I Was A Berkeley Lab Rat…For Money
So I’ve been trying to find work for ages and it’s tough out there. I especially hate the “You’re over-qualified.” excuse. I can understand if I don’t know something that is required for a job. I couldn’t be a brain surgeon or a crane operator or a tamales maker because I lack those skills. It would result in people’s deaths and that would be bad. How could making tamales kill people? Well, I have no idea how to make those yummy little corn packages. What if I put a death chili in there by mistake? I’ve seen people’s heads blow off if they ate a death chili. It’s better to be safe and stick to customer service or typing letters or building a bridge to Japan.
So as I was looking through Craig’s List I saw an ad for a study in Berkeley. They were willing to pay $75 in exchange for an hour of your time. I’ve done things like this before. Years ago I went to the Wal-Mart headquarters and they paid us $75 to cruise around on their new website and give feedback on the design, how easy or hard it was to find certain things, etc. I’ve done studies where you have to taste ten brands of tomatoes and rate your favorites. This study was different. They were going to study your brain and how it relates to advertising.
For all these studies, you send in your information and if you match the specific type of lab rat they are looking for, they call you in. So in I went. I need the dough. I signed all kinds of papers which I’m sure some grad student is going to use as wallpaper and was taken into a room with soothing music and a bio lock on the door. Yeah, a BIO LOCK. Ummm, what is so secret that they have that kind of security on the doors? I mean a thumb print and a retinal scan? It made me think of Tom Clancy novels and National Treasure and Jason Bourne.
The nice grad student directed me to a chair and explained they were going to hook electrodes up to my face and put some weird ass swim cap on my head that also had wires hooked up to it that fed into a computer. It was not fashionable. It was especially not fashionable when she squirted lubricating gel into each of the holes in the cap that a wire attached to. In the end I looked like Alice from Minority Report only with hair. It was kinda freaking me out. However, the lure of $75 was in front of me so I ate the cheese like a good rat and went along with the program.
I was led into a room where I was told to sit in a chair, relax, stare at a screen, don’t move my head – just my ears and press a button when directed to. Ummm, ok. The grad student was above me in some weird computer “eye in the sky” booth. Evidently she was monitoring what my brain was telling her. Stupid brain, it never behaves when I want it to.
I was told to close my eyes and all kinds of weird stuff started happening. There were flashing disco lights and weird noises. I automatically raised the mental shields around the Starship Enterprise because I was convinced they were trying to implant the idea in my brain that I needed to assassinate a public figure or eat a specific type of fast food, neither of which I wanted to do.
Then I started looking at a screen with letters on it. My eye had to go to the letter that was called out. Fine, I’ve got this, no problem. Next, logos of various make-up products flashed up. I was told to press a button every time I saw a green square in the picture. After 5 minutes of the same 4 logos cycling through, my brain started to run off. Hey, yours would too! It was boring and I had to keep myself alert for button pushing. I started singing the song to Gilligan’s Island in my head. I was just keeping my ADD child-self entertained. That was when the voice of God rang through the room “Please concentrate on the images and do not let your mind wanter.”
How did she know?! Did she know I was singing the Gilligan song? I was a little weirded out. I tried to do better like a good rat. I wanted my cheese. After another 5 minutes of the same logos I thought I was going to nod off. The voice came out of the ether again, “Please, it is very important that you remain alert. It looks like you may be nodding off.” ” Well, YES, you won’t let me sing 70’s TV theme songs in my head and this shit is boring! Also your make-up does not interest me. I used it once. It was cheap, cakey and gave me a rash. This is not going to make me buy this make-up.” Did I say that out loud? No but I thought it, very empathically.
Now the commercials started. My brain decided to sing The Brady Bunch theme song very quietly in a small corner of my cerebral cortex. Nurse Ratched came on the speaker again with the admonition that I needed to focus. Hmmm, maybe I should start thinking about naked guys? That will confuse her! So I’m watching these make-up commercials and having hot fantasies about naughty things I would like to be doing with a hot guy. I think that confused their machine. I can see it now “I’m not sure Professor but it appears the subject was sexually aroused by this brand of mascara. I think we have a winner!”
Then they switched to frogs. Yes, FROGS! They were showing cute little green frogs and every now and then they would toss in blue one. Not a natural blue frog but a green frog that someone “painted” blue in a Paint program and stuck in. Fine, press the button every time I see a blue frog. Why? What does this have to do with make-up? Hmmm, are you wondering if I get turned on by frogs? What did I start thinking about now? You guessed it!
Look, in my defense there is nothing so boring as watching the same frog for 10 minutes straight while button clicking. I tried really hard to be a good lab rat but my brain had to amuse itself somehow. I clicked when I was suppose to! I didn’t miss a frog so I hope that counts for something! I think they were pretty confused by me. The experiment was over thirty minutes later.
After unhooking me from the machine, I was told the gel in my hair would wash or rub out. Great. I feel like I just finished a scene in “There’s Something About Mary”. I rub lube off my face, grab my stuff, collect my money and take off.
I’m grateful for the dough but wonder what the frog thing was about. Did they implant some kind of subliminal suggestion in my brain? Will frogs start following me around? Do I have super powers now? That would be pretty cool but all I have so far is an urge to take a shower and wash my hair.