Monday, September 6, 2010

Dryer Sheets As Epistemological ICBM

First: The title. I'm proud and a little embarrassed of it. Then again, if you've read Eleven Names, then you should know, I'm no stranger to stretched military-industrial complex metaphors and conflicting feelings.

Epistemology is the study of knowledge and while philosophy is wide-ranging (and applicable almost everywhere) I never expected that I would be playing Newton and dryer sheets would be my apple.

I'll explain.

I was washing my clothes in a washer and that was going okay. Well, bad. It costs 1.5 Euros to do a load, which comes out to roughly $2, so that's suboptimal and a lot more expensive than I'm used to. I had put both loads in the washers and around the 20 minute mark on the first washer, I realized: I didn't bring dryer sheets with me. The vending machine outside the washing room, which sells detergent (thank God!) does not sell dryer sheets.

I went downstairs (since the washing facilities are on the fourth floor) to ask anyone I could find if they had dryer sheets. They didn't. So, I went further downstairs to ask the helpful security guard who was okay with English if he had any dryer sheets. He pointed me, sincerely to the flyer for the sheet exchange on Tuesday. "No, no," I said, "dryer sheets. The things you put in the dryer with your clothes." He looked at me with a look that said I was describing something alien to him.

I sighed and tried explaining the concept of dryer sheets: "You know, dryer sheets, the little sheets you put in with your clothes that help...uhhhh...with...cling...and...uhhhhh..." That's when it hit me: I have no idea what dryer sheets do. I don't know what I don't know. In other words, I am unaware of what I still need to learn. For example, I know for goodamn sure I don't know Italian, which is something I need to learn. I am aware of this deficiency.

But it wasn't until I needed dryer sheets that I had no idea what dryer sheets did and could not explain what they were to a person who was not fluent in English. He thought I was talking about the sheet exchange. I could not explain why, for God's sake, one would use dryer sheets. I used words like cling, but cling is a bad introduction to the concept to a non-native speaker.

I know I don't know Marx and he's a relatively important thinker these days. But dryer sheets defeated me. Dryer sheets. It's always the stuff that's mundane and not fantastical that gets people. Like how the Brooklyn Dodgers are in Los Angeles for Steve Rogers.

The next question, of course, how do I find out what else I don't know? Looking around the room I'm in, it's filled with kids (like me) all on their computers Skypeing home to their friends or talking about how they're going to a bar sometime next week. Safe to say I probably won't find it here sitting at the computer. But there's few other places to go where the internet access is reliable, so here are all the lovers and the kids who pretend they want to get work done.

And man, I've been playing Torchlight for most of the time that I've been here, with the occasional dalliances into Facebook or Twitter, both of which are data-mining the shit out of everything I write, as does Google every time I want to search for something. I'm as guilty as all of the kids here. It takes work and willingness to be uncomfortable for an un-mediated "authentic" Italian experience.

To add to that, I think it's incredibly self-aggrandizing to continue down this line of thought, since it leads to self-satisfied "I'm adventurous" bullshit, so I'll just say that I'm not as successful as I'd like to be in putting myself in new or interesting or different situations where I feel out of place. I mean, yeah, I've done a couple things, but by and large, I haven't been eating food I'd consider strange or really Gone Out on my own.

That will be this week. A friend of mine who was in Rome before me gave me a list of places and I'll have the time to capitalize on that this week. I need to get uncomfortable again, because it's in that discomfort and unsure feeling that knowledge is transmitted and unceremoniously dropped. Unless something crazy happens, Wednesday will probably be about Camus, again. If things work out, the embryonic D&D game will be on Friday.

Today's song is Comadre's cover of I Think We're Alone Now. Comadre is a punk band that has a muddy, raucous screamo edge and this cover is so loose and fun that it captures the spirit of Comadre really vividly. The guy's voice, even for hardcore punk, is rough, but after 20 or so listens, it's charming. If you need a RIYL for the song, think the Bronx, and that's close enough.

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