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Meta Chapter, Verse and Check Swing

Facebook is changing its name to some closely-guarded secret. No, this isn’t an early-stage revamping or dropping of “The” from in front of “Facebook.” This is a nod toward .. wait for it .. the Metaverse. And what, dear luddite, might the Metaverse be? According to those in the know, it’s a “shared virtual 3D world, or worlds, that are interactive, immersive, and collaborative.” It’s an alternate universe where the physical and biological can be uploaded and upended; tailored, altered and improved. It’s like the Internet minus the option of killing the screen and walking away. Put simply, it’s a place where Mark Zuckerberg can get laid.

What could possibly go wrong here? We’re already navigating an increasingly hostile digital landscape where falsely generated dopamine is tied to shitting on the other guy then waiting anxiously for validation from phony followers. The last vestiges of human interaction are being quarantined, passported, and doxxed. The walls of democracy have been bulldozed and remaining framework left hanging by poorly-nailed two by fours. What better flashlight to stumble upon in the dark than Zuckerberg, a  squirrelly dude who’s less than totally transparent when being grilled on his internal policy. Sure, he’s thrown a few of his billions toward hospitals and the like, and, depending upon your slant, put the ‘adults’ back in the D.C. room. But this is something else entirely. This is putting a cupcake on the nuclear trip-switch and trusting Adele to stick to the diet. This is handing Alec Baldwin a movie set gun based on prior displays of anger management.

On the other hand, it might mean I still have a shot at 1973 Wickerman-era Britt Ekland. So there’s that, too. Fully immersive digital reality minus the physical consequences feels like the last step before a completely shattered mind. Sure, maybe we’ll still exercise our bodies to keep the brain regulated, but why go outside or to the gym when all interaction can be simulated? There will be no vanity-based motivation. In the Metaverse we will all have perfect physical characteristics that can be altered at will. Our earthly selves will be rendered obsolete and we’ll be reduced to brains in boxes navigating this new dimension. Until the Zuckerberg brain box decides to digitize the rest of us and pursue his ultimate Burgess Meredith Twilight Zone librarian destiny.  OK .. maybe got a little out of hand with that last bit. Point is, I don’t care for it.

In one of my final nods to real-world activity, I attended the Giants-Dodgers do-or-die playoff game last week with my brother. This was game five of a five game series tied at two apiece. This was the Giants and Dodgers. This was two teams with 106 and 107 regular-season wins, respectively. This was unprecedented and on the heels of Covid-lockdown games with cardboard cutouts in place of fans. This was forty-one thousand actual human beings jammed into Oracle Park on a brisk October evening, all seemingly connected to the life and death importance of staying in touch with something of consequence; something that matters. It was also a game I had briefly considered not attending. After all, it doesn’t really “matter” by any humanly consequential measure. Life goes on afterward and, well, it’s only sports. A win would have meant brief exaltation and a sense of false stability, of all being right with the universe. And a loss would mean instant depression, a drop in testosterone, and an empty feeling likely to persist for the better part of the week.

Well, it was a loss. A close game, but a loss. In reality, I had no choice but to attend. This was pointed out by my friend Tom Myers, who said that I “had” to go. And of course, he was correct. I’ve constructed a life of avoidance when it comes to compulsory acts. And yet, they do arise from time to time. Had I not made the effort to get into the city, down to the ballpark, and in that seat, the thin line between me and Mark Zuckerberg’s pussy-ass utopia would have been obliterated.  Everything I’ve avoided in order to make my case that “this” matters and only “this” would have been meaningless. Every shred of identified “self” would have fallen away in favor of Metaverse Rick. Two inches taller, ten pounds lighter, and with Bryce Harper’s hair.

And so it was, my brother Rob and me, shuffling out of the stadium in silence after the last out ( a wrongly-called strike three on a check swing missed by the first base umpire.) A young Dodger fan in front of us taunted the crowd at large and there was that brief urge to hurt him, to make him pay for my own immaturity and inability to deal with disappointment. But this was still the real world and all that remained was the final required act of questionable adulthood: sucking it up and finding your way home. Rob and I didn’t speak, not for the slow climb up the steps, not for the shuffled walk among the deflated masses through stadium bowels, not until we emerged outside and he asked if I wanted a ride back with his wife, who was coming to pick him up.  We are different guys, as I noted at the parents’ funerals, but we share certain deeply connected truths. There was nothing to be said after a loss like this. “No,” I told him “I think I’ll walk home.” He opened his mouth, as though to offer some parting line, some obligatory, perspective-lending single sentence. But then he stopped. “I’ll talk to you tomorrow,” we both offered simultaneously. And I walked home to North Beach, the quiet crowd thinning and fading with each passing half-mile.

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