Parable of the Caribou perks card

This is a story to illustrate some varieties of trouble that may arise due to high psychoticism.

In my wallet is one of those rewards cards that you swipe to get free drinks, upgrades, and such at coffee shops, shopping centers, and pretty much everywhere one spends money nowadays. The idea is that the shopkeep wants to encourage people to habitually buy from him, so he offers deals, discounts, and other rewards to people who do. It’s all very Pavlovian- loyalty through habituation.

Now, I go to Caribou pretty much every day. Coffee is my vice, they have good coffee, they have comfortable seats where I can get some extracurricular work done, and it’s become part of my (rather strict) daily routine. Every time I buy something, they ask “Do you have a perks card?” and every time I answer “Yes, but it’s not registered”. After this, I resolve to register the card immediately once I sit down to work. I have also managed to spill a little bit of my coffee at this point, either on the counter or the front of my shirt. Having done this, I resolve further that I will learn from this experience and not spill coffee the next day, which resolution is realized maybe once per week (if it’s a good week). I then apologize to the barista, who says “it’s no big deal” and cleans up my mess, and I sit down with my computer.

By the time I sit down, nine days out of ten I have completely forgotten about the perks card. The very idea has flown the coop. Some rare days, I pull it out of my wallet and set it on my lap, whereafter I forget about it because I’ve engaged in a longstanding habit chain: laptop open, browser open,, new tab,, new tab,, new tab, After this, psychoticism reigns until my cell phone timer goes off (time for work). Perks cards? Pish tosh. Mere relics of a forgotten world.

I have gone through this ritual a few hundred times now, over about three years, and it’s likely I’ve missed out on at least one full day’s wages due to this bizarre form of incompetence. By taking five minutes of my time, three years ago, I could have taken an entire day off from work and picked at my toes all day, and be just as close to realizing any of my vague plans. Not once have I actually typed in the URL on the card, or even read the instructions. Without pulling out the card, I couldn’t tell you whether it has any. And yes, I am planning to register it after finishing this parable. Will I succeed? I can’t even guess, because the idea of the card has entered the ether, where my mind dwells.

Life can be a strange beast sometimes.

Now, expand this idea into an entire adult life, and we can see wherefore the majority of psychotic dysfunction. Success in modern life is founded upon manifold behaviorisms, which is a neologism I’ll have to define. These “behaviorisms” are rules of behavior characterized by 1) smallness 2) simplicity 3) disjointedness, 4) requirement of a short period of uninterrupted attention and 5) classical reward/punishment by a distant authority. A perfect example is the small steps required to drive a car. Let me ask you, is your driver’s license expired? The tabs on your plates? Is your insurance good to go? If it is, how do you know? When was your last oil change? How does one keep track of these things, and resolve them in an efficient order? It would be too much effort to create a routine for every disjointed, five-minute task that must be done every six months, or every two years. To succeed in following every law, and proactively filling out every form, would require nothing less than the constant, full attention of a person addicted to boredom.

I once tried to explain to my mom that I don’t call her very often simply because it’s not something I do routinely. I tried to fix this by setting a regular time, but she would have nothing of the sort. “Just call me sometimes when you think of it,” she said. I tried to explain, “Things don’t just occur to me, the way they do to you.” Life is like trying to keep my gas tank full, except I don’t have an indicator on the dashboard that lights up to tell me when I’m pushing my luck, and there are one thousand little tanks instead of one big one, and each little tank requires me to stop at a different gas station. Each stop, by itself, is not a big deal. But the sum total is overwhelming.

And I can’t overemphasize the importance of point 3, the disjointedness of these behaviorisms. If they could all be connected to a set of singular principles, they could be anticipated and understood as a group. Instead, they are constantly changing and shifting like sand dunes in the desert. The only way to keep track of all the little obligations in modern life is to apply full and constant attention to every newsletter, publication, e-mail, and casual rumor, while always keeping an eye on the sands themselves. Only a parent could manage such a heroic feat out of a feeling of natural responsibility, or maybe a neurotic. It is like being tasked to count grains of sand. “Why did you stop? Why do you say it’s too hard? You’ve counted 10,000, is it so hard to count the next? It’s just a single grain of sand.”

Again, this wouldn’t even be so much trouble if there were a giant checklist somewhere which, by some miracle, we could keep track of all these things. Nutrition requirements are list A, DMV and car insurance are on list B…yada yada…and the process for financial aid is on checklist Z. By next year, this list would be hopelessly out of date, and the nutrition requirements would be incorrect (but failure to follow them makes your health insurance cost more!). So during every moment of downtime, we must be continuously scouring our minds for details we may have missed, and still paying attention to every newsletter, publication, e-mail, and rumor, and yet we can’t let all this distract us while we’re filling out a simple form. Grains of sand.

I’ve mentioned this before, but at my very worst I was unable to fill out an application even one page long. During this time I was seeking psychiatric help for all this nonsense (I was still pretty young and stupid then), and was informed that I could receive Adderall (basically amphetamines) if I simply read a 40-page brochure for healthcare assistance (of some kind or another) and filled out a six-page application. I was crestfallen at the time, but it was probably a lucky break. Imagine what my life would be like if I’d succeeded, and began working myself to death over checklists A-Z! Thinking that was my best of two options, no wonder I was depressed. I didn’t even ask my parents for help with this process, as their reaction was decidedly ho-hum to my diagnoses of ADHD-I, major recurring depression, Tourette’s. Their only question was when I was going to get over it and get back into the university system, and become an engineer (actuary science was an acceptable alternative).

They have since given up on the possibility that I will amount to anything, and we have built a mutually amiable relationship out of this disengagement.

By the way, if you’ve made the connection to the previous post, that means you’re paying attention. Time to bring all this retardation to a conclusion. In conclusion, I’ve finished this post only barely in time to leave for work, and the Caribou card is still in my pocket, and I won’t be registering it today, and will continue paying full price for my coffee even though Caribou sets the full price by assuming 99% of the customers aren’t going to be paying the full price. But in its own way that’s fine, because I’ve decided all I want from life is plain, black coffee and a place to sit. The calories in those big, sugary drinks will put you in the grave quicker than you’d think.

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16 Responses to Parable of the Caribou perks card

  1. slenkar says:

    I had this strange blind spot at college where the teacher would announce the class is going to be held at a different time and that the new times would be put on a notice board. I would never look at the notice board and would turn up at the usual time, about an hour late when the class was about to end.

  2. lflick says:

    just set up a dang cron job

    drink three cups of strong coffee and free-associate for five minutes SET A TIMER on what things do I got to do every six months then put a line in the cron job

    or have a permanent marker in your shirt pocket and draw a dang caribou dick on your face. MAN there are so many things it’s not worth doing, don’t even angst about it, maybe caribou dick is one of those things. Then there are the things you just need a cron job for. This cron job can run ~/bin/ it don’t have to be a pointless email you never check anyway.

    BRO you just wrote this whole post to ANNOY ME DIDN’T YOU argh I guess I got trolled.

    • Aeoli Pera says:

      I think for once you missed the general thrust of the thing.

      The point is that thalbrains often suffer chronic dopamine shortages, which causes a phase change in personality type that makes it practically impossible to start caring about all the behaviorisms all over again. The giant interlocking edifice of dopamine-seeking behaviors would have to be recreated from scratch.

      In a more concrete form, imagine that throughout childhood someone gives you a small hit of cocaine every time you lay a brick. This feels like real accomplishment. Then that person disappears for some reason. You keep laying bricks for a while, because it’s all you know. Eventually, you can’t continue. Why not? You didn’t realize it at the time, but it was never about the bricks. You keep coming back every now and then, hoping the bricks will give you the old feeling they used to. But aside from a little nostalgia and the enjoyment of physical exertion, there’s nothing.

      Then imagine someone else comes along, without the supply of cocaine, who wants to get the bricklaying back on schedule. You might try for a bit, but you can’t keep up the work effort because you’re no longer an addict working toward the next fix.

      • lflick says:

        Haha, thrust.

        I wonder when my cocaine-wielding brick supervisor went away. Early in college I think. That explains the depression and lack of function. I _was_ getting hit with a stick whenever I slowed down _too_ hard on the bricks, though, so that I never actually quit bricklaying and didn’t have to go live in a cardboard box. Good thing I sorted out the Magic of Friendship before I became inured to the beatings.

        • Aeoli Pera says:

          >Haha, thrust.

          Lol, I needed that.

          As for the cardboard box, I have an intuition that it’s not so bad if one has a constant income by which to eat well and insulate the box with blankets. Faye Kane seems to get by okay, although admittedly she’s a lot smarter than I am.

  3. Craig says:

    My mate Sean use to have a kill list, all sorts of things. I was never on the kill list… Thank the gods.

    I taught him how to play indoor hockey, he scored one of the winning goals of the grand final, admittedly I fed him the ball lots. He picked up the skills I taught him and made them his own. Though he did have a bad habit of putting his entire body weight on the stick, which left him defenceless of meeting the floor if it was taken out.

    He now has a wife and daughter, so he still turned out al right. He just took a little longer to bloom is all. I think finding a woman to have a family with is what ultimately bought him out of his shell.

    • Aeoli Pera says:

      >He now has a wife and daughter, so he still turned out al right. He just took a little longer to bloom is all. I think finding a woman to have a family with is what ultimately bought him out of his shell.

      I probably haven’t put nearly enough emphasis on these points. I might have mentioned in passing that marriage gives male thals a huuuge boost in conscientiousness, and often enough to provoke a phase change in personality and life trajectory and such. But it’s also dangerous- all’s fair in love and war, as the Great One put it.

  4. Aeoli Pera says:

    I have something approaching a “mission” in life these days. Though the details are a bit sketchy, I don’t expect a thallish barista to ever be part of it. If it is, I’ll thank God, and if not, I’ll thank God. As the hymn goes, “it is well with my soul”.

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  9. aiaslives says:

    necrobump, but what helps is writing one letter every day.

    I had to submit this report three years ago and I hated writing it, so I wrote one sentence every day for the rest of the term (three months) during the short breaks when the professor was arranging his laptop or whatever. I did that (and forgot about it five minutes later) and submitted it on time. No agony.

    Please add “recent comments” to the sidebar.

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