Dispatches, thoughts, and miscellanea from writer Jon Konrath

Environmental references

When I was younger, I think that I had a very limited set of environmental references, so it was always easy for me to unconsciously tell where I was based on my surroundings. Like, when I was in a big city with old brick buildings and graffiti and air pollution, I was in Chicago; when I was in a subdivision, it was Elkhart; a lake meant I was somewhere in Michigan, and so on. This isn’t a very sustainable model, unless you commute between Dubai and Alaska, although there were a lot of unconscious and minor details that, for example, told me the difference between Toronto and Portland, although I probably couldn’t quantify that with a lot of thought. Anyway, this model is probably why I spent the first few years of my stay in New York saying “wow, this really reminds me of Chicago” to the most asinine small details.

Now that I’ve lived in more than a half-dozen cities and spent a week or more in at least a dozen more, this system is fundamentally flawed. I spent a lot of time in Denver thinking about Seattle. And today, I was driving around and I completely forgot where I was. And I don’t mean that I thought I was on Lincoln and I was really on Sepulveda; I mean I was in Marina Del Rey and I was certain for a moment that I was in Bellevue, Washington, then I corrected myself and started thinking Aurora, Colorado. And I don’t mean that I’m in some serious mental disorder where I will start thinking I’m inside The Wizard of Oz in the near future. I mean that I *feel* like I am in these places, just like how sometimes I smell the exhaust of a diesel engine, and the particulate soot will make me feel like it’s 1992 and I’m in my VW Rabbit diesel again. And that’s weird.

My right foot is gimped up again, just in the big toe. It’s a joint closer to the tip than usual, so it’s not incredibly painful, and I’m walking and wearing real shoes. I went to a new podiatrist today, but he wouldn’t do anything for it, and referred me to a specialist. He did take me for a $350 set of orthotics, which I do probably need. So I got a set of imprints taken, and a Monday appointment with a rheumatologist. And I am further convinced I need a doctor that specializes in everything. See, some podiatrists would have tapped the toe and shot in some cortizone; some would have given me a script for some drugs; others would have said “not my job” and send me to the next stop on the scavenger hunt. There’s no guarantee that the rheumatologist won’t say “hell no” on Monday and refer me to a GP or internist or something. And this guy used the excuse of “well, I wouldn’t do dental work…” But my analogy is that I wouldn’t want to bring my car to one Toyota dealer to get work on the left tires, then drive to Burbank and get another appointment and get another Toyota dealer to work on the spare and the right front tire, and so on. I would love to have one doc that could get me on all the pills I need, do that dental cleaning, talk to me about my stress, get me some crazymeds, and check me out for a new set of glasses. I’d pay a premium, as long as I didn’t have to fill the same form out 87 times.

Sarah is gone until tomorrow afternoon, for her first trip (for work) back to New York since we left. She had a trip to SF right before we went to Milwaukee, then the Milwaukee trip, then a day trip to SF on Tuesday, then she left for NY on Wednesday. So I have been watching a lot of TV. (Also reading, but more on that some other time.) Last night I watched a show on the Unabomber, which is old hat to me, but a good waste of an hour. One of the things that struck me is that he was in this psychological experiment in which they told him he would debate an essay he wrote with another student in the experiment, but the other guy would be part of the gig, and would fuck with the first student, so the shrinks could measure his stress or see how his skin response changed or whatever else. And they postulated that this may have somehow fucked with Ted K. in such a way that he’d later grow a gnarly beard, buy a hooded sweatshirt and mirrorshades, and start mailing off surprises to college professors.

Way back in 1992, I took this psych 101 class, and had to sign up for I think three experiments. One was something idiotic, like sorting blocks. But the other two were really fucked up in a way similar to the Harvard one they mentioned in the show. Maybe they were not as bad, since I have not written a manifesto and started blowing up planes. (Well, not yet.) Anyway, here are explanations of both experiments, as well as I can remember.

First, I was supposed to read over three applications to the study and a bunch of letters written by three women my age. (I heard a rumor that if you signed up for the experments that specified they were for males only, cool stuff would happen. Because this was the home of the Kinsey Institute, I was swinging for the fences on this one. No such luck.) After I would read all of this stuff, an interviewer would ask me a bunch of questions, and then I would pick a lucky contestant, meet the woman, talk for a bit, and then another battery of questions, presumably to see how she matched up to my assumptions.

The application packets were pretty detailed, and included photos, essays, and questions answered, in handwriting. Some were of the “what is the worst thing you’ve ever done,” “if you had to lie to not hurt someone’s feelings…”, and that sort of thing. I pored over these applications and savored every last bit. This was like a first date, or a round of a TV dating game show, except for college credit. I talked to the test admin about the different women, and then made my choice. She left the room to go get Jane Doe #2, and I waited, in a bizarre excitement.

When she came back, she was alone, and said something like “oh, Jane Doe had to leave, so we can’t do the second half of the experiment, but we’ll sign your permission slip so you get credit for the session,” and I got a kick in the ass out the door. What? I don’t remember if I was single or not at the time, or how far in the desert of nothingness I was then, but I really wanted to meet this chick. I mean, maybe nothing would happen, but still, the thought of this predetermined first date was a slight bump of relationship coke to snort into my system, and now it was snatched away. But wait – was she really not there, or was the whole thing some kind of sick setup to see how hard-up perverts would choose between three “women” based on their cursive handwriting and answers to dumb questions? What really baked my noodle six beers later is, would I have chosen the same woman if I knew it was fake? And did the test administrator write out all three applications, implying that she wanted to fuck me? Don’t think about it too much, trust me.

Okay, next experiment. I was in a room with maybe a dozen or so other guys. A guy gives up some paper, and shows us a series of videos, in which a man and a woman somehow disagree about something in some situation. We then have to rate them from 1 being all her fault, 10 being all his fault, and 5 being a push. (Maybe it was 0-10, whatever.) The videos were these badly acted scenarios where the guy comes home and says “where’s my food?” and she’s sitting on the couch watching General Hospital , but some are his fault, and they range from slight disagreement with profuse apology to “throw all his/her shit out a third story window.” We all watch the videos, mark our scores, and the tape ends.

Another guy walks in as the tape is being changed, and asks admin #1 if he can give us a quick worksheet of math problems for us to do. So he hands these out, and times us on doing the dozen or so problems. Some are fairly simple algebra, but they slowly get into absolute absurdity, like “next number in the series,” when the numbers are completely random. As we work on this, the dude turns into a complete dick about getting us to finish, saying “come on, these are easy,” and going up to people and individually harassing them, saying “just put down anything. are these too hard for you?” and so on.

So we go back to the videos, and by this point, everyone is totally ballistic. They’re pissed off at the guy #2, and pissed about the test, and all of a sudden, every damn scenario is absolutely, positively the woman’s fault. Only, I think it’s the same set of videos in a different order. I figured out the deal here before we even got to the next videos, but I’m not sure anyone else did, and I don’t think it was explained after the experiment.

The irony of the whole thing is that I think I slept through two tests in the class, and ended up flunking it, so the experiments didn’t matter. But it turns out the professor was in grad school and worked with the people who taught that ape sign language, so I heard a few good stories out of that one.

Rockies won against the Cubs today. I paid the $18 for a season pass to the MLB audio, and it turns out they just pipe 850 KOA AM through the internets to you, which is a cool deal. They send the whole thing, including commercials, local news, the entire deal, which is neat. And Saturday night, we’ve got tickets at Dodger Stadium for the Rockies. Let’s hope I can walk with no problem, or it’s going to be a really long nine innings.