A Hole in Pandora’s Box

August 12, 2011

So, the joy of technology (and trust me, I find few joys in technology beyond simple convenience and the comfort of warm face, warm hands, warm feet) is being able to find totally new hobbies that would have never existed before. Like customized radio.

I love Pandora. Pandora, if you’re unaware, is a Web site where you can make a radio station customized around a certain band or song you start with. Enter a band, singer, or song, and you have a whole list of songs playing for you that are (arguably) in some way related. Usually. Sometimes it strays. Like how I got from Otis Redding to the Dixie Cups once, I’ll never know. There are some kinks. Like how I got from The Kinks to Linda Ronstadt. But generally, it’s a pleasurable experience. Additionally, you can add variety to a station by adding the name of another band or singer you wish to incorporate, so Pandora can find songs that work between their two styles and smooge them into one Frankenstation.

And this morning, in order to keep myself occupied, I’ve been playing with my newfound hobby–seeing how long it can take Pandora to get from Tony Orlando/Dawn to the band Hole. Which, you know, just makes me giggle.

So far (and I’m writing this as I listen, so it’s like a play-by-play. Be excited, gentle reader. This is breaking news.), I’m still waiting for how they’re going to bridge that gap. I’ve had Tony Orlando’s Bless You, I suppose as my punishment for placing such a silly request in the first place. Then Roy Orbison’s Only the Lonely, followed by Sam Cooke’s Wonderful World, a darling song about the quest of a non-intellectual attempting the fair heart of the elusive smart chick. Sort of a “pre-Lloyd Dobler” Lloyd Dobler anthem.

And Sam Cooke is always marvelous. Let us not toss that aside.

Then It Never Rains in Southern California by Albert Hammond. Waaa, waaaaa, waaaa. This is also punishment for my silly request. Is it too much to ask for a simple Tie a Yellow Ribbon? Can I get a Knock Three Times? Anything? Throw me a Tony bone, here, Pandora.

…pretty sure there’s a better way to phrase that.

Holy hell—it just leapt from Albert Hammond in a rather jarring transition to Hole’s Celebrity Skin. Ha! Oh, please play Candida next. This is brilliant.

Okay, so we have Dumb by Nirvana following Hole, and then a little Key Largo by Bertie Higgins. Wow. The disturbing aspect of it was somehow unforeseen. Not gonna lie; it’s swiftly approaching “oh god, make it stop.” Ripping my mood back and forth between the two worlds. There really needs to be a dramatic record scratch sound in transition each time.

See? Hobby. This will amuse me for hours. It actually hurts. And some pain, you gorgeous people, is good pain.

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Or, more affectionately titled,

Shit I do for money.

Harmless Enough

I believe it all started when I answered an ad on Craigslist asking for depressed individuals to participate in a study for $100. Hell, I’d been known to shed the occasional tear at a Hallmark commercial… a tear that then lasted for a few months or so. Humor aside, I’m a perfectly well-adjusted person, but I’m comfortable relating that melancholy and a somewhat nervous disposition (think a Niles Crane-level of neurosis) have been more than occasional companions of mine. And I live with them, but I never realized I could make money off them. Is this wrong somehow, capitalizing off deep and very real troubles? Selling the drama, as it were? Dammit, no. It’s getting some of the money that I spend on all that therapy back. Ha.

So, I answered the ad, I went to an office, they had me answer some questions, I looked at a web site advertising antidepressants and told them how effective it was in giving me information about its product, and—badda bing, badda boom, in under an hour I was handed an envelope with my name on it. $100 cash sat winking at me from inside it, and I was escorted out. Brilliant. Thank you, depression (thank you India, thank you terror, thank you disillusionment)! You just bought me a much-needed trip to the hair salon. Now I can have my perm and eat it too.

No, that didn’t work.

Anyway, that one was perhaps the easiest of the ads I’ve answered. And the least humiliating. And I have found that there’s rather a lot of totally legitimate ways I will contribute to science and consumerism for the exhilaration and intrigue of it all while enjoying a small monetary token of appreciation for my time and dedication. Or, rather, a lot of shit I will do for money.

Most recently, I participated in another study, this one having to do with anxiety and how it affects the body. This one was less of a casual stroll in the arboretum of money trees and actually more like running the emotional gauntlet for two very long, very taxing sessions. I came out of them looking like a wet, electrocuted, frazzled cat dodging imaginary traffic. But let me back up.

Pre-Traumatic Stress Disorder

The study—compensation $130—was done by a psych department of a university looking for (the standard favorite) depressed individuals. Yes, we are the cherished dolls of the testing world. I think it’s that we seem more or less sedentary and willing to shrug when asked to do outrageous things for paltry fees. We use the word “meh” a lot. And I applied for this study because, you know, I cry at the Hallmark commercials.

I went in for the first session, which was supposed to last three hours. I got there 15 minutes early and sat down in the hallway chair in front of a series of rooms. And I could hear two people training in one of these rooms—rooms to which they had had the good sense to leave the door open—discussing parts of what would be occurring at my upcoming second session.

“We’ll be administering the electric shocks so that, the higher the pain level, we can measure the level of neurosis in the anxiety patient.” Ahhhh, great. And welcome to the beginning of the movie Ghostbusters.

 

http://vignette4.wikia.nocookie.net/ghostbusters/images/d/db/GB1film2005chapter02sc004.png/revision/latest?cb=20110923142229

 

I actually had to raise my eyebrows and laugh at that moment. Because what else to do? Say, could you shout that a little louder in front of the anxiety subject, here, buddy? One hundred thirty dollars. One hundred thirty dollars. One hundred thirty friggin’ dollars. Christ.


Session One: How to Turn a Perfectly Normal Person Into a Sniveling Doormat in Just a Few Easy Steps

Finally it’s time to start Session One. This can be otherwise heretofore known as The Inquisition. And you know, despite how many bloody times I’ve watched Monty Python, I still didn’t expect this. Huh. Go figure.

It sort of went like this: Psych student #1 comes in and ties me to a rack. Psych student #2 repeatedly punches me in the gut, puts cigarettes out on my nipples, and kicks me roughly in the shins while calling my mother filthy names for three hours.

Well, that’s what it felt like. More realistically, both (polite enough) psych students ask me three long, drawn-out hours and hours of deeply—holy crap—deeply invasive questions about what being depressed since 14 has been like. Ohhhhh, lovely, thanks. Just buckets and buckets of sunshine. Like an unending vacation within my soul. So, I relate all my most personal and deeply saddening memories to them. I leave wanting my blanket and about 14 Jack and Cokes. But no Cokes.

Next time, psych students, I’m just buying a mood ring and pointing.

Session Two: How to Go From Upright to Fetal in a Few Short Hours

Two days later, I come back thirsty for more abuse. I have my Xanax in pocket, ready like a nervous spy waiting to crush it under my tongue and have this whole thing over with in case of certain doom. And I’ve come this far. I’m intrigued. Electric shock, you say? Induced neurosis and anxiety attacks, you say? …$130, you say? Totally legitimate ways I contribute to science and consumerism for the exhilaration and intrigue of it all while enjoying a small monetary token of appreciation for my time and dedication! Or, shit I will do for money.

It is 5 PM; Session Two has now officially begun. A determined guinea pig, I fill out a consent form for two more psych students—the two I had overheard discussing my shock treatment earlier that week in the other room, not the two who had tortured me with the Ghosts of Christmases Past in Session One. Bring it on, bitches.

I slip on a sort of Lycra swimmer’s cap-type dealie that contains 64 electrodes on it, each with a little cord coming off it which all connect like a giant electric ponytail off the back of my head. And the psych students sit me in front of a computer where I can view a screen of a brain outline and a pictorial representation of all the electrodes sitting on my head. I am, oh, so pretty. Now for the mess.

With needle-less syringes (thank god, because needles have me seeing little birds faster than a springtime hipster fashion line), these two bastards begin poking gel down into the electrodes (and alllll into my hair and scalp… delicious). And I mean they really jam it on down in there, now with these long, pointy wooden sticks (SCIENCE!). This fucking hurts. Now, to be fair, they told me they were going to do this. Still. Would you fuck off?

Also, they’re placing other electrodes covered in gel, which are connected by electric cords, onto the sensitive skin right under my eyes and behind my ears. And damn it, I used to like that place behind my ears. Now it’s all disgusting and running a current. I am at this point fully aware that my head is covered in things. Science has vomited on my cranium. And these psych students are all, “La di da, why don’t you relax and fill out casual forms during this process, and maybe you want to flip through some Cosmo? Isn’t everything lovely and not at all weird as hell in here?” I’m cool, thanks. I’m all caught up on the latest seven methods of making my man crave my fabulous booty. I’ll just stare at the tiny, little boxed room about 20 feet away from me and focus on getting my hands to quit shaking.

“Yeah, but I shoot with this hand.”

So, now I’m all hooked up and quite sexy looking, oozing gel and with a wattage that would probably allow me to light a mid-sized desk lamp with my mouth. I’m asked to get up and am politely escorted—my cords being ceremonially held behind me by the psych students like they’re carrying a wedding dress train—to the tiny, tiny, grey padded room that I had been eyeing. It has a chair in it and a door I’m well aware without even being told will be closing behind me. And this psych student man is talking to me like he expects me to sit down in here. A PADDED ROOM, PEOPLE. I look at this man like he’s been smoking my electrode ponytail. Shit I will do for money. Damn it.

I have a seat.

The Happiest Place on Earth

This man I have already come to loathe gets me all situated in my chair, with all the cords coming off my head and face in a comfortable—relative is key, here—place. The walls are a half foot away from either side of my shoulders, and the room is dimly lit with a computer screen in front of me that is turned off. He tells me to look at the X on top of the computer screen for one minute, not to move and to try not to blink too much, and that he’ll be back after that. Now it’s Fear Factor. He leaves the room and closes the door to silence, and I am left in a padded cell with an electric swimmer’s cap and little corded disks stuck to my under-eye muscles, staring at a computer screen that is not on, unable to blink. And I have no idea what’s supposed to happen or when it’s supposed to start. Where the fuck is the Xanax, because I have found Hell. Or I’ve stumbled into A Clockwork Orange.

And dear god, the walls are breathing. I think they’re breathing. Did this sick bastard actually put me into some sort of living, biological room? Is it eating my feet? Is it going to eat my feet?? Okay. Focus, Meg. Focus. Audrey Hepburn. Audrey Hepburn dancing with a celery bouquet in My Fair Lady.  “All I want is a room somewhere, far away from the cold night air, with one enormous chair, oh wouldn’t it be loverly…” It’s calming. Okay, this is better now. Kind of. This isn’t exactly the room she was singing about, but…it’s away from the cold night air. The chair here is…adequately sized…I’m breathing…breathing…celery bouquet…it’s okay…okay.

And the man opens the door again. “All right, that was great. Now we’re going to go another minute, but this time with your eyes closed, please. And remember not to move. Thanks.” Fucking hell. Seriously? You sick sons of bitches. Okay, Audrey. Do your thing. This is way longer than a minute, you Swatch-less assholes. My face is hot, and my pulse is loud in my ears.

Five more reps of this later, and one hell of a mental Broadway sing-song, I have lived—and I swear to god, I swear, that sick bastard psych student looks slightly put out that I’ve survived. Anywho, they put me through a series of other tests, one involving turning the computer screen on and playing 45 minutes of the Worst. Jackpot. Game. Ever. Oy. Why? Science!

Shock It To Me

And then we get to the most thrilling part of this whole thing. I mean, it is Candyland. Really. This is over 45 minutes of piercingly sharp, highly unpleasant, shockingly (almost truly painful) loud noises at totally random intervals. (Yeah, they’d added giant headphones to all the rest of my heavy cranial accessories, I assume, to test my super neck strength). The noises are to induce neurosis so that I am jumping and wincing, having ticks, shaking, nervous. They’re looking to record how my face moves when I’m anxious and terrified. Really, it is awful. To describe it without even a hint of hyperbole, if I had been holding something in my hands, I would have dropped or thrown it every time they queued the noise. It is that jarring. 45 minutes.

And they appear to notice I haven’t involuntarily urinated or anything yet, because they then come in and hook my wrist up to two electrodes that induce electric shocks, which are described to me as “highly annoying” but “not painful.” This…rides the line of that description, shall we say. And—hey, double trouble—these shocks are being given to me at totally random intervals with those wacky, wonderful randomized noises that are being administered. And sometimes, just for shits, the screen says something like, “When a red square appears on the screen, a shock may occur.” So that I can anticipate and dread. Red square. Oh god oh god oh god oh god…phew. *ZZZZTTTT*  AGGGHHHH!!  I develop twitches in this second set of 45 minutes that might endear a war vet. Holy hell.

Finally—finally—the man comes and gets me, takes all that shit off me, and tells me I can wash the gel in my hair out in the sink, but that they are out of towels. Sorry.

Sorry?! How the hell does that happen?! He does have a hair dryer, though. Which, if you have long hair that’s absolutely soaking wet, doesn’t do much in a short amount of time, does it? But, oh well. Swimmer’s cap off, I am happy. It is a false sense of calm. And I still have a whole lotta shakin goin on, by the way, even though I’m no longer being shocked. Twitch. Shake. Shake. Twitch. I am akin to the Taco Bell dog at this moment. But much less possessing of the ability to speak Spanish. Or the desire to poop outside.

Moving on.

To Spit or Not To Spit

I am still sopping wet and being taken into a regular-sized room—relatively speaking—and I am given a tube that I’m told to spit in. And, you know, after the evening I’m having, this doesn’t seem even remotely unreasonable. Fine. Gimme your freaking tube. You have a plugged-in toaster? I’ll spit in your toaster. I don’t care.

I am told to fill it up with my saliva to the line marked on the tube. Only, if you’ve been made to have a couple hours of anxiety attack, how much saliva you think you’ve got, there? This actually proved to be my hardest task that day, and one of the most infuriating. I sit there, in this room, attempting to spit into a stupid little tube through insufferable dry mouth while thinking back on the last few hours and wondering how hard I’d been shocked that I didn’t remember the psych student in there pouring sand down my mouth. Finally I get enough into the tube that he seems moderately satisfied, and I become convinced that the point of this task is not a genetic sampling but a humiliation sampling. I assume he collects it all in a jar. All the humiliation. Like he’s crafting a humiliation necklace to wear and show off to all the other psych students.

Hey, you’re welcome for my spit, Creepfest. Don’t spend it all in one place. Eh. Now I want some soup and my Xanax. And to stop twitching and shaking. But I just can’t seem to stop.

Then the psych guy spends the next half hour to 45 minutes asking me to list all the words I know that start with A, that start with S, that start with R. All the men’s names. And other stuff like that. All the fruits (bitch, please. Don’t get me started. Shouldn’t this one have coincided with “men’s names,” mmmkay?) And oh my god, I cannot do it. Any of it. While I’m unsuccessfully attempting to complete this truly simple task, the man is actually making noises like he’s snickering at me. Now, I believe I know what he’s doing. I’ve read enough psych studies to know about trying to make the subject uncomfortable and see what reaction that has on their ability to carry out a task. But I’ll be damned if it doesn’t work. My mind is a blank. And I’m still shaking, twitching, and stuttering.

“Men’s names? Um…Berl…Bill…Billy…C-Chris…Christomaine…T-T-Tony…Frank…Fle….Flenk? Floshua? None of these are sounding real to me anymore. QUIT SNICKERING!”

Finally, he wants me to look through this book of images of people’s faces. There are two “faces” per page, one on top and one on bottom. But the right half of the top face has been paired with the right half of the bottom person’s face, and vice-versa on the bottom of the page. Also, one half of each face is smiling, one half is frowning. And they’re in black and white. And I’m supposed to say which looks happier—the top or the bottom. Pardon me while I… EEEEEEHAAHAAAA! BLLEEEGHEGHEEHGAAAAAA!!! GLALGELEGLALGEHH! BLAA!  GAAA!

Okay. That’s the most terrifying thing I’ve ever seen. Thanks.

Hindsight Is Not Always

I’m finished after what seems like a full day of surveillance. Clutching my coat and my purse, I spill out onto the street at the end of the night. $130 in pocket, Xanax already quickly melting cozily in belly, positively stammering my street location on the phone to my darling male companion, who is well on his expeditious way to pick me up. My hair is damp and matted, my makeup smudged, and every noise has me ready to dart up a light pole. I am in complete and utter disarray. This will bring us back to the wet, electrocuted, frazzled-cat-dodging-imaginary-traffic look I had mentioned previously.

Finally I see my nice, warm little Hyundai turn the corner, and I keep my back squarely to the whole ordeal left behind me in the lab. As I climb into the passenger seat, harrowed and spent of all my mental, physical, and emotional resources, I suddenly become GLAD plastic wrap; I am in instant cling mode on my boyfriend. His arm is staying fresh for the rest of the night.

“Are you doing okay, baby?” He asks me, and all I can think about is going home.

“Yeah, it’s fine. I-I-I’m…Oh m-man, was that a like stress test on s-steroids. Th-that was just…wow. I just don’t…I c-could not ever go through that again. That was crazy. I’m j—wow.”

“Well, it’s over now,” he assures me, calmly. “We’ll go home and have some dinner, and then we’ll curl up on the couch. It’s done now.”

“Actually,” I brightened, “j-just before I left he said he saw on my charts I was c-claustrophobic. So, next week I’ll be doing a claustrophobia and MRI s-study. $100. Hell yeah!”

Man. Shit I do for money.