The Stony Lonesome: What A Shock!
by Flynn Washburne, May 4, 2016
I recently finished writing something that caused me, after doffing my writer's cap and donning the chapeau d'critique, to say: Dude, this is boring.
Boring? the scribbler rejoined. It's not boring, it's a slice of life.
At which point a third, disinterested party splintered off to adjudicate the conflict and play the devil's avocado. "You say boring," he said, "and you say slice of life. But really, isn't 'slice of life' just code for boring? Isn't it a term used by people who celebrate the mundane because they've run out of interesting ideas, like Hemingway?"
We all three of us agreed that Papa H. is just awful, reintegrated ourselves and went to go watch some cartoons.
Life, in the main, is not all that compelling. Despite what the Internet would have us believe, life is not all epic fails and amazing shots and adorable cats and celebrity skin and high-speed chases. It's a lot of drudgery, of rote obligatory tasks and clock-watching to see how long until the next boring thing. We're all punching clocks and darning socks and breaking rocks, and if we're lucky we occasionally get a few minutes of downtime to sit on docks and watch the tide roll away. Any way you slice Life, in cross-section you will likely see something tiresome and commonplace. The moments of passion and excitement that give us reason to continue dragging our asses through another God-damned boring-ass day are rare enough that any random slice is not likely to catch one. This is why creators and purveyors of popular entertainments fill their tales with hilarity and terror and excitement and mad passion, because if you turn your camera or pen on Life, unvarnished, unadorned, you get…boring.
As a person who is terrified of being bored and will go to any lengths to avoid it, I am similarly unsettled by the thought of being perceived as boring, which is why I like to keep things moving briskly at all times. If you can't be interesting, I say, at least be brief.
It came to pass one day that I was in danger of becoming at least half-bored, it being a rainy Sunday afternoon in Fort Bragg. I was at Shane Wrede's house with he and Jen D., and Shane was trying to talk me into allowing him access to my person to test a stun-gun he'd been fiddling with. I actually considered it, in the interest of both scientific inquiry and as a bulwark against boredom, but in consideration of the chemical disturbances already affecting my natural electrical signals elected to give it a pass. "Why don't you zap the dog, or Jen?" I asked.
"I will definitely shoot the both of you," Jen said.
A word on Jens (plural): Between the years 1970-1985, roughly three out of every five girl babies born was named Jennifer, creating a Jen-eration of morally deficient, sexually adventurous party girls out for a good time at any cost. The parents couldn't have known it, but the simple widespread application of the name guaranteed the success of the Girls Gone Wild franchise. No one knows what makes a Jen a Jen or why they are who they are, but every social group containing people of that 70-85 demo has at least a couple of them.
The principle Jens of my own sphere were Jen D. and Jen B., whose true names I will not disclose in the interest of discretion and — fine, you wrested it out of me. Dieffendahl and Beard. Both disarmingly attractive and reptilian in blood temperature and ethical stance, they each in their way perfectly embody Jen-ness and I am richer in spirit, if poorer financially, for having known and associated with them.
Anyway, there the three of us were, Shane poking at me with his torture device, Jen doing her nails and having a mysterious phone conversation with person or persons unknown, and me trying to find something interesting on the police scanner. It was a slow crime day, as the weather had driven both the virtuous and the wicked indoors, and what communications I was able to intercept were banal notifications, like, "3l Adam going 10-13, 1445, over," and such.
However, I had recently discovered the capability of the scanner to pick up cordless phone conversations in the neighborhood. I hadn't heard much of interest in the way of salacious or incriminating talk, the meat and potatoes of the eavesdropper, but it was fascinating to hear what passed for conversation among the general populace. My own phone calls tended to be terse, to the point, and strictly drug-related. Who's got the dope? I've got some dope. How much is the dope? This is how much the dope is. Where are you? and so forth. Short and practical communications with the sole purpose of keeping my crucial crank levels up there in the hot zone.
You average Joes and Joannes, though, at least those around the East Oak region of Fort Bragg with cordless land-lines, were tedious in the extreme in their telephonic exchanges, which was, ironically, compelling.
I homed in on a frequency on which I'd gotten a good signal before and heard the following exchange.
(voice of sad cartoon turtle) Hello?
(voice of pedantic, condescending psychiatric nurse) Hello, Donald? This is Rhonda.
Donald: Yes, I knew it was you from the caller ID.
Rhonda: Yes, I know, but it's force of habit to identify myself. What are you doing?
Donald: I was having a Hot Pocket.
Rhonda: Really? What kind?
Donald: Well, you know I usually get the ham and cheese…
Donald: …but this morning there was a coupon in the paper for 25¢ off the turkey and broccoli, plus there was an additional 5¢ club-card discount at the store, so I got the turkey-broccoli.
Rhonda: How is it? Is it as good as the ham and cheese?
Donald: Well, I wouldn't say as good, but it's pretty tasty. It's different from the ham and cheese.
Rhonda: Different how?
Donald: Well, there's turkey instead of ham, and there's broccoli. Did you see Dancing With The Stars?
Rhonda: Yes, I did. Can you believe they gave blah-blah a 27 and yadda-yadda only got 23?
Donald: I know, I think I would have given yadda-yadda a 28 and blah-blah somewhere around 25.
Rhonda: That seems more appropriate. You should be a judge on Dancing With the Stars!
Donald: Ha! Ha! That would really be something, wouldn't it?
And more in that general vein. Every DWTS score was discussed, as well as the costumery of the participants. Rhonda went into some detail about her latest attack of the mulligrubs, which caused her to list to starboard in bright sunlight. Donald told her about a snail he found in his bathtub and they speculated at some length on how it might've gotten in there (probably an open bathroom window). On and on they went, each subject more deathly dull than the last, until I could stand it no further.
"Are you hearing this?" I asked the room at large. "What the hell is wrong with these people?"
"What?" said the room, in unison.
"This— this conversation these people are having. They're talking about snails and Hot Pockets, for tripe's sake."
"So what?" said Jen.
"So I think it's my duty to find out who this guy is and cause something interesting to happen to him, give him something to talk about."
"What, are you thinking like home invasion?" Shane said.
"Maybe something a little less life-in-prisony," I said. "Snake in the mailbox? Flaming shit trick? Soap the car windows? Like that."
"You don't even know where he lives," Jen pointed out.
"I'm sure I can triangulate the signal," I said, naming a process about which I knew nothing except that it was a way of tracking down signals. Given that the sum total of our equipment was a scanner, a stun-gun, and three spun-out meth enthusiasts, I didn't like my chances, though. Donald was probably safe from me and my mission to spice up his boring life. Poor guy, I thought. Here he is, living this drab, mundane existence, utterly unaware of the possibilities open to him. Just look at what I've done in the past week alone, I thought. Let's see, I… I committed several daring daylight thefts. I was chased by the cops twice. I drove from here to Ukiah and back under the influence of several intoxicants, in an uninsured, unregistered vehicle with a loaded gun and felony quantities of dope aboard. I had unprotected sex with three different women of questionable health and hygiene. I shot, smoked, drank and snorted enough toxic chemicals to fell a brontosaurus. I experienced dizzying highs and abysmal lows, sometimes both in the same hour. And none of it was really worthy of mention! Business as usual! Another day at the office.
No wonder Donald and Rhonda's lives seemed so stultifying to me. My excitement threshold was set way too high. There is, I thought, something grievously wrong with your standards of stimulation if you seriously consider allowing a juvenile delinquent to electrocute you an acceptable way of passing a lazy Sunday afternoon. And to be so presumptuous to assume that you could improve the lives of strangers by imposing your notion of what constitutes "interesting" onto them. They're the ones who have it right, with their careful regulating of stimulus to maximize the possibility of excitement. Capacity for stimulation is always relative to one's baseline operational levels, so when you're running at concert pitch 24/7, it stands to reason that you'd require megajoules of energy to kick your jaded heart into high gear. You've got to leave yourself room to be thrilled and intrigued. Imagine being able to get a boner over discounted meat pastries! That's the way to go. This harum-scarum thrill ride you're on will only lead to you becoming so numb that nothing short of a supernova will penetrate your thick skin.
No more, I vowed. It's time to start taking pleasure in small things. "Guys, I think we could learn a lot from Donald and Rhonda," I said to the room at large.
"Who?" said the room, in unison.
"The Hot Pocket guy and his weirdo girlfriend. They take pure joy from simple pleasures and don't feel the need to defy death or take insane risks to keep themselves interested. Life is enough for them without having to juice it up to critical levels all the time. Listening to them really makes me want to just relax and take stock, you know, try to get a sense of what's really important."
Just then Shane signaled Jen with a barely perceptible nod, and she pulled her shirt up to her clavicle in a classic Girls Gone Wild pose. I sat transfixed as Shane snuck around behind me and applied several dozen megavolts to my left kidney. As I lay there twitching and spasming, I thought, totally worth it. And only the second worst shock I had all week.