For all the really cool games we played as kids -- Battleship, Pop yer Top, Let's Throw My Cousin's Glasses Into a Tree -- there were a lot of stupid ones you just had to endure.
I hated Telephone, a dumb game where a phrase gets whispered from kid to kid until what comes out at the end is nothing like what you started with. I vaguely remember playing this in school; it was supposed to be a lesson in how things get lost in the translation and how even your own senses can deceive you. This, mind you, was in Catholic school, where they also taught that Jesus walked on water.
Telephone was boring, but its lessons are valid: (a) People don't listen, and (b) they interpret things in a staggering variety of ways you never thought of. Take, for example, the final moments of EgyptAir flight 990. Everyone hears the same words, but no one is sure what was said. Analysis of that tape will go on and on. Funny how people rarely take such trouble to make sure they're not misunderstanding you when you're alive.
Another example of people projecting their expectations onto other people's words -- or "You heard that, but I didn't say that" -- occurred when a friend of mine asked me what I had done the night before, and I told him I didn't remember. What I meant was, "My night was so uneventful it would make a coma victim sit up and look for a crossword puzzle." What he heard was, "I had such a whirlwind liquor binge I lobotomized myself. Who are you, anyway?"
Lost your mind?
It was actually good that he misheard me, because it gave him a priceless idea. "What you need," he said (and don't we all love it when people start a sentence with that phrase), "is one of those black boxes that they put on airplanes that record everything that happens before the crash. That way, you'll know what happened before you passed out."
The fact that the remark contained a veiled false accusation of my having a really good time makes it no less a brilliant concept. How often has a friend done something inexplicably idiotic and not had a satisfactory answer for the question, "What were you thinking?" Hell, forget other people. How many times have you done something like that? How often have you looked back on some stunt you pulled and been unable to imagine which Dr. Demento Funny 25 hit was replacing brain waves in your head before you made the decision to beat the train or join the Army or shoplift that rainstick?
Really, instead of in the cockpit, wouldn't you rather there had been a black box in the brain of one of those people who got air rage and decided to pee on the beverage cart? Who can imagine what goes on in their heads? What was the last crackle that made them think "this is a good idea"?
Peter Jennings just announced the advent of computers the size of a speck of dust. Surely some day they'll be able to shove one inside our memory lobes with a pipe cleaner so we can all have a black box in our heads. That way, we can know just what we were thinking before we committed regrettable acts -- and maybe prevent ourselves from repeating them.
Play it again
Say you find a photo in which you look like something Terry Gilliam created. If you had a black box, you could rewind it to "What was I thinking with that haircut?" and come up with "I need a change, I'm not too old, look at Annie Lennox, if I think about it too long I'll chicken out." Which are all typical prehair-disaster thoughts. But if you find yourself thinking them again, you could tape 35 cents to the inside of your wallet to use specifically for calling a friend when you feel yourself being pulled into Great Clips.
What about that time you decided you'd flip that guy off in traffic and spawned a road-rage incident ("That son of a ... NO ONE cuts me off"), or before you downed the shot that gave you the courage to sing "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang" ("I dezherve a good time, iz juss likker fercrissakes"), or before you told your 90-year-old, emotionally liquefied mother EVERYTHING she did to screw you up ("My therapist thinks it will be cleansing"), or before you knocked the walls out of the shower and pulled the toilet out of the ground ("It'll save money, I saw it on Yankee Workshop"), or before you got into that one relationship ("Eh, what the hell")? With a black box you'll know why you did it, and know better than to do it again.
Actually, the brain is supposed to be the cranial black box, but come on. Look at us. What we have upstairs are Ataris and Commodores compared to the G4s we need. The best we can hope for is that someone will come up with microprocessors to help us decide everything from "Can I pass this car?" (no) to "Should I have a baby?" (shut up and finish your homework).
Until then just keep practicing these words: "I meant to do that."