Confusing Train Adventure

2013-07-04 19:14

One hour. That’s how long you’re told it will take to start to feel the effects of the innocuous looking cake. You’ll shortly be boarding a train from Amsterdam to Eindhoven where you and some friends have a reservation for the night. There’s track work so the trip will comprise of a train ride, a bus ride, a second train ride, and finally a bus trip from the station to the hotel.

You came into this with some premonitions, and so are wary of the placebo effect, and also of the fact that your awareness of the placebo effect may cause you to ignore something legitimate. You board the first train of the journey and take a seat. It’s been a big day of traveling. You realise you’re exhausted, so you close your eyes for a bit. It’s been half an hour.

When you wake, the train is still moving. Nothing yet, though you aren’t entirely sure what to expect. Reading from the paperback you brought with you, you find yourself getting to the end of a paragraph and not knowing what you just read. That’s fine - you’re just tired - that always happens when you’re tired.

The first transfer goes without a hitch. It’s a bit hard to concentrate, but once again, you’re exhausted. You enjoy the scenery as you look out the window of the bus. It’s summer, so the sun doesn’t set until around 10pm. You think back on your premonitions. Pop culture would have you believe that you should be taking great interest in relatively trivial things. If you were a character in a television show, you would be staring out the window, transfixed on whatever was out there, ignoring all other stimuli. At this point you realise that your mouth is hanging slightly ajar, and you’ve been staring out the window for a very long time with little regard for anything else going on around you.

This happens a number of times. Each time, you take amusement in the fact that this is what society expects of you. You find yourself thinking a lot about what the people around you are thinking about you. Do they know? Are they judging you? You take out your paperback and try to get some more reading done. You read a sentence. The following sentence has some pronouns, that probably refer back to the previous sentence, but you can’t figure out which people or objects are being referred to by words like “he”, “she”, and “it”. You re-read the two sentences several times and eventually make some progress but it’s slow going, and once again, frustrated, you give up and go to sleep.

The next transfer is more difficult. You find yourself in a snack shop, staring at a shelf of food. What do you want? How do you normally deal with these situations, where the choice is essentially arbitrary. It doesn’t matter what you buy. You don’t even have to buy anything. Hurry up - you’ve been staring at this shelf for a while now. You pick out a waffle, and proceed to the counter. When asked if you’d like a drink, you nervously move towards the fridge, before being reassured that you don’t have to buy a drink, at which point you return to the counter without a drink.

On the train, you reflect on how you navigated the snack shop. You realise that the cashier probably noticed something, and that out-of-towners must put her through something similar quite frequently. “Bloody tourists!”, you imagine her thinking. This is an amusing thought, worthy in fact of sharing with your friends. You try, and it seemed to go alright - they got the gist of what you said, but think you meant that the cashier actually mentioned something to you (she didn’t). You try to clarify your point, but a few words in you pause for thought and struggle to recall how you got to that point of the sentence. Eventually you get your point across.

But your inability just then to form a coherent sentence got you thinking about what exactly is going on. You try to communicate this, but your friends just laugh at you. They say something, you reflect on what they said, realised that they asked you a question but you’ve forgotten exactly what it was. You respond as best you can.

You find this whole ordeal very amusing, and chuckle quietly to yourself. Then you realise that people are watching you laugh for apparently no reason. From their point of view you are conforming to a stereotype, and this thought is even more hilarious than the last. So you laugh harder. After several minutes of this positive feedback loop perpetuating itself, you become embarrassed and force yourself to stop.

Your latest theory is that there’s been a delay introduced between perceiving something, and processing it. You hear a sentence, it sits in a buffer for longer than usual, slowly fading from your memory, before you attempt to determine its meaning. Interesting thought, better tell everyone about it. But news of your latest epiphany is met only with laughter.

Riding the bus on the last leg of your journey, you notice something new. The sound of the engine is, at a certain frequency, repeating short bursts of a high pitched whine. You must have ridden on a hundred buses in your life and have never noticed it before. If you stop concentrating on the noise, you stop hearing it, but it resumes once you focus your attention on the sound of the engine, which you do very often, as you find it fascinating. By this point, you have enough sense to not mention it to anyone.

You arrive at your hotel, and exhausted, collapse onto your bed. You realise that the paperback you were reading is no longer with you. Where did you leave it? You think back on the events of the past few hours, and you can’t be sure at which point it left your side, but you have a suspicion that the cashier at the snack shop will be enjoying a new copy of A Storm of Swords.