I Can See Better Through the Fog is a storytelling podcast series in the vein of This American Life and the Moth. It tells the ongoing story of an echo boomer’s quarter life crises, featuring life, art, love, and San Francisco. Press the play button below to hear an audio recording of this latest entry. If it doesn’t work, you may need the latest version of flash software. (click here to download). Another troubleshooting tip would be to go directly to the soundcloud website. Sit back and let your ears do the work. The text version of this entry is provided beneath the list of selected tracks.
Runtime: 12 minutes and 48 seconds.
A board of departure times held my focus captive. The board hung high above four platforms, each shadowed by bullet trains. My eyes darted back and forth as I frantically studied the board. The numbers and words I tracked were decipherable, yet their meaning left no imprint. This left me no choice, but to simply pick one of the four trains. I stood facing the four platforms that ran away from the board. I could not bring myself to choose. I was caught up on the fear of picking incorrectly, brushing aside the bigger tragedy of being left behind all together.
Out of the corner of my eye a man went running past. My eye instinctively drew toward him and his rush to the third platform. The moment he stepped inside, the door to the train slid closed. The train then inched forward slowly, then faster, and faster. Soon it traveled out of view. I looked back up at the board. Platform 3. Departed. I noticed another change in the board. Platform 1. Departing. The train on the far right began to leave the station. Soon it too was out of sight. Now only two trains remained. My hand was forced. I speed walked to the second platform. Before I could reach the train, its doors slid shut. I quickly reversed course and accelerated my walk to a sprint toward Platform 4. My pursuit was in vein. It too left me behind. All hope had departed with that last train.
I woke up to drool hanging from the right corner of my lips. Rogue drops stained my white tshirt. A foot below, laying comfortably atop my chest, was my laptop. It stared back at me like a begging dog that has already eaten its fair share. A web browser was open to Facebook. I stared at it intently. It was my turn to act like the begging dog. I checked for any messages or notifications. None. My heart sank. I craved responses from anyone.
Discovering notifications gives me the same ecstasy I had as a kid when the phone rang. I remember I’d rush to the phone whenever it would ring, determined to be the first to grab it. I’d answer “Hello?” wondering who could be calling, and what they’d be calling about. Would it be my grandmother? My best friend? A neighbor? A cousin? The element of surprise is what made the experience so euphoric, so magical, so special. If the caller was someone I knew well, I’d talk to them about what was most exciting in my life: a book I’d read, a video game I’d been obsessed with, a movie I’d seen, or the sports I’d been playing and watching. Then I’d listen to what was exciting in their lives. One topic would unexpectedly lead to another. One simple detail, word, or phrase could spark an exciting new direction in our conversation. My own experiences when rehashed became refreshing. Family and friends’ stories over time became mythologized. At phone call’s end I’d hang up or hand the phone to my mother or father. After it was over I didn’t much think about the next who, what, or when. I got on with my life, accumulating information and excitement for the next unexpected, magical conversation.
Clicking the refresh button brought nothing refreshing to my Facebook homepage. I drew my attention elsewhere. First I unmuted my computer, preparing to listen to the new Shins album. My action released the classical score to “The Lives of Others”, which played from the film’s DVD menu. I’d finished the film just before dozing off. The menu was concealed beneath windows upon windows of my macbook’s applications. Oddly the windows acted closer to solid walls than literal windows. I then placed four fingers on my track pad, evenly spreading all the windows so I could see the different avenues I was using to numb my boredom. Facebook, DVD Player, Itunes, Gmail, Netflix, WordPress, Hypemachine, Lyrics.com, and OKCupid.
Before traveling to a website that would give me a free first listen to The Shins’ Port of Morrow, I decided to check my blog stats and edit a piece of my latest entry. My patience quickly wore thin. The lethal mix of my ambition and perfectionism crippled my will to write, as it had for weeks. Three minutes passed until I had an urge to check for messages and cruise for a bit on my choice dating site, OkCupid. The last guy I went on a date with had been my sixteenth. I’m a good counter. It ended with him wanting friendship and me wanting more. No messages were present in my OkCupid inbox. I felt discouraged to reach out to anyone else knowing something felt amiss after number sixteen. I then tried reading. My focus couldn’t handle it. It seemed nothing could ease my mental tension. Finally I acquiesced to the Shins.
With the Shins now providing a background melody, I dragged my cursor over the DVD player window and enlarged the menu screen from “The Lives of Others”. I wanted to see if there was anything interesting left on the DVD before I sent it back. The menu featured a frame from the film. The main character, Hauptmann Gerd Wiesler, wore earphones over his head. He led a rather depressing and lonely life as a Stasi officer in the German Democratic Republic. He was completely devoted to his job spying on citizens suspected for organizing and voicing opinions against the state. In his personal life, he hired call women. Sadly he found no true love and affection. The more time he spent spying on a playwright and his actress wife, the more he began to recognize true romantic connection.
Track two, titled Simple Song, from the album Port of Morrow played as I stared at Hauptmann with his earphones. This made me remember that I first discovered the Shins in the film “Garden State”. If only Hauptmann had a Natalie Portman to put some of her favorite music through his earphones, and replace that wiretap documenting the lives of others. Then maybe he’d be charmed and invest more in his own relationships. Which makes me think: What would happen if I let a Natalie Portman into my life (a male version of her of course)? What if I let someone in who came along at an unexpected moment, whether he started talking to me or me to him? This certainly would be easier if I didn’t shy away from extended conversations with strangers.
I pulled up the lyrics to Simple Song. “I know that things can really get rough, when you go it alone. Don’t go thinking you gotta be tough and play like a stone.” I decided I needed a break from Facebook for a while, and logged out, not to return until a month later. “My life in an upturned boat. Marooned on a cliff. You brought me a great big flood, and you gave me a lift.” I deleted my OkCupid profile. Sixteen dates was enough. As a beginner to dating men, it was a useful crutch starting out. Now it was clear that discovering any lasting romance was best left to real life. “Love’s such a delicate thing that we do, with nothing to prove, which I never knew.” I shut my laptop, determined to live life on one track, welcoming the unknown and unexpected, as I had once done as a kid.