock is ticking!

I’m going to call right away!

Operators are standing by.

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Two Weeks

After two weeks the workers return, and collect in their cubes like silt in the gear-teeth of a derelict clock. In a flagrant disregard for instinct they plan their meetings and follow-up meetings, and meta-meetings during which they will discuss the nature of meetings. I become swept up in the tide (or perhaps it’s the undertow) and witness as they awkwardly conduct themselves, and it’s like watching someone with amnesia trying to assume their family lives again: “Is this where I used to sit? Do I like meatloaf?” It saddens me. They speak of deliverables and collateral content and product specs. “No!” I want to shout. “Don’t you realize that you’re using the language of The Man?” And when you speak The Man’s language, he owns your mind. I try to save them from the rising momentum. “I wore this shirt for ten days during the break.” They think I’m kidding. So soon after their emancipation, and already they have their callous-toughened hands on the plough grips.

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False Dilemma

Are people really buying into this administration’s false dilemma? “Either they disarm, or we have to go to war with them.” Oh, really? From what crevice did you pull that one? There’s a logical fallacy that describes this brand of thinking quite nicely, and what I don’t appreciate is the unyielding stream of rhetoric sluicing from Capitol Hill that seems as much geared to intimidate Them as it does to coerce Us. You know, the great unwashed. Today Bush says, “We are ready for war.” Warmonger I think they call it, and passive aggressive at that. “We’re ready, just in case. Not that we’ll need to, though we probably will. But either way, just saying.” Really, are people buying this?

All of this will seem annoyingly familiar to anyone who experienced any kind of social difficulties in school. It’s the old story: Bully accuses little kid of passing notes calling him names. Bully sends team of locker inspectors to rifle through little kid’s locker checking for evidence of hate-notes. Pieces of paper that may or may not be notes are found in little kid’s locker. Bully issues decree that little kid must surrender all pieces of paper, or he will have no choice but to liberate the little kid from his lunch money. Little kid explains that he was not passing notes about the bully’s mother, and declines to forfeit his entire paper supply. Bully calls little kid defiant, and says that the options are clear, and the choice is his.

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Scamper Labs is a top drawer design boutique. The right-brained corporate parent to this humble grotto.

ScamperFilter has a Flipboard zine.