Category Archives: Stories

Don’t Look Behind You

A Pillar Of Salt

The other day I was out on my regular morning walk, a little earlier than usual. For some reason I had woken up about twenty minutes before my alarm went off, and I figured since I was already up, there was no point in going back to sleep. So I hauled myself out of bed and began my daily routine. Because everything was twenty minutes earlier, it was the same, only slightly different. The sun was a little bit more below the horizon, so it was a little bit darker. I didn’t see the same people I usually see, everything else was just slightly different.

Until I saw him.

Or rather, he saw me.

I was walking through these rice fields, and a few farmers put up scarecrow for obvious reasons. As I was walking down this road, I noticed a scarecrow that I hadn’t noticed before. It looked very much like a real person, almost. There was something about it that made it obvious that it was not real, but it looked close enough to give you the creeps.

If you are walking down the street, and you see some guy standing on the corner, and he turns and waves at you as you walk by, it wouldn’t be such a big deal. But something that is obviously not real, but looks as though it might turn and wave at you radiates a particularly unique kind of creepiness that you don’t come across too much in your daily life.

Other animals are pretty easy to fool. Ducks, insects, various mammals are all easily misled by accurate (or not so accurate) representations of it’s own species.

And humans aren’t the only ones that take advantage of how easy it is to fool other creatures. There is a certain variety of plant that tricks a certain variety of wasp into spreading its pollen. The flower gives off a scent that makes the wasp think it is a female wasp. The wasp buzzes in, does his business, and goes off to the next plant. In the process, all the flowers get pollinated. If the poor guy only knew, his friends would never let him hear the end of it.

It’s well known that for many animals, the first thing they see that moves will make an impression of its mother. Baby chicks are often cited example of this. If you have a hatchery (or whatever you call those things baby chicks are born in) and there’s no chicken around when they hatch, then start to follow around the first big thing that moves. Which doesn’t work out so well if the first thing that moves is a cat or a poultry farmer.

For some reason, I just couldn’t keep from frequently turning to look at that particular scarecrow. It was much more detailed than the rest of the scarecrows. I doubt the crows could tell much difference, although they are pretty smart. They have been known to distinguish between farmers with hoes and rakes, and hunters with guns. You’d think that a bird would see both entities as the same, but I guess not.

About the third glance toward this incredibly realistic scarecrow is when I began to lose grips with reality. On the third, (or maybe the fourth) glance, I had noticed that he was facing a different direction. Not his (its) whole body, just the head. Ok, maybe I was seeing things. The sun was about ten minutes under the horizon, and the shadows were different than I’m used to, as I was twenty minutes early.

The fifth time I glanced at him, he was staring straight at me. OK, so maybe it wasn’t a scarecrow. Maybe it was just some creepy guy standing as still as possible in the middle of a rice field at six in the morning. That may even be more dangerous that a scarecrow that has come to life. I tried to stare him (it) down, but I could only look in his (its) general direction for a couple moments before turning away. Finally when I had walked sufficient distance past him, I couldn’t help but think that he was still watching me. I felt like that lady in the Old Testament story that wasn’t supposed to look back. I felt as if I looked back, something spooky would happen, like he would be right behind me, staring at me and waiting to drag me to the deep depths of everlasting insanity and mental torture. Generally not the way I like to end my morning walks.

As tough as it was, I ignored the impulse to spin around and look. For some reason I was reminded of Schroedinger’s cat. This is a famous experiment of quantum physics. They’ve (they being really smart physicists) done plenty of experiments regarding the dual nature of light. Sometimes light behaves as a wave, and sometimes light behaves as a particle. Light generally behaves as a wave, but when you set up specific equipment to measure it, on a really small level, it turns into a particle. It’s almost as if simply observing the event changes it. This can also be extended to other particles, like orbiting electrons. They are sometimes discreet particles, but other times exist only as a probability wave. Only when they specifically interact with other particles, or are observed by humans does their probability wave coalesce into an event, or a probability of 1.0.

This guy Schroedinger explained like having a cat in a box. If you don’t look in the box, there is only a probability of cat being in there. But as soon as you open up the top and look inside, the probability immediatley goes to 1.0, and the cat exists. This goes way beyond that old “tree in the forest falling” metaphor. On the level of quantum physics, things really don’t exist in discreet form unless they are observed.

Which is what I was trying really hard to convince myself regarding that creepy guy/scarecrow/guide to everlasting insanity who was behind me. So long as I didn’t turn around, he wouldn’t be there. But if I did, he would be standing right behind me, and I would be dragged (not kicking and screaming, but most likely comatose from shock) deep into the place that does not exist unless you go there.

Finally I ended up at the convenience store, and bought a small yogurt. As I was standing outside, sipping it down, I felt an odd sensation just off to my left. I turned, and there he was. The man/scarecrow/entity. He was looking at me calmly. And strangely enough, I didn’t quickly lapse into a fear-induced coma, although I was particularly frozen.

He smiled, slowly at first, and then breaking into warm, wide, teeth bearing grin. Almost. You can always tell a real smile from a fake smile by looking at the lines around the eyes. If the eyes are crinkled, then it’s a genuine, happy smile. If the eyes are open wide, and the lines (strangely enough called crow’s-feet) don’t crinkle up, then somebody’s lying. And this scarecrow didn’t have any crow’s-feet.

In his eyes was pure, unabashed evil. But for some reason, I took the evil to be extremely patient evil.

“Not today.” It said.
“Maybe not tomorrow.”
“Maybe not ever.”

Then it laughed, turned and walked away.

Needless to say, I try not to wake up early anymore.

(And now for something that makes even less sense)

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How Close Is Pure Insanity?

Floating Madness

Once there was the group of people. They lived in a small, close-knit community that was similar to most other communities. They had an occasional weekend barbecue at somebody’s house, and they had a community swimming pool that most of the kids went to on the weekends during the summer time.

A few of the families had been living there for more than one generation, and it wasn’t uncommon for the kids to grow up, move away to college, and then come back and start their own family. It also wasn’t uncommon for the kids to leave for college, never to return again, except for the occasional holiday. New families would move in from time to time as well, and were generally welcomed without any undue scrutiny.

But that was before the incident.

Something happened which had irrevocably changed this small town from a safe place where kids could play in the street well past sunset to one of unimaginable terror and danger. A place where people knew it was foolish to even look out their windows past sunset,

Certain occupations that required their workers to be out after dark had to take extra precautions. However, these occupations were few and far between, as the demand for products and services that extended past sunset quickly dried up as residents learned that nighttime was best spent quietly inside, preferably in a room without windows. For if you happened to look outside at the wrong moment, and saw one of them for more than a split second, well, let’s just say it only happened a couple of times. And when the description of what happened after had quickly spread through this once happy town, people quickly learned to keep their heads down and their eyes averted after sunset.

For a short time after the incident, it was treated with nothing more than a peculiarity. A few scientists came in from neighboring universities to study what they thought was an interesting, albeit dangerous, phenomenon. What they found, at least that got in close enough to measure it, was beyond all human comprehension. Beyond all human logic and reason. Sure they had certain scientific instruments that measured certain pieces of data. Data they could later take apart and analyze back in their laboratory. But the implications of the data were absolutely horrifying.

Scientists base their whole method upon the idea that there are certain laws of physics, like gravity and electromagnetic radiation, that are absolutely true regardless of where and when in the universe they are operating. Sure many aspects of those laws may be outside of human understanding and experience, but they are rigid laws nonetheless.

Of course, many believe that laws are transient, and don’t always apply. One law of physics that holds true in this area of the universe over here, won’t necessarily hold true in that area of the universe over there. But those that believe in this kind of transient application of seemingly fluid physical laws don’t usually make it a point to build a career out of science.

Which is why these scientists are first were more than a bit puzzled when took apart their data. It just didn’t make sense. The anomaly seemed to emit certain levels of radiation and what they referred to as “electromagnetic shock,” although there was argument if this term was wholly appropriate. The entity seemed to sometimes obey the known laws of physics, and sometimes not.

This would be OK if it obeyed/disobeyed in a repeatable, predictable fashion, but the frequency that it seemed to switch “on” and “off” passed all statistical tests of randomness.

Then the “incident” occurred.

It flashed a burst of what would later be called an “enveloping incident.” It seemed to expand in size, and briefly enveloped a scientist who had gotten too close. It was only for a short fraction of a second, but it was enough. After it had retreated to it’s “shape” prior to the incident, the scientists himself exhibited all the signs of an entity that was no longer bound by seemingly unbreakable physical, chemical, and biological laws.

Brain synapses stopped functioning properly, muscle cells, transmission of nerve impulses stopped behaving according to the laws of biochemistry. Once he had become “infected,” he was classified as “entity number two” by his fellow scientists. Some who had worked with him for years. Even referring to “entity number two” was a stretch of the imagination.

At times he would appear somewhat close to human form, although in obvious physical and mental anguish. Other times “he” would simply be a cluster of improbability, unpredictable, and deemed too dangerous to measure.

This of course, had presented the scientists with a huge dilemma. Obviously, they had to keep this “incident” from repeating, but they all agreed that any form of matter that came close to it would be in danger of being removed from the laws of physics and chemistry. It would be turned into a ball of purely random energy, that didn’t behave in any predictable fashion.

So the government did the best thing they could. Which was to place an imaginary barrier around the town for hundred miles, and try and decide if they could contain the entity. As far as the townspeople were concerned, they would be left to fend for themselves.

As such, they were a fairly self-sufficient town, with enough farmland, and a source of water that they weren’t dependent on outside resources.

But that didn’t stop the terror, and the fear, and the absolute horror. Of being locked in with hell itself, floating around, slowly turning victims into itself, one by one.

To be continued…

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The Baker

Extra Bacon

The other day I was walking down the street, heading for my favorite sandwich shop. They make their own bread, and usually make whatever you want, although they do have a menu they use sometimes. I think the menu is for people that go there for the first time, but they will make whatever you want, using whatever ingredients and utensils they have. They’re also really good about remembering faces and preferences. They know that I Iove extra bacon on almost anything.

Once I went in during the off peak hours, and the owners showed me the back room, where they keep all the bread making equipment. They have this huge mixing bowl, and all these gigantic fixtures that attach to. He told me that it took him many iterations to finally get the mix and the preparation just right for the various forms of bread. He started out as a baker’s apprentice, and then opened up a sandwich shop. There are all kinds of stories about him, where he came from. Most of them are pretty interesting. Some say he has traveled the world to learn various baking techniques. At the very least a good marketing gimmick.

He gets at the shop every morning at 4AM to start cooking the bread. Then the rest of his staff comes in around ten to get ready for the lunch crowd, which peaks around noon, they slowly trickles off after that. The have an increase in business between six and eight, then they close at nine. The owner usually leaves by one, and his other staff takes over.

I hadn’t been there for quite, so I was looking forward to a turkey club on sourdough (with extra bacon). I was completely shocked at what I saw.

The store was completely gone. Moved. Not closed down, but it had been completely renovated and another store had been set up in it’s place. I could see that the table set up and the counter were pretty much the same, but it was now an ice cream shop.

I remember once I was at this restaurant with my girlfriend. It was this large, outdoor mall, with a gigantic movie theater. We had bough tour tickets, and were going to have a couple drinks and some appetizers before the show. I ordered a scotch on the rocks, and some kind of Thai fusion dish. I don’t remember what she ordered. A few minutes later the waitress brought two classes of ice water. Or what I thought was ice water. I took a big swig, and almost vomited when I found it to be straight gin. Somehow the waitress thought I ordered gin on the rocks, and had brought me that.

That’s kind of the feeling I had when I was standing there, looking into the window of the ice cream store. I had made the decision that morning to get a turkey club on sourdough (extra bacon) and was really looking forward to it. While I’m a big fan of ice cream, I was really hoping for a turkey club. Then I wondered what happened to the baker, and his loyal staff. Why did the just up and move like that?

“Hey buddy, try your luck?” I heard some voice say from behind me.
I turned and looked. I was a bit taken aback, because I thought these things were illegal, and that they only happened on TV.

“C’mon, whatta ya got to lose?” He beckoned.

He had a table set up, and three white cups. All three cups were turned over. What the hell. I looked for any signs requiring money, or hint of illegal gambling. I didn’t see any.

“What do I get if I win?” I asked, smiling, trying to out play him at his own game.

“I’ll tell you where they went.” He said, deadpan. What?

I stood for a moment, trying to figure out what was happening. I looked up and down the street. People were walking by like this was a completely normal exchange. I suddenly looked back at him, not remembering what kinds of clothes he was wearing. I somehow expected him to be wearing some getup out of the thirties or something. Not that I’d recognize it.

“And if I lose?” I asked, starting to allow myself enjoy the exchange.

“No extra bacon for you today,pal.” Wait, did he really just say that?

I walked up, and stood, while he showed me a fluffy red ball under the center cup. As he started passing the ball back and forth between the cups, I realized there was no way I could keep up. His hands became a blur, and I quickly understood I was at his mercy. Just then he started in on his patter, a required skill for all street hustlers.

“I won’t bore you with ‘now you see it, now you don’t metaphor’ because I know that will ruin the experience for you. I do hope you to make sure you got a good look at that blue fluffy ball. I had it hand crafted in India, many, many years ago.”

I briefly lost my concentration. He saw it in my face.

“Oh yes sir. I have many more skills than doing simple street cons. I know many secrets, and have studied many things. Whether you believe this or not is not really relevant. What is relevant is whether or not you understood that when you saw this ball, which is a one of a kind ball, that you may never, ever see it again.” He stopped, and looked down at his hand, which was resting on the center cup.

“Of course, this ball may have become that ball,” as he said that me motioned with his eyes over to the fourth cup, which I hadn’t noticed.

“But then again, we can never be sure, can we? That’s the mystery of life. Sometimes you see something wonderful, and it’s gone. Sometimes you see something plain, and it waits just long enough for you to get attached to before it vanishes.” When he said that he quickly lifted up all the cups. No balls.

“But sometimes things you think are gone forever have must moved, and all you have to do is look for them.” Then he lifted up only the center cup, under which was the blue fluffy ball. And resting on top of the blue fluffy ball was a business card.

“Go ahead, pick it up.”

I picked it up.

Grand Opening!
New Location!
736 Baker Street!

On the back was a map to the new location of the famous sandwich shop. I looked at my watch. I’d easily be able to get there by noon.

“Wow, that was the most elaborate…” I stopped cold when I looked and finally saw who had been deceiving me. It was the old baker himself. He winked.

“Today, the extra bacon is on the house.”


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The Mumbling Neighbor

Loose Ends

Once I had this really strange neighbor. He would seemingly be awake at all times. I don’t think he ever slept. We had these really thing walls, and occasionally when I’d wake up in the middle of the night to use the bathroom, I could hear him next door. And there were a few times that I’d stayed out all night, either at a friends house, or at some late night party, and I’d come home on a Saturday or Sunday morning at 5 A.M. He’d always be up, with his lights on, and he’d always be moving around.

I don’t think I ever saw him go to work. While it wasn’t in the ghetto, it wasn’t a particularly upscale apartment, so I didn’t think he was wealthy enough so that he didn’t have to work. I’d always figured he had some kind of government pension, or some kind of workers comp thing going, where he received just enough to pay the rent and the utilities, but not much else.

I’d pass by him on the stairway every now and then, and we’d exchange the normal greetings (Hi, What’sup, Howsitgoing, Hey, etc), or at least I’d start off the regular greetings. He would always acknowledge me, and it sounded like he was trying to say the same thing back to me, but he’d always add on a string of indecipherable mumblings after his apparent reciprocal greeting. They weren’t angry mumblings or what you may consider the mumblings of some homeless guy who has long drank himself past the point of sanity.

These were more like running commentaries that seemed to be going on all the time in his mind, and when I’d throw out a greeting, social conditions (from maybe a lifetime ago in his case) would require he respond in kind, but these responses would always bring with them whatever train of thought that was going on in his head. Like when you are fishing in a particularly deep portion of a lake, and you reel in your lure to recast, you bring up all the stuff that is growing on the bottom.

I went on a backpacking trip once, and we were particularly after some good fishing lakes. We had planned our trip through areas that had plenty of lakes, so that whenever we’d stop for the night, we would hopefully catch our supper.

This worked out pretty good, and we caught a lot of fish on that trip. The lakes were small enough so that you could walk around them, stopping every now and then to cast out a lure, and real it in, in an hour or so.

But there was this one lake, where after fishing all day, I calculated for every fish I caught, I would lose one lure. (Good thing I brought plenty of lures). Every cast that didn’t catch a fish would get snagged in the tall growing plants on the bottom of the lake, and I would invariably lose the lure to the lake. Perhaps the gods of freshwater rainbow trout demanded payment of some sort.

Payment is a tricky thing. Especially in the west, there are all kinds of different ways to tip people. I had a couple of friends once that went on a short cruise, and they were astounded at the number of people that you are supposed to tip on those ships. They were lucky they brought plenty of cash, despite the brochure saying that the price was all-inclusive. I suppose that at the bottom in small print, they likely had something like “gratuity not included,” but unless you know what’s up, you’d likely not even pay attention to that part.

Even in most restaurants today, if you have more than six or eight people, they automatically add 15% to the bill. In other parts of the world, tipping is completely foreign, and they always laugh at American’s who feel the need to leave extra money wherever you go.

Which is why I was so surprised that one day in Starbucks.

I had just paid for my triple shot of espresso (on ice), and had received my change from the cashier.

“Don’t forget the tip.” I heard the voice from behind me say.

I nodded my head. It was if the voice knew what I was thinking. Normally when I get a triple shot of espresso (with ice) I slam it right then and there, throw it in the garbage, and I’m on my way. I don’t bother sitting down. So I’m normally not thinking in “tip” mode. Contrarily, when I bring my newspaper and get something like a triple mocha, and I’m going to be spending an hour or so there, I always leave a generous tip.

But when you think about it, the work that goes into making both drinks is about the same, and the time I’m going to be sitting there shouldn’t factor in, since they don’t bring anything to your table, or come up to you and ask if you’d like dessert or anything.

As I dropped my coins in the cup they have at the register for that specific purpose, I turned to see who this self-proclaimed tip police officer was. I was shocked to see it was my crazy neighbor, except he looked completely sane.

He was dressed in a very sharp looking suit. His eyes were completely clear, he was clean-shaven, and I swore I detected a scent of Cool Water, by Davidoff.

“Hey.” I said, not having any clue what to say in this situation. You know the one I’m talking about. The one where you see your neighbor you’d assumed was on disability due to some mental issues looking, smelling, and acting like the head sales rep for some cutting edge pharmaceutical firm.

“I know what you’re thinking.” He started. Now if I had no idea what I was thinking, how in the world did he?

“You see, things aren’t always what they appear. Some things are contextual; some things are based on structure, while others are based on content. The secret is that many things which appear to be based on content, are really based on structure, and really aren’t all that contextual.” He smiled, as if he made some incredibly and obviously salient observation of reality.

I, on the other hand, had no clue whatsoever what he meant by that.

“You’d better drink your espresso before the ice melts.” He smiled, motioning toward my plastic cup, which had been placed on the counter. I mumbled something in response, what I’m not sure. After I’d slammed my espresso, and looked back up, he was gone.

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Blast Through Resistance


Had I known things were going to end up like this, I might have started differently. I might have decided to shoot for another outcome, or come up with a backup plan.

Maybe, but not likely.

I was about three minutes away from find out if it really was going to end up like I feared. Probably. What’s the worst that can happen? Well, I didn’t really want to think about the worst. I have a pretty good imagination; I can imagine some pretty awful things. If I let my imagination run loose unrestrained it wouldn’t take long for me to turn into a raving lunatic. Maybe that’s I didn’t plan for too many options. That would require looking too carefully into the future, a future that might have me ending.

I remember once when I was a kid, me and a couple of friends had always wanted to climb to the top of this mountain. Not really a mountain, more like a hill, the elevation was only a couple hundred feet. But when you’re a kid, that’s high enough. The trees were thick, and it didn’t take long to lose sight of the road below. We’d tried a couple times, but never got really far.

There wasn’t anything particularly special about this one little hill. There hadn’t been any mass murders, or abandoned mines that swallowed kids whole, or a couple of wildcats that lived in the area. It was just a hill. But every time we’d started out, we’d lost our nerve. The trees were thick, and the road wasn’t the only thing we lost sight of.

You could easily see the top as you walked toward it, but once you started pushing through the brush, all you could see was five maybe ten yard ahead. The only thing that kept you pointed in the right direction was the slope of the hill. We figured that as long as we were walking up hill, we were going towards the top.

But there was one area that had these really strange trees. They had very thick branches, and blocked most of the light from coming through. So it got pretty dark, pretty quick. There was also that strange feeling, just outside of consciousness, like we were being watched. We never made it very part past that point.

At least until that one day.

We’d always given each other a hard time, never taking full responsibility for not following through. Always blaming somebody else. Of course, we’d jump on any excuse we could to turn back, but once we got back to the main road, and our fear had vanished, we would turn that excuse into an example of weakness for whoever had originally come up with the excuse.

I had been two weeks, and we’d been talking to each other pretty harshly. Brining up all the previous times we’d given up, sharing as much criticism of each other as we could remember. We made a pact, to the top. Only to the top. No excuses. No backing out. Even If we saw the living dead we wouldn’t turn back.

So we started out, until we got to the dark spot. Again we hesitated. But we pushed through. We were surprised when we saw the cabin. Not really a cabin, more like a shack. We were sure that nobody lived up here.

We stopped, studying the shack. It looked deserted. We approached it slowly, the strength of our unbreakable pact quickly shrinking into the back of our minds. We peered into the window. Nothing. We checked the front door. Not even a lock. We pushed it open, nothing. Empty.

Just a shack.

We decided to keep pushing toward the top. We’d check the shack again on the way back. We left the shack and started walking up hill. Within about twenty minutes, the trees thinned out considerable, and we could see the top. The sun became bright again, and we started running. When we reached the top, all of us were smiling. Big, huge, smiles of both happiness and relief. All those times we’d started out, and then turned back gone. We’d beaten those demons in our heads.

We remembered the shack. Our minds raced with excitement. Maybe we could sleep there one night. We formed a plan. We’d tell each of our parents we were staying at each other’s house. Then we’d all meet up with our sleeping bags. We’d have to bring some flashlights, and some candles. And maybe some food. Like a loaf of bread, and a jar of peanut butter.

I checked my watch. It was time. I blocked the fears from my mind, and pushed forward into the light. I suddenly had a feeling somehow that everything was going to work out.

I walked out on stage, and audience stood, and applauded. I smiled.

It was showtime.


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Beware Of Infinite Loops


That’s what she wanted. She had been waiting for me for almost two hours, when I came wandering up. Where was I? Why didn’t I call? How could I do this to her, didn’t I know that she felt like a fool standing there all alone like that for so long? What must people think about her?

Calm down, I told her. We’ll get to the bottom of this. I showed her the text she’d sent me last night, and showed her my watch. Not an “in your face” kind of thing, but a gentle “here’s is the evidence that you may be incorrect” kind of thing.

Maybe that wasn’t the right course of action. Now she was angry that I was late, had been stewing about it for two hours, and just found out that it was he fault. Still needing somebody to blame, she tried to ask me why I didn’t call to confirm, to send a text back reminding her of the time.

Seeing as how I was totally innocent, it took a lot of willpower not to throw some snappy zingers in her face. I waited until she was finished.

“Well, it’s three O’clock, and we’re here. What do you want to do?” I asked, more than half hoping she’d stomp off in anger. This didn’t have the makings of a pleasant afternoon together.

“Whatever. I don’t care.” She said coolly. I had learned a long time ago, (albeit through several slow and painful lessons) that hoping somebody would change their attitude by telling you didn’t like it was useless at best.

I figured I’d give her one more shot, and a chance to save some face.

“Well, the movie starts in thirty minutes. Should I buy one ticket, or two?” I asked as calmly as possible, keeping myself completely open for either answer.

I was reading this book once that was talking about emotions. The guy was saying that humans have this strange way of thinking. We have thoughts, and then thoughts about those thoughts. And thoughts about those thoughts. And every step of the way, we have an emotional reaction to the thoughts.

They used to think that emotions get in the way of thinking, and decision-making. That emotions are completely separate from logic. It used to be generally accepted that if you were more like Spock, you’d be able to make much better choices and decisions, and wouldn’t be swayed by powerful emotions like anger, embarrassment, guilt, or lust.

By some brain surgeons decided to do an experiment. They were doing surgery on this guy. They were removing a tumor, and in order to get to it, they had to cut through several areas of his brain they thought were responsible for emotional thinking. This was only a temporary part of the surgery. They figured as long as they were in there tinkering around, they would test this logic-emotional theory.

Since brain surgery only requires general anesthetic (there aren’t any pain sensors in the brain) the guy could be awake, and responsive to questions. They figured they’d ask him some logic-based questions, starting with easy ones, and then getting to more and more complicated ones. Ones that most people have a hard time answering because of their moral and ethical considerations, like if you are in a boat and you only have on life preserver, who do you save, the President (who is opposite of your political party) or your favorite pet (or some other emotionally convoluted question).

These doctors had theorized that since this guy’s emotional circuitry would be temporarily disconnected, he’d be like Spock, and spit out purely logical answers.
But what they found was the opposite. Without emotional input, he couldn’t even make the most basic decisions. Without the emotional juice fueling the options, they seemed to him like a question of preference between a banana, and six. Later he said he couldn’t even begin to know how to answer the questions given him.

This, of course, sent neuroscientists into a tizzy, as it gave some great insight into the human decision making process. Of course, this was only one single case, and they can’t very well go off messing with peoples heads and disconnecting their emotions just to see what would happen.

But it does make sense from an evolutionary standpoint. Humans evolved to make decisions for a reason, not to pass the time through idle philosophical discussions. Pain or pleasure, safety or danger, simplicity or complexity, these are all emotionally fueled ideas that power all of our decisions.

But according to that book I mentioned before (Mind Lines by Dr. Hall) we get into trouble when our emotions are based on judgments not on reality, but on our interpretation of reality. Someone cuts you off in traffic, and you make a judgment about that. You assume they are a jerk. Then you have a reaction to your judgment of them being jerk. Then you feel a certain way about that. Within a few seconds, you get angry at feeling guilty for being judgmental about some guy you assumed was a jerk that cut you off in traffic.

So when she had been standing there for two hours, getting angrier and angrier at me for being late, it didn’t matter one bit to her that it was her mistake. Of course, when I posed my question to her, it invoked the power of commitment and consistency. (See Cialdini, Influence, Science and Practice). She’d been waiting for two hours, she wasn’t likely to just up and leave five minutes after I finally showed up. (Finally according to her frame.)

I suppose the moral of the story is that whenever you come up to someone that has been building layer upon layer of emotions, it may be a good idea to simply give them an either/or option, take a step back and see what happens.

At the very least, it can be fun to watch.

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The Strangest Purchase I Ever Made

I’ll Take It

Due to the overwhelming response to something that happened before I even knew that I wasn’t aware of it, I’ve decided to do what most everyboyd already figured out. Which is precisely what you’ve probably been thinking.


My tale starts out with a vague feeling of déjà vu, although not quite. I had walked into this shop, and I’m positive I’d never been in there before, but for some reason I knew where everything was. Not that that is such a big deal, because most shops are pretty much laid out with the customer in mind, and to make it as easy as possible for them to make a purchased and get on out without excessive lingering.

But something about this store seemed odd, but at the same time, strangely familiar. The shopkeeper even looked at me with a sort of expectation, like I was in there a week before and I’d just come back to finalize my purchase or something. But then again, it may have all been my imagination. That has been happening a lot to me lately.

Déjà vu is an interesting, widely experienced, but often misunderstood brain phenomenon. It seems to happen at random, so they can’t really do any experiments to reproduce the effect. And they can’t very well hook electrodes into people’s brains, and have them sit around in a laboratory waiting to get hit with passing cloud of déjà vu.

According to various esoteric theories of probability and philosophy, combined with a few cold and hard facts about the known universe, there may very well be an infinite number of worlds just like this one, but only with sleight differences. The theory goes that since the universe is infinite, there are an infinite number of particles that can combine in an infinite number of combinations, making every possible combination a highly probable event. So somewhere in some corner of the universe is somebody just like you, reading a post just like this, sitting in a chair just like that, only something is slightly different. Like instead of that thought that just entered into our head, your counterpart in the parallel universe is thinking the thought that you are about to think, or perhaps the same thought that you thought the same time yesterday.

They theorize that déjà vu is some kind of vague and brief connection between you and one of your other universe counterparts. Some kind of a long distance resonance between bodies of particles that happen coincidently share congruence before phase shifting into randomness.

Our eyes only connected for about a second, before I realized my feeling of connection wasn’t backed by any game plan, so I just broke off eye contact, like you do when you are too embarrassed to say anything, and you’d like to just pretend your eyes never met. But our eyes did meet, and I could still feel them following them throughout the store.

“Did you forget something?” She asked.

Wait, what?

“Huh?” I turned, surprised.

She looked around helpfully, and then looked at me with her head cocked.
“You weren’t carrying any bags, did you put something down that was in your pockets?” She asked with genuine concern.

My pockets. I stuck my hands in both of them. Nothing there but my keys, and my wallet. Which is what I always carry when I leave the house. No bag.

I shook my head, and stood hoping for some more unsolicited information that might help me out.

“Did you change your mind? About the machine?”


“Um..” I started. Not sure. Starting to feel a real desire to get the hell out of there.

“I can’t really go any lower. It does sound it could be very useful to you. It does come with a three month guarantee.”

I had an idea.

“Um, could you show it to me, once more?” I asked. Staring directly her, so I wouldn’t look in the opposite direction by accident, and look like an idiot. (Who am I kidding here?)

“Sure.” She said, smiling and pulled out a catalogue. It was big, and thick. About half as thick as a phone book. It looked very expensive; all the pages were glossy and full color. She was slowly thumbing through the pages; I couldn’t quite glimpse what sort of things was in there. I stepped closer to get a better look.

“Aha, here it is.” She announced, turning the book around so I could see.

I was looking at that? What in the world. I checked the price. Sixteen thousand dollars. She must have noticed my eyes.

“As I said before, I can go as low as twelve thousand. We’ll scarcely make any money on this.”

I have to admit, even though I wasn’t quite sure what you would use a contraption like that for, it sure looked nice. Twelve thousand really wasn’t that much, considering. What the hell.

“Uh..” I started. How to start.

“Payment is, uh…” I hoped she’d finish for me. She did.

“Don’t worry sir, we won’t need to check your credit again.”

Again? Wait, if they ran my credit, that would mean…

“Ten percent down, and then the balance is up to you. Most of our customers secure financing on their own, but with your unique circumstances, that won’t be necessary. As I said before, you can just pay us twelve monthly payments on the balance. No interest.”

That did sound like a pretty good deal. What the hell.

“Ok,” I heard myself say.
“I’ll take it.”

That was just when I’d noticed the wedding band on my finger. When did I get married? I just hoped that my wife, whoever she was, wasn’t going to be angry at this purchase.

To be continued…

(And now for something completely different)

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A Funny Thing Happened To Me On The Way To The Movies

This Post Ends With Whiskey

So the other day I was supposed to meet my friend downtown. She didn’t show up, and she usually isn’t late, so I gave her a call. Turns out I had my dates mixed up, so I figured I’d wander around. We were going to hang out at a coffee shop and then go see a movie, so I figured I might give that a shot. Only I hadn’t brought anything to read, and sitting in a coffee shop by yourself without anything to read can get pretty boring.

So I thought maybe I’d strike up a conversation with a stranger, and see how far I could get. I walked into the coffee shop, no luck. Nobody seemed interesting, or interested in having a chat with some strange guy who can’t keep his days straight. No worries.

I headed over to the bookstore; maybe they’d have something interesting enough. I checked the movie times, and there was something that looked interesting that was starting in a couple of hours. That’s the problem with living in a foreign country where not too many people speak English. When you go to the movies, often times you don’t have much choice.

Not like back home, where I can roll up to a thirty screen multi plex and spend fifteen minutes pondering the many movies starting within the next twenty minutes. Bookstores here are the same. If they do have an English section, there’s sometimes something interesting, sometimes not. Today there wasn’t anything that looked good enough. Back out to the street.

Which way, left or right? Left. I headed left, and figured I’d wander this direction for an hour or so before turning around. That way I’d make it to the 4 pm show. I’d hoped. I wasn’t aware of the incredible adventure I was about to go on.

Once when I was a kid I got lost in the mall. I thought my mom had deserted me. One minute she was there, the next she’d vanished, like in that creepy movie where aliens sucked people right through their bedroom windows.

This lady had this husband, and a kid, or something. Then these weird things started happening, like she’d remember her husband, but nobody else would. It was like he was erased from everybody’s memory but hers. All his pictures, her wedding ring, everything.

Then her son disappeared. Same thing. Nobody remembered him but her. She was all-alone, and everybody, from her best friends to her psychiatrist told her she’d always been alone, and she must be imagining the whole thing.

Only later to find out that aliens were stealing certain people, and erasing the memories of everybody around them. But when they took the people, they would snatch them, and suck them really really fast up into the sky. It was pretty funny, although I’m pretty sure it wasn’t supposed to be. Great set up, but goofy ending.
Anytime they have aliens as the culprits, you know something is fishy. Unless the fish themselves are aliens, in which case you’ve got some serious explaining to.

So there I was on the street, suddenly realizing I had no idea where I was. That was ok, as I sort of remembered some landmarks as I wandered about. Only when I looked around, I couldn’t see any of the landmarks I’d chosen. Perhaps I should have chosen some taller ones.

Suddenly I heard a voice from behind me.

“Son, you look lost.” He said. He sounded as if he had a thick Scottish accent. Only I wasn’t in Scotland. Hadn’t been for years.

“Yea, I was wondering how to get back to the…” Where was I going?
“The Movie Theater?” He finished my thought for me. How did he do that?

“Up that street, and then…” after that I couldn’t understand a word he said, as it was in such a thick Scottish dialect, he could have been sending me to the organ donor hospital for all I knew. I tried following his gestures, but they only told me to head back in the direction where I thought I’d come. Big help Scottish guy.

“Wait, one more time, please. More slowly.” I asked. He repeated the directions, only this time his gestures and words seemed completely different. I wasn’t sure what to make of it.

I was reminded once of a distant relative in New York who explained that if you are lost, and happen to stop someone long enough to ask for directions be careful how they answer. If they give you a short, direct answer, they’re usually being truthful. However, if they give you some long winded answer, they are likely sending you on a wild goose chase to end you up in some location that is further removed from where you thought you’d wanted to go in the first place.

“But first, son, have a dram with me.” He said, putting his hand gently on my shoulder. He motioned his head back, and behind him was a Malt Whiskey bar. I didn’t know they had those in this part of the world.

“What the heck,” I figured. I didn’t really want to see that movie anyway. And it had been long time since I savored a nice single malt.

What happened next, is a story for another day.

(And Now For Something Completely Different)

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Plan For Luck?


I wasn’t sure how this was going to work out. It sounded like such a good plan when we’d laid it all out. On paper. In the safety of our hotel room three hours earlier. Now it didn’t seem so easy. Not that we had any chance to back out. We had committed. We had to follow through, or else pay the consequences.

Charles had thought of this plan back when we were in Tucson, three months earlier. We had been working on this hotel, construction. The three of us had been doing odd jobs for the past several years, ever since the incident. Nothing more than a few months at a time. Trying to stay ahead. This was supposed to put us over the top, but you never know. Sometimes things have a way of backfiring, and ending up not quite like you’d expected. But then again, sometimes everything goes perfectly, and you end up coming up much better than your wildest dreams.

That had only happened once before. About halfway through, I thought that everything was going to go quickly to hell, but suddenly everything turned around, and all the pieces magically fell into place. It was perfect. The most beautiful thing you could ever imagine, unfolding right before your eyes. Something like that can spoil you, if it happens to early. It’s like you get a taste of perfection, and you spend the rest of your life chasing after something that only has a probability of happening once every three or four lifetimes. Only they don’t tell you that until it’s too late.

Something told me that this was one of those times.

You never know. Even when it’s too late, even when it’s obvious you should just cut and run, people tend to ignore the obvious and hold out for a miracle. I’ll never forget how it went down that one time before. We had been planning it for about six months, everything was detailed out, every last angle was sketched out, and planned for, and rehearsed. Every contingency was brought up, acted out, role played to death. Everything.

Then that kid showed up when he did.

I mean, what the hell are you supposed to do when that happens, just ignore it? You can’t do that. I mean there he is, right in the middle of everything, you can’t just not pay attention to something like that. So we hesitated, and tried to blend him into our plan, to make sure everything turned out ok. At first it looked like we might have a chance, a real shot at success.

But then they showed up. Like they were expecting us, almost as if somebody had tipped them off. But that was impossible, wasn’t it? We’d been so careful. Maybe the kid had something to do with it.

Then all hell broke loose. People screaming, alarms going off, tires screeching, everything you didn’t want to happen, happened. And just when we thought we were done for, that guy just showed up out of nowhere, with a solution so obvious, yet so outstandingly bold, we jumped at the chance. The kid and everything. And before you knew it, we were in the clear. Everything was just clicking, like it was all planned out.

Only it wasn’t planned out. We were just making it up as we went along. And the funny thing was, it was working out much better than our best plan. There we were, with this total and complete stranger, why he was helping us I still don’t know, and we were completely making things up as we went along, and it was going better than our best laid plans.

Nothing was ever so easy after that.

Every other job since then was never as perfect as that one time. We tried everything, but you just can’t plan for things like that. Sometimes we planned as much as we did that one time, other times we relied on chance, but never did we have such an easy follow through as when that guy showed up.

And we never even figured out his name, or where he was from, or anything.

Just as quickly as he showed up, he was gone. No advice, no words of wisdom. He only lent a hand, and then split.

So there we were, things looking like they might collapse at any second, but not nearly as worse as they’d been before. So we kept pushing, and hoping.

But not praying. Never praying.

That was the one thing that we were forbidden to do. Not that we argued. It seemed a good enough reason when the edict had been handed down. We’d readily agreed, given our options. Sure, sometimes, some of us secretly wished we’d never struck that bargain, but we held fast to our agreement.

No prayers.

It was almost time to make the move. I checked, made eye contact with the other two that were within sight, and they both checked the two they could see. We all gave each other the signal. It was time to move.

Now or never.

We burst through, with as much hope and force as we could muster, given the circumstances.

We had no idea what was waiting for us on the other side…

To be continued….


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Italian Food Is Hard To Come By

What Did Euclid Know About Meatballs?

Spaghetti and meatballs. At least that’s what she promised me. It was on the fence when she called me and invited me over for dinner. There was a good movie on, I had woken up early that morning had finished a long painful day at work. I had a lot of personal things I needed to get done the next day, so I was looking forward to some cheesy movie in TV, and then an early night. If I went out, I knew I’d stay out late, get to bed late, and sleep in the next day, sabotaging all my plans.

But it had been a long time since I had a good plate of spaghetti and meatballs. And she doesn’t just make them the regular way. She does something extra, I’m not sure if it’s in the sauce, or the meatballs themselves, but it’s like nothing I’ve ever tasted before. And in my neck of the woods good, authentic Italian food of any sort is hard to come by.

Hence my dilemma. So there I was on the phone, trying to decide. She wanted an answer, as she would need to get started. I don’t why she decided to cook that that night, or why she called me. I wondered what thought came first in her mind. The spaghetti, and then me to help her eat it, (as she knows I love it) or was it me, and the spaghetti was merely a lure (as she knows I love it).

What to do.

What hell. I told her I’d be over at seven. It was 4:30. I had finished work at three, after starting at 5:00 A.M. It was going to be a long night. The only thing I hadn’t figured out yet was why. For I was about to begin one of the strangest evenings of my life.

Once I tried to make spaghetti and meatballs myself, but it came out disastrous. I think if I focused only on spaghetti, I’d be OK. Any fool can make spaghetti. Boils some noodles, open a can of sauce and stick it in the microwave for a minute or two. Dump some Parmesan cheese on top. Bam. Meatballs, also, not a stretch. Take some hamburger meat, mix in some spices, maybe an egg or some breadcrumbs, and cook them somehow. I’m told the best way is to throw them in the sauce as it’s cooking, but when your strategy for cooking spaghetti sauce is pouring it into a bowl and nuking it for two minutes, that doesn’t work. Two minutes is enough to warm sauce, but not enough to cook meatballs.

I was reading this article in a science magazine the other day. It was talking about some of the fundamental differences between men and women. According to the article, it goes way beyond just plumbing. Females are better at communicating, and multitasking. Males are better at something else, like watching TV. It has something to do with how many connections there are between the hemispheres of the brain. A typical female can talk on the phone, cook dinner, and watch the kids all at the same time. If a man tried to do that it would be a disaster. Our fields of vision are different as well. Men are much better at seeing things far off in the distance, but have terrible peripheral vision. Something to do with our evolutionary past of chasing after zebras and throwing spears at them. Females on the other hand, have much better peripheral vision, along the aforementioned communication skills. Something to do with collecting berries, watching the kids, and keeping up to date on everybody’s ever changing social status back at the cave while the men were out chasing zebras.

The article mentioned that this is one of the reasons why most teachers are women, and most air traffic controllers are men. Two completely different skill sets, filled by people who are naturally proficient with those skills. It also mentioned that the person with the best set of natural skills to be a leader in a society that wasn’t always at war would be a woman, but the person most driven to become a leader would be a man.

So I think I tried cooking the whole shebang, spaghetti, meatballs, sauce from scratch, only once.

Never again.

I don’t even want to go into what happened. Which is why I agreed to go to my friends house. And by the time I got there, her motives were clear. The spaghetti was the bait, and I was the prey. Not that I was complaining. Seeing what other bait she prepared for me, my plans for the next suddenly didn’t seem so important. In fact, as I stood there, looking at her, smelling that delicious aroma wafting in from her kitchen, I could scarcely remember what my plans were to begin with.

Something to do with Euclidean Geometry, and a Taco Stand, but I could be mistaken. I often am.

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