Host: Now, if the flood of news of late, the Supreme Court decisions, the January 6th hearings, the war in Ukraine, if all that has stressed you out, you might be looking for a way to relax. A while back we asked staff writer, Patricia Marx, to try one of the trendiest ways to relax, flotation, what used to be called sensory deprivation. Now, since we launched this program, Patty has made a salad from weeds in Central Park, one of which may have been poisonous. She practiced archery in her apartment, which drew a little blood, and she went shopping at a store for apocalypse preppers but disconnecting that in the end turned out to be outside of Patty's comfort zone. Here is Patricia Marx.
Patricia Marx: Technology is pretty much all I do. If I told you the things I've looked up in a single hour on Google, you would probably commit me. If there was Wi-Fi, I would probably go. I'm like everybody else experiencing a sensory overload, and I was in search of a sensory underload.
Want some tea? See, I'm already hallucinating or not.
Patricia Marx: I wanted to immerse myself in a flotation tank. Flotation tanks used to be called sensory deprivation tanks and isolation tanks, but it's a downer of a name and a very Manchurian Candidate-sounding, so now we call it flotation therapy. That sounded cozy. I went to-- Where else would I go? I went to Brooklyn. I went to Carroll Gardens in Brooklyn to a place called Lift Floats. I was here early because I'm always obnoxiously early. I was looking through the log of people who have used it, and I need to read you some things. Here's what happens. This person said, "Did I just drop acid? Maybe. First I died, then I returned to my mother's womb, then I jumped to wife's womb and was my daughter. I observed my daughter, then there was no there, and then I was reborn at some itinerary."
Patricia Marx: I'm talking to Gina, whose name I will never be able to pronounce. What is your name?
Gina Antioco: [laughs] Gina Antioco.
Patricia Marx: Antioco. Gina is a co-founder of Lift. Who is the typical customer and why do they come here? Are they yoga people?
Gina Antioco: It's really hard to say one is this type, one is that type. We really do see everyone. A lot of people who are coming in are looking to experience theta brainwave activity, which is just a slower brain frequency state. It's the state that you're in just before delta, which is sleep.
Patricia Marx: The main brainwaves are the beta, alpha, theta, and delta, which means that I think of them as sororities. When you're in theta, you're on the verge of sleep. You are free-associating. You are having really zany but wonderful thoughts. Before I went into my pod, I met Vanessa Kranwinkel. I don't know if that was her name before she'd been in the pod, but that was her name when I met her. She had just gotten out of the pod. She couldn't wait to get back in. Did you hallucinate at all?
Vanessa Kranwinkel: I felt like I was because I started moving my head in like an S motion. I felt lightheaded and dizzy at the same time. I would close my eyes and I would see little flashes of light. I knew something was up, but I couldn't tell what it was.
Patricia Marx: Did you hear anything?
Vanessa Kranwinkel: No. I didn't eat breakfast, so I heard my stomach-- I feel like I heard my blood pumping. It was just so weird.
Patricia Marx: Wow.
Vanessa Kranwinkel: It was so wonderful. I feel like a feather right now. I'm so happy, so I'm at peace. [chuckles]
Patricia Marx: That's so nice. Maybe you shouldn't go out into the world.
Vanessa Kranwinkel: I don't want to. [laughs] Not yet.
?Speaker: You're almost ready to go.
Patricia Marx: We wired the pod up, as most people don't do, and I walk into this room. It has kind of the UFO has just arrived feeling. The pod itself looks as if-- Let me put it this way. If George Foreman had designed a Sous Vide machine for cooking human beings, it would look like the pod. It's shiny white and sleek, and there was 10 inches of water in it.
Get inside. It's lukewarm. Now, this is the first time I've been on radio without clothes. Agh, really embarrassing. I hope I don't sound naked. Oh, God. Now, what do I do?
?Speaker: Your session will begin momentarily. Find a comfortable position for floating. Relax your body and clear your mind. Enjoy.
Patricia Marx: That sounds like the lady who says, "If you see something, say something."
Patricia Marx: Oh no, I'm going to have to [inaudible 00:05:49] Okay. I'm going to try to go to another universe now, so [unintelligible 00:06:08]
Patricia Marx: Flotation pods were invented in 1954 by a scientist named John Lilly. John Lilly started out as a pretty conventional scientist, doing stuff like the physiology of high-altitude flying. He was also really interested in states of consciousness and, of course, communication between dolphins, and human beings, and whales, and did I say LSD and ketamine? He even gave LSD to dolphins.
John Lilly: Before one can successfully do the spiritual trip without tumbling in outer space and getting dizzy, one has to do the grounding and center.
Patricia Marx: He claimed that he could communicate with alien beings while he floated, and also, Shakespeare.
John Lilly: You're going to move out from this planet. Be sure you are well-trained on how to keep a part of you going here while you go somewhere else. That part of you, obviously, is your physical body.
Patricia Marx: I'm lying there and I'm thinking, "I'm just on the verge of getting somewhere," where I mean is getting nowhere when I say somewhere, and suddenly-
Patricia Marx: -something tripped on me or fell on me or maybe it's another being from another universe.
Patricia Marx: [unintelligible 00:08:11] there's nothing going on in the water. [unintelligible 00:08:19] Yes, I did.
Patricia Marx: There was a mini-disaster when the mic fell into the water. I survived but the mic didn't and might have been the only thing that found peace today. Well, I feel really inadequate that everybody got to have a deep revelation and I didn't. I also have concluded that I like sensory overload, that I miss my phone, and I want to know what happened in the news in the hour that I've been in this pod. I'm a little worried that I'm going deaf and blind because of the salt water. I taste it all. It tastes like-- Oh God. Oh, it's horrible. It's really bitter. [unintelligible 00:09:36] could I poison myself and I'm going deaf and blind. I can't tell you how horrible it tastes. Really, really, really bitter.
I thought it would be like the sea. Oh, get me out of here. Oh, God. Fuck.
Host: Patricia Marx, unofficial stunt woman of The New Yorker Radio Hour, and a contributor to the magazine since 1989. You can read Patty's recent report called How to Buy a New Mattress Without a PhD in Chemistry at newyorker.com.
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