By Ellen Killoran
Preface: In Chuck Klosterman’s book Sex, Drugs and Cocoa Puffs, he lists 23 questions that address existential dilemmas of varying intensity. I have included 21 of those questions and my answers to them; two were discarded after experiencing several vivid nightmares about the reactions fromf family members and ex-boyfriends who might read them.
Disclaimer: Some of my answers likely contain factual errors, as I did not allow myself to google a number of cultural references that were over my head.
Q: You meet a magician. He can do five simple tricks: pull a rabbit out of a hat, make a coin disappear, turn an ace to a joker, and two similar others. These are his only tricks, and he cannot learn any more. HOWEVER, he is doing these tricks with REAL MAGIC. No illusions, he can actually conjure a bunny, and move a coin through space. He is legitimately magical, but limited in scope. Is this person more impressive then Albert Einstein?
A: This question has more to do with one’s definition of the word “impressive” – which can be a tricky one when you think about it – than it does the difference between a magician and Albert Einstein. While there is no question that Einstein is more influential and respected than your magician, the semantics of the word “impressive” involve a certain degree of shock value versus someone who is just a genius. If Einstein were able to actually launch a person into time travel instead of simply providing a very strong case for its physical possibility, then I would have to think twice. But so far, Einstein’s metaphysical work is strictly theoretical, and however vast the body, its practice involves materials and interactions currently available to human beings yet highly unlikely to be exercised. So, after excruciating consideration, I’m going with the magician; with an obligatory nod to Einstein, of course, for giving him the intellectual and scientific tools to make a coin disappear.
Q: Assume a fully grown horse is shackled to the ground with head held in place; conscious and upright, but immobile. Every political prisoner on earth will be released if you can kick this horse to death in twenty minutes. Steel-toed boots are allowed. Would you attempt this?
A: I hate this question. So much that I am cheating in my answer. I might attempt to kill the Clydesdale with my boot, but at 116 lbs., the likelihood of my being successful would be slim. Also, I probably wouldn’t try very hard. I recognize what you’re trying to get at is what a person believes about the relationship of action and consequences vs. inaction and consequences. Because my life has involved more inaction and negative consequences, one might assume that I would try to save the political prisoners at any cost, to try and redeem myself. But this is both vain and reckless, because who am I to think I can be a hero, having no cause to believe that the secondary consequences of freeing the political prisoners might not cause even further destruction than the horse I mercilessly killed? Again, I hate this question.
Q: There are two open boxes on a table. In one lays a turtle, in the other Adolf Hitler’s skull. If you select the turtle you must keep it and ensure it is alive for two years, else you will be fined $999 by the state. If you select the skull you must apolitically display it in your living room for two years, but you will be paid $120/month. Which option do you select?
A: This one’s easy. So easy, in fact, that I’m sure I’m missing the point. But that doesn’t change my answer. I would display Adolf Hitler’s skull. Right now, my apartment is pretty bare. I am in the midst of constructing pretentious and derivative wall art using vintage 8track album sleeves I’ve acquired through visits to the Rose Bowl Flea market, paired with records I don’t care about shrink wrapped in aluminum foil, to recreate symbolic platinum albums (whether Joan Baez’s Come From the Shadows actually went platinum is not something I can speak to, and decidedly beside the point). Right now, I’m struggling whether to destroy the Let it Be album cover (in decent condition) so that I may include the photography from the inside panels, which is far more interesting than the cover. I really don’t want to do this, but I might, that is if I had Adolf Hitler’s skull to hang in the center of my album cover collage, which would assume the currently vacant position of tour de force and spare the Let it Be album sleeve in its entirety. Your question doesn’t stipulate whether I have to explain why I have Adolf Hitler’s skull in my living room, or whether I even need to mention whose skull it is. I could always say that it’s Tom Geldenfinger’s skull, and few people would challenge me on this. Furthermore, I don’t like turtles, and could use $120 a month a lot more than I could use a $999 fine. If this is not a hypothetically hypothetical question, I’d like more information (i.e. how did you procure said skull?).
Q: Genetic Engineers have developed a super gorilla. It cannot speak but has a vocabulary of over 12,000 words in sign language, an IQ of ~85, and a sense of self-awareness. The 700 lb. creature becomes infatuated with football. ESPN analyst Tom Jackson speculates it would be borderline unblockable and would likely average 6 sacks a game, but may be susceptible to misdirection plays. The gorilla has made it clear he would never intentionally injure an opponent. You are the commissioner of the NFL: Do you allow the gorilla to sign with the Oakland Raiders?
A: Absolutely. There is a wide body of evidence suggesting the great apes (some of whom share 97% of the genetic makeup of humans, give or take) are far superior to contemporary humankind in their socialization and conflict-resolution skills. We might have a lot to learn from them. Some of the Congo’s indigenous tribes actually believe that certain breeds of the ape are actually practicing to become “human” in the event of the inevitable, imperialist-driven fallout of human civilization (about which, to be fair, they might have some factual misapprehension). I for one think they deserve all the practice they can get, instead of having their civilization slowly whittled away by the globalization of tropical logging. A gorilla fullback is probably the best PR campaign available for these endangered beasts. We already know that a baseline IQ of 85 is enough to keep the ACLU of our backs, and think about what it would do to the network ratings. Everybody wins!
Q: You meet your soul mate. The catch: every three years someone will break both of the love of your life’s collarbones with a crescent wrench. Unless: you swallow a pill that will make all the music you hear for three years sound as it was being covered by Alice in Chains. Do you swallow the pill?
A: I would find another soul mate. While there is no way I could tolerate a person I loved having their collarbone attacked by a crescent wrench on a regular basis, there is equally no way either of us could stay in a relationship where my protection of him was the cause of such a disastrous reduction in my quality of life. I would sooner go deaf and celibate than have Alice in Chains play at my wedding.
Q: The Dream VCR is invented; a machine that can record your dreams for an entire evening. However, when you watch the recording you must be in the same room as your family and closest friends. Would you still use it?
A: No. I already keep a consistent dream journal, which is full of conciliatory lies but nonetheless, padlocked.
Q: A Scottish marine biologist captures a live Loch Ness Monster. The same day a hunter in the Pacific Northwest shoots a Sasquatch in the thigh and takes it into captivity. That evening the president announces he has thyroid cancer and will undergo a biopsy next week. You are the front page editor of the New York Times: Which do you play as your big story?
A: If I was the front page editor of the Times, I would choose the Loch Ness Monster story. I’m sure I would lose my job as a direct result of this choice, but I’d probably find another job pretty quickly, or at least be able to successfully campaign for a demotion to editor of the Science Times or something. You know what, I just changed my answer in the course of typing it; I choose the Roch Ness. (Are you familiar with the Roch Ness Monster; the world’s reigning air-guitar champion?). Yes, Roch Ness it is!
Q: You meet the perfect person; romantically ideal. But they are obsessed with Jim Henson’s gothic puppet fantasy The Dark Crystal. They watch it once a month and pepper conversation with references, occasionally talking about a deeper philosophy. Would this be enough to stop you from marrying this individual?
A: Not nearly enough. In fact, I’d probably become a rabid Dark Crystal enthusiast myself.
Q: A novel entitled Interior Mirror is released to mammoth commercial success. Though no one can prove a direct scientific link, almost 30% of the people who read the novel immediately become homosexual. Many thank the book for helping them reach this conclusion about their sexuality. Interior Mirror is a crime novel with no homoerotic content and was written by a straight man. Would this phenomenon increase the likelihood of you reading this book?
A: I didn’t know you were such a big David Foster Wallace fan. This is my favorite question. The phenomenon would definitely increase the likelihood of me reading it, and I probably would. I think you should write a screenplay about this. Although I have one problem with the question: How is the phenomenon initially catalogued unless someone involved with the book knows beforehand its power to alter sexual orientation? For all we know, there already is a book or film out there that does the same thing, but no one has recognized the connection.
Q: Consider the opening riff of Barracuda on Heart’s Little Queen album, as well as the quote “You are not the kind of guy who would be in a place like this at this time of the morning….” Which of these two introductions is a higher form of art?
A: Regardless of whether it is or isn’t Nancy Wilson playing lead guitar on Barracuda(and I’m leaning towards not),I go with Heart over Jay McInerney any day of the week. My definition of high art involves some degree of purity, and well-crafted verbal irony doesn’t qualify (no offense). Also, if you marry the words “high” and “art,” you sort of get the word “heart,” especially if you’re high.
Q: You are watching a dazzling movie in a crowded theatre. With twenty minutes left in the film you are struck with the undeniable feeling that your mother has just died. There is no logical reason for this, but you are certain. There is no evidence of this, and your mother has not been ill. Would you finish watching the movie, or immediately exit the crowded theatre?
A: I would immediately leave the theatre and call my mother. If she’s still alive, we will make plans to watch the movie together the next day.
Q: You meet a wizard downtown. The wizard tells you he can make you more attractive. When you question the process, the wizard points to a random person on the street and says: “I will now make them a dollar more attractive.” He waves a magic wand. Ostensibly, this person does not change at all, but somehow this person is slightly more appealing. There is no tangible change to reflect this but they are undeniably sexier. The wizard has one rule: you can only pay him once, one lump sum up front. How much cash do you give the wizard?
A: I would give him all the cash I had in my wallet, which probably wouldn’t be more than $150. That should do a little something. I would like to know how many others out there would have the same opportunity. Is it just my wizard or everyone’s wizard? If everyone else has the same opportunity, I would probably go to the ATM and take out as much as the machine allows.
Q: Cats suddenly read at a 12th grade level. They cannot talk or write but can read silently and understand the text. Many cats love this new skill as it gives them something to do all day; others wallow in their own self pity because they’re unable to express themselves. Do you think the average cat would enjoy Garfield or would cats find this to be an insulting caricature?
A: I think cats would find Garfield to be equally as insulting as middle-America found Roseanne and Married With Children. Forget what I said before; this is my favorite question. I love you, Chuck. I think my cats would love you, too.
Q: You have a brain tumor. No discomfort but this tumor will unquestionably kill you in six months. Your life can be saved by an operation. The operation will require an incision into your frontal lobe. Thus after the surgery you will be significantly less intelligent, less logical, you will have a terrible memory, and difficulty understanding. The surgery is in two weeks. How you spend the next fourteen days?
A: I would hire a publicist and an accountant; make a living will; schedule the surgery; make sure Oprah knows; and start writing a book called Almost Brain Dead.
Q: Someone builds an optical portal which allows you to see your own life in the future. You can only look into it for thirty seconds. When you finally peer into the ball you see yourself sitting alone on the sofa decades older then you are today. You are watching Canadian Football, and you are extremely happy. You are wearing a CFL jersey, your sofa is surrounded by books and magazines on the CFL, and there are CFL pennants covering your walls. The future is static and absolute; no matter what you do this will happen, destiny can not be changed. The next day you are flipping through the channels and randomly come across a CFL game between the Toronto Argonauts and the Saskatchewan Roughriders. Knowing your inevitable future, do you now watch it?
A: I would definitely watch it, but I would not be able to shake the possibility that my having looked into the portal was the true pivotal mark of my CFL Superfan destiny. But since I’m stuck with it, it’s better to get started sooner than later, because maybe for me, the CFL is that unlikely road to happiness. (But: How do I know that I am a true CFL fan, and not just playing one on TV? Maybe what I saw was the taping of a commercial?)
Q: You are sitting in an empty bar, in a lonely town you have never been to before, drinking Bacardi with a soft-spoken acquaintance you barely know. After thirty minutes a man walks into the bar and sits alone. You ask your “friend” about him. He is described to you as “a man with a past.” Five minutes later another man walks in, sits alone and you ask about him. He is described as “a man with no past.” Of the two men, who do you trust less?
A: Which two men? I count three, unless the soft-spoken acquaintance is a woman. I trust the “man with no past” much less than the “man with a past.” The person I’m most worried about is my “friend.”
Q: You won a prize with two options: 1) A year in Europe with a monthly stipend of $2,000/month, or 2) Ten minutes on the moon. Which do you choose?
A: I’m pretty afraid of the moon from a good distance, almost as much as I am afraid of the fact the no one else seems to be, so this would not be a difficult choice. I would go Europe; although $2,000/month might not get me far depending on the Euro-Dollar exchange rate at that time. Does Eurasia count?
Q: Your best friend is taking a nap on your living room floor. This friend is going to die unless you kick them as hard as you can in the ribs. If you do not kick them, then they will never wake up. You cannot explain this existential dilemma to your friend, and if you inform them they will die. So you must kick them in the ribs and can’t tell them why. What excuse do you fabricate to explain this attack?
A: This is my least favorite question. If I can’t fabricate an excuse, how can I explain the attack? Assuming this isn’t a trick question, I would tell them that I tried several times in vain to wake them up by gentler means, and when they didn’t respond, I worried that they were suffering from carbon monoxide poisoning. I’m confident that their choice of location for the nap would support my story, which I guess wouldn’t matter, because they’re dead either way.
Q: Two movies are made about your life. 1) Indie-documentary comprised of interviews with your friends and family and bootleg footage from your actual life. Critics are describing it as “brutally honest and relentlessly fair.” 2) Big budget bio-pic with stars cast as you and your acquaintances. Critics are split on the artistic merit, but audiences love it. Which film would you be most interested in seeing?
A: I think I’d probably be more amused and have more to learn from the big budget, pseudo-fictionalized version – people are incapable of truly assessing a person’s contributions when said person has had an emotional impact on their life, unless the person in question is dead. Assuming that I’d still be alive, and that both films were playing at the same theatre around the same time, I’d buy a ticket for the independent documentary and sneak into the studio film.
Q: You work in an office. There are two rumors about you. The first is that you got drunk at the Christmas party and had sex with a married co-worker. This rumor is true, but no one believes it. The second is that you have been stealing office supplies and then selling them to cover a gambling debt. This rumor is false, but everyone assumes it is true. Which of these rumors is most troubling to you?
A: The stealing office supplies rumor is more troubling. I would much rather be someone who sleeps with a married co-worker than who steals office supplies to cover a gambling debt. Although clearly they are both forms of cheating, I see the stealing rumor as one that reflects a deeper, more persistent degeneracy than the isolated liaison. Almost everyone at one point in their life has gotten drunk and had sex with someone they shouldn’t have, because it’s fun. Only the truly desperate and unimaginative resort to stealing office supplies to pay off a bookie.
Q: You are living inside a sitcom. Everything about your life is a construction featuring an un-famous John Ritter as himself (playing your TV father). This is not a sitcom; it is your real life. How would you feel about this?
A: I would probably grow impatient with some maddening sitcom-specific behaviors – in particular the practice of two people launching into a discussion about an earlier event as they are walking into their apartment, when normal people would have already talked about it on the way back from said event. I would eventually subvert the premise with my frustration, which would turn my sitcom into a reality show. We could call it something like “Ten Simple Rules for Dating My Daughter.” I hope John Ritter was still alive when you asked this question.
Ellen is a Liberal Studies MA candidate. When she is not jockeying for the attention of pop culture icons, she enjoys watching Top Chef; typing; and discrediting the Drake Equation. She is an associate producer for the upcoming documentary “My Mother’s Beauty Cream.”