My friend has started doing Sensory Deprivation Floatation Tank sessions. I’d never heard of these, so I asked him to explain.
He said, “I pay $60 to ‘float’ for 90 minutes. I get in something sorta like a coffin that’s filled with 94-degree salt water.”
“Wait, you get in a coffin?”
“Yeah,” he said, “and the goal is to ‘float’ successfully.”
“How do you ‘float’ successfully?”
“Well, you get into a lucid dreaming state.”
I had to look this thing up. And there were some sketchy sites on the topic. But there was also a Wall Street Journal article, and one on Slate.com. So I read those. And according to Slate.com, floating is a “profound, ecstatic state of nothingness…achieved while floating naked in a sensory deprivation tank.” According to gravityspa.com, floating can help the brain access the mysterious, elusive state of theta wave production.
But I get stuck on words like ‘naked.’ So I go back to that idea. I asked my friend, “So people float naked?”
He said, “The first time it was crazy. I had a dream about owls, man.”
“Okay,” I said, “so let me get this straight: People pay $60 to get in a coffin half-filled with water and salt.”
“Yep, then the workers close the lid, and you don’t know where you are. Total sensory deprivation.”
“Awesome,” I said, “and you dream?”
“Well, if you float successfully, you dream.”
“So,” I said, “is ‘floating successfully’ just a euphemism for sleeping? So people are paying $60 to sleep for 90 minutes?”
“No, no, man. Clearly you don’t understand.”
I told my other friend Corrina about floating and she said, “That sounds a little hipster. Do all the people who work at the floating tanks have mustaches?”
“Probably,” I said.
“Yeah,” Corrina said, “you’d have to pay me to get into someone else’s warm naked tank. You know people jack off in there.”
Clearly, she wasn’t taking this seriously enough either.
On June 18th, 2000, anarchists from around the country organized in my hometown, Eugene, Oregon, to mark the anniversary of an anarchist riot the year before. 400 protesters gathered in a park and smashed a dummy of a police officer using potatoes, skateboards, and boots. Speakers announced that they were calling for an end to capitalism. A dozen anarchists used puppets to reenact violence, while 80 others marched into downtown. It was very organized.
On 7th street, the anarchists gathered in front of the federal building and threw batteries against the windows, chanted “Red Rover, Red Rover, send fascists right over,” hoping for a senator or a congressman to exit the building. But the politicians weren’t coming forward, and riot police had locked down the building ahead of time. A S.W.A.T. team was in the lobby, waiting for the command to arrest the anarchists (which they eventually did).
I was working in the lobby of that federal building – selling coffee and baked goods – when the riot took place. I thought it was hilarious that anarchists – who had chants and slogans against organization – had organized these events. I also thought it was funny that they performed a puppet show. I said, “Do anarchists enjoy puppet shows?”
My friend said, “The puppets were a depiction of the police, man.”
“Oh, that makes it better.”
“Yeah, man,” my friend said. “Fuck the police, you know?”
“Okay,” I said, “but the anarchists have leadership and organization and all that. Isn’t that hilarious?”
“Why?” he said, “Are you, a fascist, Pete?”
“Yes,” I said. “I’m a fascist. Sorry I didn’t take this seriously enough.”
Like I said, during that anarchists’ riot, I was working at the coffee shop on the ground floor of the federal building. I was in there when the S.W.A.T. team locked it down, put zip-ties on the insides of the doors, announced that no one was going in or out, and sent a runner up to the political offices on the upper floors.
I was supervising the café, so I called my manager and asked her if she wanted me to close it down.
She said, “No, don’t close the café. Maybe keep it open for a while and see if the cops end up buying anything.”
So I left the café open. And the cops did purchase goods. They bought doughnuts, all of the fresh doughnuts. Then they started buying the day-old doughnuts, one by one. A cop would saunter over to the counter with his riot gear on, look at the display case as if he was considering what to buy, then go ahead and buy another doughnut. When I was down to my last, day-old doughnut, one of the S.W.A.T. team members walked up with his helmet tipped back, his AR-15 rifle slung across the front of his Kevlar vest.
He pointed to the last doughnut, a crusty little old-fashioned circle that had been there since yesterday morning. As if picking out a fine wedding ring, he said, “I think I’ll just take that one right there.”
“That’s the last day-old doughnut.” I said, “You guys ate all of the doughnuts.”
“Yep,” he said.
“Isn’t that funny?” I said.
The cop tilted his head to the side like he didn’t understand what I was saying. “Why?” he said.
It’s easy to tell other people to take themselves less seriously. It’s harder to follow my own advice. Because, you know, I take myself too seriously.
For the following anecdote to make sense, you have to understand that I am not a tall man. I am, as my students say, “A fun-sized person.”
My sophomore year in college, when I was on the wrestling team, the media-guide director decided to list my height as 5’6”, and I was elated. That is – by far – the tallest height anyone has ever given me. In all honesty, if I woke up in the morning (when humans are the tallest), and went directly to a bar to hang for ten minutes, I still wouldn’t be 5’6”.
People have made fun of me over my height, or lack of height, my entire life. I’m not complaining, it’s just a fact. And I usually don’t mind too much. I’m not a big man. I’m okay with that.
Do I sound defensive?
Anyway, I was in the store the other day. I was in the milk section, where all of the butter, yoghurt, and milk are housed. At our local grocery market, this is sort of an enclosed space where people walk in and walk out. We get in each other’s way back there, but we make do and brush against each other in that tight space.
So I walked into that small milk section, and as I walked in, I heard a kid’s voice. He said, “Thomas, Thomas, look! Look, Thomas! There’s a midget!”
I looked at the kid tapping his brother’s shoulder. They were both grade-school-aged, youngish kids, both really excited.
Then I looked around the milk section trying to figure out where the midget was because even though I’m a small man and naturally tend to defend small people, I like seeing midgets too. So I looked behind the butter fridge, looked out past the orange juice, past the yoghurt, past the chocolate milk. But I didn’t see the midget. In fact, I didn’t see anyone. I was all alone in that section.
I looked back at the boys. They were both staring at me.
“Thomas,” the first one said, “look, it’s a midget.” He pointed.
I just stood there next to the butter.
Then their mother walked up. Apparently she’d heard the kid yelling about me being a midget and she was here to correct the misconception.
I thought she was going to say, “Oh, no, son, that’s not a midget. That’s a smallish, full-size man.” Or something like that.
But instead, she said, “Oh, Sweetie, shhhhhhh. You’ve got to be quieter. They can hear you when you talk about them.”