Aging Under Water

Friday, September 27, 2013 | 1 Comment(s)

Mercifully, growing old happens gradually.  Imagine going to bed 21 and waking up with grey hair.  Very disconcerting.  Unfortunately, every once and awhile you trip over a geriatric speed-bump that sends you flying forward into the next category of aged.  It is both a moment of disillusionment and sadness.  The realization that all those college athletes on TV are a decade younger than you and you'll never be able to do a backflip again.  Yesterday, I got next level old. I know because aging is the least subtle process in existence.

I've gotten back into swimming.  I found a new, slightly smaller, slightly dingier pool than the one I used swim in when I was still in school, but the main advantage of the new place is that this pool is open all day every day, as opposed to the university's restrictive 2 hours of open swim time per day.  

I always stretch before I swim.  Well, more accurately, after the one time many years ago when i got an excruciating leg cramp mid-crawl, I have always stretched before getting in the pool.  While I have been blessed with hyper-flexibility, it is essential to get limber before swimming long distances. 

I don't always stretch post-pool.  I mean, I i go directly into a hot shower.  And I always shake it out in there like I just don't care.  But formal stretching, either inside the small locker room full of naked old men, or upstairs on the mats post-dressing, rarely happens.  

It's swimming.  By definition it is low impact.  Half the pool is full of octogenarians who move faster in the water than out.   Sure I'm swimming while they are running in place, but how strenuous is it really on my muscles?  It's cardio!   And, until yesterday, I've never had any problems with this routine. 

I can't tell you what time at night is was.  I have no idea.  I can tell you that when it started I was 122-percent asleep.  So was my wife. What it felt like was a shark bite directly into my right calf.  I began thrashing in bed as if it mattress was filled with water and had just sprung a leak.  The searing pain in my leg ice-picking its way inside my REM sleep.  Somehow my electrocution-like flailing woke my sleep-deprived wife.

"Are you, ok . . ."  she whispers earnestly into the dark bedroom.

"Craaaaaaaaaampppp" I tell her, still unconscious myself. 

"Oh, I'm so sorry babe.  That's too bad."  

She doesn't move her body. The next morning she recalls how utterly worn out she felt and how actually moving her limbs to help me seemed as difficult as running the 100m hurdles on Special K.  She figured the verbal consolation she provided would most likely get me through whatever difficult moment was causing my body to convulse, as if electrocuted.

I flopped around for another minute or so, focusing whatever concentration I could muster on helping the sinews of my calf muscle to release and relent.  My leg mercifully began straightening out like a tug-of-war rope that eventually surges in one direction. And just as it was relaxing back to its full outright and unlocked position, I was asleep again.  This entire ordeal an ephemeral memory of pain and recollection.  

Oh.  The next morning I had a Charley horse like you wouldn't believe.  I was Limpy McLimperson at work.

"What's wrong Matt, why are you limping?," asks a coworker.

"Oh, you know, I wen't swimming yesterday and forgot to stretch afterward and so later that night when I was asleep I was awoken by an excruciating leg cramp which only partially relented and has now resulted in a somewhat permanent dead-leg," I reply. 

I add, "Duh."

"Oooooohhhh . . . because you're old.  Why didn't you just say that?," she chirps, and prances off toward the back of the restaurant. 

"No," I think to myself, "because I'm next level old." 

Where Were You at 5 AM?

Tuesday, September 17, 2013 | 0 Comment(s)

Where were you at 5 AM this morning?

Wait.  If you are a farmer or in any branch of the military, that question is rhetorical.  For the rest of you, it isn't.

Me?  Oh, I was in my boxers and sandals, in my backyard, screaming into the darkness.

This is not a metaphor.

At 4:40, my dog Grover, who had suddenly become uncontrollably dehydrated right before bed, started clicking and clacking is paws across the bedroom floor.  "Go back to bed," my wife groan-screamed.

He didn't.  I got up, corralled him back onto his bed, and re-covered him up.

At 4:50 he was back up and sitting directly against the bedroom door.  Essentially, he is watching me in my sleep sending "let me the fuck out" vibes until my eyes open.  My eyes open.  Looks like I'm taking Grover to pee.

Most of the time, almost all the time actually, Grover is really well behaved off-leash.  Does he run off occasionally? Of course he does.  He's a dog.  But for the most part Grover's worst fear (after thunder and the vacuum cleaner) is being left alone (again--he's a rescue), so he has very little permanent interest in getting away.  Which is why, when you are pissed off after hunting him down for 45 minutes, he will just stare back at you with this huge "i just got exercise and explored!" face with zero hint of recognition that he was previously "lost."
I see rodent people. 
But a few days ago, the dog that lives in the house directly on the other side of the forrest/swamp in our backyard moved away (not to doggy heaven for the record).  Seeing as there was no longer a dog around, my neighbor (who I happen to know--but not very well) dumped the pounds and pounds of leftover dog food in his compost -- which is in the forrest between our houses --all the way on his side of course.

Since then, all bets have been off.  I already wrangled Grover out of the compost once last Sunday (which is how I know all about his compost heap).  But, considering it was 4:55 AM and we both seemed pretty groggy, I thought Grover and I would go out, quick pee, back to bed.  And, come morning, I would be my wife's hero for sacrificing myself so she could stay sleeping.

I open the door and in a blur Grover bolts into the back of the house.  Initially I am not surprised or concerned.  Grove sometimes bolts back there, poops, and heads home.  But after a few minutes standing in the chilly night air in only my boxers (remember: out, quick pee, back to bed), I decide to head back there myself to round him up.  He's bouncing around the backyard chasing the daredevil groundhog who has taken up residence.   I can't tell if he's done his business or not.  As I approach him, he springs into play pose and jet's sideways towards the other end of the backyard -- the entrance to the pathway to our neighbor's compost.

As I pursue him across the lawn, I smell the poop.  This is a bad sign.  If he went to the bathroom and hasn't turned tail to come back inside, he's gonzo.  I begin to holler his name.  My tone is essentially one of begging the universe to return my dog.  I have more faith in the universe bringing him back than him coming back on his own.  You don't really understand helplessness until you are shouting a Sesame Street characters name at full volume into a quiet forrest while still mostly asleep.

*Tangent* People often like to compare having a dog to having a baby.  I submit this as one of those moments where the analogy truly falls short (as I recognize that it does in many other ways as well).  Babies just don't run into the woods at night like they used to.  The times have really changed.  *End Tangent*

I'm freezing, mostly naked, and now I have to poop as well.

As I head inside to go to the bathroom and put some clothes on to continue my search, my wife is just making her way into the bathroom.  There is no way to rush a sleepy wife, but I swear to you all that  I almost shit myself waiting the next 3 minutes for her to exit the lavatory.  That ordeal concluded, I went in search of "drivable clothing".  My wife is still groggy.  She realizes what is happening, but is sleepy enough to only be able to wander the front yard somewhat aimlessly (if the circumstance had been any different, this would have been adorable).  I throw on sweats and a top (I can't remember what it was) and begin the drive around the corner, then down the long driveway to my neighbors place -- at 5:05 AM.

It is very difficult to slowly creep your way down someone's driveway that early in the morning and not feel like you should be arrested.  I mean, my window is rolled down, I'm scanning my surroundings and I stop halfway to go scurry into the woods.  I do need to be arrested.  I am doing nothing illegal and yet I'm terrified that somehow a police cruiser will show up out of nowhere and I'll be all over the town's blotter the next morning.  "Amherst man arrested while searching through neighbor's compost."  How New England.

At first I can't see him.  In order to get my car's headlights off the house itself, I pull all the way up to the house and turn around.  I then return to the break in the shrubs where the compost is.  Still nothing.  I turn my engine off and just listen.  After a few moments, there is a rustling.  That is either my dog, or the new headline will read "Amherst man mauled by mountain lion while searching through neighbor's compost!"  Still trè New England.

Gotta bite the bullet.  I head into the woods with my flashlight and a handful of dog treats.  "Grover . . . Grover . . . come here puppy," I speak in a earnest whisper.  And then, hiding just to the side of the pile of dog food, is my dog.  His expression -- oddly -- is one of complete recognition that he is a bad bad dog! 

At that point he realizes he is 'caught' and doesn't take off again.  Tail curled under and face held low, he pitter patters into the car's backseat.  I close the door and drive the 60 seconds back to the house. Then its back up the stairs and mercifully back into bed.

It felt like hell week for the mutt marines.  I dogged more before 9 AM than most people do all day.

Your Social Experiment is Not Actually a Social Experiment

Monday, September 16, 2013 | 0 Comment(s)

There has been an influx of internet videos recently that begin with a few people, usually white dudes, talking to the camera.  It usually looks like a low budget version of a Mountain Dew commercial.  The dudes are all, "Today we are on campus to conduct a social experiment (glances meaningfully and academically at the camera)  We are going to find out what happens when ______________."

And then they fill in that blank with any of a number of possibilities ranging from the benign ( . . . when I walk around all day in a full chicken costume) to the less acceptable ( . . .  when I go up to pretty girls and kiss them without asking).  This later being a fine example of how white privilege can make even sexual assault seem somehow benign.

And it isn't just stupid college kids and YouTube users.  T.V. shows like Big Brother and what's left of The Real World are based on the same premise: Let's see what transpires when "real" people are put into "real"(manufactured) situations.  Yay, social experiments!!!

I need to tell you all something.  And it's important.  Those videotaped antics are many things: they can be funny, depressing, against the law, eye-opening, and even educational -- but they are not -- by any definition other that the literal one, social experiments.  Here are some ways you can tell the difference for future reference.

First off, real experiments test theories.   Many of my previous examples explain to their audience that they are testing "what will happen when . . ."   That is not a theory.  It is the absence of a theory.  It is an open question.  A theory is an educated guess as to what will happen.  A true social experiment grows out of that educated guess, and is designed specifically to test whether or not what the person postulated would happen is what actually happens "in the real world" (the uncapitalized real world).  The result of all this forethought is that after a real social experiment, you can potentially glean new knowledge based on your findings.  In pseudo-social experiments, the prestige is more of a taadaa! and a smile.  And that is because what your are witnessing is less similar to social science than it is to voyeurism.  Being able to see a person breaking a social norm, even if that social norm is that we don't touch up on strangers, is engaging to watch simply because it's rare and novel.  Television exploits this.

The second, and probably the most crucial and central difference between real social experiments and fakers is captured in three terrifying letters: I.R.B.  IRB stands for Internal Review Board, and for social scientists this can often be a complex and lengthy process.  The IRB's sole purpose, in a perfect world, is to weight the pro's vs. con's inherent to a proposed experiment.  That means adding up all the potential gains in knowledge, understanding, and data against any potential harms that might befall the very real and human study participants.  Any chance of permanent damage to the participants supersedes the need to conduct any and all social research.

It didn't always.  Most people know about the Stanford Prison Experiment or Milgram's Shock Experiment and they say to me, "Matt, if there are such checks and balances regarding participant safety, how the hell did they get away with dangerous crap like that."

It's a great question with a imperfect answer.  That answer is that those scientists got away with harming human participants because back in the early 1960's when those experiment were being conducted, there were no IRB's yet.  In truth, both of those experiments I mentioned were central to understanding the important of having some form of protection for future study volunteers.

Let me give you an idea of what would happen if our friends from "kiss-a-girl-without-permission" submitted their *cough cough* experiment *cough cough* to an IRB.  The first board member would read the thesis statement, "to see what happens when we force kisses on girls who we don't know."  I imagine the next thing that would happen would be a room full of laughter and a lot of murmurs of "that's not an experiment proposal, it's a lawsuit proposal!" Then silence as the true danger of this type of shlock starts to weigh on the committee's moral shoulders.

"Dare I ask how they are testing this," says an imaginary old white professor with a beard who stands on circumstance and procedure and is too noble to simply toss the application out prior to any discussion.

"They're going to videotape themselves forces their kisses on girls in the Campus Center," replies a now completely unamused female poli-sci professor.  "I think that constitutes a pretty significant risk of a negative impact to their participant population.  And I don't think they even sent us whatever form they plan to use to get the informed consent from those unsuspecting women.  (you know, the form you absolutely must have all participants sign before the study, which makes them aware of both the point of the study and any potential negative implications.)

Now the head of the IRB speaks up.  She will make the final call on the issue.  "It seems pretty clear that these boys are asking to see if they can make-out with the collective student body without their permission, and not get in trouble for it.  Not only does this non-study need to be rejected by this committee, these students need to be confronted by us educators to make sure they understand why their proposal is fifty shades of inappropriate and offensive.  Otherwise, we are doing these students a disservice."  

So yah.  It wouldn't pass the sniff test.

And as a social scientist in my down time, it is also particularly offensive in that these libido and adrenaline fueled sexperiments receive all the public airtime due to their salacious nature.  This fascination provides an obtuse vision of social science, but those are the images that persevere.  These vignettes of hot twenty-somethings with drinking problems living together in a palatial estate with unlimited booze, access, and protection are what the public views as a slice of the real world.  Not even close.  Perhaps all the racist nasty things the Big Brother bobble-head contestants spouted this season were a step closer to reality.  But in terms of informed consent, does anyone think those girls were prepared to ruin their lives using hurtful slurs in the corner of their bedroom.  Do we think that other stupid ass people don't also think these horrible thoughts in the privacy of their own homes?

In the same way that i don't believe the pedofiles on To Catch a Predator deserve the national public humiliation piled on top of their very justified arrest and incarceration, it is difficult to rationalize the joy of a racist white girl getting her just desserts over the loss of any human's permanent humiliation.  Sure she signed up for the show and said those stupid hateful puke-able words, but I haven't yet grown jaded enough now to lament her future pain -- captured for all posterity on the internet.

I digress.

Long story short, if you are thinking of conducting a "social experiment" for all of the internet to see, perhaps use an appropriate username like "voyuer4u" or "girlswontkissme" so we don't mistake your masterbatory fantasy of a video as containing any smidgen of useful knowledge.

Uff-tah and Other Bathroom Slang

Wednesday, September 11, 2013 | 1 Comment(s)

During the six or so years that my wife and I have been together, we've had our share of issues.  Some of these, have been the direct result of me being brought up in a Conservative Jewish household, whilst my wife was brought up almost completely agnostic.  Much to my surprise, the vast majority of these religion based problems revolve around non-overlapping lexicons.

For instance, my wife often writes in texts and emails "Uff-tah."

The first time I saw this expression on my cell phone screen, I figured auto-correct had ruined yet another important text message.  Not so, my wife later informed me when I asked her if her "uffage" had been some sort of typing problem.

"Uff-tah," she says louder, as if perhaps it is the lack of volume and repetition that is keeping me from immediately understanding a group of letters I've never seen put together before.  Like, "oh my goodness, how horrible. Or, uff-tah, this bucket is heavy."

"Ahhhhhhh,"I reply, "you mean 'oy-vey!'"

She assured me she meant Uff-tah.

Since that day, I have been trying to figure out where uff-tah fits in my life, its primary definition already completelyoverlapped by Yiddish slang.  Today, I found it.

Today, after finishing my coffee, I went to the coffee-shop bathroom to go pee before heading down the street for lunch.  As I approached the two adjacent bathrooms a slight woman was just exiting the near door while the far door appeared occupied.  I, obviously, went into the open one and closed the door behind me only to find myself trapped inside a mind-gagging gas chamber of poop.  While the tiny woman had flushed, the evil that she had previously contained inside her was now echoing its displeasure to all corners of the small rectangular room.
everyone likes a little encouragement.

As I inhaled, I feel this woman's fecal matter enter my lungs, and reflexively I exhale, "UFFFF-tahhh."

It seems, 'Uff-tah' is the sound I make when I am forced to smell another person's shit in high concentration.  This is true both literally and metaphorically.

I figure the Jews never came up with their own word for this concept, because whenever they were trapped in small contained spaces, the smell was usually the least of their worries.