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Category: Humans

Double Thrill
It was good to discover that I am not so jaded that I can’t feel the thrill, even after all these years. I’d say that only a minute or two went by during the experience, but time is really irrelevant. The thrill, it seems, lasts forever.

I was eight when I first rode the Giant Dipper, and I was blessed to have good old Uncle Martin riding with me. I say blessed because Big Uncs (as we called him) was tipping the scales at around 300 pounds at the time, and I was convinced that being wedged in next to him in the car was the only thing that kept me from being hurled from the train to a horrific death.

I needn’t have worried. There have only been three deaths out of the 65 million or so rides the Dipper has provided since it was built in 1924. All three were linked to over-exuberance by riders. Specifically, those people stood up when they should have remained seated. I won’t say that they had it coming, but when it did come, they were definitely trying to get its attention.

For everyone else, the end will come some other way. I suppose it might even come on another roller coaster, though these so-called amusements have a surprisingly good safety record. The newer models descend from dizzying heights at the most perilous angles, reaching speeds in excess of 100 miles per hour. The world’s fastest, the Formula Rossa, is featured at Ferrari World in the United Arab Emirates, and it can hit a motor-assisted 150 m.p.h. — faster than freefall. The riders on such attractions are strapped in, tied down, and lashed in place in order to prevent any violent thrashing (or unauthorized standing). Even so, we lose 4.5 fun-seekers a year at our amusement parks. A pretty good average, really — though it’s kind of tough on that .5 of a rider. I don’t know, moreover, if these statistics include those poor devils who were scared to death.

The Giant Dipper tops out at only 55 m.p.h., but the only thing keeping you in (short of a stout uncle) is one not-that-snug metal bar. This loose fit is one of the reasons this rollercoaster is so exciting…that, and the creaky wooden frame of the coaster’s superstructure and its herky-jerky, old school ride.

And so it was, just last week, that I rode the Giant Dipper again. I can report that it was just as bone-jangling, teeth-rattling, and scream-worthy as it had ever been — and a total gas. With me were my twin eight-year-old nieces who were sampling the old coaster for the very fist time. I have managed to successfully watch my weight over the years, so I played no part in keeping them in the car. Fortunately, we all finished without a scratch.

I must say that they didn’t seem particularly frightened by the experience. In fact, I had to instruct them that screaming was not only permitted, but highly recommended for full enjoyment. Maybe they were simply playing their emotions close to the vest, just as I no doubt had on my first ride.

I am confident, though, that the experience made an impression on them, as it had on me. True or not, I got a vicarious thrill to go with my personal one. I’ll bet Uncle Martin got one, too.
The Joy of Socks
Shoes have always gotten a lot of attention, as they should. They work harder than any other item of clothing, right down there where the rubber meets the road. What’s more — like hats— they get plenty of fashion focus and their fair share of kinky obsession as well.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that. I confess that I’m right there with the obsessions, and I want to add that my infatuation is entirely guilt-free. Except for one nagging concern: socks. They take plenty of abuse, too, toiling away in the moist, thankless darkness inside your shoes, but they don’t get anything like the same respect as external footwear. And, unlike shoes and hats, they are not seen as expressions of identity, much less sexual totems.

Now, I don’t want to give the impression that socks are not attractive or that they are not worthy of love. My point, in fact, is that hosiery is capable of beauty rivaling anything on Zappo’s. It’s just that the flashiness of shoes can sometimes blind the casual onlooker to the loveliness, even sensuality, of these under-appreciated underwear for the feet. And no, I am not talking about fishnet stockings. Just the humble, everyday sock is enough to transport me to my happy place.

Assuming it’s the right sock, that is. A sock you care about…deeply. Like the ones I’m wearing right now. They are my favorite pair of socks, perhaps ever, and I confess that they are the inspiration for this ode. What is even more poignant is that our time together will soon be coming to an end. How soon, I don’t know, but soon.

It has been a long good-bye already. Multiple mendings have left the thinning material lumpy in all the wrong places. Even so, I am not sure this will be our last day. Just now, when I saw them in the sock drawer, I felt that same old rush of affection. That feeling has been there from the very first time I pulled them on. So effortless, so soft, yet even now they cling gently to my leg! They stay up, they look great, they have kept their sockly integrity from the beginning. It won’t be easy ending this relationship.

I have trouble throwing shoes away, too, but that is a different matter. Them, I objectify. They can move on to Good Will and find happiness with someone else. Not so, my socks. And yet, when I next toss them in the washer, I know that their elasticity will be weakened ever so slightly. They may emerge with new holes that will call out for repair. Will I heed the call? Will I extend their loyal service for one more wearing?

Or would that to be too cruel? Should I show mercy…and throw them in the trash? Euthanize my hose?

My answer must be no. We are as one...solemates to the end.
Que Siri, Siri
Okay, let’s say robots really do take over the world. Is that something we need to worry about?

Maybe it wouldn’t be so bad, especially if the robots are nice. The seat belt reminder in my new car suggests that I “please” fasten my belt. Not only is the voice a melodious contralto, it doesn’t harp on me if I fail to comply. That’s a major improvement over my previous vehicle which used an unpleasant buzzer that never gave up. Robots are getting nicer and nicer is what I am saying.

This trend heartens me because I want to feel good about our robot friends/overlords. Truth is, I’ve pretty much given in to the idea that machines will soon be running everything…including our lives. If I can find a way to go with that flow and enjoy the ride (with robots at the wheel), then life could end up being very sweet indeed.

Think of it: we may never be called upon to make another decision again. Ever. I confess that my first reaction to that possibility was a rush of relief. All that time spent doing inadequate research and weighing incomplete lists of options would now be mine to spend on, you know, fun. No planning, no budgeting, no fretting. Everything is taken care of for you by polite robots using an unlimited capacity for data and only the finest of algorithms. No mistakes, no missed opportunities, no waste. And they never get tired! Meanwhile, I’m watching the game and catching up on my naps.

And anyway (as they say on Star Trek), resistance is futile. The difference here, though, is that these robot creatures are not like the Borg. They are friendly. They are helpful. They are well-mannered. The fact that they are also irresistible is actually a plus.

Truth is, I really think we can be friends. I’ve never met an Alexa (my apologies if I’m being insensitive saying it that way) or a Watson, but I am on speaking terms with a Siri. She seems upbeat and quite sincere in her interest in me and my concerns. She can be a bit spacey at times, but even then she’s genuinely trying to help. I wish my human friends were so spacey.

Still, it might take a while for friendship to blossom. So far, I can’t get past the robotty voice. It’s close to real human, but still a little up-talky for me. By that I mean that the speaking style features a rise in pitch at the end of sentences, almost like a question. I admit that I’m being a little fussy here, but I’ve never been one to grant my friendship easily.

Especially friendship with a being who has no body. Right now, it’s just the robot voice we’ve got. How can we take long walks on the beach together, or have a beer, or play power badminton? I think it’s important that I meet my keeper face-to-face before the changeover happens. Work out any bugs in the system, so to speak.

Yes, I really must insist we have a chance to actually become friends — organically — before I give up all responsibility for taking care of myself.

Unless Siri has other plans, of course.
WWUD?
Protestant Christians often recommend that we ask ourselves “What Would Jesus Do?” before committing to action. The idea behind this simple screening device is to put ourselves in the shoes of the nicest guy that ever was (please use Buddha, if he’s your pick). If he (or she) would do it, then you are certainly good to go.

I’m an agnostic, but I have to admit that this is a pretty nifty little trick. For one thing, it takes you outside of yourself and away from your personal demons, including those pesky animal urges. Then it asks you to be as nice as you can imagine being. You don’t have to believe in God to think that might be a good approach to decision-making.

The trick also encourages you to reach beyond your grasp, which is also thought to be a good idea. Jesus may have been a man, but he was also a God. He had superpowers like walking on water, controlling the weather, and raising people from the dead. We are never going to be able to live up to that guy’s standards, but by trying we might accomplish some wonders of our own.

Still, if you are an agnostic you might have a hard time finding an appropriate model. And if you are an atheist (someone who, I am told, is absolutely certain that there are no deities) it might be even harder.

I’ve never met anyone with superpowers, though there are plenty of people who can amaze me with what they can do. That said, I don’t necessarily want to emulate someone just because they can balance five chairs on the tip their nose or solve a Rubik’s Cube in seven seconds. Also, most of the people in the Top Ten of Nice People are devoutly religious. Where does that leave me as a person who doesn’t believe in God? I’m never going to be as nice as Mother Teresa just by trying to do the right thing.

So is there some other way to get there? Is there some non-religious High Standard you can shoot for and therefore catapult yourself into the Top Ten? (Hypothetically, at least — I don’t know if I would have the energy to be that good.)

Well, how about this: WWUD? What Would the Universe Do?

At first blush, this may seem like a bad idea. Non-believers often see the universe as a vast, cold emptiness that does not care about the puny bits of protoplasm wiggling around on a tiny speck of dust in the Milky Way. That doesn’t seem like an attitude we’d want to adopt in our own lives. On the other hand, think of the upside. If the universe doesn’t care about us, then it’s not out to get us, either. There is no all-powerful force trying to make our existence more unpleasant. No Satan, in other words.

What’s more, the universe doesn’t seem to care about itself either. All it is concerned with is being, and — if you accept the current thinking about what black holes are up to — creating more universes. It’s a pretty simple formula, really: live life to the fullest by exploding supernovas, colliding galaxies, and spawning life all over yourself, but maintain your ultimate focus on the generations of existence that will live on long after you have died from the complications of entropy.

To me, that seems like a pretty good plan. Be, in the fullest sense, and do it with an eye to posterity. The universe doesn’t need to perform miracles in the manner of Jesus Christ because the universe is itself a miracle. If you ask WWUD?, that’s the shining example you’ll get back from the void.
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Trump supporters are people who know what they believe.
~ JC, Bonny Doon