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Archive for the ‘Conundrums’ Category

Something That Happened on the Yellow Line

In Conundrums on September 26, 2010 at 10:00 pm

When the doors opened by Union Station, a very drunk man stumbled onto the Yellow Line. He was late middle-aged, at least fifty. Perhaps over fifty-five. He sat down behind a woman in a wheelchair. She was small, perhaps thirty-five, and had a blanket over her legs.

“Can I ask you something?” he said, slurring his words. The woman said nothing.

“Can I ask you something? What’s wrong with you?” She turned her head.

“Nothing,” she said. “What’s wrong with you?”

“You’re in a wheelchair.”


“What’s wrong with you?” He could not sit straight. His shoulders rocked with the train and he put his hand against the window.

“Are you asking me why I’m in a wheelchair? Is that what you’re saying?”


“I got shot. That’s why I’m in a wheelchair.”

“Bullshit.” From his slurring mouth, all the syllables were longer. The Ls, in particular, were stretched in such a way that left his inebriation wholly undisguised.

“You don’t believe me?”


“My brother got involved with some bad people, and when they came for him, I was with him and I got shot.”

“Fuckin’ bullshit.”

“And then, he was scared and felt guilty about what happened to me, and he killed himself a few days later.”


“That’s why I’m in a wheelchair.”

The man seemed to think, very slowly, and then looked as if he believed her. “Was it gang-related?” he asked.

“Yes, it was.”

“Were they black guys?”

The woman paused, and said “Yes, they were.”

“Are you racist now? Because you were shot by a black guy?” Both the drunk man and the woman were white.

“You should eat something,” said the woman. She got some crackers from her bag, and gave them to the man. He began to eat, spewing crumbs onto the ground.

“I wanna go to Lloyd Center,” he said. “When’s Lloyd Center?”

“You’re on the wrong line. This is the Yellow Line.”

“I’m not going to Lloyd Center?”

“No, you got on the wrong line.”

“Fuck.” His hand was on the window. “Your hair is so pretty.” He put his hand in the woman’s hair. “It’s like you’re an Indian,” he said, running his fingers through her strands. She was blonde. “Can I go to your house?” he asked her.

“No,” she said, “I think you should get off and go in the opposite direction. That way, you can get on another line and go to Lloyd Center.”

“I wanna go to your house.” he stroked her hair, and ate crackers.

“This is my stop,” said the woman. It was the same as mine.

“Okay,” said the man. He put his hands on the back of her wheelchair.

“I know how to work this,” she said. “Don’t worry about that.”

I saw them going in the opposite direction, and was very, very afraid for the woman. Even obviously intoxicated, the man still had two legs and could take her. Very quickly, I turned and jogged up to them.

“Ma’am,” I said, “is there anything you need a hand with? Anything you need taken care of?” I nodded at the drunk, still holding on to her wheelchair. My heart was pounding. I was offering to get in a fight on this woman’s behalf. Even if I called the police, I would still have to deal with him for a few minutes. There would have been unpleasant physical altercations.

She smiled at me, and said nothing for a several seconds.

“I’ll be fine,” she said, “but thank you.”

She and the man went in the opposite direction, and I hoped that she was right.

Verbing "Placebo"

In Conundrums, Self Improvement on August 4, 2009 at 10:28 pm

About twenty minutes ago, I had a headache. I took some pain relievers, and it’s gone now.

But I know that’s bullshit.

I know that pain relievers take longer than that to kick in, and the only reason I really feel better is because of the placebo effect. I don’t mind the placebo effect. It’s great, it tends to work okay, but I wish that I could get the results without the placebo.

Take, for instance, tea. I love tea. Every morning, I make a cup of it and drink it with breakfast, and I always feel way more awake with that initial sip of tea. But I also know that caffeine takes upwards of 45 minutes to really get going in your system, and that that little sip does nothing, really, to my body chemistry. Yet it works.

What I’d like to be able to do is tap into that feeling, that phenomena, whenever I like. I’d like to be able to trick my brain into getting the placebo effects of, say, caffeine or pain relievers without having to lean on the psychological crutch. Ideally, I’d just be able to “placebo” myself (to coin a verb) out of no where. If there is no real change in body chemistry, then you could theoretically summon up the effects without the focus, right? Could we placebo ourselves by sheer force of will?

If someone hasn’t done science about this, then they really ought to. I want to hack my brain to instantly get that “first-of-tea-okay-I’m-awake-now” feeling. It would come in handy.

Wait… Those Aren’t Dead Yet?

In Conundrums on June 7, 2009 at 1:13 pm

It’s the start of summer, and I’ve seen and heard ice cream trucks lumbering around Portland. This might sound strange, but I can’t shake the feeling that they really should be obsolete by now.

I do not have a coherent reason why this should be, but some gut part of me seems to think that ice cream trucks really should have gone the way of, say, milk delivery and personal letters. Their presence seems to have this unshakable quaintness about them, as well as this aura of imminent obsolescence. Whenever I see one I think, “How much longer? How long is this business model going to be tenable before it collapses? Surely driving around in a truck and selling cold treats will become a thing of the past eventually.”

I suppose I find it odd because it is so irredeemably analog. The business model is basically “Let’s physically enter urban areas, announce our presence, and see if people want to buy our stuff.” There’s not much in the way of sophisticated marketing there, nor is there a way that consumers can shield themselves from the advertising. I’m so used to seeing ads on the internet that target particular sites I like or stuff on Facebook that’s tailored to my interest that hearing marketing (i.e., ice cream truck music) that’s targeted at literally everybody seems sort of weird. Moreover, I’m quite used to blocking popups, deleting spam, and ignoring banner ads. I gloss over lots and lots of marketing every day, so it’s sort of odd to hear something that is so unavoidable and, by extension, retro.

I’m sort of alarmed by this expectation, too, though. I guess it’s good to be able to accept change and such, but I also just sort of expect institutions and things to die, be replaced, or be upgraded. I find myself having bought in to the idea of planned obsolescence, anticipating additional shininess and often wondering how long something or other will last. I’ve often wondered what will kill Facebook, for instance, and I wonder what we’ll use instead of Google in twenty years. As nice as it is to be able to speculate, there’s a certain amount of morbidity to this mindset. Instead of thinking “hey, it’s hot… oh look, ice cream!” I think “Wait.. those aren’t dead yet?” That’s probably not the most fair attitude to have towards venerable institutions, ice cream trucks or otherwise. I can hear one right now, as non-dead as ever.