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6 The Ice-Cream Truck

With her good friend Karilia, who lives in Amsterdam since a couple of years, Janei was having Thai-food and some wine the next day. They talked a lot about the research Janei is conducting, and also about Karilia’s getting used to her new space. She and her boyfriend Katanko moved to this new apartment about one week earlier. After dinner they sat on their new balcony on the third floor, looking over a typical hidden away Amsterdam inner 1-1 square yard green space.

Two pigeons displayed playful courtship on the branch of an immense oak tree outstanding even the highest floors on the block. They were sitting outside with some coffee and tea and talked about this and that. It would be dark soon due to the lower moon in northern Europe. It is about how she was in such moments, Janei thought. One of the pigeons also seemed to look at the invisible moon for a second. From behind a wall came crawling a cat with cloudy eyes of the unknowing. It was just another night, but not quite. She had not seen Karilia in a long time and came here with a purpose to record everything she saw happening related to media. Oh well, the idea that people have certain ways of dealing with each other, which make them use media in certain ways. And not in other ways.

“I did that coincidentally the other day, with Bormaus.” Janei referred to the recorded she had made of the conversation on the way to the construction market with Bormaus the day before. Bormaus and Janei had laughed about the service guy pointing them towards the paint section at the market, as his voice was to soft to be recorded. How did he think he was actually doing his work right when people couldn’t even hear him? Anyway.

“With that thing under your arm?” Karilia wanted to know.

-“Yes.”

“Open…”

-“Yeah half open..” Even though some people looked strangely when they saw Janei with her half-open 10” netbook, but she had no problem with that. In fact, she thought it suspicious that her device would be strange while carrying around an iPad would not. They had approximately the same size. The only difference is the unexpected use of the netbook. Please help them, Janei thought sometimes, see how every device they have can be used in whatever way they want – not just in ways the ‘market’ suggests they use it for. But maybe she did get some people to think in this direction of shifting media practices by carrying her device around like that, unobtrusively under her arm – yet half opened and running a recording – she loved that idea. She decided to cultivate it.

“Well, it sounds like a plan to me. Do you want to go to the ice-car? Would you like ice? That’s a requirement for wanting ice.”

“Yes, of course. ja. Of course I would like ice.” They decide to go for ice cream at a truck that is a couple of blocks away. Janei thinks of recording their conversation on the way over to there.

“Ha ha. hi. It’s a really good, I’m a B., but well…hehe, three scoops for 2.50 Euro, good deal.”

“Hm.” Janei was contemplating the price in dollars – the ice-truck near her place would sell a large home-made rich 15% butterfat base ice cream cup for $3.95 – more than what they asked for here. But this wasn’t home-made of course.

“Got it yesterday as well, hehe. It’s at the Ross.”

“Do we have to go by car?“

“No, I think it is…do you want to drive there? …hm yeah it is quite an end..(pause)…we could take the car a minute.”

“That’s lazy.” Karilia wanted to walk. The weather was good, why was she thinking of taking the car for a couple of blocks?

“Na, we can walk there. We’ll have a longer conversation.” As though the fact that it would take longer had made her change her mind.

“You haven’t drunk your coffee yet?” Janei had went to an awful coffee drinking period: wherever she went, for some reason she never finished her coffee at the same time the others did. And they would always comment on that. Was it that bad to leave half a cup of coffee? Janei vaguely remembered Karilia leaving cups of tea half-full all the time when they were younger.

In the background there is rap music. Then, a swinging folk band song sets in. It comes from Karilia’s record player and/or her radio, there is a whistling melody of the song. Sol, La, Si, do-dododododo…just one minute later, a French chanson, meaning Janei, while waiting for Karilia to put her shoes on, hears three songs in one minute. They walked outside.

“We could also have gotten that house.” Karilia pointed to an apartment just three houses to the right.

– “Oh yeah?”

“We found it less beautiful… so it didn’t come out..but it did have a bathtub…”

– “I was already looking the first time I was there. (funny voice) Is there a bath? Is there a bath?”

“Hehe. I do agree since I’ve used a bathtub quite often. But one cannot have everything.”

(pause)

“Let’s see, where are we? We can walk in that direction, I think.”

– “Yes.” Janei always pretended to know the way, even if she didn’t. She never carried a web-enabled device around. Instead, she just assumed to know – and found herself getting better at it over time.

“Gn.Hihi.”

– “Hehe.”

“Has her laptop with her. When you come back you will only have wind-recordings, hehe.”

– “He.”

“Ha.ha. I can see my own smile.“

– “Oh, because of these lines?” The Audacity program, which Janei used to record, showed fluctuating columns to represent input signals.

“Ha.Ha.Ha.” They were testing the input signals through their laughs. “You see? Cool. Ha.ha.ha.”

– “Oh there. Indeed.”

“Oh, I laughed again after that.”

(pause)

– “Yesterday I was at Uzram and recorded while I didn’t tell him that. Haha, this thing is still recording…but it was a good example of what I mean. I have to be here not as a researcher, but instead myself, or just someone who observes. Later on I can be researcher again.”

“But how was it with Uzram?”

– “So I came at his door but he wasn’t present. And I called Bormaus to plan something instead but then he just arrived on his bike, busily handling some jobs. He was on the phone the first 5-6 minutes, we talked a little and then he had to go to Ebay, where he was selling something. And of course he hadn’t seen me in a while, but all kinds of media-issues came first.”

“What do you mean? Oh, like that. Indeed. But those can be media-issues or activities also. ..It could also be a hobby?”

– “Yes, but it is only those activities that directly in media…require direct attention. If he misses that offer, he misses the deal.”

“Oh yes. No, that’s true. Geez, how many people are playing tennis around here? Bumbling over the tennis court…”

– “Yes, those courts look a lot alike, of course.”

“It’s only the second time I’m here, by the way. I have bought something on Marktplaats here recently.” A moped passed loudly. Janei hated loud noises, especially when they disturbed conversations or recordings.

– “No, it’s a different street after all. I thought maybe I had lived here for a while. But It was nearer to Old-South, I think.” Janei had lived in close to this neighborhood for a while, but this was a different neighborhood. which told her that some Amsterdam squares really look alike.

“I bought here something through Marktplaats recently. On this corner. One come around, he. Here they have all kinds of things in store, she already said she wanted to start a clothing article store.”

– “Oh. So your own local environment you find through Marktplaats?” Marktplaats is comparable with Graigslist in the US.

“Hi.hi.”

– “That’s again a nationwide…”

“I think we went that way the other time, that’s a far longer street. Benealstreet, is that also in this neighborhood? ..Look, if they put everything on a doll you know exactly what size you need. Simple.”

“For Bethany?” Bethany was Janei’s brother Chloe’s girlfriend. They had received a child about one year ago, Rakonalia.

“Yes.”

– “Shoes, or something?”

“I wouldn’t know her shoes in size. He.”

– “Ja, she doesn’t really wear shoes yet, right? These house shoes.”

“Yeah, she supposedly cannot wear real shoes yet, because of …” Janei hunched something about not fully-grown feet, but she didn’t know.

– “Are these your white, heavy flipflops?”

“What?”

– “Are those heavy, those flipflops?”

“No. Which?”

– “The ones I want. The same but heavier.”

“Yes, these are real Havarines.”

– “Well, I don’t know much about brands and stuff,” Janei said in a surprisingly low, strange voice.

“But I thought about it all the time, they had something familiar. Then I looked in a store and saw: Havajana’s.”

– “And the real brand is what?”

“The real is Havajana and this one is Havarina.“

– “Neither brand I would have known.”

“I only knew that something like that existed.” Karilia paused, then mentioned a street name. “Oh, and this is where we used to live. Also. Hehe. So what do you want to know?” She was referring to the recording again, Janei wondered what had triggered Karilia to mind the recording again. She didn’t want to discuss it now, but she pretended it was fine.

“Nothing, really. For me it has to come naturally as well.” Janei started humming some song as to direct back to the nice evening stroll to the ice-truck. When she noticed Karilia was now again becoming interested in her method of research, Janei told her very specifically about what kind of phenomena she was looking for, aiming to underpin her own opinions about what happens when people put on their media mask.

They walked a little more through the neighborhood. Later that night they would spend some more quality time in the living room, even Katanko arrived at some point, late from work. They sat comfortably as they took time to enjoy their togetherness. It took about 45 minutes before Janei got the sense that both Karilia and her felt extra energy and prolonged attention for their well-being, and stimulating deep thought. This sometimes occurred to her in meditative conversational states – without music, television, radio, Internet. It meant something like observing her and other’s thought processes on a different plane than usual.

“Long street this is..”

– “Have you seen that German piece?” Janei once played in a German theater play and had mentioned that she noticed the house where one of her co-actors had grown up.

“No, she’s German?” Karilia referring to the co-actor.

“No, Dutch.”

“But she played in that piece.”

Karilia had visited Janei in the US in January of that year. They had listened to Martin Luther King speeches in the car while driving back and forth to the Walmart.

“I think we took a detour.”

– “This street is so bad!”

“We could have gone this way, then this way, but yeah.”

– “Why do you use this kind of research? You can just interview people..” She was right. Asking people directly as to their experience with new media in daily life would not only be easier to draw conclusions from. Janei got the feeling self-report could actually be more insightful. She knew, however, that she was the kind of person to doubt everything and anything in life at times like these – when people asked critical questions. This was not out of lack of self-confidence, however, as some people seemed to think sometimes.

It was self-protective. She got rid of her protective mode in her mind and explained more about how this particular method – aiming for bits of pieces of everyday life that uncover the forces that we already deal with but whose existence we never really acknowledge as that would be confrontational. Karilia then had a good example of Facebook/real world gossiping. She had criticized some ex-neighborhood girls of hers who were so worked-up in their hearsay gossipy talk in the car back home from somewhere, that Karilia simply had to say something in defense of another friend.

The next day one of the girls would Facebook her asking ‘Have any gossip’?” Janei wondered what that meant, but she had known and hung around enough with evil women to know what it could mean. When somebody writes on facebook to you: ‘have any gossip? 😉 ‘, after you told them the night before that they are gossiping too much, aren’t they trying to dominate you through the safe medium of Facebook? What does this to one’s insecurity in Facebook-related social affairs? Why not just call or tell it straight to someone’s face? Janei mostly disliked the fact that these people can still hide behind a well-performed ‘I meant it in a funny, friendly, non-manipulative manner of course?’.

“Glad that computer is not at home.” Janei was glad she had recorded that great example of hidden manipulation.

“Can I have one with three scoops, mango, malaga and pistachio?” Janei order her ice-cream. They had just arrived at the truck. After her, Karilia ordered her first flavor.

“Dan.” The counter girl did not speak Dutch, but knew the word ‘dan’ – ‘then’. She meant to ask which other flavors Karilia wanted but if your only language is Moroccan and you only just arrived in the country to go to school (though this was all speculation of course), the words ‘dan’ (then) and perhaps ‘verder’ (else) are plainly interpreted as rude. I referenced the girl not knowing more than ‘dan’ and ‘verder’ later on that night, but more because I found particularly the short, staccato and self-aware pronunciation of ‘dan’ debilitating.

Janei’s first conscious encounter with a different language than Dutch was on a holiday on which she must have been 8 or 9 years of age, with Henry, Willie, Chloe and Karilia in the Belgian Ardennes. A girl was swimming in the pool and Janei – being her reserved self – wanted to ask whether it was okay for her to swim in the pool as well. She told Henry that she didn’t know if the water was nice and thus hesitated to go in. Henry said she could ask the girl in the pool ‘Is it nice?’ (in English), which she thereupon did. The girl replied with ‘yes’ and continued on with an explanation Janei could not follow.

The pool incident had been a good omen her language submersion later on in life, she felt. 20 years later she would be fluent in two other languages besides Dutch. Her immersion in second and third languages had meant a positive influence on the expansion of her limited home town world, and had led her across country borders. Most of the time, she had no clue what identification was but this particular experience seemed to have triggered differences in identifying herself through mere words, language.

She remembered feeling like a different person at 21, when she first indulged herself in German language. Her first two years of studying communication in Amsterdam were marked by a relationship with a German student. Although they usually spoke Dutch with each other, on weekends spent at his parents’ place or elsewhere in Germany they would hold longer conversations in German. She would notice how not only she wished to be able to say much more than she could (her German was very poor in those days), she also discovered that she wished to tell him about experiences that she would normally not talk about.

She felt like she had a different memory or was using different structure of throught in such conversations. This had fascinated her in a way that she trust herself claiming that her stubborn interest in learning perfect German was related to it. Seeing a different self in a different language, she felt, was only possible if one looked externally at an internal self inside a medium. Language could thus, just like online profiles but merely with words, give utterance to – she sometimes felt that such thoughts made her balance weights; the difference between just using language to get one’s point across and experiencing a different self sensitized her approach to all kinds of new media technologies. Communication technology’s presence in society was important if only for that reason. No matter how terribly she at times mistook all necessarily superficial online self-editing practices for valuable self-actualizations, at least she now knew that her self would remain enmeshed in the more obscure language games humans perform.

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The Ice-Cream Truck Copyright © 2011 by Peter Blank. All Rights Reserved.

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