Ups and Downs and Ups

This comes from an article called “20 Things You Didn’t Know About Living In Space,” from Discovery Magazine:

“19. But some long-duration cosmonauts report that the hardest thing to readjust to about life on Earth is that when you let go of objects, they fall.”

At first I thought it was funny. But as I kept going back to it, it started to unfold into something more. On the one hand, it’s innocent and even a little depressing. These people were so used to a reality unimaginable to the rest of us, they literally forgot what life was like on Earth. They lived somewhere that in some ways seemed magical, then they had to adjust to the way the rest of us live and come to terms with the way life will be until they die.

Yet at the same time, it’s inspiring. When I hear about experiences like that, it makes me happy. I never fully appreciated that people are able to live off our planet for so long now, floating objects become de rigeuer. I like that I’m around to see our collective reach getting longer.  It cancels out things like America’s Next Top Model and makes me feel like we’re making progress as a civilization.

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Getting the Point(s)

After many years, I’m now a casual gamer. I used to be far more formal about my gaming, but after I found that I loved it way too much, I had to stop playing regularly. It was one of those “I could easily eat ice cream for every meal, but I’ll spend a fortune on hot fudge and pants with elastic waists” kind of conclusions. Sad, sure, but an important step in becoming a mature adult.

Like any good addict, I still keep a little stash accessible whenever I need a quick fix. This comes in the form of a game called Bejeweled that’s kept and played exclusively on my Treo. (I also downloaded a version for my computer, but found it inferior so I never played it.) When I first played it, I was hooked. Badly. I wasn’t able to go a day without playing it at least a couple of times. Ultimately, I had to delete it, and, with it, my obsession.

A few months later, a very good friend of mine re-installed it on my phone after I told him how hard it was to stop playing it. Pretending I didn’t have a choice, I started playing again, but this time it was different. I didn’t have the same desire to play as I did before. I was getting a lot better, and as a result, I think it was getting boring. It got to the point where I wouldn’t play it for a week or two, and even then, just a short game. I had weaned myself.

The final nail in the coffin came when I upgraded something on my phone that slowed everything down by about 10%. Not a lot, just enough to seem like my phone was saying, “Hey. You there. Why such the hurry? Take a minute and relax. That e-mail will still be there in 30 seconds. In the meantime, why don’t you think about flowers you find pretty?” Also affected was Bejeweled. Just a bit, but enough to get me to write about it. See, my early good scores were in the 20-30,000 range. Sometimes in the 40,000s, but not often. My top five scores were all in the 50,000 range, except for my highest score, which was about 60,000. Considering the amount of times I’ve played (486 since the last time it was installed), I thought I was fairly competent, and that those were pretty good scores.

Not long after I up/downgraded my phone, I found myself bored on my train, so I started a game. When I eventually stopped playing (because I had to go to work), my score was 1.6 million. As I was playing this waste of time, it occurred to me: this was a waste of time. The game is impossible to win. All I could do was beat my prior scores, but how long would that entertain me? (About 8 months, I guess.) Maybe I could break the game and cause it to overflow by getting to 10 or 100 million, but that hardly counts as a victory. It got me thinking about why I was playing in the first place.

Turns out the whole idea of points is a weird incentive that seems stupid and antiquated, yet somehow still works. I don’t think I ever paid attention to how many points I scored in other games; all that mattered was getting to the highest level, or beating the game. But along the way, points were counted for every bullet that hit its mark, every time my sword cut off a tentacle. I don’t think I would have been quite as motivated if I thought my progress wasn’t being monitored in some arbitrary way. It was a form of validation. Always has been.

So maybe playing it isn’t as big a waste of time as I thou- okay, no, it’s a huge waste of time, but at least the game was programmed to give me a bit of an ego boost. 1.6 million, eh? Not bad.

Unintentional Social Investing

What I did this past weekend: went to a 2-day music festival.

Amount I enjoyed it: surprisingly, a lot.

Who I went with: (null set)

I did, in fact, invite people to join me. Some were considering it, and some actually bought tickets. In the end, no one I invited wound up going, but since I bought my own tickets well in advance, I sort of forgot about it. Or maybe I just figured I’d deal with it later. When I realized I was going by myself, I wasn’t exactly happy about it, but at the same time, I was also kind of excited. It’s always been a lot easier for me to meet new people when I’m out on my own, and I loves to meets me some new peoples.

So with a heart full of hope and a pocketful of truffles bought from a nearby park vendor, I got on the luxury bus to the show. As festivals go, this one was lots of fun. Great music, unbelievably convenient, and shockingly well-organized (especially for a first event). But since I’m not a music festival reviewer, and I’m not about to start pretending I am, that’s not the point of the story.

The point of the story is this: it turns out I know a lot more people than I ever thought I did. Among 10,000 people, I wound up running into a staggering number of friends, coworkers, and others I simply don’t talk to on a regular basis. And I found out later there were more still I missed. That whole business about meeting new people? Barely got the chance. For the past two years I’ve been in here, I’ve been doing all kinds of random activities and being social the whole time. Never did I think I was building up a portfolio of casual acquaintances to keep me company when I went out in public. I’m not sure if I like being (relatively) well-known, or if I prefer anonymity. I know I don’t like not having a choice, but that doesn’t mean I’m against the idea of popularity of sorts. I suppose this is what naturally happens when you stick around one city long enough and say hi to enough people.

* * *

Oh, and I now have a moustache. The line for rides starts around the corner.  $5.

The Two Adams

I got on my train to work yesterday and found a seat in the area I normally sit, toward the end of the second car. I sit there because it’s the closest to the end of the platform of my stop, which means I have less distance to walk to my office once I get off the train. This is important because it’s efficient, and I love being lazy.

Er, efficient.

I sat down next to a guy in his mid-late 20s. He had a beard, a short ponytail, and a book, but it wasn’t a bad ponytail, or a bad beard. In the part of the train with the seats facing each other in front of me were two guys and a girl. They were around the same age, but gutterpunk/hippy-ish types. Also, they were drunk. I quickly took out the book I was reading and immediately tried to get engrossed in it, or at least to appear like I was engrossed. Unfortunately, in battles of what’s more interesting, loud, drunk people usually win against books, even when they’re written by impossibly cute, somewhat sad indie authors.

“Hey, whatcha readin’?!” The loudest of them was trying to be friendly. I steeled my resolve not to look up, hoping I looked like I was about to find out who really killed JFK. Be more invisible, I commanded myself. He tried again, then either called me an asshole, or maybe himself one. I think he was calling himself one, because later he definitely did. He then asked the guy next to me the same question, but before he could answer, followed up with, “Is it a newspaper?” Not looking to encourage him, the guy next to me lied and said, “Yeah, it’s a newspaper.” I silently thanked him for taking the bullet, though later I felt a little guilty for forcing him into it. One of us had to talk to them. Otherwise, they might have rioted. Maybe even worse. Who knows what drunk gutterpunks are capable of when ignored?

Alpha drunk continued to talk to my seatmate a little more, then he asked what his name was. “Adam”, he replied. Wait, what? I was sitting next to a guy also named Adam? It felt like the train had hit a brick wall. I braced myself, expecting to be asked to introduce myself and wondering what would happen when I answered. He’s going to think I’m messing with him, then he’s going to hit me. I was sure of it. Or the other Adam was going to think I was lying and weird. No good could come of me giving my real name. What if I said my name was something else? What name did I always like? Sam, maybe? Tim? I imagined introducing myself as Sam. Not just on the train, but in the future: at dinner parties, interviews, etc. Sam sounded friendly and easy-going. I could be a Sam. I held my breath, waiting for my turn.

Sadly, it never came. The next stop was the drunks’. They got off the train, waving bye to their new friend, the other Adam. I never had the opportunity to try out my new name. But now I had a new situation: I was sitting next to someone with my name, and I had no idea what to do about it. I felt like I had a secret that was all to myself. I didn’t know if I should tell him, or even if I wanted to. It was like I had some kind of power over him, except it wasn’t the kind of power I could do anything with. Except lose.

By the time our part of the train had emptied, I forgot what he looked like. Of course that was the exact moment when I wanted nothing more than to glance up and to my left. Just for a second, so I could see what I was up against, because you’re always naturally competing against other people with the same name. (“Which Adam do you mean?” “The smarter, taller, better-looking one.”) Of course, you can’t just stare at the stranger sitting next to you. Even when you share the same name. I think it’s written somewhere in the rules of riding public transportation, next to not putting your feet on other people. I also tried to see what he was reading without moving my head, but in a way that didn’t seem like I was trying to see what he was reading. No dice.

I made a half-hearted effort to get back into my book, but it was a lost cause. What book could ever compare to the real-life drama happening around me? Adam #2 deserved to know what was going on, but how could I tell him? Rather, how could I tell him without coming off as creepy as I know it would? Impossible. Adam #2 was going to get off the train, blissfully unaware of what had happened that morning. I wondered how he could get through the day, the week, the rest of his life, in this kind of ignorance. I know I could never do it.

When we got to his stop, he stood up and asked me to let him out. I got up and out of my seat to make it easier for him, as people who just turn their legs to one side are annoying, and I wasn’t going to inconvenience Adam #2. Not after all he had done for me. And especially since he was going to live out his days never knowing he sat next to some with his name.

* * *

These kinds of things happen to me all the time, and now I’m starting to write them down.

* * *

Appendix: There was more to the drunk people on the train. Alpha drunk was sitting next to his girlfriend, who was actually quiet. He (loudly) claimed she was the most beautiful woman in the universe. “Fuck Ms. America, Fuck Ms. Venezuela, Fuck Ms. Russia! This girl is the best one ever! Just look at her aura. You can feel it coming off her. Here, sit next to her and put your arm around her. No, it’s okay, you can do it.” His friend awkwardly switched seats with him and did what he was told. He and the girlfriend laughed nervously. Later, I stole a quick glance up, because how could anyone ignore the most beautiful girl in the universe sitting in your very own train? The second I did, both she and her boyfriend turned their heads to look in my direction. I reflexively snapped my head back down to my book, embarrassed beyond belief. Served me right for listening to someone who gets drunk before noon.

I’m not going to say if she was the most beautiful woman in the universe. Read more…