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Drop by, turn on, tune in

I stumbled onto Humdinger's booth at one of those Saturday markets. He had a display of little gizmos that looked sort of like cell phones.

"That's the iRok-xl," said Humdinger, a little guy with a pencil-thin mustache.

"What's it do?" I said.

"Streaming audio," he said.

It sounded like what I was looking for. I didn't want an MP3 player to mess around downloading tunes, just an e-radio thingy to listen to music on the Internet.

"This is the ticket," Humdinger said.

I stuck in the earbuds and got hit by a blast of feedback and a hellish wail and recognized "Malignant" by Fungus and the Pathogens.

"Picks up everything," Humdinger said. "Your steam-db, IceS, Ogg Vorbis and, um, other stuff."

"How much?" I said.

"A cheapskate!" Humdinger said.

"Excuse me?" I said.

He shot me a penetrating look.

"Oh, you heard me all right," I heard him say.

The thing was, his lips didn't move.

"Takes some getting used to," he said, his lips still tight together. "It's the last one I got."

My mind raced. Maybe he had recorded his pitch ahead of time, or he was a ventriloquist, or he had a hidden assistant.

"What's the trick?" I said.

"Don't you get it?" he said silently. "You can tune into people's thoughts. Just point it at 'em."

A man walked up to the booth with a girl of about 13.

"Can I have an iPod?" the girl said.

**He's such a tightwad,** she thought.

Crystal clear.

"Well, it's almost your birthday," the man said. **Getting off easy,** he thought.

It was amazing. I paid Humdinger his $299.99 and went off to eavesdrop on the world.

Most of the women I tuned into on the street were thinking about shopping or sex. Guys were thinking about sports or sex. Or sex and sports. Everybody was thinking about a parking space.

A woman was cheesed off at a friend over some real or imagined slight I couldn't get interested in. Everybody was worried about money. Except a UPS driver who really wanted to be Dale Earnhardt Jr.

I dunno. It's not like I thought people walked around thinking about Einstein or Mother Teresa. But you can only listen to so much.

So I turned to animals. They sounded sort of like people speaking English as a second language.

A dog with a woman in sneakers was thinking, **Oh boy, oh boy, goin' for a walk, goin' for a walk, oh boy.**

A neighborhood cat was like, **We are not amused.**

It turned out horses think sort of like dogs. A lot of free-associating about running and eating. Cows think about their stomachs. Pigs think about flying. Who knew?

With fish it's pretty much nobody home upstairs, except for salmon, who keep going, "Why me?" Insects just sound like a lot of buzzing and clicking. Except dragonflies, which think exclusively about sex.

I tuned in a red-tailed hawk (**Bunny, bunny**) and a turkey vulture circling overhead (**Anything**).

The iRok-xl even worked on TV. Politicians were thinking, **Me, me, me.** TV preachers were thinking, **Money, money,** Lewis Libby thought **Cheney, Cheney, #*@!Cheney!** A guy on a Viagra commercial was thinking, **"Four years of acting school for this!"**

In the morning I knew what I had to do. I went straight to Humdinger's booth, but there was an empty space where it had been, and crime scene tape was strung up around it.

"Humdinger?" said a guy selling organic garlic. "Left real sudden like. Said the cops would be looking for him. Claimed he could read their thoughts."

I beat it as fast as I could down to the creek. I hesitated for a second, then threw the iRok-xl as far as I could into the deepest part of the water.

A couple mall rat kids were watching. They looked at me like I was crazy.

But I have no idea what they were thinking. It was a nice feeling.

Reach reporter Bill Varble at 776-4478 or bvarble@mailtribune.com.