Friday, May 28, 2010

The Language Test

So I was riding my biking to work yesterday while listening to Malcolm Gladwell's Blink. Just as I had ridden over the West Seattle Bridge to turn onto Alaska Way, Gladwell asked me to imagine that he was a professor and I was walking down a long hallway into his office. When I reached his office, I was to piece together a four-word sentence from each of these 5-word groups:

01 him was worried she always
02 from are Florida oranges temperature
03 ball the throws toss silently
04 shoes give replace old the
05 he observes occasionally people watches
06 be will sweat lonely they
07 sky the seamless gray is
08 should now withdraw forgetful we
09 us bingo sing play let
10 sunlight makes temperature wrinkle raisins

As I was forming the sentences, I got a little distracted. I started thinking about how tired I was. I didn't want to ride anymore. I had planned on riding the longer route to work along the beautiful Myrtle Edwards Park, but now I was thinking about cutting across downtown. Or maybe just throw the bike on a bus. "The sky is gray." The 26 and 28 both head from downtown to Fremont. "Let us sing bingo." No, that's too cumbersome. I'll just ride it out, and maybe take a nap under my desk when I get there.

Here's what Gladwell had to say about the list:

"That seemed straightforward, right? Actually it wasn't. After you finished that test -- believe it or not -- you would have walked out of my office and back down the hall more slowly than you walked in. With that test, I affected the way you behaved. How? Well, look back at the list. Scattered throughout it are certain words, such as "worried," "Florida," "old," "lonely," "gray," "bingo," and "wrinkle." You thought that I was just making you take a language test. But, in fact, what I was also doing was making the big computer in your brain -- your adaptive unconscious -- think about the state of being old. It didn't inform the rest of your brain about its sudden obsession. But it took all this talk of old age so seriously that by the time you finished and walked down the corridor, you acted old. You walked slowly."

Or, in my case, rode slowly. On a sunny day when I was feeling perfectly healthy, I contemplated putting my bike on a bus--something I've done only once in the pouring rain.

I'm just glad that nothing else affects me on a subconscious level, or I'd be worried about being manipulated.


Thursday, May 20, 2010

Fish in a Barrel

I was sitting on the sideline while Coach Dave ran soccer practice when all of a sudden, he pulled up lame with a torn calf muscle. Coach Dave asked me if I would run the drills. "Sure," I said, putting away my cell phone.

For the first -- and what turned out to be the only -- drill I participated in, the kids had to run through a gauntlet in a British Bulldog type game. My job was to line up balls along the sideline and kick them at the kids while they ran from one end of the course to the other. If I hit a kid in the leg, he or she would join me and try to knock out other kids, until there was only one kid left.

The first run was quite possibly a thing of beauty. I suppose it depends on how you define "beauty." For certain people, it doesn't get more beautiful than getting a clean shot on a wild animal and watching it collapse in a dead bundle of flesh. The people who think shooting a wild animal is beautiful would have enjoyed my shot. As the kids ran across the field during the first pass, I kicked all the balls and missed as they dodged my shots. But on the last ball, I kicked it in front of the kids. Just before Keira reached the finish line, the ball passed between her legs and trapped her foot coming forward, flinging her forward. She got up and stood still with her head down. Coach Dave limped over and comforted her.

On the next round, I was being extra cautious. I'm not a hunter. That's when Thane, the smallest kid on the team, started talking trash. "You ca-an't hit me, you ca-an't hit me." In an attempt to put a little more heat on the ball, my pivot foot slid on the damp grass, causing me to kick slightly under the ball. I don't even need to tell you what happened, but I will anyway just to remove all doubt -- the ball bounced off Thane's head. Poing.

To paraphrase Oscar Wilde, nothing is so beautiful that, under certain conditions, it will not look ugly.