"Your scientists were so preoccupied with whether they could, they didn't stop to think if they should." -- Ian Malcom
I think about that quote a lot, now that so much amazing modern technology has trickled down from the hands of the elite to every corner of daily life. There are so many things that seem like great advancements, but are at their core just really expensive horse turds. Things we've over-innovated into uselessness. Things like ...
Ticket sales were lagging. Movie theaters had been fighting a losing battle against the likes of Netflix, YouTube, and PornHub for audience's attentions. They needed to do something. So larger chains started renovating their theaters to make their seats cushy and reclining, some added bars, and many expanded their menus so an entire date and a handjob can be condensed into one building. All of that is awesome. Except the handjob part. Don't do handjobs in public; it's illegal and gross.
Now the movie theater concession stand menu is more than popcorn, candy, and fountain drinks. It's four types of flatbread pizza, six different types of pretzels, eight flavors of popcorn that can be mixed and matched to create over 40,320 combinations. Maybe a cheeseburger that'll take 25 minutes to make and you'll miss the first act of the movie. Add on top of that the debate as to whether it's ethical to spend $87 for a large popcorn-and-soda combo. Within a handful of years, the concession stand experience became much more complicated than it used to be. If you want something more than a standard popcorn and soda, you actually have to read the extensive menu.
A lot of theaters now use high-def monitors to display their menus, kind of like how I have a T-800 Terminator carry my groceries into my home for me. I know it's not the best use of his time and power, but I sent him to myself from the future for a reason, and that must be it. Movie theaters seem to be aware they're wasting this technology, so they try to justify it by occasionally having the menu overtaken by a full-motion video of soda splashing and popcorn flying and chicken tenders flopping about while I'm trying to decide if I want nachos or an eight-pound glazed ham.
My meditation on the plethora of almost-satisfying quasi-meals is interrupted by theater owners proudly declaring that mankind built the pyramids and walked on the moon, and now making a movie theater menu move a little is the next logical step in human achievement. Thinking of it like that, I guess I should be in more awe of their achievement. I also used to get excited and make everyone come see the doody I made. High school was a magical time. You're right, movie theater owners. Maybe I'm not appreciating the wonder of the eight-second window between the menu's screensaver turning on and the employee behind the scenes scrambling to move the mouse. There's nothing quite like having to sit through footage of French fries and chicken tenders colliding in midair because years ago an idiot thought food is most appetizing when it's being thrown.
Drive-thrus are about convenience and simplicity. Add even one more step to the process of pulling up to a speaker and blowing out some poor high-schooler's ear with your screamed order of a #5 with large fries, and you've effectively turned elementary school arithmetic into quantum physics. Small improvements, like splitting one drive-thru into two and screens that let you see what the cashier is typing, have further simplified the process without adding extra hurdles. And then some fast food HQ funny guy thought it would be pants-shittingly hysterical if when someone rolled up and said "Hello," an aggressive voice immediately tried to sell them an apple pie, and after the person declined, an entirely separate disinterested voice would ask them for their order as if the first voice hadn't happened.
Don't lie to me, drive-thru teen. We both heard a woman in her late 40s recite that pie speech. You can't expect me to give you my order. Where did she go? I want to talk to the woman who is clearly someone's awesome aunt, and that ain't you. Pre-recorded messages at drive-thrus are a corporate version of the voicemail joke that makes you think your friend picked up, so you start talking and then PSYCH IT'S THE VOICEMAIL YOU IDIOT KILL URSELF LOL! I'm the paying customer, and I'm insulted that they think it's OK to barely make it through a proper greeting before they try to force-feed me a novelty burger with bacon and Twizzlers. Just give a solid, believable hello before you try to mouth-fuck me with Whoppers.
If I do want what they're offering, I know Drive-Thru Teen will input the order. But I wasn't actually speaking to him. I was ordering cheeseburgers from a disembodied voice treading in the tidal swell of time, doomed to repeat the same sales pitch for eternity or until someone actually buys the thing they're pitching. No one ever never will.
There was a point in the run-up to the 2016 presidential election when I was so saturated with the vile cynicism of it all that I had to turn away from it for a few days to cleanse my brain. I didn't feel like I needed to run to something that was happy and comforting; I just needed a quick bath in neutrality. I didn't do anything special. I just lived my life without the constant IV drip of cynicism. It was a much-needed reminder that I can unplug from the horrors of the world. It was great 43 minutes. And then a fucking gas station pump dragged me back into it.
Once I started pumping, a TV lodged in the chest of the pump flared to life with a news report about the election. I don't remember what it was about, but I do remember the blinding flash of white-hot rage I felt which nearly turned the station and everyone in it into a fireball at a theme park stunt show spectacular.
I'd heard of TVs in gas station pumps and had seen them on TV (ironically), but never in person. Living in a major city, I figured I would've encountered one of those much earlier. Eventually, the mild anticipation of seeing one faded out of memory. Then it was sprung in my face as a poorly timed surprise in the middle of my normally sacred ritual of staring into other people's cars as my tank filled, making up stories of what their lives are like. Just as I hit my peak of superiority at the sight of Mountain Dew bottles and empty cigarette packs littering the floors of a vehicle that was more hearse than Honda, the pump grew a face and started screaming at me about Donald Trump.
I've encountered them a bunch since. I have yet to figure out who they're for and why they're a thing. I have my phone, a window to a universe of fun and knowledge, in my pocket, but they think one minute of an ESPN analyst telling me Cam Newton needs to show more hustle followed by a Word Scramble (the answer is "The Eiffel Tower") can compete with limitless GIFs, recipes, and pornography.
I tend to brag a lot in my columns. I hate to do it again, but here goes: I've pooped in a large number of public restrooms, an unusually high amount of them in grocery stores. It must be some instinctual urge whereby seeing all that food prompts my body to "make room for more." I'm not sure. As you'd imagine, I am no stranger to the paper toilet seat liners some public restrooms provide so you don't have to mash your cheeks against the butt remnants of 10,000 strangers. They're like condoms for your whole ass. I've never looked into the data on how sanitary those things actually are, and likely never will. I'm really just crossing my fingers and hoping it'll protect me from the work of a piss artist painting up a masterpiece on his toilet seat canvas.
Editor's Note: Sorry, Luis, but Soren Bowie looked it up back in 2011. You're fucked.
After the liner's center has been cut out from its small perforations, it ends up floating lifeless and sad on the surface of the toilet water. It's just there telling you to shit on it, because it's worthless and it deserves it. Its humiliation creates an anchor point for the entire liner and an ominous foreshadowing of a tragedy to come. There's a reason I'm harping on this, and it has to do with automatic flushing sensors ...
Some toilet flushing sensors are a little sensitive. A slight veer to the left or right will make the sensor think you've poofed out of existence, so the toilet will flush itself to hide all evidence that you were there. In its sudden insistence to play co-conspirator, the flush drags the paper liner down with it. If that's never happened to you, I'll have you know it feels like you're an elegant dining table place setting and a magician is trying to rip a tablecloth out from beneath your ass.
The more problematic scenario I've encountered is when a motion sensor is so sensitive that it'll flush when I turn around to sit on the seat after delicately arranging the paper liner to ensure every millimeter of ass is protected. (Editor's Note: It's not.) The liner will rip from beneath me as I start to sit. My majestic legs, which some say are each as powerful as several large men, can't even save me once they've gone full horizontal and my thighs transform into a lap. Mumbling "Aw, fuck" is cathartic, but does little to prevent my butt cheeks from making direct contact with the memories of 10,000 asses as they press against mine. I will grin and bear it, for the ends justify the means, but my poop will become a morose one filled with shame. Not of having pressed myself against an ass menagerie, but because I was psyched out by a toilet. Fuck it. I'm worthless. I am the anchor point floating in the bowl waiting to get shit on. I deserve this.
The closest thing I've ever experienced to being relentlessly followed by a slasher movie villain is whenever an auto-playing video on a website dislodges itself from the top of the page and follows me down as I scroll. No matter how far or fast I run, every time I look back, it's always a step behind me. I've tried juking it like a Heisman-winning running back -- a couple scrolls down, then three up, and then five down. Nothing. It's still there. It's always still there.
I sympathize with sites that do this, but despise them for doing it. Ad blockers have robbed all of your favorite sites of hard-earned advertising money, so now they're cutting back to adapt. A lot of the internet only gives the illusion of being free. Blocking ads means less revenue for every website you visit, including the ones you actually enjoy and hope don't one day disappear into the void of a 404 error. Ad blockers are a weapon to fight the intrusive ads, but a lot of us end up using them like nuclear bombs when all we need is a flyswatter. It turns ads into an arms race -- you use an ad blocker, they tell you that you can't access the site with the blocker on. Turn off your ad blocker and a video chases you to the ends of the Earth until your story becomes a cautionary tale that teaches kids in the distant future a lesson in how nothing's free except healthcare and jetpacks. (It's the future; they've figured some shit out.)
As soon as I see a video appear at the top of a page, I immediately mute the tab. The video continues its relentless follow into oblivion without a peep. As I see the video in my periphery when I'm reading the text, I can't help but feel sorry for it as it keeps up with every flick of the scroll wheel. Then the same weird little bit of me that thinks I've hurt a shirt's feelings when I choose to wear a different shirt kicks in. Maybe the relentlessly following video isn't a supernatural murderer. Maybe it's a hungry, scraggly street dog peering in through the window on a snowy day as I drink hot cocoa by a fire. Come on in, sad little video. I'll watch you, even though I kind of hope you malfunction and set your entire website on fire.
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