Big giant head

In Other News

As you no doubt know if you're reading Beth's journal, tomorrow's the Big Day. We'll know by nightfall if she's pregnant or not. We're keeping our fingers crossed.

Beth's stressing about this hard, and who can blame her? I'm stressing too, but not nearly as hard as she is. But then, I'm not the one who has to keep getting jabbed in the ass. I get to look at pictures of pretty naked women and play with myself -- with her blessing! Clearly, I have the better side of this.

So, since Beth is stressing, I'm giving her a day to herself tomorrow. Zoe and I will leave her alone as we go off for a day of father/daughter adventure. We'll be taking in a viewing of Tarzan, and maybe we'll go to the park, and I think you'd double your money if you bet there will be ice cream in the forecast.

And maybe, at the end of the day, we'll get to have a conversation about a little brother or sister. I'd love to see someone win on that.


Friday -- July 2, 1999
Back From The Booth

Ever hear of the Heisenberg Principle? In a nutshell, it states that the very act of observing something causes the observed object to change. We went to The Booth to observe the coolness of a group of strangers brought together by a common cause. I give you The Mojave Phone Booth, observed.

I'm sitting here trying to come to grips with my latest trek to the booth in the desert, trying to conjure the right words to encapsulate the experience without offending everyone involved. I'm drawing a blank. What keeps going through my mind is a snippet from the conversation Steve and I had as we tried to figure out what it was about this Booth trek that went wrong. I don't remember who said it first, but we both repeated it throughout our conversation after it was first broached:

"We went with no expectations ... and it wasn't what we expected."

Steve may have hit the nail on the head when he observed that our fellow participants hadn't lived the bigger, deeper lives necessary to appreciate the unique nature of sitting out in the middle of nowhere. Not that there's anything wrong with that. It's simply a state of being that comes from having lived ... longer than these people had. Steve and I were the oldest old farts there and we found ourselves butting up against a generation gap. But it wasn't a life experience issue so much as it was the mindset our fellow participants brought with them. But life experience does tend to affect one's mindset.

Steve and I went with a sense of wonderment, to have some hail-fellow-well-met type fun. For us it was all about driving into nowhere for no good reason, spending time together and getting to know each other better, meeting fellow netizens who shared our sense of childish glee at the coolness of a phone booth in the middle of nowhere, sharing moments with people from the Internet. It would be about taking calls from strangers around the world who thought, as we had, that it would be cool to call the desert. It would be a Digital Age experience in analog. I think those expectations had a certain depth to them. The totality of the experience would be more than the sum of its parts.

Our fellow Booth-goers had different agendas. I won't presume to delve into their minds to divine what they were thinking and feeling, but whatever wonderment they felt -- if any -- appeared to be markedly different from ours. For many of them it seemed this was just a wacky prank, something to fit in between concerts and parties. It wasn't about meeting new people and experiencing worldwide Internet connectedness, it was about "Dude, let's go drink beer in the desert!" It was greasy kid stuff.

As usual, Steve said it best: "Maybe what we mistook for resonance was merely the common quest for a youthful pseudo-artistic self-important clusterfuck in the desert."

But again: not that there's anything wrong with that. Our party wasn't their party, just as theirs wasn't ours. We had different agendas, different expectations, and that's fine. But I felt excluded at an event I was instrumental in creating.

True, Godfrey found The Booth first, and he surely did introduce it to the world and build its popularity, but it was our quest to Hang It Up that sparked this latest adventure. Andria's inspiration to come was a direct offshoot of our quest, so much so that it smacked of coattail riding. With that in mind, it might have been nice to have been made to feel welcome and included. Hell, it would have been nice to have our very presence acknowledged.

But oh well. We went, we saw, we had a time. And we met the people with whom we thought we shared a common bond.

There was Godfrey & Co., who struck me as being a group of kids trying to be the second coming of Ken Kesey and his Merry Pranksters. Art is good, subversion is good, wackiness is good ... but art, subversion and wackiness that comes across as calculated but still rebottled pop culture backwash? Not so good.

Godfrey was a great disappointment for me. I was really looking forward to meeting him, but once I did I was done. He's the one that started this whole thing, yet he seemed to scorn people who thought The Booth was cool and wanted to reach out and touch it. He and his crowd were okay, but the rest of us were hangers-on. He had nothing but contempt for the media in attendance, taking great pride in giving them "smart-ass answers," wishing repeatedly that they'd just leave, and generally being really unpleasant to them. Yet his website has an entire page devoted to Booth media mentions. Hmm... Topping it off was his little bandana trick, where he hid his face anytime a camera or reporter came near. Clearly calculated to cultivate a subversive persona -- Ooh, look! A Man of Mystery! -- it was silly the first time and just stupid by the end.

Andria was, I guess, Andria. I don't know her and didn't get to know her. She was too busy tying up the phone, talking to friends and family. Reading her Mojave page, I'd thought she was a kindred spirit who shared my anticipation of talking to distant strangers who'd learned of The Booth via Internet. Analog meets digital and all that. Uh, no. Andria was like a teenage girl with a phone in her room. She took calls from friends and family, long-lost relatives and around-the-corner pals. And she talked...and talked...and talked. I eavesdropped on one conversation in which she described to an old friend how beautiful her wedding had been and went on at length about how much she feels life has in store for her. It was Old Home Week in the desert. So if you tried to get through and gave up because it kept being busy, that was Andria -- who was probably making plans with her neighbor for lunch next Thursday. I wondered why she'd come all this way when she would have been so much more comfortable -- and could have had the exact same conversations -- in her own living room.

I don't know how the whole event turned out. I left. Steve and I hung out for awhile, hoping the mood would morph into what we'd been hoping for, but there was just too much greasy kid stuff going on for that to happen. We've been to enough bonfired beach parties and keggers to know we don't need that vibe anymore. We've moved past it, and so we put it behind us and hit the road. My friend Tim, who'd been planning to spend the night, followed us out about 45 minutes later and caught up to us at the Barstow Denny's. I think there's some significance to the fact that the three of us are adults, married, and fathers.

Feh. Piss and moan, bitch and complain. What can I say? I guess I'm an old fart. I wanted it to be more than it was. I don't think it's an age thing, though, so much as an attitude thing. I'm sure there are "young persons" out there who would appreciate the weird beauty of what we'd tried to do. Unfortunately, they stayed home that day.

There were some bright spots, though. I managed to shoehorn my way past Andria and took a few calls myself. The very first call I answered was from Beth. Go figure. I also got to talk to Mike of iRREGULAR jOE, Mike of Man About Murfreesboro, and Dave of Sunshine, Mud & Rainbows. I read them all, so it was cool to hear their voices. I missed calls from Viv of First Person Particular and The Sole Proprietor, but I was glad they'd called because they're on my reading list, too. Wired called to play Boston's More Than A Feeling for us. I spoke to someone on a carphone outside Boston. I got a few small tastes of what this trek could have been, should have been.

And, of course, I got to hang out with Steve again. I really like the guy, despite his troubling fixation on my purty mouth. We're never at a loss for conversation, even if it does occasionally dip into doom and gloom, but we're equally at peace in quiet contemplation. Or maybe he was just bored, I dunno. We've made vague plans to do another expedition into the desert for a several-day trek over the Mojave Road. It's Steve's idea and I don't remember all the details, but it sounds cool. I'm looking forward to it.

What of The Booth? Well, The Booth has changed for me. Heisenberg, dontcha know. I went, I observed...and the magic has been smeared. I'm reminded of the first time I called it, when it was busy and I tried to convince myself someone was really using it. It could have remained a magical thing if I hadn't called back and confirmed it was out of order. Now I've driven there twice, and now it's a gathering ground for "Dude, let's party!" and wanna-be Merry Pranksters. The magic is gone.

In closing, there is a fitting Ouroboros twist to this tale (pun definitely intended): The Booth is busy again. It's not out of order this time, though; the Operator tells me the receiver is off the hook. Godfrey & Co.'s work, I suspect, a final lame attempt at Merry Prankster-ness. It only proves the point I've gone to great length to make tonight.

I don't think I'll be driving out there again, even though it really is off the hook this time. I'll leave that to some future surfer who stumbles across my MPB site and decides to trek into the desert in search of The Booth's ephemeral magic.

To paraphrase the immortal words of the Lone Ranger: "My work there is done."


backward indexward onward

Copyright © 1999
Chuck Atkins