Podcast, Ergo Sum
“…mas filosofia é uma coisa, e morrer de verdade é outra” — Machado de Assis, Quincas Borba
He was the first to bid, and he bid blind nil. Red lips and smiley words can do a number to most young men. Of the 13 tricks he took 8 and left both the game and the evening unimpressive. Disappointed, as usual, he walked to his car (purchased by his mother) and remembered a recent one-way conversation with a friend at his mom’s house: “you need to get into the world of podcasts, man. I don’t know why you still drive with music on. There is so much for you to discover out there. Cars, investing, women, consciousness, the Universe. It’s incredible. The information available on these podcasts… it’s all free! I’ve got a ton of help for my dating life, really, which, you know… we both know you could use. Just try it out, man. It will change your life, seriously!” His mother overheard the conversation and, calling him by his boyhood name, questioned the value someone like the old Fear Factor host might offer. Unaware of what she meant, he chirped back, “don’t call me that anymore,” and told her to mind her own business with twenty-first century filial cordiality. The memory lingered as he opened his car door.
He sat down and took to his friend’s advice, hoping to dull the night’s loss. He took out his phone and shuffled through lights and pixels, landing on an episode between scientist Brian Cox and one Joe Rogan. The conversation started slow, but quickly and imperceptibly fell into the infinite — space, black holes, multiple universes, Kaluza-Klein, the Big Bang, what came before the Big Bag, etc. He was hooked. The ride seemed more a transposition through spacetime than a drive down the road. Ignorant to the car’s dangerously low fuel levels, he fumed his way home and parked unawares. The car idled as he sat diamond-eyed. Entranced in a glimpse of the endless beauty of knowledge, the engine stalled and cut off the voices. He frantically shifted to listening directly from his phone, which too had a low battery and died before the episode could reach the half-hour mark.
Rushing into the house, his mother — reading Eco’s The Name of the Rose by the fire (or was it Cortazar’s Rayulea?) — greeted him but he didn’t hear. Running down the stairs to his room, he anxiously searched for a charger and plugged himself back in. The reboot took ages, as if waiting for the apparition of divine etching on stone. Yet his faith was not in vain—the lights came back and lit his face; now he had ears to hear.
After two and a half hours the episode finished casually. Exhausted from the experience, he changed his clothes and played Minecraft. The following afternoon, he found another episode, listening to one a day, then two, then three. He began spending several hours absorbing, rewinding, replaying and repeating every word in his mind. At times he asked himself what he might respond were he the one having the conversation, but the thought was fleeting and unnerving. He intuitively took from his savings portfolio a portion ($747.00 hard-earned and harder-saved dollars), and purchased some AirPods Pro, which allowed him to listen at work, dinners, and social events. He started falling asleep to these conversations and dreaming of them, continually and consistently breathing in this new world.
He began working out here and there, taking Athletic Greens, eating gamey meats and shaving his head. He started wearing long-sleeved Henley shirts, downloaded the Cash App (though he never figured out how to get the free $10), wore MeUndies and saved for a Traeger. After hearing an episode with David Goggins, he grew to love the suave savor of his cursings, and eventually set them on repeat for new nocturnal listening. For a while he considered trying dimethyltryptamines, but deferred to Michael Pollan’s book instead — feeling full well the text allowed him to sufficiently experience the realms of the psychedelics. He told her all about it at the bar: a visual vortex, crystalizing perceptions of time and space, entities with whom he would commune, beholding the very expansion of the universe. It all fell painfully flat when she concluded, “remind me your name, again?” To the amusement of his friends, he replied “Joe, after my uncle.” Her red lips cracked an impervious smile, beautiful as he had ever seen, and she asked again. But he insisted, “it’s Joe, after my uncle Joe Rogan,” her eyes rolling in syncopation to the roar of his friends.
But the roar dimmed quickly. Time led him to the archives: an old episode with one Sam Harris. Within minutes, he knew and tasted the depth of Harris’ understanding by the simple cadence of his breath and every utterance of “defenestrate.” He was hooked — again — but the effect compounded. He quickly discovered Harris had a podcast of his own, to which he immediately paid the subscription fee, no questions asked. The next day he purchased some of Harris’ books, Free Will and Waking Up, and read them through the night with Goggins in the background; he didn’t understand a thing. He started using the Waking Up App, meditating and religiously tithing 10% of his income to Malaria Consortium. He grew out his hair and permed it, spoke tepidly, and began calling himself “Sam.” The joke lost its savor, and soon the nights listening with one ear at the bar became nights listening and meditating in the emptiness of his bedroom, embracing the illusion of the self. Ultimately, this led him to pity his mother and her “dogmatic religious traditionalism… I’m finally awake!” And she let him continue to live with her.
The cycle repeated with newer discoveries: he became Tim, then Lex, Dax, Eric etc. He started carrying separate phone chargers for rapid battery depletion. Over time he had to carry two, then five, then thirteen, then a bag full of loaded chargers to protect his battery life.
On the night he listened to every last episode of Sam Harris, Joe Rogan, Lex Fridman (the list goes into the infinite), he sat at the foot of his mother’s home. He decided it was time to leave her. He had sold his (mother’s) car, his bed, his books (except Sam Harris’), most of his clothes and carried what little he now owned in his bag of portable chargers. He took the tax hit on his measly 401k and purchased a one-way ticket to Nepal, but didn’t leave enough to get to the airport. Trying to figure out how to get from A to B, his AirPods died. He pulled them from his head, took a look, and put them back in as she drove by.
“Hey! Are you okay?” sang her red lips from the driver’s side.
The engine idled mid-road, “I’m headed to Olive’s house and saw you sitting here, you know, on the side of the road. You look lost. Are you okay, do you need a ride somewhere?”
Her swansong voice sang like glass and reflected at him a lost reality. He sat dazed and she grew confused, even worried, and asked: “Hey, do you need a ride somewhere? What was your name again?”
He glazed at her Sampson eyes but didn’t hear—he couldn’t hear.
“Hey, what is your name?”
And he didn’t respond; he didn’t have words to respond. He didn’t have words. All he had was the conglomeration of noise and sounds, electricity and vibrations. He wore nothing but a blank stare and a bag of phone chargers. He couldn’t respond, and if he could have, he didn’t remember. He no longer had memory of a name given by mother and father ; there was no memory of father, and a dying memory of mother. Her red lips now spelled danger, and he read them clearly, falling into a black hole of self-fulfilling silence.
In this moment of humid misery, his phone rang a notification on the remaining 1% battery: “We are making some improvements to the private podcast feed, and it’s impacting some active subscribers’ accounts. If your podcast player displays a yellow icon (shown above), your subscription may have expired and you’ll need to take action.” In an instant of electric satisfaction, the tides calmed within as the engine’s timbre grew ever softer.
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