Jeff Phillips: A Wee Hour Pep Talk with an Open Circuit

I’m beat. Fried is another way to put it. When I think I might need to recharge my batteries, the go-to urge is to be a layabout for a day.

But I’ve sometimes looked to the notion that to get unfried, one has to subject themselves to the literal manifestation of that descriptor, and I mean actually getting fucking fried.

College day shenanigans at my friend Zach’s led to us giving a thrift store find a whirl. It was some sort of thick plastic mask with dull metal prongs lining the inside shell. When strapped over your face, a turn of the dial sent a minor electric pulse to tingle your face. The high end of the dial made your cheeks feel like they were being kneaded by tiny robot hands, while pressing your lips to an old static prone TV. The point was to stimulate your pores, we assumed. There was no instruction manual. The result was a bunch of grown boys giggling. Maybe it did achieve the recovery of youth. Worries had no place under the infectious call and response of hilarity.

Next thing we knew, we freed guitars from their cases, but quickly tethered them to amplifiers. During an impromptu jam session my friend Chris discovered that if he reached up to pull down on the ceiling fan cord, while at the same time holding onto the microphone snug in its stand, it completed a closed circuit. A jolt would kick away the hand cupped over the mic, and throw back the reaching arm; limbs would be numb for a moment. But the rush was better than coffee. The fact that Chris carried on, unscathed, a ball full of energy one step ahead of the next chord progression, piqued our curiosity, and one by one, the handful of us would apprehensively tempt fate, until we stocked up on the likes of a second wind from a haphazard charging station, and we were steeped in the glory of the best damn party of our lives. With stone flints the cavemen discovered fire; with an assortment of metal and wire we discovered the capital P Perk.

I must have completed the circuit 5 or 6 times, and when the wee hour of the night suggested it was time to go home, the electrical absorption made standing still at a bus stop an impossibility. It felt good to walk, I could catch the bus up ahead. But when the bus approached, I felt a greater power in me than would be served sitting. I charged on ahead, from Bucktown until Belmont at a brisk pace and when I got there, bedtime was just crazy talk. I walked around some more and the sun came up and at some point, I stopped being a battery.

If a jolt made me feel so incredibly alive, I have to deduce that life is electricity. Then to maintain a sense of vitality, we must find ways to keep the circuits flowing, and not forget the tiny wires that let the forgotten juices on through to the active side. The thrill of that high voltage jam session might ultimately only resonate from the subconscious exhilaration of still being alive, after inviting jolts that could very well stop a man’s heart. We lucked out to see it keep beating,  faster, harder, banging out a declaration that it still could.

I’m a decade older and not looking to electrocute myself. The thing is, putting your finger in a light socket is short lived. It’s easy to like the idea of being hyped up when you are the beholder of the energy surge, but being around someone else who is maxing out, like my Lyft driver the other night, who had just taken multiple 5-hour Energy shots, listening to a mile a minute ramble can just be annoying. Would I like myself at that extreme if I had to ride in the same car? Monster Energy drinks were aptly named for what they turned the chugger into, as exemplified by an old supervisor of mine who slammed a couple of those during a shift. She’d sputter commands and would scream at you if you asked her to repeat herself. Or you could do the opposite; interpret the incoherence she barked and be wrong in the execution. No one existed at her pedal-to-the-metal tempo and for her that was an infuriating buzz kill.

We must find the things that are anchored deep in the ethereal circuitry. We have our own power banks that might be sensitive to the strangest of stimuli. The flat notes and the record scratches and the way the dust floats under stage lights are just a few triggers that, in some, might strum both nostalgia and anticipation as a harmonious pick-me-up. It’s imperative to initiate and take advantage of our own makeshift sparks. Writing this story for instance. Pulling open the levee of a stopped-up string of words. The smell and feel of both fresh printed and weather beaten books. The surprise of extra time to squeeze in with my sweetie. Like Chris being a rock star in a dining room, you often just have to reach out and reach up and embrace what’s riding through you. As Walt Whitman waxed “He too is all qualities, he is action and power, The flush of the known universe is in him…”


Enthusiasm can be harnessed much as a programmer can power complicated functions through the orchestration of simple if, then, else statements. The programmer trusts them, but also knows it’s not unheard of for code to corrupt, to collapse on itself, and that every once in awhile, the beast needs to be gutted and groomed and then it all starts zipping again like it should. If only I could stop scrolling through my phone. My thumbs are magnetized by the screen, so are my eyes, but unlike the give I got from that fan and mic, these little devices suck what little charge is stored behind flesh. Not all electronic gear is generous.

To live is to embrace the mad scientist inside and put it to work navigating our physiological responses to any and all burdens that bog us down. God bless the Dr. Frankensteins that can resurrect the seeming carcass of a rough motherfucker of a work week! Without the aid of things that need to plugged in, or ingested, they do this on the quantum level. They work for us, if you let them. You might be able to see them in your dreams. They’re behind you. Turn around. You might miss them. Turn around again, do it fast. Don’t mind that you look like a freewheeling turbine; own the currents you make that puff whatever foliage grows in there. Just keep spinning until you catch a glimpse.

Wee Hour Pep Talk Open Circuit

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