Friday, October 2, 2015

The Mesolimbic Express

Philadelphia. Home, sweet home. For how long this time, who knows?

My new place is not internet enabled as of yet. Since I'm some kind of flipfone-snapping primitive, if I don't have wifi, I don't have internet. But I'm managing. In the relatively recent past I've gotten by for weeks at a time living in places without internet access. (It is probably understood that both you and I judge "weeks at a time" no small interval, no small thing to go without a noosphere plug at the ready. Strange that as technology fulfills our needs, it should multiply our necessities.) I won't say it isn't tremendously inconvenient, because it absolutely is, but at times it is vivifying. I enjoy these incidental vacations from the web like I enjoy those itchy and impatient weeks when I tell myself I don't need cigarettes, when, for all the aggravation, I do notice that I'm breathing more easily and rediscovering that there is a beautiful olfactory dimension to this existence. (Protip: if you're going to pick a day to lay off smoking a while, try to time it with one of the equinoxes.)

But the other day I thought I should check my email & stuff so I dropped my laptop (basically a gasoline-powered tablet with a keyboard on hinges welded to its cast-iron frame) into my satchel and walked to a coffee shop on a corner some blocks down the street. I noticed a South Philly type (which, I guess, is code for "hipster" among people in my South Philly neighborhood who feel the epithet has exceeded its useful life) sitting on a concrete step in front of the east entrance. All I really took in was his bushy black beard.

Only one table was occupied by a woman with red hair who sat with her back to me. Next to her table stood a baby stroller, whose occupant made a noise at me as I approached the counter. On an inattentive, pre-coffee glance, he was, I don't know, maybe a year old? Mature enough to exercise his lung sacs and vocal chords with some potency, at any rate. At the same glance, he was a blob of dark skin, flattened black curls, and brown globoids that shone like they were wet, though he wasn't crying. He was just yelling, and what he yelled was YOOOHHHHH.

There was nobody behind the counter until the beard from the sidewalk shambled inside and hurried to the back of the store and then back around to meet me at the front and ask what I wanted. I gave him two dollars and some change for a coffee. (There was an unusual cadence to his speech; I'm less inclined to think it was an accent than an affectation.)

The baby yelled at him. YOOOOHHHHHH.

I went to the cream n' sugar station to pour some soy milk into my cup. The baby yelled at me. YOHHHHHHH.

His mother shushed him.

YOOOOHHHHHH, he yelled at the beard as it passed him on his way back outside.

It was about 4:00 pm. The place closed at 5:00. I took a seat on the couch toward the back and opened up my laptop: YES—AT THIS MOMENT I REJOIN SOCIETY. FOR THE NEXT SIXTY MINUTES, I AM A HUMAN BEING AGAIN!

First! We check the inbox! (Amazon asking me to rate a transaction. A New Jersey Democrats group that keeps finding new ways to circumvent spam filters. Seven Words of the Day. An announcement that this week is my last chance to catch a Shakespeare performance in the city where I was living two zip codes ago.)

With that taken care of, it was on to & stuff.

Facebook! (No notifications but posts from St Thomas and former Borders employee groups—old scabs I haven't brought myself to peel off.) News! (I'd walked out before the end of the Donald Trump and Syrian refugees episode, pretty much skipped the ep after that, and wasn't really up to speed on what was going on or how it arrived there. I guess I'll just wait for the recap clip show in December.) Opinionsphere! (Man, Martin Shkreli was sure running a difficult lap that day; I'll bet he's glad to be getting some rest now that the baton has been passed off to Julia Cordray and Nicole McCullough.) Blog! (Gosh, I'm really popular among Ukrainian spambots.) Twitter! (Twitter is Twitter, is always Twitter is Twitter.)

To return to a previous metaphor: getting back on the Internet after being away for a while is like smoking your first cigarette after a period of deliberate abstinence. It's never as much fun as you think it's going to be, and even so, you know you've already committed yourself to a delicious recidivism. Suck in the combustion, feel the active ingredients scurry across your brain in little slippered feet. Reload the page just to reload the page, click the clickbait just to. Pure thanatos.

YOOHHHHHH, the baby was shouting. His mother shushed him.

I got a look at the woman for the first time. She had pale skin and some freckles on the bridge of her nose and red dreadlocks (for clarity, we are talking a hereditary red, like the color of the outermost folds of a croissant, not a chemically vouchsafed Platonic this-is-what-red-is red) tied back with a piece of grayish-beige cloth, and she wore a white tank top. Her body below the next was a rectangular cube with rounded corners. She had a cup of coffee. She had a cheesesteak and fries and ketchup in a circular tin she'd brought with her from down the street. And she had a baby and the baby was saying YOOOOOOHHHHHHH.

I realized that was probably why the barista was sitting outside. If he stood behind the counter, he was going to get yelled at, and someone in his position is entitled to no tactful ways of saying "madam, could you please shut your thermodynamic miracle the hell up." I had Twitter open and began to type something about how avoidance in the guise of courtesy is of Gessellschaft, and then I backspaced and second-guessed myself and conjectured the beard was merely being gracious to a fatigued single mother in his shop who could do as well without her baby yowling as anyone. But without the first tweet the second had no context and I'd already erased it so I closed the tab without tweeting anything.

YOOHHHHH, yelled the baby.

His mother shushed him. Can't have you yelling all day, she said and dipped a french fry.

I googled "flash season 2" and I don't even know why I've been doing this for the last month. Why I should I be so fucking hungry for tidbits of info about the next installment of a TV show (and kind of a silly one) I'll just be able to watch in a week anyway. But WOW WE SAW ZOOM FOR 1/3 OF A SECOND! Now let's read the another synopsis of Hunter Zolomon's origins and powers from the comic books as relayed second- or thirdhand from another entertainment blogger! Scroll down for the top four theories! The hermeneutics of a thirty-second clip of disjointed images and sound bites! I want someone to tell me what the fuck it all means. If "it all" is limited only to The Flash, I will take what I can get. All you can do is guess? WELL THEN SAY IT LIKE YOU MEAN IT. MAKE ME BELIEVE YOU.

YOOOHHHHHHHH, yelled the baby. His mother was on the phone.

She want five hundred dollars, five hundred dollars of the money I get up and work hard for every day, five hundred for a BASEMENT she try to tell me's a ROOM? Nuh uh. And she had these fake tits and big surgery lips and she fat as hell so you know what she about.


Stop it, she said.

OkCupid. What a god damned. Man will you look at the low-resolution pointillograph of reported facts on THIS one that THIS one is. Hey I notice "birds" is among your manifold, which also occurs within my own manifold. Maybe we should. Maybe we should. Maybe we should birds? Don't just message me saying hi, she says, be creative. If I were being creative why the fuck would I be being it here. Wait I missed Bob's Burgers S6 E1; I should see what the A.V. Club thought. Now I should see how the A.V. Club commentators feel about the reviewer's grade. Now I should google for Wordpress Robocop retrospectives posted in the last two years. Taking a second to load. New tab. Google for news of Street Fighter V character reveals.



There was no periodicity to it. YOHHHHHHHHH. Nine seconds. YOOOOHHHHHHH. Twenty-five seconds. YOOHHHHHHHH. Ten seconds. YOOOOHHHHHH. Four seconds. YOOHHHHHHHH.

She was off the phone now and concentrating on her cheesesteak.




Shut up.


Shut up!


If you don't stop. I'm gonna smack you.

She had one hand on the carriage and drew it closer to her.

Baby was catching his breath.

She might have been in her early twenties, for all I knew. It's as much a question of years as of premature or accelerated senescence. If this was a woman without a child, if she weren't living with all cylinders engaged seven days a week, I'd put her at mid thirties. Baby let off another YYYOOOOHHHHHH while mother took ursine swipes from a famous Philadelphia cheesesteak and chased it with a diuretic stimulant. One glimpsed a woman treating herself as lavishly she could under the circumstances.

Opened a new tab to find Twitter was still being Twitter. Went to YouTube where it was recommended I watch Five Super Mario Maker Levels So Bad They're Good. Who was I to say no? And how is Mother 4 coming along? Have I seen Johnny and Jack-O and Jam overkilled by Faust/May/Elephet yet? Am I sure? (Were the videos subbed?) Do I need to be reminded of Half-Life Episode 3/Half-Life 3's stillbirth? I suppose I do. Should I visit the Combine Overwiki to reminisce about the good times and read what I already know about Gunships and theories as to the great exaggerations of Dr. Breen's demise? Yes. (Wait why am I doing this.) Should I watch a Black Mesa Let's Play? I suppose I should. But before that, Twitter: and Twitter is still being Twitter. I should


I caught the baby's eyes. His mother shushed him, pushed his stroller into the bathroom, and shut the door. I heard a sliding latch and a ventilation fan switched on. One more yyoooohhhhh, muffled by the door and the fan.

Twitter, so many pictures of themselves, so many echoes of so many other people's self-assurance, so much rage and tragedy. Seven new tweets. Let's see them.

The beard reentered and returned to his post. I was trying to find the tab I remembered I needed when I noticed the music for the first time. The beard must have administered a few taps to the Pandora app running on the iPad at the transaction plane. (Most coffee shops have Pandora subscriptions nowadays, and apropos nothing I was thinking wistfully back to my first job, which had a CD player with a rotating spool with a hundred and one slots in a cubby under the counter. It had a patient mechanical memory and—at the risk of punning—a one-track mind. It didn't need to be reassured that a listening human being was in the vicinity. 101 CDs, say 15 songs each. It didn't and couldn't know; it didn't care. It would diligently play each of the 1515 songs exactly once and then stop and wait for someone to stoop down and press PLAY. I might have almost tweeted something about this, but settled on "meh," and then didn't actually tweet "meh," and resumed my search for the correct tab.)

But it seemed funny that there should be a speaker in the bathroom and not one in the back of the cafe, embedded in the ceiling or mounted in the corner. But there didn't seem to be any in the front, either. No, apparently there weren't any speakers in the whole place except for the bathroom.

Of course not. The beard hadn't switched Pandora back on. It was her, she was singing. I don't know how to describe it. It was like Amy Winehouse. Or Erykah Badu, maybe. I don't know. Her voice was really something else. I sometimes feel my life is poorer for a paucity of real singing. And I could have strained my ear to listen better to her singing and what she was singing, but then I found the right tab. Dead Homer Society. Sage words about the virtuosity of classic Simpsons, some light analysis. Very good.

The bathroom door opened, and she pushed the stroller with the baby shouting YOOOOOOHHH, and signing towards the exit. The baby said YOOOHHHHHH to the beard one last time, and then they were gone.

Now I wish very much I had been able to parse just one verse of what she sang. I might have been able to google it. But I forgive myself because I was busy doing something surely that was very important and for which no opportunity would ever again exist.


  1. Man, if that doesn't describe my relationship with Reddit perfectly :/

    I gotta get out more.