You meet some strange people at the airport. Especially Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport in Atlanta, because it is currently the world’s busiest airport, which means, statistically, it has the largest number of freaks, fruit loops and crazies passing through it. People are at their worst at airports. Belligerent, confused, fatigued, jet-lagged, loud and dumb. Last year a guy took off all his clothes and was running around one of the concourses screaming about equal rights or animal poaching or Obamacare until security zapped him with a stun gun. I was in one of the Medallion Clubs awhile back and there was a ruckus when a man was caught playing with himself in an open stall in the men’s bathroom. When the agents confronted him his mitigating excuse was, “It’s okay, I’m a diamond member.”
“A diamond member with a peanut member,” assailed the Delta agent, before throwing him out.
This time around I was flying to Vermont for an end-of-summer party. I was stuck on Concourse C, standing in line for a really expensive hamburger, because there are no other kinds of hamburger at the airport. There was a man behind me. He was wearing a button on his lapel. It looked like this…
Notice the bottom. There are three “settings.” Min, Med, and Epic. I asked the man if the button was somehow wired into him, like a polygraph machine? A button that could automatically monitor certain physiological responses could come in handy, estimating heart rate, perspiration, muscle tension and skin conductivity, plugging the results into a big equation, and coming up with an accurate reading of enjoyment. Think of all the lame parties that could be avoided. No more standing around in dull crowds. “Look,” you could tell the party host, “I’m enjoying myself at your little shindig, but my pin says this party sucks and the pin doesn’t lie. It can’t lie. It has no reason to lie. So I’m going to leave and I’m taking this beer I found in the fridge with me as well.” The host might protest, but he will notice the natural increase of the fun meter’s dial as you remove the six-pack from the refrigerator, which should silence any further argument.
It could work in the opposite way, too. A fellow could be at some suck-ass work conference listening to consultants drone on about paradigms and templates. He is about to cut out when he notices his fun meter is on “epic.” He decides to stick around and ends up winning the corporate raffle. Front row tickets and backstage passes to a Taylor Swift concert. During the show Ms. Swift catches sight of him, falls madly in love, marries him and buys him his own island with a bamboo palace of native concubines to see to his needs while she is away on tour. “Thank you, fun meter.”
It could also be used to determine the mood of others in public places. If you are at a funeral and notice some fellow’s fun meter on “epic” as he approaches the casket, probably best to keep an eye on him, maybe check his browsing history. If you are at a carnival or state fair and some guy with shifty eyes is puttering around with his fun meter on “min” then it may be a good idea to call the cops before he pulls out his rifle and starts to open fire, or as he would later put it, “Set my fun meter to epic! Yee-haw.”
All this is not an entirely new concept. Technology is everywhere these days. There are bracelets and watches and phones that can dictate every aspect of life if a person lets it. When to sleep, when to eat, when to exercise, when to hold em, when to fold em, when to walk away, and when to run. “Back in my day we had to let Kenny Rogers tell us when to do stuff. Bahh!” In my crotchety years I could see myself scolding the new generation of computerized reliance on basic common sense choices.
“You adjust the dial yourself,” the man in line behind me said, moving the arrow manually and destroying my hopes for it. “Would you like one? I have an extra.”
He pulled another fun meter out of his pocket. I grabbed it from him and pinned it to my shirt, thinking it could still be a worthwhile little gimmick. I got my hamburger and settled down at the food court just as a cheerless old man plopped himself right next to me. My fun meter was on the lowest setting but I quickly set it to “med,” his displeasure being somewhat directly proportional to my potential fun.
“What the fuck is that?” he sneered.
“A fun meter.”
He made a farting sound with his lips. “Fun will kill you faster than a pack of rabid dogs. People are destroying themselves on fun. Let me ask you something. When people are having fun, what are they NOT doing? Paying attention is what. My neighbor’s kid crashed his car into a tree last week because he was busy taking a picture of himself driving his new car. What do they call it? A “selfie.” Years ago a “selfie” was jerking off to any number of mail order catalogues. Not much difference when you think about it, but a lot safer. And then there was that dope that fell out of the stands at the Braves game last week. A lot of good all that fun did him.”
“You’re saying that fun is an evolutionary liability?”
“Nothing safer than misery,” he continued. “Misery and boredom. Quiet, unobtrusive, empty time. No blind spots. Just a clear unfettered view of lingering death. I’ve seen it for more than eighty years. It’s been a teacher, a companion, a protector. Misery is the river of the world, my friend. Everybody row. The minute you start having fun is the minute you put your head on the chopping block. There is a whole universe of danger just waiting to stick it to you the minute you start believing you have any right to any amusement whatsoever. I’ve got a plane to catch.” With that he grabbed my hamburger from my hand and walked off, eating it. I sat there in contemplation, chewing what was left in my mouth. A young couple approached me and eagerly tapped me on the shoulder.
“How do you know him?”
“That guy you were just talking to. Do you know who that was?”
“That was Caroll Spinney, the guy who played Big Bird on Sesame Street.”
“He must’ve been so cool.”
“Yes, in a way, he was.”
Far be it for me to ruin anybody’s fun. If I had been walking around in yellow feathers for fifty years, who knows what I would’ve thought about life and the exercise of it. I wanted to go watch the planes take off. Something about a plane taking off that suggests the wildest of possibilities. I put my fun meter on “epic” and went to go get a beer.
Have fun and be safe this holiday weekend.
More Alembics to come.