Attention Span Therapy

Recovering from the traumatic brain injury of social media

I didn’t realize until this year that Rudolph the red nose reindeer’s girlfriend’s name is Clarice, and now I just can’t get that out of my head.

I’m out of ideas, he said, After coming up with one genuinely good one, ten years back, And not remembering that it had been proceeded by so many Far worse Than the one that he was right now looking at in front of him on a napkin, and considering throwing away.

A stray, blue balloon drifts stealthily by, passing the door to my neighbor’s garage, a gash in the otherwise undifferentiated suburban landscape.

It moves fast as if seeking its target, and I do not see it for some seconds afterwards.

Then, it drifts slowly back into view, bobbing listlessly in front of the garage, as if it has forgotten the task with which it crossed with such bravado only moments before, and it is ashamed.

I wish the balloon well, as I know it’s days are numbered.

An alternate present, where the timing on stoplights is driven by a platform much like Google's targeted advertising platform, allowing the rich to auto-pay for priority. And so commuting becomes a game of following behind a rich person, slip-streaming the whale through the intersection.

In response, the rich start traveling in caravans, both because they feel unsafe, and because if they are going to be paying for 30 seconds of priority traffic time then they are going to damn well use all 30 seconds of priority traffic time.

You can tell it's a caravan because they're usually all using the same vehicle. Rows and rows of black SUVs.

In due time these, too, are compromised by traveling bands of rogue commuters, a loose coalition of Uber Eats runners, Task Rabbiteers, and the occasional person who still has to physically commute into the office. The caravan admins are won over with offers of food or bills or sex. What's a small wagon here or there in a train of 18+ vehicles? So long as the train keeps rolling.

After the big snowfall the other day, I didn't get a chance to get outside until late at night, after the kids were in bed. I bundled up with the thick mittens and wool hat and the big fleece neck gaiter I had just bought, and smoked a bit of weed in the garage on my way out. I had no destination in mind, I just needed to walk, to hear the snow crunch beneath my feet and not much else. That's the fine thing about the nights after a snowfall; everything is muffled, and far-off, while you yourself are socked away behind layers of clothing. Sometimes it feels like walking on the moon.

A man in his sweatpants steps out of one of the houses with a shovel and starts to dig his way from his front door to the sidewalk. I know him by sight, but we've never spoken. It is cold enough that I have to bury my nose in the fleece of the neck gaiter to keep it from freezing. I remark to myself how long away San Francisco feels, but I am glad to be out tonight and there is no love lost on my new frozen home. I do wish there was more density, and more places to walk to, a bar I could easily stumble in for a round, or a pizza shop selling slices, while the warm doughy scent would be enough for me tonight. I do wish it was easier to escape the rows and rows of houses. I yearn for the warm nights and my bicycle. I settle for this and crunch away to cut through the park before I turn home.

Me (gesticulating wildly at the TV): What the fuck is a forensic gynecologist? Her (drily): That says genealogist. Her: But, yeah, weird…

That point in the night when the spooky sounds dot mp3 is superseded by my two children fighting before bedtime.

The sound of the metal heating up was the one thing I could never get used to. The sound as if someone was stepping on a giant aluminum can, which you were living inside, one room in a hundred thousand inside this giant tube. It was the one thing they'd not got right with this generation. In some of the newer screws they had built in something to diffuse the sound, and in the richer places that could afford to look like whatever they wanted they had augmentations to account for it: electronic diffusion arrays, custom noise-cancelling wave generators. I was “lucky” enough to be neither rich, or young, so I already had my apartment, thank you very much, and I wouldn't have been eligible for an upgrade — if I was waiting on THEM to do it — for a little over eighteen years.

Most days I didn't go anywhere. Because where was there to go? Haha, bad joke, sure. But I had everything I needed right there. Food, work, games, toilet. Going places took effort, and there were risks. Gunfights, viruses, chemical irritants, cars. Interacting online was — and still is — the only truly hygienic thing to do. Though I was / am still far from what you might have called hygienic.

Yet today there was someone coming. You might have guessed that because I was in the shower. Water was through the roof because of all that secessionist shit happening in California, and I still wanted to get clean. I wasn't normally like that. I'd do the dry shower, sure, everyone did that, but a real wet shower, now that meant something for those of us who lived in reality.

There was someone coming and I didn't know who they were, or what they wanted; but they sure seemed to knew everything about me: like, where I lived, and where I shopped, and the exact serial number of the last frozen meal I'd eaten. Which was spot on weird even for me, so don't think I was some sort of rough and tumble chap who dealt with blackmailers everyday.

Though I was showering so I could get all the dead skin off. So that when the time came to fight back maybe whatever I did wouldn't leave a trace. At least that’s what I told myself.

Or maybe it's just that I wanted to take a good shower if today was gonna my day to die.

The lizard sat on the hot rock and stared out into the air. It was crisp, so hot it felt as if the atmosphere had crinkled and sunk down in upon itself.

The lizard did not know fear, but it did not know aspiration either. The lizard knew hunger, and pain, and something like satisfaction when the sun was just right. The lizard was not a social animal and thus it did not mind that its days were long and solitary.

Until the men had come. The one man leading the other with a long steel rod that shattered the quiet of the desert like a bolt of lightning.

And now the one man was quiet. His eyes, frozen forever, open until the first creature pecks them out. The lizard blinked and watched as the figure of the other man slowly diminished into the haze. It dared not move. Something in its instinct told it to wait, just a few moments longer.

And so it did. The lizard looked at those dead eyes now and their layer of mucus shimmering in the desert heat and seemed to pause as it formulated a thought; then, like the gun, it snapped out and grabbed onto the left eye — the one closest to the ground — and as it tugged it tore the eye open and the internal fluid spilled down upon the lizard and it shook its nose free but then just as quick it thrust its jaws into the meat again.

The hippies next door are making costumes. Spray painting fairy wings silver in the yard, and I imagine what it must look like from above. If I had a drone.

Later that night, the one guy who lives there is wearing a hat that looks like a lampshade even before he twists some switch and activates the LEDs inside, making it a glowing tie-dyed mushroom. One of the girls is next, to parade her surreal creation around. A sort of derby monstrosity, with what looks like from here to be fish bowls glued to the top.

She is stepping inside the house, cursing the tiny dog which has come to rest, naturally, right in the door jam while she tries to negotiate the correct angle for bringing this giant saucer shaped hat inside.

The clouds in the Midwest in the summer are astounding. Storm clouds.

I tell my daughter to be here, be now, to have fun and be excited. I am giving this speech in response to her defiance, while I know that the defiance is just her modeling things she sees in the two adults in the room, and it makes me wish things were easier. That I had been nicer that one time; that we had more time to be alone, just the two of us.

But that’s kids, they wreck you even as you pour your love into them.

I have been to parties like the hippies are going to, but always I felt alone, like I was never around my people, like I had to prove my value somehow, my reason to be there.

The clouds don’t need a reason, I think this, and far off there is the sound of slow and rolling thunder, or fireworks, or war.