I Want My “Dark Future!”

I want my Dark Future. 

All my life I’ve been watching movies and television shows heralding a dark, polluted, dystopian future where apartment buildings reach into a scorched sky, and can only be accessed by flying cars.  I don’t know what the hold-up is.  The Evangelicals have been rooting for the Rapture ever since Constantine and the Council of Nicaea, and every year since they’ve been like Linus in the Pumpkin Patch, waiting eagerly for the Great Pumpkin of the Apocalypse.  And in the interim, faithful that the end is nigh, we’ve given up on a preserving anything for future generations. 

The Native Americans made all of their decisions based on their effect on the seventh generation.  While the Native Americans were many things, efficient they were not.  I blame a lack of bibles.  In the new millennium, we’ve managed to trim all of that generational pork and now we base all of our decisions on just one generation:  Ours. 

Our Evangelical optimism in the coming rapture has resulted in a pervasive pessimism in everything that isn’t aware of the coming rapture like trees, whales, ring-tailed lemurs, Hindus, etc.  Of course we don’t care about sewage in the river; God will be here soon to do much worse to the planet.  So why not exploit every remaining resource in these waning days?  If you’re not worried about the security deposit, go ahead and trash the joint.  I think it’s called “holding dominion over nature.” 

So if we’re going to go, let’s go out with a grenade.  Perhaps you’re thinking:  “But that sounds kind of inconvenient and very unpleasant.”  Not to worry; the Morphine of Consumerism will protect us.  Shop, Consume and Destroy.  Eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow we die…maybe.  Okay, the next day then. 

You know, all this environmental devastation is really God’s fault.  He’s the one who’s not holding up His end of the bargain.  We’re sitting here, waiting with our bags packed, new tennis shoes and a Whitman’s Sampler for St. Peter, but the Golden Escalator isn’t running.

While we’re waiting, if we’re going to stick firecrackers into frogs, I say let’s get off the fence.  As long as the Universe is our personal playground, let’s experiment.  And I’m not talking about sending another digging robot to plop down on Mars, like a toddler in a sandbox, to look for ice.  Seriously?  Ice?  We don’t have enough ice underneath all those polar bears? 

Instead of searching for potential life beyond ours and the ethical questions that accompany it, let’s be proactive; let’s get the artificial intelligence guys in here.  Let’s build two robots with the best artificial intelligence with which we can equip them.  Let’s also give them baby robot making parts.  Then, let’s blast them to the moon and watch what happens.  That’s an experiment I would gladly spend 386 Million in tax dollars for.  I want to watch them multiply.  I want to watch them learn.  I want to watch the first Robot/Human summit on my Samsung Optical Cortex Microchip, and I want to see it go horribly wrong.  I want Logan’s Run!  I want Independence Day!  I want The Terminator!  I want The Matrix!  I want Blade Runner!  Let’s get visceral!  If the Four Horsemen are slacking off, having a picnic somewhere, let’s pony up and be our own Death Jockeys!  What are we waiting for?  Don’t we have Faith?


Daytime Drivers–Redux

If you’re a regular reader of this Blog, you know that I recently published a Blog called “Daytime Drivers.”  Your collective response would imply that it resonated with more than a few of you.  Clearly, dealing with daytime drivers is not relegated to me alone and today it became clear that, for me, it’s not an isolated event.  The latest incident occurred as I was driving back from the mall after getting my wife’s watch re-sized.  (By the way, when did the employees manning the various kiosks in the mall thoroughfares become so aggressive?  It’s like Mexico.  For the record, if I require a new cell phone plan, wool-lined boots, lotion or a tee shirt airbrushed with a picture of someone else’s kids, trust me, I’ll stop.)

As I was driving home, basking in the glow of my successful errand, I admit I may have been daydreaming a little.  Whenever a man does something to make his wife happy as opposed to making her roll her eyes at his latest bonehead manuever, he likes to savor the hypothetical moment and roll it around in his cerebral cortex for a spell.  It was while I was entertaining such thoughts when a woman in a red Honda Civic roused me from my reverie by cutting me off and narrowly missing my front right bumper.  In her defense, it was at a fork in the freeway, and had she not cut me off, the freeway might have taken her all the way to Chicago where she would have no choice but to live, never to see her loved ones again. 

Nevertheless, I was obliged to inform her of my presence and displeasure by sounding an annoyed blast from the horn of my Ford Focus.  What with the “Big Three” in financial trouble and the quality of their products in question, I also saw it as an opportunity to flex a little American Automotive Muscle.  “Hey!  You in the Honda!  Ford Motor Company comin’ through!”  With one hand I gripped the wheel as I slammed the other down on the center of the steering wheel.  I don’t know if, in print, I can do justice the sound that resulted, but I would be remiss if I didn’t try.  Instead of a majestic blast, what followed sounded exactly like:  “Phhhmmeeep-p-peeee-p.” 

If I was a male quail trying to attract a mate with my clarion call, I would be fox poop by the end of the day.  It was the same sound of protest made by a scrawny Freshman right before the football team pantsed him and stuffed him in a locker.  Needless to say, she didn’t even cast a glance into her rear-view mirror. 

If there’s one lesson that I learned from this encounter it’s this:  Before you take your Ford Focus out for a spin, make sure it’s Road Ready in case you run across a Daytime Driver (or, more specifically, a Daytime Driver runs across you).  Check the car’s fluid levels and tire pressure and for God’s sake, if you have to use the horn, make sure you have its inhaler.


Why Improv?

How does the brain work?

For all of the experiments that have been conducted, we’ve established that the brain is essentially a computer whose purpose is to process the input from our senses and catalog stimuli.  Using an almost infinite combination of neural nets and associations, it then attempts to predict what will happen in the future.  Ideally, this access to the future keeps the human being one step ahead of potential danger, ensuring happy and healthy survival.  The process of association begins very early in life with the basics of learning to seek pleasure and avoid pain.  This is the skeletal frame of our individual philosophies and the events that form this frame are as unique as we are.  Like paper Mache, the nuances of our experience are layered upon this frame to create the world view upon which we lead our lives.

Why do we continually make the same decisions?

While the potential combinations of neural networks are almost infinite, for convenience sake, patterns do appear.  The properties of frequent experience are noted to streamline the brains cataloging process.  For instance, if X=Happiness, then the brain spends nearly all of its spare resources (those resources that aren’t allocated for autonomic survival functions) solving for X.  As with any efficient computer, solving for a desired result also involves identifying that which isn’t the desired result.  For instance, a child intrinsically knows that pleasure is the result of a lack of pain and visa versa.  If that same child learns that speaking his mind results in pain, he will naturally learn to derive pleasure from not speaking his mind.  While this may be a variable in the mind of another, for this individual it is a constant.  Whether it is an empirical truth or merely perception makes no difference as far as the brain is concerned; it is, nevertheless, a foundation of his brain’s operating system.  These “constants” can appear at every stage of the brain’s development from a bend in the frame to a wrinkle in a final layer of paper Mache, and when they do, they assure that nearly every beginning of a series of choices shares a common starting point.  In most cases, the same starting point results in a similar finish.  This could account for the fact that we constantly seek the same relationships, occupations and diversions and if they happen to be dysfunctional or unfulfilling in the end, well, so be it.  That’s just reality…as we know it.

What is improvisation?

In recent years, improvisational theater or “Improv” has become a cottage industry.  Today, it is commonly recognized as a medium of performance in and of itself, but it wasn’t always so.  At its rudimentary level, Improv is the art of being.  Improv is how the brain experiments.  Using all of our five senses (and perhaps some unnumbered, intuitive senses) the brain reaches out to sample its surroundings.  Then, it attempts to affect its surroundings with action, speech or touch.  It then marks the reaction and begins the experiment anew.  This experimental dance is that of action and reaction and, in its purest form, exists without supposition or prejudice.  In the infinitesimal blink of time that we call “now,” we improvise…all of us…always.  Without knowing it, children display an uncanny affinity for improvisation as their lives are almost purely experimentation.

Where did this skill go?

As the brain catalogs, the questions about our world are replaced with that which we perceive as answers, and that which we yearn to know is supplanted by that which we already do.  Files of curiosity get filled to capacity, and the files we access often are placed at the top of the pile.  Our lives no longer allow for experimentation because our culture demands results.  The time comes in all of our lives for our brain’s world view to be put to task; ready or not, for better or worse.  The echoes of pain line our path and keep us focused, and we rely on what we know as we race towards the finish, spurred on by our sense of impending mortality.  These echoes of pain are a Governor that keeps us on the straight and narrow.  This Governor is neither good nor bad, but, by virtue of its definition, it is designed to limit us. 

Is Improv really necessary?

No.  Whether or not you choose to acknowledge Improv, bidden or unbidden, the finish will come.

What are the benefits of Improv?

Later in life, Improv can serve as a valuable reassessment of our world view.  Often we wish that we could access our past with “what we know now.”  In a fashion, Improv can provide that.  In the stillness of sincerity and the purity of the unspoiled “now,” we can enjoy an insight that is but a blur at our life’s present pace.  Where exactly are we “now?”  Is our brain’s world view serving us like it should, or is the operating system outdated?  Were our fears justified?  What was the source of our desires?  Have we grown beyond the limits of the Governor that once protected us from embarrassment and harm?  While the answers to these questions are unique to the individual, Improv can serve as a valuable tool to anyone who chooses to wield it.


The Mylar Balloon

There was a Mylar balloon in my yard this morning.  I only mention it because finding a Mylar balloon in my yard is part of a very long list of things that I’ve never experienced, but today that list is one experience shorter.  I discovered it when I took my Pit Bull, Bailey, out for her morning walk.  Normally, she waits at the front door until I release her, and then she races onto the front yard and attempts to rub the Gentle Leader from her muzzle.  But this time she stopped, jumped back like a startled horse and growled her low, sub-sonic growl.  When I looked in the direction that her rigid frame was pointing, I, too, was startled.  It’s just not something that you’re ever prepared to see. 

The balloon read:  “Happy Birthday” and its string (ribbon, really) was entangled in some rose bushes that I have yet to remove from their containers and plant.  Every other attempt at transplanting has ended crispy, brown and poorly, so I’ve opted to let living plants be.  But that’s a different story.  There was still a little helium left and the balloon swayed back and forth like a tranquilized cobra.  Appropriately, Bailey proceeded to slink around, low to the ground like a mongoose, all the while growling at the festive intruder.

While Bailey was still apoplectic, I couldn’t help but smile at this random fugitive of joy that had escaped and found its way here.  When I was a young boy, I loved the idea of untethered balloons, riding on a thermal, continually climbing until the helium inside and the thinning atmosphere reached equilibrium.  Slowly, the helium would escape and the balloon would gradually descend.  I thought how magical the place at which it came to rest must be.  Surely it was God Himself who put it there because that’s who was in charge of such monumental decisions.  To choose one place out of infinite places is a choice just too big for humans. 

At my grandfather’s funeral, we released eighty-five red, white and blue balloons, but before we did, we wrote something special on a small card that was knotted to the string.  For the life of me, I can’t remember what I wrote, but I hope it wasn’t trite.  Maybe someone saw it, maybe they didn’t.  Maybe a bird used it to build a nest.  Or maybe it got tangled in someone’s rose bushes.

There was no such message on the Mylar, Happy Birthday balloon littering my yard.

That’s the funny thing about litter.  If it were the foil from a cigarette pack sticking to the thorns, I might have been momentarily indignant, but because this particular bit of litter was used for joy, I saw in it the wry smile of Fate.

I don’t know from where it came; there were no stamps like those on a cartoon steamer trunk.  Nor do I know for whom it was intended; it wasn’t personalized.  To you I say:  If it was or is your birthday, Happy Birthday indeed.  And to God, who sent me your balloon, I say:  Message received.  Thanks for thinking of me.



Dying Prematurely and the CDC

I recently read an article stating that smoking kills 443,000 prematurely each year.  The statistic comes from the CDC, the Center for Disease Control.  I take exception to this statement.  I have no problem with the “smoking kills” part or even the number.  What I take exception to is the “prematurely” part.  Clearly, this implies that humans have a maturity date (like a Certificate of Deposit) and, upon reaching it, then and only then are they allowed to die.  Anything less would be “premature.”

If this date is known to somebody, and you happen to be reading this Blog, do us all a favor and tell us what it is!  In the bible, it’s “three score and ten” so 70 years.  In the movie “Logan’s Run,” it’s 30.  According to the CDC, it’s unspecified but if you die a smoking related death, whether it’s at 30 or 70, it’s shy of what it should be or, in other words, “premature.”

I have a question for the CDC:  If a person reaches their maturity date, can they expect your blessing to begin smoking?  And will you actively hunt down those who exceed their maturity date and force them to engage in risky behavior?  And what if smoking temporarily saves a person’s life?  Let’s say he bows his head to light a cigarette and a sniper’s bullet misses him by exactly that much.  What if a mad man (by which I mean a crazy guy; not a hunky ad exec from the 60’s on AMC) threatens pull the pin on a grenade unless he gets a cigarette?  In this case, a smoker with a square to lend may save a dozen lives.  Of course this begs the question:  Is a death due to a bullet or grenade considered premature?  Or are those deaths filed under “Right On Time?”  If a smoker dies due to something other than smoking, is his/her death considered “post-mature?”  I imagine that the CDC, as their name would imply, centers around disease control, and I don’t think that bullets and grenades are considered diseases despite the staggering lack of ease that they inflict.  Therefore, bullets and grenades would fall outside the CDC’s jurisdiction.

And just who is in charge of keeping the books on our maturity dates?  I would think it would be God.  If so, is the CDC doing God’s work by enforcing our maturity dates?  Perhaps they should change their name to the Church for Disease Control.  They can even keep their current abbreviation.  Oh, and CDC, since you have a working relationship with the Almighty, could you ask Him why bad things happen to good people?  And then could you ask Him if He could create a burrito so hot that even He couldn’t eat it.  I’ve always been curious about that.


Drivers in the Daytime

If you ever drive around Milwaukee’s freeway system during the day, you’ll notice that there is a kind of driver on the road that can only be described as “really, really bad.”  The nine-to-fivers have paid upwards of twenty-five dollars to store their cars for the day, but the people who still have access to their automobiles and the wherewithal to drive them are free to turn the highway into a Drivers Training film for the rest of us.  It’s as if they think that the road is lined with soft bumpers that will gently nudge them back on track if their car strays from the lane while they study those strange sticks protruding from the steering column that make the arrows light up on the dashboard.

Thankfully, most of these drivers are off the road when the chutes open and the nine-to-fivers’ cars are released.  In stark contrast to the meandering free-for-all that occurs on the road while they are behind their desks, the nine-to-fivers take to the streets with a finely-focused aggression.  They sit in gridlock like rodeo bulls behind their gates poised to lunge at the slightest opening.  There will be an accident, oh yes, just like one impala will be taken by the crocodile waiting in the watering hole.  It is Darwin’s Rules of the Road, but that’s the agreement.  This is the driving world to which I am accustomed.

This is why I cannot process being rear-ended at three miles per hour by a mini van while waiting at a stoplight.  Surely I was seen or else the mini van would not have been traveling at three miles per hour, right?  My presence could not have surprised her, and yet she drove right into me.  Is this a technique used by daytime drivers?  Approach the stoplight slowly until you feel impact?  Does it reduce wear on the brake pads and shoes by transferring the momentum to another object like me?  Is a complete stop due to another’s car somehow considered an impingement of personal freedom?

Daytime driving is truly like walking among Zombies.  Daytime drivers are slow, aimless and random yet strangely outcome-oriented.  The word “obstacle” is absent from their vocabulary.  According to Dictionary.com, an obstacle is “something that obstructs or hinders progress,” but if you refuse to have your progress hindered, ipso facto there can be no obstacle.  It’s actually quite brilliant in a Zen-like and completely egocentric way.

When I looked in my rearview mirror, I saw that, among the many expressions not displayed on her face, culpability was at the top of the list.  As if Newton’s Third Law of Motion had suddenly been reversed, and my equal and opposite reaction was somehow the cause of her action.  Like the Insurance Companies’ mind-blowing rule that you’re 10% at fault during any accident because you were there.  As long as Insurance Companies are evoking the Butterfly Effect, by that rationale, isn’t it really my parents’ fault for conceiving me in the first place?  And if that’s true, then we have to hold Pabst Blue Ribbon Beer accountable for removing their inhibitions.

I didn’t get out of the car.  I knew there was no damage to speak of because with today’s plastic bumpers you know immediately.  Instead, I swallowed my indignation like a good boy where it will either dissolve or link up with more of its ilk to form a tumor.

A word of advice for you nine-to-fivers:  Stick to rush hour; it’s safer.


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Dear Maxim Magazine

Dear Maxim Magazine:


When I went out to my mailbox today, it smelled particularly sexy, and sure enough there you were.  I suspect today’s fragrance was emanating from page 45, the thick page featuring Josh Hartnett and Emporio Armani Diamonds for Men.  Believe me, in a pinch, I will peel open the page and wipe your sticky sample on my pulse points.  However, I must confess, I don’t know who Josh Hartnett is.  Is he an actor?  Musician?  A Pirate?  I base that last guess on his wardrobe and the location and concentration of his facial hair.


For the last year, I’ve passively received your magazine.  I say “passively” because, for the life of me, I don’t remember subscribing.  Oh, I’ll leaf through, mainly out of respect.  I mean, you took the trouble to send it to me and it would be rude not to at least scan it.  I find your information regarding pop culture to be very shiny and bright.  And there’s no doubt that your attempts to accommodate youthful consumerism are perfectly honed, especially the ad for a trust potion called “Liquid Trust.”  Finally, the Sensitive Man’s alternative to Roofies!


But here’s the rub:  I’m almost 40 years old.  That makes me old enough to be the father of many of your airbrushed cover girls.  Despite their “come hither” looks behind smoky eye shadow and their heaving bosoms exposed by falling shoulder straps, the fact that I could be footing the bill for their college tuition makes any lustful thoughts that you’ve intended very creepy and disconcerting; especially when it’s accompanied by an article entitled:  “How to Vote Off Her Panties!”  Then again, whatever gets the kids interested in their civic duty and the democratic process is aces in my book.


I will admit, many years ago, I was a subscriber to Maxim Magazine.  That was back when I lived in a studio apartment, worked at a home improvement store and was eager for any advice as to getting “Her” panties off, voting or otherwise.  As I mentioned, I’m now pushing 40, married and am very knowledgeable when it comes to panties as I regularly launder those of my wife in our large capacity, Sears washing machine.


I suspect the woman who delivers my mail is roughly my age, too.  I often wonder what she thinks when she tucks my property tax bill into the Maxim Magazine so it falls out like one of your subscription cards when I open it.  Does she think:  “Now here’s a man who proudly embraces his Peter Pan complex.  Maybe it’s just the Liquid Trust talking, but I find that refreshing.”  Or is she going to report me?


Maxim Magazine, it is with a heavy heart, due in no small part to the arterial sclerosis common to men of my advancing years that I would like to terminate my non-subscription to your publication.  And believe me when I say:  It’s not you, it’s me.  I think it’s great that you’re introducing kids to the fashions that have survived in my closet lo these twenty years only to reappear, irony-free, in your style section, and if you need an authentic Members Only jacket, mesh tie and Topsiders, don’t hesitate to ask.  My closet is like the Smithsonian. 


So long, and thanks for all the breasts,