When it's the middle of the night and there's no one else on the bus– or on the road– you can really get to talking.
"It's seriously like the biggest thing now. It just started."
I don't know about these things. The big article hadn't come out yet. I said, "what's it called again? Pokemon what?"
"Yeah, its a GPS-based version of Pokemon."
"Oh wow. Where you go around in the real world."
"Yeah, you actually go around,"
"Oh my gosh!" I exclaimed, in mock terror. "It's become real!"
"Yeah, you go into different places and,"
"Catch 'em all?"
"And fucking catch 'em all, yeah!"
I don't know why, but we both sounded like a couple of stoners. Either that or there's a little California surfer in all of us. I was saying "dude" way more than usual. Different people draw out my different sides. He was the definition of laid-back, medium-length hair after midnight, about my age, just this side of drawling out the words. You got the sense he knew how to take it easy.
"Oh gosh," I said.
"It's so big now. Seriously like on my walk up here, I usually pass by like fifteen or so fraternity dudes and sorority girls. Except tonight they were all playing Pokemon Go."
"Holy cow! I never thought I would ever think about frat boys and sorority girls and Pokemon Go in the same sentence!"
"I know, right? Maybe that's good. Now kids are starting to go outside."
"Well, if this is what it takes to get kids to play outside again,"
"Yeah it takes them everywhere. In fact, there was these two kids recently on the news, they were playing so hard they ended up way out in the woods and they found a dead body!"
That is playing pretty hard! I said, "what?"
"Which they never woulda found if they weren't playing it."
"Wow. That's hilarious. Sort of."
"Kinda makes you think about all the dead bodies that never woulda been found if people weren't playing Pokemon Go."
"I never even heard of Pokemon Go! Clearly I'm falling behind the times!"
"Dude, no," he said. "Fuck the times!"
I quipped, "the times can fall behind us!"
"Yeah, man! Seriously though, most people who have it really together that I wanna emulate, you know, don't really spend a whole lotta time keepin' up on shitty news stuff."
"You know that's true," I replied. "You know how people say great things happen when you're least expecting them? I agree with that, but I think what they're really saying is, great things happen when you're really present. Because then, you're not expecting it–"
"You're not thinking about it. You're here."
"There's just so much bullshit coming at us, it's like our little human brains can't handle all of it."
"I agree. I think much of modern life is the act of editing. Figuring out what stuff to cut out."
"Oh. Yeah. Yeah, it's a very negative, a subtracting thing."
We bemoaned the act of plugging in, celebrated the act of being present. You've heard me go on about that enough; I won't repeat it again here. He made an astute comment about how the obsession with secondary or tertiary experience is more than just a fascination with the unreal, and often seems like a fear of confronting the banal, the everyday, the immediate reality. Anything but the act of simply being here, sans stimuli!
I was sitting in Occidental Park recently in between shifts. A man was playing guitar up at the little bandstand. Nobody was listening to him, but he would offer little anecdotes between each of his songs. At one point he mentioned he'd hadn't watched the news in three months. He went out, interacted with people daily, but wasn't up to snuff on the list of tragedies across the globe. "I feel better about the world these days," he said.
His words revived a memory from long ago: my aunt and I riding in her car, when we lived in Hollywood. I was asking her what she found different about life between now and her adolescence. She thought for a moment before speaking. We were going north on Vine, approaching the 101 entrance. She said, your idea of the world was different. It felt safer.
The world wasn't actually safer,* but saturation crime reporting and the twenty-four hour news cycle didn't exist yet. In the days before the internet, your youth was your neighborhood, your job and your friends. Do you remember those days, when reality was right here?
I suppose it's arguable there's a benefit to living in a culture of fear. But it's got nothing on the benefit of not living in one.
*Hopefully by now we all know crime has been declining for decades, while reportage of incidents has skyrocketed. For the curious reader: best of all is Lomborg's staggeringly comprehensive 2001 text, the landmark The Skeptical Environmentalist: Measuring the Real State of the World, which explores crime and reportage on a global scale, among many other topics. If you don't have time to read that, check out these links, presented in order from most readable to most dense!
"Despite Grim Media Reports, Crime Rates Are Actually Down In The U.S." (NPR)
"We’ve Had a Massive Decline in Gun Violence in the United States. Here’s Why." (The Washington Post)
"What Caused the Great Crime Decline in the U.S.?" (The Atlantic)
"America's Faulty Perception of Crime Rates" (The Brennan Center for Justice)