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Sunday, November 6, 2011

Branching Out to the Bizarre

We all have different occurrences in our lives that shape our perspectives, either gradually or drastically, often known as watershed moments. Such a moment can potentially be something that transcends your whole world, turning it upside down and challenging every notion you had on a given subject. These don’t have a pattern, but are manifested all over the map. When you had an epiphany, when surreal takes over the real, when the Twilight Zone theme song became your soundtrack, or maybe when you had an a-ha moment seeing the cartoonish “Take on Me” video. It turns into a continual replaying in your mind of Wayne and Garth barking out, “No way!” “Way!” You fight it until you eventually cave, for denial has its own shelf life. We’re all reluctant members of Mythbusters Anonymous, demythifying our own beings right in front of ourselves. It's what we do.
In the seminal scene from “Some Kind of Wonderful” when Eric Stoltz walks outside from his friends party and Mary Stuart Masterson is standing in the middle of the street waiting for him, that was my John Cusack moment from “Say Anything” holding the boombox up above his head, only in a different movie with other actors and without the same props. And the plot was completely different. And John Cusack is more of a comedic actor, while Eric Stoltz is the more versatile of the two. But regardless, you may find your moment is in Casablanca or possibly in Captain Ron, but rest assured they’re ubiquitous. When it happens, you may be caught looking askance with a silly grin on your face, so be cognizant of any cameras in the vicinity attempting to capture the moment.

More watershed moments in various shapes and sizes…

• Finding out at a young age that barbeque sauce contained sugar. This completely shot my worldview. What I had taken for primal delectability was no more than a cruelly administered confectionary mind trick by the powers that be. I had been duped. And the watershed unduped me, painfully so. I grew to learn that the powers that be had other surprises up their collective sleeve.

These moments can be good or bad, illuminating or dispiriting. They come in all flavors. There's no rhyme or reason to them, which makes them problematic to compartmentalize and further keeps them in the mysterious.

• Short track speed skating in the Winter Olympics. Apolo Ohno and Co. caught my attention several years back and haven’t let go. I’ve since become transfixed whenever I see the event, even if it’s a bunch of unknown foreign skaters in a nondescript distance who start out merely looking like they’re out for a leisurely stroll in the park. The fact that Ohno yawns before each event makes it all the more intriguing. Short track skating is like an intricately choreographed dance ensemble where lots of people try to cut in, and it’s mesmerizing to me. If I had enough funds, I would move to Alaska, build a moat around my house and hire six people to skate around it all day long just so I could watch them.

• A basketball is a rock. Who knew? OK… I wouldn’t have suspected that at first, but I’m willing to give it the benefit of the doubt. It kind of looks like a rock. It’s shaped a lot like a rock, and it’s almost the same color as lava, which eventually turns into a rock.

• In every Paul Newman film. Wait for it… Each viewing of a Newman movie raises his stock even further. He is watershed man personified.

• Learning the true identity of Racer X as Speed Racer’s brother. From that point on, I felt that I understood life better. A mystery had been unfolded to me, and now I was in the know. If you weren’t already aware, I’m only happy to raise that awareness.

• Finding out the walrus was Paul. Who would’ve thought that a large, tusked sea mammal could be an accomplished musician, all the while fooling the throngs of fans coming to his concerts? If I’d been paying closer attention, I would’ve figured it out on my own, but I was naively busy listening to their mind-numbingly expansive catalog.

• Later on discovering that the narwhal was Ringo. That was totally unexpected.

And now we have another marvel below. These are real, in the sense of what we think we perceive as reality, anyway. This changes everything. When a watershed moment hits like this, it jolts what was your reality, and then shifts everything around. You start to question things you’ve previously accepted. A disturbance in the force, if you will. Let us now take a moment to bask in the glow of this wondrous phenomenon. Absorb each photo as a restructuring of your mental DNA. Truly, we don’t-no-anything. I give you… the renegade goats of the Kalahari. Or from somewhere.

I’m glad we could share this moment of high stakes serenity together, courtesy of a few mangy quadrupeds who gathered up the chutzpah to stare down convention and go on to reach new heights of their own.

I like the one at the top of the tree on the left. They could be trying to evolve into flying goats, so theyve got a leg up if thats the case. But if nothing else, I have a new-found admiration for the goats of the world, in their ingenuity, their moxie, their utter disregard for the expectations of others. Who else is stepping so much outside their comfort zone? We should arm these goats with parachutes, hang gliders, stealth fighters, and whatever else they might need to continue their path upward.

This isnt all that unpredictable, on second thought. Note the cleverly designed hooves for naturally adapting to their habitat of — all right, so they weren’t meant for climbing trees. Perhaps their horns make them predisposed to stick them in the wood or… OK, maybe not. They have tails, right? They wrap their tails around the branches and swing themselves across… well, not exactly. Hmmph.

If goats can climb trees, then what this means is that all bets are off. What you thought you knew just got blown to smithereens. Say goodbye to concrete reality and hello to a continual cement mixer pouring scads of undried pavement into your psyche. These may actually be considered enjoyable discoveries, even though they send you all the way back down the big slide of Chutes and Ladders. I never quite understood that game anyway, because going down the slide should be the funnest part. But if all learning were linear, it would grow tiresome. Despite our intentions of keeping knowledge on a straight course, we’re constantly reminded that knowledge isn’t beholden to us, and it takes us wherever it darn well wants to.

Now that we at least somewhat accept the notion that goats can be tree-worthy, nothing else should faze us. We also probably wouldn’t be all that surprised to find ourselves in a mystical world where Billy Joel was 5' 5" and Bo Derek 5' 3". In an existence filled with magical moments, any of that is possible, right? But it’s all true. Those are their real heights, in this form of reality you’re experiencing. Maybe they need to climb trees with the goats to increase their standing. Rethink everything you’ve learned. These actually are the droids you’re looking for. You’re steadily stormtroopin’ through life at a feverish pace. And the entire premise that even the heretofore miniscule Apolo Ohno (5' 8") is taller than Tom Cruise is whats so right with the world and keeps it in its equilibrium. As Harry Caray used to say, you can look it up.

[At right: Mr. Ohno commutes to work]

Often a watershed moment such as these will be initially met with incredulity. Goats can’t possibly be climbing trees. Bo Derek isn’t merely 5' 3" — maybe her Barbie action figure is, but surely not her. And that isn’t really Anderson Cooper winnying there. No, that would be like Walter Cronkite employing the Arnold Horshack laugh.

Truth is stranger than fiction in part because we are not compelled to fully digest fiction. We can turn fiction on and off with a switch. Truth, though, has this nagging habit of getting under our craw and refusing to leave. I hate when that happens. There’s a reason you never hear them say fiction hurts.

Dan Gilbert pointed out that, in general, people who win the lottery are less happy a year later than are people a year after undergoing major surgery. And, yeah, that almost makes sense despite its being true.

Now, this is interesting, flying in the face of everything intuitive…

At first, the slinky is seemingly toying with you, changing the laws of physics on a whim. It just dangles in the air, oblivious to the gravitational forces. It's pretty slinky that way. 

John Stossel wrote a sociopolitically-based book called “Everything You Know is Wrong,” basically dashing all your preconceived notions. Some of his documented revelations include: the overall damage of lawsuits on society, the diamond marketing scam, marrying cousins, walking on hot coals, sugar and hyperactivity, swimming after eating, happiness and leisure time, and everything else you didn't want to unknow.

A watershed moment might also challenge you on your attitudes, providing you with a better backdrop for testing them.

Now want to see a crazy video that sends my fear of heights up twelve notches?

I wouldn’t do that for a trillion bucks. Maybe a trillion and one, but I’m just sayin’.

At the end of the day when everyone goes home and retires for the evening in their jammies, if it turns out that goats in trees is all a hoax perpetuated by rogue goat-herding taxidermists lifting them into the trees with cranes and surgically affixing their legs to the branches and then yelling in some mid-Eastern inflected dialect: “say goat cheese!”… well, then we will have learned a very valuable lesson. But we won’t know what that lesson is until it happens before our very eyes. And that — is the resplendent beauty of watershed moments.

1 comment:

Jeff Crandall said...

While I've experienced watershed after watershed, I've enjoyed the exercise of actually recording them. Do you know a watershed moment when it happens or are they always in retrospect? Can a watershed moment in and of itself be a watershed moment or is that too recursive?

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