Reading blurrpy.com earlier this week, I came upon a link to a most wondrous thing. Some design firm called O*GE Creative (the asterisk adds a lovely note of pretension, don’t you find?) created a giant, human-habitable bird nest:
The giant birds’ nest was created “as a prototype for new and inspiring socializing space, which can be seen as a morph of furniture and playground … Ready to to be used, to be played in, and be worked in.” I think it’s a marvelous idea, and one I am certain to have in my house, once I win the lottery and begin establishing my network of seasonal homes across the globe. But a work space? The thought of clambering into this thing with my colleagues to discuss our latest projects gives me the heebies. It would feel way too much like climbing into bed and I really want to stop thinking about it. Besides, I sometimes have a terrible time staying awake in meetings, and nestling into this, well, nest would be like mainlining an Ambien drip straight into my cerebellum, or whatever part of the brain gives me that happy tired feeling at the end of the day.
So I won’t be pushing to have the giant birds’ nest installed in our office anytime soon. But it did remind me of an idea I had a long time ago that I can’t seem to let go of. It concerns hamsters.
Hamsters, you may have observed, tend to live in little plastic or wire enclosures with everything they need: food, water bottle, exercise wheel, toilet paper tube (not sure what that’s about, I think they like to climb in it, and besides, it’s not like you don’t have a million of them lying around) and, on the floor, some kind of bedding or nesting material, usually wood shavings. I bet that the simplicity of the hamster existence — eat, drink, run around a bit, sleep and pee and crap in the shavings — can exert a primal, healing influence on stressed-out humans. My idea then was to adapt the hamster habitat into a unique retreat: the hamster hotel.
The hamster hotel room is large, about 500 square feet. It has no furniture. It has a ceiling-mounted flatscreen TV, which you watch while lying on your back. A slot in the wall dispenses your food and drink on demand, whatever you want whenever you want. There is no fancy table service. There is, for a modest upgrade charge and if you really feel you need it, a piece of exercise equipment such as a treadmill or stationary bike. You can have a giant cardboard roll if you want; it might be fun to climb in it. There are no toilets, no baths or showers. The temperature is a steady 85 degrees. And you’re naked. Did I forget to mention that? No clothes allowed in the hamster hotel. But you know what you do have?
Shavings. Atop the industrial-grade rubber floor is a comforting, aromatic bed of wood shavings a foot and a half thick. You can lie on it. Roll around on it. Burrow into it. Make shavings angels in it. Throw great handfuls of it into the air and watch it flutter back down. Turn onto your side and spin Curly-style. And when you’re done, breathe a contented sigh and lie back in the shavings … the soft, feathery embrace of the shavings.
Wait a minute, you’re saying — what about my bed? And I ask, do I have to draw you a diagram? You are living the hamster life. Do what hamsters do: build up a nice mound of shavings and nestle into it. The temperature is high enough to lull you into a state of warm, animal-like contentment. Have you ever stepped into a bath so perfectly aligned with your body temperature that you almost can’t feel the water at all? That is what it’s like to snuggle naked into the shavings for a night’s sleep. And if for some reason you feel the primal fear of being preyed upon or feel especially vulnerable sleeping nude, you can always crawl into the giant cardboard tube for a nap away from threatening eyes.
You noticed above that there is no toilet in the room. Well, you don’t see hamsters futzing around with toilets, do you? Just pick a corner and do whatever you need to do right on the spot, kicking over some fresh shavings to cover it. Our premium-quality shavings naturally absorb odor and moisture. Or better yet, just lie there, staring up at your big-screen ceiling TV, and let it come. That’s right. When you’re done, roll over to a new spot or stay there and let it dry. Seriously, you have no idea how liberating this is — it’s enough to make you question the entire premise of civilization itself.
Most clients find a single day’s accommodation at the Hamster Hotel sufficient, and they return to their lives with a renewed vigor and sense of purpose. A few hardy or needful souls stay for days, even weeks, gradually shedding the burdens of their humanity and embracing the hamster within. We like to think of it as “going native,” the act of leaving behind such confining constructs as career, parenthood, family, even speech and bipedal locomotion. Can living in a pile of wood refuse, nude and crawling and rooting like an animal really be worth those things? Wouldn’t you love to find out?
Well, sometimes the marketer in me takes over and I get a little carried away. This is my vision, such as it is. Perhaps it can come true once I’ve won the lottery, after I’m set up with a few giant birds’ nests.
You’re scrolling your Facebook news feed, populated with friends, acquaintances, relatives, that guy you met waiting in line to get into a concert, coworkers you never speak to, and so on. Down the list you come to that old high school friend you haven’t seen since graduation. (That is a long time ago. You are approaching 40, like me. And you are probably losing your hair, and you really ought to do something about that belly. But I digress.) Next to her name you see something like this:
To our beloved Cassie [for example] — you would have been 16 years old today. Daddy and I miss you so much and we carry you in our hearts every day. We love you!
Hmm. I take it something happened.
I am not making light of anyone’s tragedy. Truly — the thought of losing a child is horrifying to me and I don’t even have any children. But being a person who suffers from a degree of social awkwardness, I have a masochistic fascination with this kind of social cul-de-sac. The person who posted about this loss obviously did so in the knowledge that those close to her would know what she was talking about. I have not spoken to her in person in twenty years, and barely even pass the time with her on Facebook, and so I have no idea what she’s talking about, apart from what I can infer. The dilemma, obviously, is this:
Is it appropriate to ask for more details when a distant Facebook friend refers to a personal tragedy you know nothing about?
On the one hand, the simple answer appears to be, why not? If they posted it to Facebook of their own accord, it would seem they are capable of engaging with the subject on at least a limited basis. Imagine the corollary real-world experience: you are making the rounds at your high school reunion. Having already met and greeted this friend earlier in the evening, you find yourself near her in a quiet corner where you can exchange words. And she says to you, My daughter would have been 16 years old today. I still think about her all the time. In this situation, it is obviously completely appropriate to ask for more information — indeed, it would be rude not to, and your friend certainly wants to be able to share with you the pain and loss that she has carried with her.
But Facebook is not real life, and it is really not even close to real life. There is nothing in the real world that maps to Facebook’s strange social stew of acquaintances, ex-boyfriends, bosses, grade-school friends, parents and that really nice gal you met at Subway all bobbing around in the same virtual medium. Unless you take the time to stratify these people into castes and direct certain posts only at certain groups — which, judging by my personal experience, virtually no Facebook user knows how to do — your tragic outpouring is hitting every pair of eyeballs with the same force. It seems crazy to think that someone would compose a reflection on the death of her own child that is equally suitable for both her mother and for a schoolmate she hasn’t seen since Please Hammer, Don’t Hurt ‘Em came out. Therefore, I think she can’t be doing it on purpose: the Facebook settings that would allow her to target her post to a select group of readers must either be too opaque to figure out or she just doesn’t know about them. Which leaves me thinking, again, that I really ought to not say anything.
I don’t know. I really have no clue what is the appropriate thing to do. But I can tell you this: if you came to this post through a link on my Facebook wall, it’s because I wanted you, and you specifically, to see it. I think I’ve had all the social ambiguity I can take for a while.
A peculiar thing happens when you set up a karaoke machine at a party. At first, no one wants to approach it. Everyone, whether they have any interest in singing or not, is waiting for the first person to walk up there, pick up the microphone and start singing. No one wants to be that person — and certainly no one wants to be mistaken for that person. If the karaoke machine happens to be set up next to the liquor, then the shy partygoers are forced to either walk over to it with exaggerated nonchalance or simply refrain from getting another drink until someone begins singing. (Or worse, ask someone else to get a drink for them.) Observing this in action at a party this weekend, I began to speculate on how karaoke machines could be used to exploit natural social anxieties. I envision a safe disguised to look like a karaoke machine: those who weren’t frightened by it would likely be too repulsed to go near it. Karaoke machines could be used to hide stains or damage you wouldn’t want people to notice, or to dissuade guests from raiding your refrigerator. I would even guess that a karaoke machine in the bathroom would, if not scare people away completely, would at least instill a vague disquiet. Why is this here? they would wonder, eyeing the machine nervously as they wiped. Are we going to be singing karaoke later? They’d be so freaked out they’d completely forget to snoop in your medicine cabinet.
As for the experience of singing or watching karaoke, I realized this: karaoke is like jet-skiing, in that it is an enjoyable pastime for those actually doing it and a grating annoyance for everyone else. I have jet-skied and thought it was a blast. Yet watching jet-skiers roar across the placid surface of a lake, frightening wildlife and disturbing everyone’s peace, makes me angrily denounce the steady decline of civilization itself.
I have never sang karaoke. It’s bad enough I like jet-skiing.
Every now and then you have that paradoxical experience wherein you realize just how much you don’t know about a particular topic. An article on France in the Guardian drove that home in a big way. Consider just this paragraph:
Breastfeeding – particularly after two or three months – is regarded in France as something akin to drinking your own urine. Strange foreigners may do it, but that is no reason a nation brought up to idolise Liberté in the form of Marianne’s perfect breasts should. As a gynaecologist reminded a friend of mine the day she confirmed her pregnancy: “Your breasts are for your husband, not your baby.”
Apologies to those for whom this is old news, but I was incredulous that a First World, 21st-century nation would hold such ideas — so incredulous that the story’s April 1 pub date had me suspecting that I had been punked. (Those Brits and their, um, dry sense of humor.) I would be relieved if that were the case. Do French anthropologists believe that women evolved breasts as a tool to lure potential males, and that their ability to lactate is just a happy biological accident? For whom are, say, a cow’s udders intended, if not her calf? What if you’re a Frenchman who happens to be an ass man? Is your wife’s bottom likewise assumed to be for your pleasure, rather than an evolutionary adaptation to help her walk upright?
Anyway, I have nothing insightful to say about this. Just read the article and be lightly astonished.