Tuesday, January 22, 2008

What Cynthia Will Do For Money

This is something I wrote before when I was aka Swirly. It still amuses me, although I'm a pretty easy audience. Go on, tell me a joke.

I'm reading this very entertaining book by Daniel Gilbert called Stumbling on Happiness. Parts of it read like a college psych text, but with way better jokes. It was just taking me back to my own college days in the psychology department. Not as a student, but as a paid research volunteer. They don't pay you much. It would basically take up your entire afternoon and you'd leave with beer money for that night. But it was fun.

A favorite tactic of the psych crowd is the ol' bait and switch. At the end, a researcher (grad student) would debrief you and tell you what the experiment was really about. "We were not actually measuring your ability to sort jellybeans while we blasted the theme to the Mickey Mouse Club into your headphones. We wanted to see your reaction when the girl next to you physically attacked you and then ate all your candy." Aha!

The Plant. They were big on having a fake volunteer in the group. Sometimes to see if you'd help them, but frequently to have that person make trouble and see what you'd do. So I found one of the best things to do was to wait till the researcher had explained the task and left the room and then I would address the whole group. Something like, "I just want to let everyone know that I am a 2nd degree black belt in jujitsu and I am taking this toothpick stacking assignment VERY seriously. Do not even THINK about fucking with my toothpicks because I will kick your ass."

Then there was the confused volunteer who needed help. You could always go with the obvious, "Nice one dumbass." And then just laugh and jump around the room like a gorilla going "Look everyone, I'm dumbass, I can't work the computer. Hahahahaha." But then it turned out that guy wasn't actually a plant, so I felt kind of bad afterward.

After that I just went for holding hands and chanting because then if I was wrong it seemed nicer.

They would show us videos of something and then give us questionnaires afterward about the content. In some tricky, red herring kind of way. Sometimes I'd just focus on one little detail. Like I'd just write in how many times the person blinked during the video. I thought on the off chance that turned out to be the question they asked, I would just blow them all away. But it never was.

In the end, it turns out that this type of behavior gets you banned from the psychology department. But I wasn't trying to sabotage their experiments. At all. I was trying to strengthen them. A good research design should be able to absorb some unexpected results right? Like plan B: In the event of Swirly Behavior

Do you know we never had a single knife juggler in any of those scenarios? None of the Plants had Tourette's Syndrome. Not nearly enough nudity. See, I should have been a psych major.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

The Case of the Mystery Caller

I had a problem for a while with accidental voice mails. I would get several of these inadvertent voice mails every week, sometimes several in one day. They were long and full of vague background noises. Obviously someone was accidentally dialing my phone.

My Stepmom used to do that. I'd answer the phone and hear her yelling out the answers to Jeopardy somewhere in the distance. I knew it was her because her name showed up the caller ID. And because she always misses all the literature questions, but she nails Potpourri. There's meaning in there somewhere, I just can't quite grasp it.

But later when I started getting these 10 times a week accidental voice mails, it always said "restricted number". No help. But it had to be someone who had me on speed dial. Someone I knew, one would hope. I listened carefully for clues. There was a lot of chatter and whooshing noises. Ooh, and maybe a fax machine? Or just screechy feedback? It sounded like they were calling from an office.

I just couldn't crack the mystery. And the frustrating part is I never heard it ring! I wanted to catch them in the act of accidental dialing so I could yell into the receiver, "HEY MORON! YOU CALL ME LIKE 3 TIMES A DAY AND LEAVE LONG EMPTY MESSAGES! GET A CLUE!" I mean who doesn't know how to use a cellphone?

Then one day I got a break on the case. The beep beep of missed call and a voice mail waiting. I listen. This time the chatter is clearer. Whooshing noises, yes. Fax machine? Screechy feedback? Wait! There's music. I recognize it! It's sounds like the Yodeling song from The Sound of Music. In fact I'm certain of it. The chatter....I distinctly make out the word "Mommy". I look into the backseat of my car. At my children staring up at the video screen. Watching the Sound of Music. I felt all the color drain out of my face as I realized that it wasn't screechy feedback. Or fax machines.

It was me.

Singing along with the Yodeling Goatherd in the Sound of Music. Egads.

When I later told my husband, he laughed for about an hour straight. Then, when he able to speak again, he asked me the obvious question, "How could you possibly be calling yourself 3 times a day without knowing it?!"

My only defense (for the dialing, there is no defense for the singing) is that it's an exposed keypad and it gets mushed in my purse and accidentally speed dials. Myself. Good Lord, is it possible that I wasn't only dialing myself but also other people programmed into my speed dial. And leaving them all messages of my Sound of Music sing-a-longs? Like my brother, my friend Emily, the Macaroni Grill, or my obstetrician's office?

It's a good thing I've been conditioned by a lifetime of goofiness to handle these sorts of things in stride. Otherwise it would have been really embarrassing.

By the way, now I have a flip phone.