Attention Span Therapy

Recovering from the traumatic brain injury of social media

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That point in the night when the spooky sounds dot mp3 is superseded by my two children fighting before bedtime.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

Dear Brother With Whom I Disagree On So Many Things,

I am thankful this Memorial Day that I am able to text you. That no matter how much we disagree, you are there to respond. You have returned, unlike so many others who have not. You went away to war and pounded sand for five years but then you came back, and today I recognize how lucky I am because not everyone gets to feel this way.

Love, Your Big Brother

Deep Fakes

He sent the video clips and the speech that he'd prepared for her to the service. It was only $49. They were running a special this Christmas; one deep fake with the words of your choice said by the person of your choosing. He did it because he missed her. The only reason he’d even heard of this was because someone at work had showed him this clip of that famous Israeli actress saying she liked to munch pussy. The one that had blown up about a year ago and no matter what she did no one believed that wasn’t her until a forensic analyst came forward and pointed out some of the problems and the people who were still paying attention at that point exonerated her, while the rest of the world thought she was a bit of a lesbian, which wasn’t the worst thing when you were trying to continue to land roles in action movies into your late thirties. But, anyhow, because the guy who had showed him this video was something of a connoisseur of this phenomenon he took the time to point out to him how nothing in the video made it look like this whole thing had been composited and post-processed by an AI. After the net had got sick of pasting Nicholas Cage and Nick Offerman’s face onto everything, they moved on, and all the while they were getting better, so by this point they were practically indistinguishable from reality. They moved on to rewriting history, from the Moon Landings, to Jonestown, to the Holocaust. Some black nationalists who got really good at it started filming enough realistic looking clips of Malcom X in the White House that it had by this point moved from being just a line in a song to a movement. He sent them the material on Sunday night and by Monday morning when he woke up he already had the file waiting in his inbox. It was two minutes long. She apologized for everything she had said after she walked out. She asked for him back. She said she didn’t mean it when she said he didn’t get her. She told him she loved him, and she asked him to consider if he’d ever have her back. He liked what they had done with it. He felt not like the pathetic psycho he had pictured feeling like. He felt empowered. He liked to see himself considering his response. of the terrible features of the pandemic was that you tried to put the pandemic out of your mind and then you ran the risk of actually putting it out of your mind and forgetting to be prepared; finding yourself in a situation where you didn't have a mask or were too close to someone or had been in a closed restroom area and could just feel the skin on the back of your neck crawling at the idea that you had been exposed...

Baxter had three sisters, two of which were several years older than him. When he was twelve, and in the habit of staying up late with the Internet on, streaming whatever it was this week, Moroccan pop or Haitian Jazz, he would catch glimpses of both of them as they snuck back in from their high school escapades. During the day they largely ignored him. He had the notion that there had been a time where they had taken more than a passing interest in him, this memory going way back of them on the porch playing peek a boo in the light pastel dresses that now lay stuffed in one or another of the wardrobes in the attic, in the hopes that baby Lucy would wear them someday.