Sunday, June 13, 2010

Pete Prometheus - Olympus PEN E-PL1 Contest

We've got five days left! Everybody follow through, vote thumbs up/like on Youtube, and pass these on to your friends.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Scraps 02: The Cargo Cult of Human Relationships

“So what do you think my problem is?”

“You ever hear of the Cargo Cults?”

“I’ve heard the name, not much else, though.”

“Well, they break down like this. In World War II, both the US and the Japanese built air bases all through the Pacific. Suddenly both sides are flying in goods that the natives had never seen, oftentimes sharing it with the local guides and such. Only since it was a war, there weren’t any missionaries or anthropologists to explain what was going on to the natives. They could only watch, puzzle and take what cargo they were given.”

“Interesting enough.”

“Problem is, the war ended, and the cargo stopped coming. For the natives, this was all magic and these cults started springing up that imitated what they saw the Americans do to bring the cargo. They built faux runways, did military drills with mocked up or salvaged weapons, carved coconut headsets and worked wooden radios. They imitated the behaviors they saw, hoping to bring cargo from the gods, without knowing what any of the real meaning of the activity was.”

“Wow. That’s weird as hell, but why bring it up.”

“Because that’s you.”


“That’s you with women, heck, it’s you with people in general. You’ve watched everyone interacting your whole life. You understand scraps, you imitate the little rituals. You’re funny, you pay complements, you wink and nod and smile and laugh at bad jokes… but there’s a disconnect there. That’s why it doesn’t work. That's why you say the wrong thing or just spin your wheels. You’re the cargo cult of human relationships.”

He didn’t respond. He just sat there, looking somewhat depressed and frustrated. Part of him was clearly searching for a response but the rest was trying.

“There is a bright side.”


“Sometimes… when a plane got struck by lightning or got lost in the dark, the pilot would look out and see a runway complete with lights. It didn’t matter that the lights were just torches and the runway packed dirt. It was close enough. You see. Sometimes… just sometimes… the rituals worked. Sometimes the cargo came.”

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Scraps 01: A Score to Keep - Why the Heroic Fantasy lives on

Armchair Psychology follows.

The appeal of the heroic fantasy, by which I mean the defeat of evil (be it in mortal or monstrous foes) and the completion of quests is common in men of my demographic (for lack of a better term). White knight syndrome in male/female relations is more than common despite its general irrelevancy and its lack of overall success.

The reason is simple. Human interaction is, largely, a game. Its rules, however, are not written down in any satisfactory way and there are exceptions and cheats across the board. The result is a deeply unbalanced playing field, in which the disadvantaged not only fail to achieve victory but are, in that failure, denied psychological essentials to human survival.

The appeal of heroism, then is obvious. Denied absolute rules, the holder of the fantasy longs for a different game. The fantasy of heroic deeds brings the nebulous realm of romance into the concrete and measurable. Young men, especially, often unable to determine how to increase their own value on the market are sure to want something more concrete. He longs for sexual currency, a scorecard for human interaction to replace the baffling subjective chaos that courtship appears to be.

Heroic deeds are pretty straightfoward in theory. An obstacle is overcome, a foe slain or subjugated, an innocent rescued, a quest completed. Success is measurable and a clear account of worth. That is what the hero-fantasist really longs for: a measurable account of self-worth for evaluation from within and without. It appeals to ancient longings. "Of course I'm a good mate, I just killed a goddamn sabertoothed tiger."

For the modern B-list fellow, there is always that point, amid the awkwardness and embaressment, that he wishes that he could just fight a hydra instead.


Thursday, December 24, 2009

A Liberating Foolishness on a Cold Winter's Day

I’ve never been much for Christmas. For reasons I won’t go into here, my mother’s side of the family didn’t celebrate. They had alternative fests. Much like pork, it was the sort of thing I never quite got a taste for. It isn’t that I dislike the holiday, it just wasn’t important. All Christmas really meant was spending time with friends and/or family, and sometimes, the giving and receiving of gifts. Any religious or traditional significance beyond those acts is more or less superfluous.

This Christmas, however, had a certain uniqueness thanks to the weather. Oklahoma rarely has white Christmases. The snow and ice tends to come more in January, and usually in the form of crippling sheets of ice and sleet rather than in the white, powdery snow children dream of playing in. This December 24th, however, the snow came down hard, laying down more than four inches in an evening, and trapping myself and my friend Russ Trippett inside what was, for another week or so, my house.

Earlier in the evening I’d driven the half-block to his house to see him, and we decided to go back to my house for dinner. I had leftover pizza, and there was fun to be had with good company. Coming back to my home, it had taken a herculean effort to move my car into the inclined driveway. In the end, it was stuck and barring a change in the weather or a concerted act of several physically capable individuals it would remain there indefinitely.

When it came time for Russ to leave, he called his folks to come get him. This was at about 10 in the evening, and we rationalized that the roads would be good enough for them to reach my house and drive back, so long as they didn’t attempt to navigate the inclined driveway that trapped my own car.

After about ten minutes, Russ’s iphone rang.

“I’m stuck.”

I could hear a bit of the conversation from across the room, through the tinny, muffled speaker of Russ’s cell phone. His father had gotten stuck in the snow. We had to mount a rescue.

A lack of typically snowy weather tends to equate a lack of snow-ready clothing. I threw on a long sleeved knit shirt, donned my coat, thick socks, my sneakers, an extra t-shirt wrapped around my neck like a scarf and a pair of work gloves to keep out the cold. I topped it all with my only winter hat; a bright orange toboggan with “hat of shame” knitted into it. A gift from my college days, it was a drunk hat, to be worn by the person in the dorm who was, at that time, the most inebriated.

Thus, Russ and I set out in the cold. The snow had stopped coming down, but the wind still blew. The white snow and the thick clouds reflected the city’s light into an unnatural twilight and our vision was no more obscured than it might be on a cloudy afternoon.

Anyone who has ever been a boy can tell you that there is an exhilaration that comes only from doing amazingly stupid things. In the false-twilight of the winter snow I felt it in my bones. I laughed with each step, relishing the crunch of the snow and the tingle of wet and cold. Yards and streets were blown over with an even coat of snow. One footstep would sink a few inches, another almost a foot. We came up a rough hill, and saw Russ’s father in his car, stuck on 29th street.

Russ’s father was trapped in a six inch drift of snow that made street, curb and yard all into one unbroken plane. The cold and the absurd situation conspired to bring out the best in me. I laughed as, digging with gloved handsm we cleared the snow away from the tires. Braced against the ground and the bumper we shoved the car until it moved backwards, only to find it trapped again. Back and forth we pushed and shoved the vehicle, sliding it slowly down the hill.

Partway through our adventure, Russ’s mother appeared. She had walked from their house with a bag of kitty litter to provide extra traction. Again we pushed, shifted, and pulled. The car rolled slowly downhill.

“Keep going, don’t stop.”

It stopped and was stuck again. More digging, more pushing. I fell down as the car pushed out of my hands and rolled backwards. As the car drove slowly backwards I waved my arms and jumped about as though I were directing planes on an aircraft carrier. The wind snapped my pseudo-scarf into my face, blinding me as I shouted muffled directions. The shirt was hard as cardboard, layered with ice crystals and flecks of snow.

Finally the car was far enough back it could turn around and return home. Russ’s mom handed me the kitty litter to help me move my car and, not knowing what else to do, I took it and started walking home.

As I walked home, I thought of old stories I read in school. Most notably, To Build a Fire. Overcoming an obstacle with raw force and wit brings to life a feeling of power and accomplishment. Awash in the adrenaline high of the physical exertion and the tingle of the now everpresent cold and wet I trudged back home. Our footprints were already gone, reduced to small ruts by the sweeping wind that carved steppes and valleys in miniature in the shadow of electric reindeer lights and argon street lamps.

If this weren’t a city, if I were in the wild I imagined, I wouldn’t have found my trail back to camp. I imagined myself the archetypical hero in one of those old stories. I imagined the mundane, essentially silly set of circumstances, into a romantic adventure, complete with a beautiful girl waiting in some far-off place, wondering if I’d ever get home. ‘If I fall down and succumb to the cold right here’ I thought to myself, ‘would I have time to send a call for help, or perhaps my goodbyes, in a text message?’ I wondered if that would be poetic enough, if it would make a good enough story. If you die doing something stupid you ought to at least leave everyone a good story.

Thankfully, this adventure was a small one, a simulation of a larger man-against-nature struggle. While capable of stirring a form of nostalgia in the ‘racial memory’, it wasn’t capable of threatening my life. I wasn’t going to fall down and die in the snow. I wasn’t going to get lost and seek shelter in a fallen tree or an abandoned suburban. I could see my house from there, my car barely pulled into the driveway. Still, I felt like a man, brave and powerful, as the failing light glanced off the snowflakes that happened to face me.

The whole world sparkled like a snapped piece of white quartz.

In retrospect, if we’d just walked to Russ’s house, the problem would have been solved and the whole affair concluded with hot chocolate. We had done something foolish and soaking wet, encrusted with snow and blind from my glasses fogging up, I felt alive.