Thursday, August 30, 2012

Creativity: A Metaphor For A Missing Moment

According to over 7 billion people we (humans) are alive. We're not quite sure exactly how long we have been doing this thing called life nor how long we have been conscious that it has been happening. However, the great majority of us believe that something different from absolutely nothing has been occurring in the universe for quite some time now. One day a shift occurred in the dark abyss and whether it was God or a God particle we have been detecting life ever since.

I liken the entirety of our lives to a blip on a CD. Wait, I suppose that reference is a little antiquated....allow me to try again. I liken the entirety of our lives to a blip on a poorly copied Ipod file. Imagine that the Ipod track is called "Complete Silence" and the track is put on repeat. There would be no way to determine when the track begins or ends because the silence would have no ending. However, if there was the tiniest imperfection in the track then you would hear a tiny audible distortion once every time that the track is played. This original Ipod flaw is representative of human creativity. Our mere existence implies a lack of perfection We are that little break in the silence. No matter how well we compensate we will always register as something different from the norm.

How is this relevant you ask? I think that individual human creativity is based around this same concept. While I do believe that we have original impulses the majority of our creativity is in fact based in error. Most of the great inventions that exist today are variations or extensions of a preexisting theme. Many of the great original ideas have been by accident or through observing a naturally occurring act and mimicking it.

When I speak of creativity though I am doing so with an emphasis toward artistic creativity. I think that technology is the natural enemy of true creativity because of its ability to produce predictable results. There is no better example than the internet era to articulate this argument.

Long before a million monkeys were typing on a million typewriters information traveled very slowly. Like the game of telephone that we all played as kids ideas took a long time to get from one side of the country to the other and when it did it was usually vastly different from what it began as. Someone may have been hard of hearing, someone else might have had a speech impediment while another person might have just been an asshole who wanted to watch the world burn. Whatever the reason, it was rare for a string of 8 to 10 words to be able to survive a trek of a million minds without being messed with.

The invention of the record player allowed us the unique experience of being able to hear a song at our leisure over and over again. This afforded any child who fancied themselves a musician the a chance to annoy their parents by loudly singing along with their favorite songs for hours. Some other kids might have got stung by the six string bug and bought themselves a guitar in order to duplicate some of their favorite riffs. Invariably while trying to decipher lyrics or the solo from Comfortably Numb a few errors occurred. Sometimes those misheard lyrics were better than the original and sometimes those discovered guitar notes were more interesting than mere duplication. The next thing you know those same kids who were listening to lyrics were now writing their own and those kids playing covers poorly were writing their own music. In essence their inability to seamlessly duplicate gave them the means to create.

Certainly Hollywood with its penchant for solely releasing reboots, remakes and sequels has a little to do with  influencing the world's lack of creativity. Certainly Hollywood with its penchant for releasing copycat reality shows and singing competitions that encourage kids to sing karaoke has a little something to do with it as well  but, a void in creativity has often in the past been the impetus for creation. So what then is the greatest reason for the slowing down of all creation? The Internet.

It is true that the internet has been instrumental in changing the pace at which we live our lives and that it has greatly reduced the time it takes to find an answer due to millions of minds working on a common problem.  However, in terms of originality the internet has stifled us in many ways. 

In order to create there needs to be that gap in time when we reflect on what we have learned and add our own little bit or variation. Sites like Youtube have given us access to all the information that we need whenever we need it. This means that any song you want to learn has been tabbed out and videotaped so that you can watch it on an endless loop until you get it right. You no longer have to wait for your favorite song to come on the radio and imagine what your favorite singer is saying. Anticipation is all but dead and has instead been replaced by an endless supply of white noise. Generally speaking what is funny or interesting is instantly reposted and immediately becomes a dominant thread of conversation. No details are lost in translation, everyone ends up getting their news from the same pool of information. As a result everyone makes the same observations about the same things and are only look as deeply as the most recent update on their Tumblr account into any issue/topic. Whatever buzz words you feel like you have discovered will be used by all of your peers within minutes. If someone should take the time to develop a well articulated thought by the time it comes out of the oven it is passe. Plugging in keeps us in tune with society but the song we're singing is Friday by Rebecca Black and we aren't singing it ironically.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Walmart Sightings: A Tale Of Obsession And Madness

For all of those who were drawn in by the title prepare to underwhelmed. The following is a true story based on real events that actually occurred. Only the names have been changed to condemn the innocent.

It was about 7:30 on a warm summers eve. I had just escaped from the oppressive walls of a local Walmart that was crawling with people the same way that a dumpster might be filled with maggots. True to form I had started a useless argument with my wife that had no foreseeable end beyond me choosing to stop flapping my gums....which I rarely do. The argument continued as we got into our car and we both sat looking forward through the window exchanging heated pleasantries. At some point in my carrying on I stopped mid sentence and shouted "What the hell is THAT GUY doing?" to which my wife replied: "I was just thinking the same thing."

Across the parking lot a few rows over there was a potbellied middle aged Asian man. He wore a blue and white horizontally striped shirt, tan khakis and sandals that were crafted circa 1970. He was balding  at the back of his head and walked with a slight limp that favored his left leg. He held a shabby, dirty rag in his hand and he was feverishly buffing the front end of his car. His car was a silver 2003ish Honda Civic 4 door. I said to my wife as I watched him "I bet he's selling it." To which she said "Yeah probably." Then I said "I bet the person who buys it is going to arrive in an 82' Corolla." To which my wife said "Yeah or some college kid." My interest was piqued so I said to my wife "Do you mind if we hang out for a few minutes to find out who shows up?" "Sure" my wife said. For the next five minutes I watched the guy buff his headlights. He then went on to shine up his windows with the same rag only taking a moments rest to wring out the cloth. older green Honda Civic pulled up and parked beside him. This was the moment I was waiting for the big reveal of who had arrived to buy the car. It was a woman she was vertically challenged and wore Capris that fit her legs like someone who was wearing pants that had been hemmed too high. She was otherwise frumpy in appearance with big framed glasses, poofy, frizzy untamed black hair and white tube socks stuck inside white running shoes. By the look of her she didn't  meet my test driver profile yet she walked right over to the Asian dude and started talking to him. After a while it became apparent that the woman was either the guy's wife.sister, relative or friend. The carried on talking for a bit before the woman walked over to the back of her car and popped the trunk.

FROM THE BACK OF THE TRUNK she pulled out a bottle of Windex and handed it to the dude. The Asian guy immediately sprayed the hood of the Honda with the cleaner and began buffing it AGAIN.   Amazed I announced "The car for sale theory is back on the table." The guy then handed the woman his rag and walked off into the distance. presumably to a Taco Bell which was at the other end of the parking lot. While he was gone the lady opened the passenger side door of the car and got in. From our vantage point we deduced that she was hurriedly cleaning the interior.

It was now 8:00 p.m. and several minutes had passed since we last saw the potbellied Asian dude. I was starting to lose hope that the person who was buying the car was never going to show up and my wife was starting to lose interest with my mounting obsession.  JUST THEN...we spotted the Asian guy sauntering back from the Taco Bell area carrying a Jug filled with water. He reached into the backseat of his car and produced another towel and began wiping his windows AGAIN! first outside and then inside.

INTERMISSION: As all of this was happening a random very thin Indian dude who  was almost completely bald except for a wisp of hair came into focus. He was notable because he was wearing a zipped up jacket on a very warm summer evening. He had an extreme limp like one leg was 10 inches shorter than the other. He was also wearing sandals which also appeared to have been constructed circa 1970. Strangest of all though he was pushing a like-new red and black baby stroller with nothing in it as he walked into Walmart by himself.


It was evident that these two were in on the car sale together and both were diligently scrubbing. My wife then threw out a wild idea "What if they just bought the car for their son/daughter who is going back to school?" We deduced that the probability of that was low because who gifts their son/daughter with a surprise car in the middle of a Walmart parking lot? This lead us to begin developing more theories. The most likely one was that the couple arranged to meet in the parking lot where they would take one car (the clean Honda) to their destination. BUT! the woman's shabby appearance and busted running shoes did not denote any sort of celebration where a spontaneous clean car was necessary.

About 8:15 a newish Nissan Maxima pulled up and parked in front of the Honda. The people who exited the car met our profile, a mother and a daughter of college age. They briefly looked over at the guy working on his car before quickly turning left and walking directly into the store. It was then that my wife chimed in "This probably isn't going to happen tonight." To which I replied "I know but I need some closure." We both looked to the sky and the sun had all but faded prompting us to say in unison "No one buys a car at night, right?" So if they WEREN'T selling their car, just WHAT THE HELL were they doing?

Taking a break from cleaning the Asian dude walked toward us and stood atop one of those concrete medians between parking spaces with a tree planted in it. He leaned forward and vomited a sizable quantity of liquid on the bark mulch below. Wiping his lips off he returned to his car where he began fogging up his windows with his own breath. He went around his car from window to window making a loud "Ha!" sound as he exhaled hot air. 

THEN...his lady friend opened up the trunk and produced two pillows and a sleeping bag. She opened the sleeping bag and laid it down in the back seat. She then put the two pillows on the passenger seat. I said to my wife "Are they going to sleep in the car?" "I don't think so she said."  It was then that the lady got into the drivers side and turned it on. The Asian dude stood about 10 feet in front of her motioning her to drive forward. A few minutes of stereotypical driving and directions took place of which I might seem sexist and racist if I described them in detail. By the end of their interaction the woman had moved the car a total of 4 feet and it now rested in two parking spots underneath the shade of  the aforementioned tree. "I think that they are going to sleep in the car!" I said excitedly. We looked on as the husband and wife produced several opaque light deflecting circles. They went about putting one on every window until it was impossible to see inside the car.  Eventually they both emerged from the vehicle and they closed all the doors.

IT WAS AT THIS TIME that the guy hit the little clicker and made the Honda go "Beep Beep!" "Aha!" I said. "So they are going to leave the silver Honda here and take the green Honda to wherever they are going!" The couple hovered around both cars but they never got inside either of them. Every minute or two the guy would re-hit the clicker and reset the car alarm. 

JUST THEN the lady quickly got into the green Honda and turned it on. "It's happening!" I squealed. At this same time the Asian dude starting walking off in another direction. "What should I do?" I yelped. My wife  said "Follow the guy, the lady is a red herring!" As she drove away I put the car in reverse and peeled out. At a 3 way intersection in the Walmart parking lot I encountered a driver who arrived well before me but decided to wave me on INSTEAD OF JUST FOLLOWING THE RULES OF THE ROAD. Of course he had no way of knowing that I was slowing stalking a middle aged Asian man on foot. However, I waved at him to go instead and gave him the YOU GO NOW EYES. To which he gave me the I'M BEING GENEROUS AND LETTING YOU GO EYES. To which I responded by repeatedly flashing my headlights signifying that I was rejecting his generosity and  unless he wanted to have an epileptic seizure that he better MOVE IT!. Finally the dude obliged and the world's slowest chase scene was back on.

I put on my hazard signals and followed the Asian guy as he slinked along the outside of the Walmart. He stopped briefly at a soda machine mulling over the pros and cons of purchasing a carbonated beverage. He continued on along the sidewalk until he eventually slipped into the front door of the store...never to be seen again.

Epilogue: From the evidence produced we were left to deduce that the lady in the green car was most likely the Asian guy's wife. She had arrived in her car to drop something off to her husband before he went to work. When she arrived on the scene she noticed that he was cleaning his car to fill time before his shift. She decided to join in on the fun and get the car nice and shiny so that it would be gleaming after the guy got back from an evening of stocking shelves. Just a regular, useless, average, pedestrian,  life experience.


Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Craigslist Encounters

I'll be moving soon and leaving the illustrious picturesque Oakland that I lambasted in an earlier post. Don't worry I haven't "made it". In fact if there was a word for a lateral move with a whiff of going backwards it would accurately describe my current experience. I have had to scale down and/or replace many of my possessions to fit into what will surely be another tiny apartment. Along with reducing the size of my home furnishings I've also had to sell off a variety of what most would call "crap" in order to help finance the impending move. Instead of having a yard sale in the ghetto and subject myself to a parade of people pawing at my personal belongings only to yield 14 dollars for an entire weekend I opted for plan B, Craigslist.

For the uninformed, Craigslist is not just a place on the internet where serial killers stalk people via their personal ads. It is in fact (allegedly) an online community advertising magazine to help you find a myriad things such as jobs, cars or the nearest swinger gang bang in your area. In recent years we have all but removed the stigma that was once associated with computers. These days everyone has a smart phone and today's youth are born with an inherent sense of where to find the nearest WIFI hot spot. However, there a few pockets of unbridled human insanity that still exist within the confines of the computer world and one such place is Craigslist.

Rather than employing a vague exaggerated comedic approach to characterize universally identifiable characters I would instead like to draw on personal experience and outline a few of the personalities that I have encountered in the schizophrenic salad of Craigslist transactions.

To prove that I am not above scrutiny I will place myself at the top of the list.

(Me) The Profusely Sweaty Salesman

I often go the extra mile to insure that what I am selling is fully operational and is valued accordingly. However, from the moment the doorbell rings and I am forced to interact with a person in a short, awkward situation I immediately become nervous. Before I crack the door open and welcome a potential buyer inside my hands begin beading with sweat. As a clammy handed person you are faced with 3 choices when someone tries to shake it. 1) Present a pathetic Howie Mandel excuse about the unsanitary nature of slapping skin and instead offer to fist bump them. 2) Quickly grasp their hand and brace for their slight but disgusted "ick" face when they grab your sweaty digits. 3) Flatly drag your hand along your pant leg in one sly motion as you bring it forward to shake, an unspoken declaration of living with hyperhidrosis.

From this point on I become the character Gil Gunderson from the Simpsons. An inept salesman with little to no confidence who invariably blows every deal the moment before it comes to fruition. On my good days I can talk somebody out of an item they originally thought they couldn't live without.

The Guy With A Thousand Obscure Questions

The guy with a thousand obscure questions never purchases anything of monetary value that would justify a thousand questions. All of his inquiries are about items that cost 50 dollars or less. GWATOQ wants to know the provenance of your lawnmower from the time it was assembled at the factory until the day you got it. He'll ask you if you've always used standard lawnmower oil or if there was a period in the spring of 2008 when you switched to synthetic. He'll ask you for all available serial numbers, he'll ask you to recite the English and Spanish instructions from the owners manual. He will ask you the tire width and the ave MPG (mows per gallon). Regardless of how many specifications you provide The guy with a thousand obscure questions will never read the ad in full and instead will ask a number of questions that have already been answered in the initial write up. After you have satisfied all of his questions the guy with a thousand obscure questions will decide that he is not interested in the item and promptly hang up on you.

Guy Who Has a Gross Misunderstanding Of What The Words "Like New" Mean

I was looking for a mattress a little while ago and I saw an ad for one on Craigers that claimed it was "barely used, like new." It wasn't a great deal but the item was reasonably priced and I was in desperate need of a mattress. So I called the guy up and asked him a thousand obscure questions. My only requirement was that the mattress be firm enough that it didn't taco when I laid down on it. The guy assured me that the mattress had been used for less than six months after which it was stored in an air tight bag. I was two towns away but I told him I'd be right over. On the way there I ran into Walmart to get some rope to tie the mattress to the roof of my comically small car. As I entered the house the smell of bleach was overwhelming. I looked around the corner and found the source of the smell...the mattress. I was presented with a scene that looked like a poorly covered up crime. The mattress sat on the ground with two giant brown stains on it where I assume an elderly grandmother voided her bowels or the body of the guys unfaithful wife was hastily dismembered on. In addition, when I sat upon the still wet bleach reeking mattress (out of politeness) I immediately sunk into a crater in the middle of it and I eventually had to roll off of the mattress like a feeble puppy learning to walk.

Gingivitis Guy

I apologize, this is an insensitive way to describe this guy but the image of his eroded gums echoes in my mind every time that I think of him. As I recall the guy was coming to buy an old stereo/cd player for his dad to the tune of 20 dollars. On the phone he sounded like a caucasian-surfer-stoner but in reality he was a youngish dude of Asian descent in his twenties or early thirties who sadly had the gums of a corpse. He brought five of his own cd's with him because he wanted to insure that the cd player played all the way up to track 26. For the next 15 minutes we tested out self help cd's the first of which dealt with sobriety. The next one was about self actualization and achieving your potential and the third was about how to attain wealth and power. The final bizarre incident was when he popped in the last cd (his personal mix.) He quizzed me on a track by track basis while he grooved to Cutting Crews "I Just died in your arms tonight" spliced in between Lady Gaga's greatest hits. Ultimately, he bought the stereo so win-win!

The Gnome Lady

My wife was in the market for garden gnomes. All the good ones were too expensive and all of the inexpensive ones looked like butt. We suspected that anyone selling gnomes on Craigslist was probably a little crazy and we were right. When she went to the ladies door she opened it a crack and didn't seem to have any recollection of the phone conversation prior to my wife's arrival. She then told my wife to wait on the porch with the explanation "I have cats." A few minutes later amid a shuffling, slamming and murmuring of ambient noises the lady returned. She began to tell my wife the gnomes entire life story and the only reason she was parting with them was because her condo complex did not allow exterior decoration. Unbeknownst to my wife the gnomes had names and personalities too! At this point it was becoming apparent that perhaps the gnomes and this lady had a more profound relationship than one might expect from a painted cast ceramic statue. My wife offered the lady 20 dollars for the two of them, a fair price for the used garden ornaments. A little insulted the lady fired back that she would have to stick firm to her original asking price of 23 dollars, no more no less. Reluctantly my wife peeled off the extra singles and handed them over to the lady who appeared to have a tear forming in her right eye as she tentatively unclenched her death grip on the gnome boxes.

There are 30 or 40 more people that I could write about but they are mostly variations on a common theme. Honorable mentions go to: The Guy Who Tries To Sell Crap For Way Too Much, The Perpetual Flake, and The Old Lady Who Just Wants Someone To Talk To. If you've encountered an interesting Craigslist character feel free to tell me about them in the comments below.