The Other End of Sunset

Saturday, February 10, 2007

It's remarkably hard to give things away...

You are very… complex
-- RS

Hello again, my OtherEnders! Yes, it’s that time again… Thoughts from a bar.

What a great title that would make, eh?? Kind of like “Scenes from an Italian Restaurant”, only with fewer piano chords.

I'm sitting in a little coffee shop inside a casino in Las Vegas. I'm here for a friend’s birthday party. I'm sitting here feeling every bit of my old age. Well, actually, I'm sitting here feeling way MORE than my actual age.

There are always bad influences in the world

You see, it’s about 9am. I was the first one to bed last night, am the first one up this morning, and drank less than just about everyone else. I may even have drunk less than the waitress did! I am, indeed, the wrong demographic for such events, perhaps, as my friend said the other day.

But I love Vegas, and the folks on the trip are very cool, so I will act someone else’s age…

I still find casinos fascinating. I sit here, in this faux breakfast place, listening to music that is semi-disco, but not quite, and semi-pumping with a solid bass line, but not too much, at just the right level to make talking harder, but not impossible. I look out the (sliding) french doors to see waitresses scuttling by in micro-skirts and high heels, carrying trays of funny-looking drinks – and a few shots. There are dozens of people on the casino floor.

The lighting is bright, but indirect --- there are no shadows, but it’s likely just bright enough to cast them. But the light feels diffuse, soft, and a bit yellow – not a cold white, but a warm golden light.

The floor is tile. But tile made to look like those little tiny six-sided tiles that were laid – by hand – in your grandmother’s bathroom. You know, the ones that were cold, and slightly offset from one another? With discolored ones scattered about, and a few chipped corners. It’s not quite uniform. Those floors. This floor looks exactly like that floor… except that the irregularities are in a regular pattern across the floor and the little tiles are mounted on a larger square tile, which is then laid on the floor. Yes, indeed, the tile floor is fake.

The seats are some weird shiny fake wicker. It’s not wicker, and I suspect has little-to-no history with any living plant, but it looks like wicker.

From top to bottom, the entire place is engineered, created, grown. There is nothing accidental or authentic here.

Then what, dear readers, is the goal of this engineering? The lights are always the same level, the music always just as loud, the waitresses always dressed to impress. Why?

Because the casinos have figured out that you will spend more money in the evening. Thus, it is always early evening here. You will find no clocks, few normal ways to mark the passage of time. And the evening light is softer, less direct, and warmer than the midday light – or the lights in a normal night.

Every single aspect of this place is designed to separate you from your wallet, confuse your normal diurnal rhythms, and generally disrupt your normal decision making process.

Quite impressive – we all pay large amounts of money, to be the butt of an applied psychology experiment.

I wonder what would happen if someone broke into the computer systems that control all the lighting in order to, say, change the lighting intensity, or pattern, over time. I wonder if you could induce hunger, by making it “midday” inside the place – just make the lights brighter and turn off the fill lighting so you get brighter light with actual shadows – and thereby drive people to the buffets? This would, of course, not be great for the casino, since the profit margins are higher on the floor than in the food places, but still, it’d be fun to try.

Let alone how fun it could be to make it slightly darker, thereby driving people to go to bed. Like the idiot sitting behind me screaming on his cell phone.

But I digress.

Perhaps a casino could be convinced to do small experiments with their clientele – not just customer relationship management (really, get that gambler card, it’s good for them; don’t worry about selling your privacy, you already did – there are several cameras that can see you now anyway). But actual experiments – I mean, once you start doing psychological manipulation, you might as well go all the way and see what other behaviors you can drive.

Now there’s a thought for you. Network, anyone?

I’ve now been sitting here writing for about 20 minutes, and I’ve noticed an interesting pattern. The line comes and goes in waves. There are now about 3 people in line. About 5 minutes ago, there were 20. 5 minutes before that, a short line. Rinse, repeat. Given there are no exogenous clues for timing, what causes the waves of people? If I were smarter, I could make a few different mathematical arguments.

You can imagine an explanation that uses hypothetical waves of people. Specifically, what if there are underpinning waves of human motion around hotels where the high point of the wave represents more people. Those waves behave like waves in the sea. They rush down the channels – hallways in this case – and break against the shore – the gambling floors and bars. And just like on Belle’s Beach, where a number of waves break at the same point, from different directions, you get interesting behavior (like double overhead surf, breaking every 30 seconds, or crowded-then-empty coffee bars).

Or maybe some Brownian motion argument – you don’t need structured waves, you need random movement of particles through a space, colliding and bouncing off, trading energy for speed in some never ending cosmic game of bumper cars. But if you watch Brownian motion long enough, you will find strange attractors – things that seem to have more collisions that you would expect, given pure random motion. A lot of chaos theorists have made hay over the years trying to figure out how to explain strange attractors. Me? I can’t even read the math. But James Glick’s book was cool, and Mandelbrot set images make great screen savers.

And the line is long again.

So far, I'm about 1,000 words in, and haven’t told anything interesting so far. This post is well on its way to being one of those “boring” ones.

Have you ever noticed the way good couples are together? How he gently scratches her back as he squeezes around her while she sits down, carrying her coffee? How she pushes his hair off his forehead, while looking away? The secret hand squeezes when together in public? These little gestures bind us together, reveal our focus, our intentions, to each other. When we get married, we put a shiny band on a particular finger to outwardly show our intention. But it doesn’t always seem that such a public intention maps to our private ones. I'd like to believe that these little ones, the ones that our subconscious does, reveal our true thoughts.

I am generally like my brown dog – a touch-me-not. I have personal space issues, and will generally get anxious if you are too far inside my space, for too long. My skin is also way oversensitive to touch – both in a good way and a bad. This is perhaps not coincidence – I like being touched for a second, by someone I care about, but generally long periods of time are going to bother me. Jeanne was a high touch-needing woman. She got energy out of touching me.

I taught myself not just to put up with it, but even to like it. She taught me how to fall back asleep after a really bad dream – just roll over and put my head on her shoulder. It worked, almost every time.

I have somehow lost this skill these days – so I am having a hard time falling back asleep after a bad dream. So I am getting sleep deprived. I guess I should either relearn, or have fewer bad dreams, huh? SL is an intermittent high-touch person. Hard to relearn a skill with intermittent reinforcement. My, if only we knew a person who understood human learning and problem solving behaviors? Oh, wait, that is what I am supposed to know.

Rinse, repeat.

Put me on a highway
And Show me a sign
And take it
To the limit
One more time…
-- The Eagles

I was talking to this guy the other day, in this small room behind his house in Palo Alto. His poodle was lying at his feet, on a rust red-colored dog bed. My friend was absently patting his dog – whose name I have forgotten, I'm sorry to say. Not the friend’s, the dog’s, but thanks for playing.

My friend asked me if I felt safe. I looked confused. Safe? Like, as in, is your poodle about to go all Monty Python killer rabbit on me? Safe, as in, you parked your car in my driveway and some kids from next door are taking it to Tijuana looking for cheap Viagra? What does “safe” mean?

If it all fell to pieces tomorrow,
Would you still be mine?
--The Eagles, again

I'm blessed – I have enough money, and generally enough skill, that I can survive if my job falls apart. I guess I’ve shown that I can kind of survive when my love life falls apart. But if safe means that it can all fall apart and I'd be confident that I could keep getting it done, and find people who would help? Hmm, I'm not sure.

I guess if that happens I'll keep on living day by day – come back, it works – and rely on the kindness of strangers.

And yes, I know I was supposed to talk about greatness. The thoughts in my head are not even well formed enough to write down in this semi-structured excretion. Too much randomness, too much unnamed emotion. No clear point. Need something to organize my thoughts. I'll keep working on it. Maybe I will find something on which to hang my nascent creation and thus be able to give it shape and form. Maybe I'll see something on the news, or read something on someone else’s blog, or hear a cell phone conversation that will put just the one last piece in place and lead me to have a story to tell.

There is so much greatness in the world, from little girls that overcome danger and poverty to become industry leaders – and kind, gentle people at the same time – to people that deal with real illness every day, to folks that don’t have the world handed to them and yet go out and strive every day. And there is so much schlock that pretends to be greatness – people who have made vast fortunes and yet don’t buy dinner for their friends when they go out together, people who exploit those around them, people who sit in the middle of vast generosity and complain, “I want better free stuff”.

Here’s to the great, and fie on thee who are schlock.

This city, filled with solitary souls, hanging in small groups with the occasional shark looking for prey, each searching for some sort of fulfillment – either as predator OR prey – makes me yearn for reality, and solidity, and true love.

Reality. The kind with real floors, that aren’t quite right, and intermittent painting errors, and a person behind the counter whose name you know… and care to know. And the kind that involves you pushing his hair back, or grabbing her arm as she reties her sandal. Or lets you go back to sleep at night.

Yes, indeed, take care of the heart first. Perhaps the rest takes care of itself.

Please go be nice to someone you don’t know. Or, even harder, be kind to someone who isn’t kind to you.

Now I'm going to go find a girlie Champagne drink, and see if I can calculate the payoff odds on that poker table… maybe I can count the cards and take some money from that guy, who is STILL on his cell phone…

I'll see you later.