lessons

Radio Radio

Serial Killer III: Radio Radio

Technologically, the mid-’90s was an exciting time to be young. By ’96, I had watched as the computers on our desks had gone from the single-unit Mac Plus, to alternately shrinking and expanding variations on the desktop tower. Monitors went from black and white to grayscale to 256-color to lifelike color. Games, at first simple distractions of shades and vectors, became immersive, story-driven works of art.

Our first 14.4 modem’s screeching, clicking and hissing echoed venomously through my parents’ newly built studios, but we harnessed the beast and rode it confidently into the Internet. As baud rates increased, exploration of the unknown went farther and deeper. Soon, my uncle’s stories about sending messages back to the States from Europe in the ’80s at (a bone-crushing!) eight baud drew laughs. When my friend Scott’s house was wired for DSL, I spent my first afternoon truly just screwing around on the Web. What happens if we type this? Where will this seemingly made-up url take us? And that continued at home, only for shorter bursts. But I found nothing that I, even at thirteen, hadn’t already anticipated. Human nature plus complete freedom and unlimited space yield pretty obvious results.

The big discovery for me in this era was the illusion of privacy–through a lower-tech medium than I’d expected. One warm spring day, I was helping my mother clean out her office and installing a newer, more reliable cordless phone. Cell phones weren’t universal yet, but having a cordless was standard. The new set installed, I began putting away the old one, when the handset fell off the cradle. I bent to pick it up and heard a sound coming from the earpiece. The years have tarnished the total recall of what I heard, but this is what I remember of it after gingerly picking up the plastic handset and listening to the conversation bubble through the light static:

… comin’ to me.

So what you do?

I hit that nigga with the pipe. Knocked the mothafucka out.

Well, that’s how it goes… So what you doing Friday?

Sometimes, all it takes to uncover a massive crime is luck and a little bit of battery power. Those old cordless phones could, with their telescoping antennae and the right environmental conditions, pick up other conversations on similar frequencies. While the phone still had a little juice left, I turned it on and went up to my room for higher ground and a better signal. I spent the next hour sitting at my desk and listening to hissing, popping and the occasional garbled transmission until even the background static faded out as the battery died.

Weeks later, I bought myself a scanner radio with a much wider range of frequencies. Tuning in late at night, I would reach into the invisible lost-and-found bin of the electromagnetic spectrum and eavesdrop on the lives of others. Police tracked a burglar across the city, a pair of medics tried in vain to save a woman who’d been hit by a car, and construction workers told jokes over their walkie talkies. And I listened.

In the years that followed, I used the lessons of the radio to safeguard my own privacy. I would only put out into the digital world those things that were approved for public consumption. But it went further than that. I also began boxing thoughts, ideas, and even parts of my personality within myself. The concept of the memory castle might be an apt description of how I began storing these things. Room by room, hallway by hallway, ideas had their place. Some I’d stored in common rooms, available at any time for use in conversation and writing. Others I merely hid in rooms, freely available to those who took the time to look. And still others I put behind doors, accessible only though an increasing number of locks and keys. But even that isn’t secure. Substances, discomfort, and lack of sleep can unlock doors more efficiently than the craftiest of questions. How do you keep the worst of your demons on lockdown when faced with that kind of security liability? The answer, it turns out, is obvious, given the source of the question: fragment and encrypt the information and store it in the clouds, far, far away from the castle.

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Advice to the Broken

Day Fifteen: You’re told that an event that’s dear to your heart — an annual fair, festival, or conference — will be cancelled forever (or taken over by an evil organization).

So you’re going to break up, huh? I suppose it was inevitable. Things change. People change. Be cool, and take some advice. It’ll help.

The first thing to remember is that you’re going to be alone. You’re not going to have that person who doesn’t just tolerate, but gets your humor. Cold nights are going to be colder, and on rainy days, you might find yourself setting up a board game and then realizing, when half the pieces are out of the box, that you’re going to be playing alone. It’s a valuable lesson, because somewhere, somehow, you started making assumptions. Did he or she really want to play that stupid game? Find out what it’s like to play against you. Finish setting it up, and play that game, anyway.

Obviously, the sex is gone. But you’re ready for that, or so you tell yourself. Don’t get hooked on porn or stuck in your head. If you have a fantasy, and you have the skill, write it down. Because it’s yours, it’ll be better than any one you can find. Hell, if you need some sense of validation, post it anonymously to a website somewhere, and maybe you’ll finally get people to read your writing. Or just start a blog and write about the fantasy of the fantasy, because it’s the next best thing. Yeah. Do that. If no one reads your sex fantasies, you’re pretty much a failure. Why take the risk?

Going to the movies by yourself is going to be weird, but hopefully you still have someone to go with you because you weren’t one of those guys who forsakes his friends when he’s in a relationship. Oh, who’m I kidding? Take the time to patch up your friendships. Also, feel free to drink a little too much a little too often for a few weeks afterward. I’m not going to tell you that people won’t judge you for it, but screw ’em. And screw ’em literally, too, if you can do it without weeping openly. As long as you’re not looking for validation in it, a little casual sex can keep you psychologically healthy.

Also, you’re getting older, so it’s going to be more difficult to find someone your age who’s single, but not single-for-obvious-reasons. On the bright side, when you do, they’re likely to be in a similar situation as you. They’ll have been knocked around a bit, and maybe a little hardened because of it, but even though there’ll be more layers to peel back, you’ll have much more to talk about. In the end, you’ll almost certainly come away with a better knowledge of who this other person is. When you were younger, your relationships began a lot like this: “You like this one thing? Me too! Let’s be together and do that all the time!” Now that you’re older, they might go more like this: “Look, I work a lot, and won’t be home much, but when I am, I like playing backgammon, having ritualistic Weird Sex once every full moon, and drinking the blood from live chickens. But I’m also sensitive, and I write and perform free-verse poetry to my cats.” And if you’re into that, or not, you can run with it, or not.

Just remember that you’re newly sad and alone, not doomed.