I wake one morning a week ago, and realize I have few clues as to who or what I am, other than present, old, and anatomically male. I’ve been busy with other things, for a very long time.
I turn on the bedside lamp and attempt to locate my self in order to plumb my depths, reckon with my character, assess my qualities both fine and foul. I realize I’m trapped in a bizarre, bifurcated scheme in which the self attempts to contact itself, but I don’t care. Neither am I troubled by the idea that a “self” might not exist. I once taught philosophy; nonsense is my specialty.
Nothing lights up the brain screen after a few minutes labor; I draw a blank. I sense nothing but the furnace coming on in the basement, prompted by the timer on the thermostat.
At this juncture, waiting for the ambient air temp in the house to rise to 67 F., I have two choices: remain oblivious to what makes Karl Isberg tick — to what kind of person I am, to whatever talents and traits I possess, to potential exercised and squandered — or engage in a voyage of self discovery, despite the fact there is scant time left for the trip, little wind for the sails, and no map to indicate ports of call.
Being the curious sort, I opt for discovery. So, I’ve learned at least one thing: I’m curious.
But, how to go about the search? Exhaust my meager investments to pay for the twice-weekly services of an ill-trained counselor/garage door installer? Spend those same funds to participate in self-awareness and sensitivity retreats at expensive Northern California spas, complete with clothing-optional hot tub get-togethers with Marin County divorcées? Quit drinking and cease consuming a number of other intoxicants? Join a drum circle? Become a Mason? Attend services at the Happy Church?
No, not when there is a free and fast way to learn everything I need to know about myself. (I ascertain at this point that I am not only curious, but that I am a miserly and lazy substance abuser. I am making progress.)
My tools for this work? Internet tests and quizzes.
Online quizzes provide me a cheap alternative to analysis, relief from the prospect of conversion and Sunday church services, complete with Praise Band. No need to spend years plumbing my psyche and reviewing memories I’ve altered to suit my needs as I recline in the company of a non-committal dork who takes notes, watches the clock, and sends me bills I’m hard pressed to pay.
I leap from bed, don my Cornell Hockey hoodie sweatshirt (a gift from my granddaughter, Forest), pull on a pair of paint spattered wool pajama pants, brew and consume twelve cups of coffee, amp up the iMac, and steer to the Web.
I’m ready for action.
Before I get to the personal enlightenment business, however, I complete my daily Net routine: 1) check e-mail and respond enthusiastically (adding several snappy memes) to the lovely Russian woman who invites me to be her “special friend”; 2) click on to Facebook to “Like” the pet photos; 3) scan the food and arts sections of The Guardian; 4) scan the food and arts sections of the New York Times; 4) connect to the XHamster porn site, go to the “Amateurs” category, and search for familiar faces.
During my porn search, I come across several fascinating videos featuring dwarves. This puts me in mind of a story concerning the acquisition of Andrea Mantegna’s “The Triumph of Caesar” — a series of nine very large paintings — by Charles I, of England, not long before he was executed. Vincenzo Gonzaga II, the Duke of Mantua, sold the masterpieces when he ran short of the cash needed to procure the services of a renowned female dwarf. It’s said the Gonzagas maintained elaborate quarters in the castle for the little folk.
I catch myself as I begin to drift off course, and steer back to the task at hand.
Several more cups of coffee, and it’s off to the quizzes!
I spend at least four hours each day during the week completing all sorts of internet quizzes, many brought to my attention on Facebook, most functioning as probes sent out by marketers eager for information. Every click on the web these days provides data for capitalist opportunists. This is why I receive a steady stream of pop-ups offering me Korean plastic shoes, multi-million dollar condos in lower Manhattan, and half-price, “male enhancement” herbal supplements.
The flood of self-awareness I encounter as I pursue my digital quest is overwhelming. It is so intense that, after a day’s work, I need a third, triple-strength gin and tonic, and two Gummi Bear edibles, to calm my nerves.
What do I discover? About me?
On day one, I learn:
I’m not smarter than a fourth grader.
Many people think I am 104 years old.
I have no fairy powers.
I do not know Genovi’s national fruit.
I am 5 percent unicorn.
The quizzes work additional wonders as the days pass. I begin to detect the presence of a person lurking nearby.
On this free voyage of self-discovery, the more quizzes I complete, the more I know about myself — the real me. The more I know the real me, the more reconciled I am to my quirks and missteps. After three days of web tests, I am able to forgive myself for everything but one incident that took place in 1966. (Since I don’t remember much of what happened between 1966 and 1986, I can’t account for what occurred during that time.)
As a result of my new clarity, a measure of the weight of remorse lifted from my psychic shoulders, I forge ahead absent the baggage of guilt, scooting to what little future I have left, refreshed and optimistic. How can it be otherwise? After all, I’m 5 percent Unicorn!
Not only do I benefit from the psychological power wash, but I learn things that allow me to see myself as others likely see me — the only balanced, valid perception of one’s own reality, according to someone whose name I’ve forgotten. Probably someone whose work I read between 1966 and 1986.
What do I find during the remaining days of work, you ask?
For starters: I belong in the year 1908. I’ve long suspected this, what with my bowler hat and spats fetish, and it is comforting to discover it is true.
My food preferences tell me I am somewhat of an introvert, but given to rage provoked by poorly made fresh pasta and smoked Gouda. The smoked Gouda problem has been with me for a while, it’s origin in a botched deal with an Amsterdam vendor, following three spliffs of Skunk at a cozy, canal-side coffee shop. How was I to know I was in the Red Light District, and that Lotte was not a purveyor of smoke-kissed, fermented milk products? A note to travelers: the Amsterdam police are mature, reasonable folks. A tip of the bowler to them.
I am a genius, (though not smarter than a fourth-grader) since I correctly answer 98 percent of the questions on a “GRE Test.” I could be president.
I will never enjoy a career as an entomologist, as I am unable to identify 20 out of 30 bugs. I am terrified by the ten I do identify, again confirming that I could be president.
I should have listened to my parents when they urged me to become a doctor, like my father. My childhood reading materials consisted of medical journals and texts and, with this background, I am able to ace the “Name the Disease From Only Three Clues” test.
For example, given these clues — fidgeting, more fidgeting, and Ritalin — I correctly diagnose ADHD. It helps, of course, that I’ve been the ADD poster boy for more than 70 years. I was among the first early-adolescent fidgeters prescribed Ritalin, and I made a small fortune (for a kid) selling the pills to juvenile delinquents at Byers Junior High School.
With several of the questions, I don’t need to review the three clues, since the photo accompanying the query is a dead giveaway. For instance, a photo of Ronald Reagan leaves room for only two answers: “Mediocre Actor,” or “Alzheimer’s Disease.” Since Mediocre Actor, while definitely a disease (check out a high school play or a community theater production), is seldom featured in the med school curriculum, Alzheimer’s it is!
The photo of Amy Winehouse: borderline personality disorder and anorexia — no clues necessary.
And there is no getting the wrong answer when it comes to Canker Sores.
I could be a cook, since I also ace the “Can You Name These British Foods” quiz. My mother’s family was of English origin, her grandparents emigrating directly from the Lake Country to the mining town of Central City, Colorado. My Aunt Hazel, a staunch Brit, taught me to cook, and twenty-two of the twenty-five concoctions on the quiz list are in my kitchen repertoire. Who of any worth has not made Toad in the Hole or clotted cream, or baked a Cornish Pasty? I am unashamed to admit I’ve wolfed down a Chip Butty or three in London, and that the Eton Mess became a family standard after my maternal great-grandfather graduated from that esteemed haven for homophiles well before the turn of the last century. I correctly guess the three unfamiliar British dishes by opting for the oddest names available.
Perhaps the result that will most impress people, and certainly shock some of them, is the fact that I am one hundred percent Catholic. My apologies to Dad’s family and to any Ashkenazi ancestors. I finish the twenty-five-question Catholic History quiz with a perfect score. The questions grow more difficult as the quiz proceeds to its end, but I don’t lose a step, not even when confronted with the final question: “St. Bibiana is the patron saint of…?”
Easy: hangovers and insanity. Those who know me will not be surprised that I come up with the correct answer.
(Bibiana is my third favorite saint: the child of martyrs, she was turned over to the care of a ruthless pimpette after mom and dad suffered their gruesome but God-sanctioned ends. The lass refused to engage in prostitution, and was thrown in the loony bin, then flogged to death. Her body was left to the dogs, and not one of the curs would take a bite. Now, tell me: Is this not a saint to remember and admire?)
I also ace the Are You an Episcopalian? test. With the exception of mention of Henry VIII and Cromwell, and one question concerning the average alcohol volume in Scotch Whisky, the test is identical to the Catholic quiz.
As I continue to answer questions, Karl, the person, is further illuminated. I am entranced. By me.
According to the Facial Recognition quiz from the University of California at Berkeley, I am a borderline sociopath. This makes sense, since the Political Compass test shows me to be an amalgam of Gandhi and Margaret Thatcher. The U-Cal finding would not be news to anyone who knew me between 1966 and 1986.
I am placed on the Kinsey Scale at predominantly heterosexual, but more than incidentally homosexual. This, too, rings true in edifying fashion: in high school I was crazy in love with a blond girl who owned a Buick Skylark convertible and, at the same time, I was infatuated with the goalie on my hockey team. He was so very pale, and was unexpectedly lithe for a goalie.
With these qualities in full flower, I take the Sokany Career Test, and it informs me I should seek work as a quarry rock splitter or an animal caretaker.
It’s good to know there are restorative occupations available to me, since another test reveals I am currently getting a D- grade “in life.” I imagine a year or two spent at the rock quarry, and/or with a pack of Rottweilers, will boost that mark to C.
So, as an employed, borderline sociopath who fancies an occasional coupling with hockey goalies, and prefers the company of unpredictable canines, what are some of the other characteristics I can now proudly present to the world (considering I do not know Genovi’s national fruit)?
Well, first off, I am the color fuchsia and, thus, extremely attractive to older Iranian housewives. A bit of research tells me that Persian female ardor increases during Ramadan. A hefty evening meal, a cigarette, and a couple glasses of rosewater, and these gals are reportedly ready for a tumble. I go to Amazon and order a copy of “Farsi for Idiots.”
Mindy Kaling will play my best friend in the movie of my life, though I’ve never heard of Mindy Kaling, and I’m not sure I’ve ever had a best friend. Perhaps I had a best friend between 1966 and 1986, in which case…
I search for Mindy Kaling on Google. I suppose she’ll do; she has lovely hands.
Another test ends with a related warning: Under no circumstances should I date my best friend.
My Tiki Spirit cannot be identified due to my hesitation when asked to choose between coconut and pineapple, but I discover that, though I admire Dionysus, I most resemble the Greek god Hephaestus.
I learn that my soul is approximately six weeks old. This is right on the mark, explaining both my utter lack of awareness of my surroundings, and my propensity for overindulgence. It strikes me as odd that I can be 104 years old, with a soul a mere four years old. It also strikes me as odd that people still believe there is such a thing as a soul. But, life is strange, isn’t it? It certainly was between 1966 and 1986.
I can see all seven shapes, and I am not addicted to peanut butter. If I were a cookie, I’d be a vanilla wafer — if a fruit, a persimmon.
Asked a question concerning my preferences regarding Ed Sheeran songs, I must first deal with the fact I have never heard an Ed Sheeran song. I print out a list of his hits, pin it to the wall, and throw a dart at the list. My choice indicates I will get engaged in August. Obviously, not to my best friend.
Despite the healing power of the tsunami of self-knowledge, as a borderline sociopath I still have a tendency to fly off the handle, and not just about pasta and cheese. I’m irate after I miss the first question on the Are You a Genius Spelling Test. The first word is cemetary. Or is that cematary? Cematery? I make a note to send an anonymous, abusive note to the fools who put this test together. They probably work in the Ag Department at a community college somewhere in Alabama, wear bib overalls, and inseminate livestock by hand. Without gloves.
On the basis of my choice for the ingredients in an “ideal burrito” my favorite song by the Dave Matthews Band is “So Much to Say.” I detest the Dave Matthews Band, but I‘ll go to Spotify and check out the song. While I’m at it, I’ll dial in a bit of Ed Sheeran, and listen until I fly into a rage.
On my final day of research, I select the ingredients for an “ideal sandwich” and learn I most resemble Shaggy Rogers, on Scooby Doo. I intend to go back to this quiz, change roast beef to turkey, cheddar to Swiss, and mustard to mayo, in order to see if I then resemble Scrappy, my favorite Scooby Doo character. This would make me very happy, and help me as I struggle with my rage problem.
My score on the Beauty Quiz indicates I am an African American woman in her 30s. I straighten my hair. I am divorced. Twice.
I am a twice-divorced African American woman with a pink aura. This is, by all accounts, “very unusual.” I’m thrilled to find out I am very unusual.
Wow, so much insight, coming with so little effort on my part. So many rewards, with no money spent. After a week, I am the only thing spent. I’m exhausted.
But, thanks to the info gained from Internet quizzes, I’m becoming whole, fully realized, the best possible exhausted Karl in this best of all possible worlds.
At last, I can now crawl forward to open that last door and cross the threshold into the void, fully confident I have filled my container.
I am self-aware. And, hey, I like me.
I’ve got to go now: I need to mix a triple-strength G and T, saddle up the vape, revitalize myself, and go back to the “ideal sandwich” quiz.
God, I love that damned Scrappy Doo. Perhaps he can be my best friend.