My first encounter with cryogenics came in the fall of ’08. Yesterday, in fact. I had written extensively on the virtues of escapism, and had become somewhat of an icon in the escapist community. I’d received a great deal of mail following an article I wrote for Space-Out Magazine.
It was a piece addressing the conundrum that has long perplexed the magazine’s heedless reader: Is the blankness of a stare compromised if it momentarily focuses on an innocuous object?
I proposed that several kitchen appliances, in particular the refrigerator (a “friends of avoidance” mainstay), were worthy objects of blank/near-blank stares.
Soon after this position piece was published, a reader wrote: “What about the freezer? In fact, what if I entered a deep freeze, and was thawed periodically only to change undies? Is cryogenics an escapist panacea, or does the mind do its best wandering at room temperature? I’d like your thoughts.”
I decided to pay a visit to the local cryogenics club. It is located in the newly renovated Downtown Super Target—across the aisle from the “Market Pantry” piecrusts. The club consists of three spaces: a waiting room, a lab, and the ultimate waiting room.
Dr. Barnett, a prominent cryogenist and volleyball judge, come out to greet me. After some awkward small talk (“Do you know Barbara Carlson? She’s big like you.”), he gave me a tour of the facility.
As we entered the lab, Barnett gave me a brief history of cryogenics. He said deep-freezing became possible in the later 1950s by liquefying gases. This was known as the Joule-Thomson effect. Joule was a pioneer in gas liquefaction, and Thomson stood at his side, playing indifferent rhythm guitar.
Barnett asked me if I was intrigued with the notion of immortality.
I countered, “Is Frankenstein happy today?”
Sensing I’d be a tough sell, Barnett told me that if I signed up today, he could get me into a side-by-side freezer for the same price as a conventional.
I told Barnett that all my discretionary funds had, no pun intended, also been frozen. Still, I was interested in some background information about cryogenics.
“Cryogenics became a reality when a young Yugoslav biologist successfully froze and revived hundreds of hamsters,” Barnett said. “This proved to many that Yugoslavia would not be around for long.”
I asked Barnett to walk me through the freezing process. He explained the first rule was that the customers must be dead, near-dead, or “difficult to place.” The body is then frozen to a temperature of “absolute zero”—or “absolute four” if he has a fever. The liquid nitrogen is cooled below 2K.
I asked what “K” was.
Barnett didn’t know, saying this was one of the remaining obstacles.
After the body is frozen, it is wheeled into another room, where it will remain frozen until two things occur: Science discovers a method to bring him back to life, and, even dicier, his health plan authorizes the procedure.
Barnett walked me over to meet Wes Winslow, the manager. Winslow had worked his way up through the ranks, having just completed a three-year stint in fleet sales. He asked what it would take to do business today.
I told Winslow I wasn’t interested in joining the club. I asked what else they offered besides this freezing nonsense.
Winslow pointed toward the Starbuck’s on Target’s upper level. Espresso, he said, would become the beverage of choice among the recently thawed.
I spelled it out to Winslow that I was not interested in immortality. I’d gladly sign a petition to pass a lemon law on my current life, but the idea of a frozen eternity is too reminiscent of an evening of experimental theater.
After an awkward goodbye (“I don’t think we had your size anyway”), I left the club, and returned to my apartment. I had penciled in a lengthy blank stare, followed by nothing, time permitting.
I looked directly at the freezer, and, sadly, could not retrieve the blankness of old.
Well, as always, consider the source, and have yourself a chilling Halloween!
Bye for now.