“Do you know what’s in that?” a friend of mine once asked, as I approached our table with a strawberry shake.

Anyone that has ever been involved in this conversation knows where it’s headed.  We’ve all been informed that our hygienic standards are subpar, and that our homes are just teeming with pathogens and microbes; that everything we consume has some particular something we know nothing about; and the automobile we’ve chosen has some substandard emission that is harmful to the environment.  We all put up with it, however, because the alternative means conceding to the idea that there’s too much knowledge out there.

The premise of the idea that there could be too much knowledge out there makes some of us wince.  How can there be too much knowledge?  It makes no sense.  If I thought the idea was limited to the fact that too many people know too much about too many people, and that too many people focus too much of their energy on trivial matters, I might be able to get behind that.  Even when an informed consumer decides that it’s perfectly acceptable for him to share his knowledge on the ingredients of the food I’m about to eat, I still wince at the mostly casual, and largely humorous, observation that we should place some kind of Orwellian governor on the information outlays that are available on net.  I say it’s on the individual to put a cap on the type of information they provide me, insofar as it might be something that I care little about, and it should be their responsibility to recognize that I don’t care and that it’s something of a violation to intrude upon my enjoyment of a meal with too much knowledge.

This friend of mine was on the edge of his seat, as if he couldn’t wait to hear what he was about to say, or that he couldn’t wait to share his knowledge with me.

“Let’s put it this way,” he said.  “What would you say if I asked you if you could tell the difference between the strawberry flavoring in your shake and beaver taint?”

I did everything but close my eyes here.  This type does not stop.  It’s almost as if they have so much trivial knowledge stored in their cerebral tank that if they don’t hit the release valve every once in a while, they may implode. You can’t just say that you don’t want to hear it, to these people, you simply have to play ball with the hope that it will all be over soon.

“I’d say I can tell the difference,” I said without yawning.

“You’d think that,” my friend, the informed consumer said, “but people confuse the two every day.  Everyone that enjoys eating strawberry, raspberry, and vanilla iced cream is, in essence, a big fan of beaver taint.  Especially if you’re one that is willing to pay a little more for a product that contains the words “natural flavorings” tagline on its product face?  The natural assumption is that the opposite of natural flavorings is manmade, or chemical enhancement, but do you know the true extent of the term natural flavorings in the products you purchase?  Chances are, if you’re one that prefers natural flavoring, you’ve been gratuitously devouring a yellowish secretion from the dried perineal glands of the beaver for years now.”

The Castoreum Connection

OPbeavercastoreumThe exudate from the castor sacs of the mature North American Beaver is called castoreum, and consumers have stated that they actually prefer this natural flavoring augment to other natural flavorings … in blind, taste tests of course.  There are no details on the net regarding whether this market-tested preference has been found to be derived from the scent of the secretion, if the flavor has been determined to be more delicious than the flavor of the product listed on the product’s face, or if the fact that scent is such a driving force in determinations of preferences for flavor that it is a combination of the two.

Whatever the case is, the beaver doesn’t produce this exudate from its castor sacs to tweak our senses. Rather, it is product they produce to mark their territory.  As stated in some of the research articles listed here, the beaver doesn’t have to give up his life to provide us this enjoyment, as the castoreum can be milked from the castor sacs located in its anal glands, but those curious enough to pursue too much knowledge on this subject should know that entering the search term “Milking the beaver”, in search of instructional YouTube videos on the subject, may not pull up videos displaying the action described here.

It’s important to note here that research scientists in this field, called flavorists, have developed synthetic substitutes for castoreum, and almost all of the natural additives listed throughout this article.  Yet, all of these substitutes fall under the umbrella of artificial flavorings, and artificial flavorings fall under the umbrella of manmade, two terms that have been deemed unacceptable to informed consumers.  When informed consumers read the words synthetic substitute, chemical additive, or any other artificial flavorings, they may make the leap to animal testing, or to the unintended consequences of man messing with nature, because there are some anecdotal bits of information that stick in our head regarding chemical synthetics causing cancer and other health-related concerns.  As a result, our preference is for those products that have “natural flavorings” listed on their product face.

Natural and Artificial Flavoring

So, what is the difference between artificial and natural flavorings? Gary Reineccus, a professor in the department of food science and nutrition at the University of Minnesota, says that the distinction between natural and artificial flavorings is based on the original source of these often identical chemicals.

Natural flavorings basically just means that before the source went through many chemical processes, that it originally came from a natural source as opposed to an artificial one that has no natural origin.” 

Informed consumers heed the warnings: “Know what you’re consuming,” and “You are what you eat.”  “Do you know what’s in hotdogs?”  “Do you really know what they actually do to the animals you eat?”

“I used to be a vegan.  I grew up on a farm.  I saw what they did to the chickens, and the ducks, to prepare them for our meal.  I determined that I would not be eating them.  I felt bad for them.  I ate chicken blindly when I was a little girl, because I never associated chicken with chicken.  Why did they give my food and the animal the same name?  Made no sense to me.  When they explained it all to me, and I saw how they prepared my friends (the ducks and chickens) for our consumption.  I didn’t eat chickens, or any meat, for years.”

opshellac1“And how much do you enjoy those M&M’s and jelly beans? Or, better yet, do you think that your enjoyment would lessen if they were less shiny?”  The flavorists at these companies either experienced initial failure with the dull glow of their candy, or they decided not to risk it, and they added an additive called shellac. That’s right, the same stuff you put on your wood furniture to give it that extra shimmer, is that which shines your favorite tasty, little morsels.  What’s the problem with that, if it’s obviously passed the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) rigorous standards?  Nothing, writes Daisy Luther, for the Organic Prepper, as long as you know that shellac “is a resinous secretion from bugs during their mating cycles, specifically the female lac beetle. Glazed donuts and glossy candy shells owe their shininess to these secretions.”

8585257_f260“And did you know that Starbucks once had a difficult time keeping their strawberry Frappuccino drinks a vibrant red?  Who would want to drink a drink that didn’t cast a vibrant color upon us?  Starbucks found that most of the red flavorings they tried out weren’t able to keep their vibrant color through processing, so they turned to a Natural Red #4 dye, otherwise known as carmine.  Carmine proved to be more successful in holding the color, but it was discovered to be a cochineal extract, a color additive derived from the cochina beetle’s shell.  These cochina beetles were dried, and ground up, and processed to give the drink a more sustainable red flavoring.  Starbucks was eventually forced to end the practice when informed groups caterwauled them into transitioning to lycopene, a pigment found in tomatoes.”

As usual, the caterwauling was much ado about nothing, as research performed over the last sixty years by independent researchers, and the FDA’s research arm, has shown that while most of these additives may be high on our “yuck list”, there are no discernible health concerns or anything life threatening about any of the additives from the approved lists.  There’s just the “Do you know what you’re consuming?” factor that has informed consumers saying “yuck” regarding the manufacturing process of some of the products they consume.

Fish bladders to fight bitter beer?

Fish bladders to fight bitter beer taste?

Most of the articles cited here took an anti-corporate stance with their findings.  Some of these stances were subtle, others were overt in their call for greater corporate social responsibility.  Their stances suggested that due to the fact that these companies are not listing beaver taint juice in their ingredients that they are engaging in deceptive business practices, and that the FDA should put a stop to it.

To this charge I would submit that most of these ingredients have been market-tested, FDA approved, and the consumer will most assuredly receive no harm from these products.  I would also submit that in most areas of the food and beverage industry, profits are actually a lot slimmer than infotainment purveyors would have you believe.  Those that prefer a clear beer, for instance, may believe that the use of the dried swim bladders of Beluga sturgeon (AKA Isinglass) to filter sediments out to be inhumane on some level, but the alternative is a yeast-filled beer that would lead to no one buying their beer.  It’s such a competitive industry that the need to keep costs down, and pass those savings onto you, are usually the difference between being able to deliver said products to you, and folding up shop.  If you are an informed consumer that wants DEMANDS! more corporate responsibility along industry lines, however, be ready to pay for the alternatives they’re forced to use. Lastly, informed consumers are fickle beings that force corporations into changing from natural flavorings to synthetic and back, and they almost undermine their effort with constant barrages from the outrage of the day vault.  Those of us that pay attention to such matters, long for the “push back” moment from corporations and consumers. We long for the day when the uninformed consumer would step up, en masse, and say something along the lines of:

“I don’t enjoy hearing that dried fish bladder spends time in my beer, and I might prefer that they find some other way of cleaning my beer out, but I’ve been drinking this beer for decades, and it’s fish bladder.  I eat fish all the time.  I see nothing wrong with it, and I think that this idea of bullying corporations to do things another way has reached a tipping point.”

To get you in the mood

The beaver’s castoreum has also been used to cure headaches, fever and hysteria, as it contains large amounts of salicylic acid, the active ingredient in aspirin, and these anal secretions are said to contain around twenty-four different molecules, many of which act as natural pheromones … to get you in the mood.

Ambergris: The Love Molecule?

Ambergris: The Love Molecule?

Castoreum gives off a musky scent that is used in perfumes, much like a solid, waxy, flammable substance of a dull grey or blackish color produced in the whale’s gastrointestinal tract of sperm whales called ambergris.  As with the beaver’s castoreum, the whale does not have to die for ambergris extraction, as it is a bile duct secretion the whale produces to ease the passage of hard, sharp objects that the whale may have accidentally ingested.  As such, the ambergris that is used in perfumes can usually be found in whale vomit floating on the surface of the ocean.

Well known lover, and raconteur, Giacomo Casanova, was known to sprinkle a dash of ambergris in his evening hot chocolate, with the hope that by the time his lover approached its musky aroma would be permeating from his skin.  If Casanova was feeling a particular bout of insecurity, with a promising damsel, he was known to add an extra coat of it on his collar.

The theory that Casanova, and research scientists in the field of perfumes and colognes, bought into was this theory that our sense of smell once served the dual purpose of warning us of danger as well as attracting a prospective mate, and market research has found that animal “materials” such as civet, castoreum and musk (from a cat, beaver and deer respectively, all located in the same region respectively) give a fragrance sensuality, because they have been found to have a chemical structure similar to our own sexual odors.  Musk has almost identical properties to our testosterone, in other words, an enzyme that powers our sex drive.

Most people have at least heard of the martial game, of the middle ages, called jousting.  At the end of a joust, some victors of a vital match were rewarded with a damsel’s handkerchief.  If you’ve witnessed a proper portrayal of this scene, in the movies or elsewhere, you’ve witnessed the spoils of victory: the knight huffing on that handkerchief with satisfactory joy.  Most believe that the greater import of the scene is a symbolic one depicting the sweet smell of success, on par with drinking wine from a gullet, or showering a locker room in champagne.  The handkerchief moment has also been depicted as a symbolic one of a damsel giving her hand.  Greater understanding of the “huffing on the handkerchief” moment would occur if modern cinema were to reveal that the damsel carried that handkerchief in her armpit throughout the jousting match.  According to an article posted by Helen Gabriel, after the handkerchief spent a sufficient amount of time in the damsel’s underarm area, it would be coated with her smegma, and the jouster’s reward for victory was the greater knowledge he attained of the damsel’s true essence.

Having said all that, man probably wouldn’t have to look to the animal kingdom, or its artificial equivalents developed in research labs, if we didn’t feel the need to bathe so often.  It may seem contradictory, but the ritually required staple of daily bathing deprives us the very human scents that could be used as attractants.  Decide not to bathe very often and your visual cues will suffer, of course, but if we could manage our bathing ritual in such a manner that our visual cues were still scoring high in the mating world, and our smegma production was permitted to organically manufacture these scents more often, provided that they weren’t produced so often that our smegma became overwhelming to the point of being counterproductive, we might be able to sit atop the dating world without saying so much as a kind word to anyone.  As stated in a previous post, we are now required to bathe and wash away this smegma substance –that can be found on and around our reproductive organs, and in our urine— on a daily basis.  We are then required, by the same, prospective dating community, to replace those scents we wash away on a daily basis, with the scents that can be found in castoreum, civet, musk, and on the tip of a boar’s sexual organs, or their preputial glands.

Who was the first to discover this?

The first question that naturally arises from any discussion that involves the “yuck factor” properties that the beaver, and the whale, have provided mankind is: Who discovered this, and how did they arrive at the notion that it could be used in the manner it is now used?  Were women, at one point, so “unnaturally” attracted to whalers that observers set out to find out why?  Did whalers, after a number of successful conquests of women, begin to realize that there was something more to their success rate than the rugged individualism normally associated with whaling?  Did one whaler begin to put some whale vomit behind his ears before he went to the tavern, and the others followed suit after watching him succeed, until the history of ambergris was written?  And who was the first person to mix beaver taint juice and ice cream together and decide that it was such a winning proposition that he would pitch it to corporations, and what was he forced to say in that pitch to make it persuasive?  And what of the psychedelic and psychoactive properties of the toad?

bufo_alvarius_by_revolutionarypeace-d332cr1For those that don’t already know, the toad produces a venom that can have a psychoactive effect on the human brain.  What was the trial and error process that led to this discovery?  Did one person eat this toad and find themselves feeling a little loopy in the aftermath?  Or, did an individual walk around licking the forest, the trees, the antelope, and the shrubbery trying to find a natural high that would either make them a ton of money, or a state of mind where they no longer cared about money?

We know that the idea that natural properties in plants and animals can provide homeopathic remedies dates back to the Native Americans; to Aristotle; and beyond.  We know that there had be a great deal of trial and error in that research, in unsterile environments, that produced results less consistent results that rarely had to stand up to the kind of peer review such a finding would experience today.  With that in mind, the natural question that progresses from that knowledge, is how many people became gravely ill in the trial and error process, how many were paralyzed, and how many died before the 5-methoxy-N, N-dimethyltryptamine (5-MeO-DMT), chemical that is a derivative of bufotenine was finally found in a toad.  This chemical, after all, is not available in all toads.  It appears to be the exclusive property of the Bufo alvarins toad (pictured here), so what person went searching before finally finding the perfect toad, secreting the perfect venom, for anyone that wants to experience the euphoria that can result from killing brain cells?

The 5-methoxy-N, N-dimethyltryptamine (5-MeO-DMT) chemical is obviously a venom that the toad naturally produces to kill off its attackers, and recent research has discovered that this whole toad licking phenomenon is a dangerous, old wives tale.  Recent research has found that you, as the toad’s attacker, would suffer the same consequences of any other attacker if you ran up and licked it.  You could become gravely ill, or even paralyzed as a result of milking the toad in a squeezing motion and taking it in orally.  This leads to the next question, which researcher watched their fellow researcher, or test subject, fall to the ground in paralytic spasms, or death, and then cross out the words lick it?  This researcher, or the researcher after him, presumably tried drying it and smoking it, until word got out that a researcher had finally found it, the holy grail of brain cell killing euphoria.  Word got out, of course, and the secretions of the Bufo alvarins toad soon became so pervasive in a society, and subsequently so detrimental, that Queensland, Australia, was eventually forced to list possession of toad slime as illegal under their Drug Misuse act?

My Advice to Informed Consumers

If you are still interested in this trivial information, there are websites that will feed your hunger with different tidbits, and warnings, on just about every product and service available to man, on any given day.  If you’re one that is so interested in it that you feel an overwhelming need to share, just know that some of us have reached a tipping point, based on the fact that most of this information has proven to be trivial and contradictory.  My initial fear, in publishing this article, was that I might be contributing to these violations, but I decided to proceed with it under the “There’s no such thing as too much knowledge” banner.  I do know, however, that there will always be some informed consumers that are now so overloaded with such information that they obviously don’t care that sharing such information could be considered a violation of social protocol, and that that moment of sharing will arrive right before their friend plans to enjoy the products that the informed consumer is now afraid to consume based on what they know about said product.  To these people, I paraphrase one of Mark Twain’s most famous quotes: “Some of the times it’s better to keep your mouth shut and appear uninformed, than to open it and remove all doubt.”

So, the next time someone approaches your table with a strawberry shake, a bottle of beer, M&M’s, or a Bufo alvarins toad that they plan to consume, just let them do it in peace.  I know it’s going to provide the biological equivalent of letting a kidney stone calcify in your system, but do it with the knowledge that they probably don’t care as much about this information as you do, and the discretion you show, by remaining silent, could go a long way to you making friends and influencing people.

Casual conversation usually prohibits us from speaking of casual moments of superiority, and our egos usually prohibit us from speaking of those casual, or professional, conversations we’ve had where we were inferior.  Yet, some of us believe –as much as we wish this wasn’t the case— that these roles inform and influence even the most casual conversations.

Working as an ice cream truck driver one day –a ding ding man, a good humor man, or whatever you would called me in your locale— I was pulled over by a couple of bandannas, beneath hats that were turned backwards, and sunglasses.  I braced for the worst.  I envisioned this encounter to be the modern-day equivalent of bandits pulling over a stagecoach.  I flirted with the notion that the only reason they stopped me “just to talk” was to allow their stickup man enough time to sneak around the back of the ice cream truck and complete the robbery.  As a result, I divided my attention between them and my mirrors, watching for any movement to occur behind my truck.  When that didn’t happen, I began to wonder if they were feeling me out, to see if I was a soft and easy roll.  All of that may have been unfair, but I have always been a nerdy guy, and these guys appeared to be really cool.  It simply made no sense that these would stop their truck in the middle of the road just to talk to someone like me.

malczykIn ways I didn’t understand and still don’t, and as I’ve been told by many “You probably never will,” I knew that these guys were cooler than me.  They had this aura they had about them I call cool, but others, far smarter than me call radiating self-possession.  They spoke in an ethereal manner that suggested that they were probably potheads, and as one acutely attuned to pop culture, pop culture references, and pop culture characterizations I knew that being a pothead meant that they were probably way cooler than me.  If they were, in fact, thieves, and I was the aproned shopkeeper –to complete the “old west” analogy— their cool points would be through the roof.  Except, they had bandannas on, beneath hats that were turned backwards, and they were wearing sunglasses.

In a just world, where proper metrics are applied, I should’ve been the superior one in this encounter.  I wore better clothes, and I had the better education, but these guys had intangibles that I didn’t dare dream of attaining.  They appeared to have the looks, a sense of cool about them, and an aura that suggested that they were fun loving, party-going types, characteristics that threw all of my metrics right out the window.  They weren’t stupid, however, and that fact was made evident minutes into our conversation, but there was no way their education was as expensive as mine was.  And if they were potheads, they probably spent a lot of time equivocating moral issues, and those that equivocate –I had had pounded into my head in school– have a fundamental flaw about them that they spend most of their time trying to hide.  So, in my world of proper metrics, I was: check, check, check, superior.

Except for one tiny, little nugget I neglected to input into the equation: I was wearing sunglasses, and a bandanna beneath my backwards facing hat.  The only difference between the three of us was that I didn’t wear this gear daily.  My getup was worn for the sole purpose of concealing my true identity.  I was so embarrassed to be a ding ding man that short of wearing a fake beard and a Groucho Marx nose and eyeglasses, I had every inch of my identity covered.

They didn’t know any this of course.  They probably thought I was a bandanna, beneath a backwards facing hat, and sunglasses brutha, and that may have been the only reason they decided to stop and chat with me in the first place.  It may have been the reason they were so relaxed about their status, and my status, and the superior versus inferior roles in our approach to one another.  When this idea hit me, I secretly felt superior, until I realized that if I was superior, I wasn’t doing anything with it, and that fact had led me to being so embarrassed that I was now wearing a bandanna, beneath a backwards facing hat, and sunglasses.  I wondered if I input that new information into the paradigm if it would actually make me inferior to them.  There are a lot of points given, in this paradigm, for knowing your limitations, and learning to live with them, until you’re so comfortable with who you are that you’re radiating self-possession.   I realized that in my bandanna, beneath a backwards facing hat, and sunglasses façade I was going to get no points in any of these categories.

The bandanas, with hats on backwards, and sunglasses wore no shirts; and they were riding in a beat up, old International, that rattled in idle.  They were construction guys with dark, rich tans that made their teeth appear whiter when they smiled and laughed.  My guess, watching these two twentysomethings speak, was that even though they appeared inferior, they surely had no trouble landing women.  My guess was that among those girls that knew them well, there was a whole lot of adulation going on.  I didn’t know this to be a fact, of course, but guys like me –that were always on the lookout for what I’d somehow missed in life— were always looking at guys like these for ideas.

They laughed a genuine laugh at some of the things I said.  I remember that what I said had something to do with the business side of being a ding ding man, but I can’t remember specifics.  I do remember their laughter, and I do remember wondering if they were laughing with me or at me.  At this point in my life, I had just escaped a high school that contained a large swath of people that were almost always laughing at me, and I remember having some difficulty shedding that shield for the purpose of having what appeared to be a casual conversation among men that reminded me of all those people I was finally rid of.

Something I did not expect happened to me in the midst of this conversation, however, and it happened shortly after they told me they had to go.  This something caused me to miss them before they drove away.  I liked talking to them, and I realized that they had no pretensions about them, and that they were actually just a couple of good guys, and that I liked being the guy they thought I was.  The latter half of that conjunction was the something I didn’t expect.  I wasn’t entirely sure what it was that I liked that they thought they saw, but it caused me to watch them drive away until they were gone.  The idea that most people speak in superlatives was not lost on me, but most people that knew me well expressed the idea that I may have been one of the most uptight, frustrated, and angst ridden individuals you’ll ever meet, and my costume probably supported that characterization more than I care to admit.  Very few of these people have ever accused me of being too relaxed.

I didn’t think this at the time, but I know now that my inability to enjoy a simple, casual conversation with some pretty decent fellas —that just happened to drive up on me— was plagued by my inability to leave high school, and as those smarter than me have said,  “You never truly leave high school.”  Another something that I discovered, a something I had never considered prior to these two driving up on me, was that I was still playing that proverbial king of the mountain game, a game I usually lost quite badly in high school, and I was still so locked into a defensive position that it had ruined my life for years.

Was I superior to two guys that wore a bandanna, beneath a backwards facing hat and sunglasses?  That was never firmly established, but the takeaway I had from this particular encounter was that I didn’t care, and that may have been what I liked, what I missed, and what caused me to watch them drive away, until they were gone.

The purpose behind Shooting the Elephant is to describe our lifelong struggle between acting in an authentic manner and ceding to group thought.  As anyone that has ever attempted to write a story, the true story lies in discovery.  The events are the events, but digging into the depths of why we acted the way we did is the sort of intrigue that drives a writer to write the story.  What does my motivation for doing what I did say about me, is it emblematic of humanity as a whole?  As a standalone, i.e., listing off the events that took place, I’m guessing that the aspiring writer –that was Eric Arthur Blair— considered the story incomplete and without purpose.  I’m guessing that it was probably written numerous times, in search of a driving force, and that that probably was not achieved without some creativity on Orwell’s part in the rewrites.

We can also guess, based upon what Blair would achieve under the pseudonym George Orwell, that the search for the quality story, supported by a quality theme, was the driving force behind his effort.  If the driving force behind writing a story is to achieve fame or acclaim, so goes the theory, you’ll have neither the fame nor the quality story.  The mentality most quality writers bring to a piece is that fame and acclaim are great, but it should be nothing more than a welcome byproduct of a well-written piece.  Shooting the Elephant is a good story, but it’s the fact that it has a fantastic purpose-driven, central message that led Eric Arthur Blair to eventually achieving fame as George Orwell.

HappyFaceResizeIn the pre-Facebook world, the story Shooting the Elephant –sans the purpose-driven, central message— would’ve probably been viewed as nothing more than one man describing an eventful day in an otherwise uneventful life in his youth.  It may have also been considered a decent travelogue piece, as the setting of the story occurred in Burma.  Without the central theme, however, it may have sat on a shelf somewhere ad Eric Blair may never have become George Owell.  The writer may never have published the piece.  It may have sat on his shelf as a chronicle of an event with no home.

It’s also possible —knowing that Shooting the Elephant was one of Orwell’s first stories— that the theme of the story occurred in the exact manner Orwell portrays, and he built the story around that theme, and he then proceeded to build a writing career around that theme.  The actuality of what happened to Orwell, while employed as the British Empire’s police officer in Burma is impossible to know, and subject to debate, but the quality of the psychological examination Orwell puts into the first person, ‘I’ character is not debatable, as it relays to the pressure the onlookers exert on the main character, based on his mystique.  It’s also the reason Orwell wrote this story, and the many other stories that examine this theme in many different ways.

The first person, ‘I’ character of George Orwell’s Shooting an Elephant was a sub-divisional police officer of the town of Burma.  Orwell writes how this job, as sub-divisional police officer, brought him to a point where he began to see the evil underbelly of imperialism for what it was, a result of the Burmese people resenting him for his role as the one placed among them to provide the order the British Empire for the otherwise disorderly “natives” of Burma.  Orwell writes, how he, in turn, began to loathe some of the Burmese as a result, while secretly cheering them on against the occupiers, his home country Britain.  It all came to a head, for him, when a tamed elephant went must<1>.  As the sub-divisional police officer, Orwell was called upon to shoot the elephant.

Orwell describes the encounter in this manner:

It was a tiny incident in itself, but it gave me a better glimpse than I had had before of the real nature of imperialism – the real motives for which despotic governments act.”

The escaped elephant gone must wreaked some carnage in his path from the bazaar to the spot where Orwell came upon him.  En route to the eventual spot where Orwell came upon the elephant, Orwell encountered several Burmese people that informed him of the elephant gone must.  Orwell then discovered a dead man on the elephant’s destructive path that Orwell describes as a black Dravidian<2>coolie in one spot of the story, and a Coringhee<3> coolie in another.  Several witnesses confirmed, for Orwell, the fact that the elephant had killed the man.

When Orwell finally comes upon the elephant, “peacefully eating, the elephant looked no more dangerous than a cow,” Orwell describes the Burmese throng that surrounded him:

It was an immense crowd, two thousand at the least and growing every minute.  It blocked the road for a long distance on either side.  I looked at the sea of yellow faces above the garish clothes-faces all happy and excited over this bit of fun, all certain that the elephant was going to be shot.  They were watching me as they would watch a conjurer about to perform a trick.  They did not like me, but with the magical rifle in my hands I was momentarily worth watching.  And suddenly I realized that I should have to shoot the elephant after all.  The people expected it of me and I had got to do it; I could feel their two thousand wills pressing me forward, irresistibly.  And it was at this moment, as I stood there with the rifle in my hands, that I first grasped the hollowness, the futility of the white man’s dominion in the East.  Here was I, the white man with his gun, standing in front of the unarmed native crowd – seemingly the leading actor of the piece; but in reality I was only an absurd puppet pushed to and fro by the will of those yellow faces behind.  I perceived in this moment that when the white man turns tyrant it is his own freedom that he destroys.  He becomes a sort of hollow, posing dummy, the conventionalized figure of a sahib<4>.  For it is the condition of his rule that he shall spend his life in trying to impress the “natives,” and so in every crisis he has got to do what the “natives” expect of him.  He wears a mask, and his face grows to fit it.  I had got to shoot the elephant.  I had committed myself to doing it when I sent for the rifle.  A sahib has got to act like a sahib; he has got to appear resolute, to know his own mind and do definite things.  To come all that way, rifle in hand, with two thousand people marching at my heels, and then to trail feebly away, having done nothing – no, that was impossible.  The crowd would laugh at me.  And my whole life, every white man’s life in the East, was one long struggle not to be laughed at.

Orwell states that he did not want to shoot the elephant, but he felt compelled by the very presence of the thousands of “natives” surrounding him to proceed.  He writes:

A white man mustn’t be frightened in front of “natives”; and so, in general, he isn’t frightened.  The sole thought in my mind was that if anything went wrong those two thousand Burmans would see me pursued, caught, trampled on and reduced to a grinning corpse like that (coolie) up the hill.  And if that happened it was quite probable that some of them would laugh.”

In the aftermath of the shooting of the animal, Orwell describes the controversy that arose, and he concluded it with:

I was very glad that the coolie had been killed; it put me legally in the right and it gave me a sufficient pretext for shooting the elephant.  I often wondered whether any of the others grasped that I had done it solely to avoid looking a fool.”

The Hard-Ass Boss

I had a boss once that did everything he could to foster the mystique of being a “hard-ass boss”.  His goal, as characterized by my team of workers, was to procure this idea in the minds of those that worked around him, but in his superiors’ in particular, that he was willing to do whatever it took to get the maximum efficiency out of the workers.  Those of us that worked under him suspected that he fought the more lenient Human Resources department to inflict maximum damage upon us to support this mystique.  This resulted in most of us believing that he cared little-to-nothing about us and only about advancing his mystique, until it advanced him within the company.  Was this a fair characterization?  It may not have been, but it was pervasive throughout the team, and he never did anything to dispel us of this notion.

Thus, when I was called upon to meet with him in a closed-door, one-on-one session to discuss a punishment I was to receive for a wrongdoing, I was surprised to find him congenial and unassuming.  I had expected the worst.  I was wrong.  He cut my punishment in half, and he did so with a smile, a pleasant and unassuming smile.

I lost respect for him.  I couldn’t avoid it.  The characterization I had of him was that he would give me the full punishment, as accorded to him by his superiors.  When he didn’t, I was left to fill in the blanks, and those blanks were not filled with pleasant and unassuming characterizations. 

He offered me another pleasant and unassuming smile in the silence that followed.

“See, I’m not such a bad guy,” he said.

If he had asked me what I thought, before leaving this closed-door session, I would’ve told him that he would’ve been better off refraining from those smiles, and he would’ve been better off just giving me the full punishment.  I would’ve told him that the mystique he had a hand in creating was so firmly entrenched in my mind that he was in a no-win situation … if it was his hope that I like him, or think that he’s not such a bad guy after all.  I would’ve told him that once you establish a firm, hard-ass leadership mystique, doing otherwise will only lead the recipient of your leniency to believe that you are flexing your authoritative muscle in a condescending reminder to those that are under you will forever be subjected to your whims and moods, until they leave the room loathing you more than they had when they entered.

I would’ve ended my assessment by saying, you’ve worked so hard to foster this image, and sustain this mystique, that you should probably just sit back and enjoy it.  The employees on your team are now working harder than they ever have, because they fear what you might do to them if they don’t.  They’re also putting a great deal of effort into avoiding anything that could even be reasonably perceived as wrongdoing, based on the idea that if they get caught up in something that you won’t defend them.  I would tell him that by firmly establishing yourself as a hard-ass boss you’ve given up the freedom of latitude in your reactions.  We’ve adjusted our working lives to this mask you created, and any attempt you make, going forward, to foster a “nice guy” image will be perceived as weakness, and it will not redown to the benefit of any of the parties involved.

It’s too late for you, and your current mystique, I would inform him, but if you want to escape this cycle in your next management position, clear your desk library of all of these unread “how-to lead” guides that you have arranged for maximum visibility and pick up a copy of Orwell’s Shooting the Elephant.  In this story, you will find the true detriment of creating a mask of a hard-ass boss, until your face grows into it, and while it may impress your superiors to be this way, the downside will arrive when you try to impress upon “the natives” the idea that you’re not such a bad guy after all, and you spend the rest of your days trying to escape the spiraling duality of these expectations.

<1> Must, or Musth, is a periodic condition in bull (male) elephants, characterized by highly aggressive behavior and accompanied by a large rise in reproductive hormones.

<2> A Dravidian is described as any of a group of intermixed peoples chiefly in S India and N Sri Lanka

<3> “A Coringhee coolie” refers to such an Indian immigrant working in colonial Burma as an unskilled laborer in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

<4> Sahib –A name of Arabic origin meaning “holder, master or owner”.

“You can’t choose your family,” they say.  You can choose your friends.  You can even choose those that you decide to be around on a regular basis, even if they are not your friends.  You can’t choose your family, however, and you can’t choose co-workers.  Being employed with a large number of people, on a long-term basis, I have found that the lines between family and co-workers blur.  As one of my fellow co-workers once said, “There are times when you may actually find yourself closer to your co-workers than your family, and the simple reason for this is that you’re around them more often.”   That having been said, there are black sheep in every place you work, just as there are black sheep in every family.  When you work in the service industry, particularly on an overnight shift, and you encounter a Star Wars Cantina of black sheep on parade every night, it becomes clear that you can’t choose your co-workers.

A Case of Mistaken Identity

The office party

The office party

Rhonda told my girlfriend, at the time, that she saw me at a bar that was well-known in our city for being a low-rent meat market.  When my girlfriend confronted me about this, I informed her that I had never been to that particular bar.  The next day, my girlfriend informed me that Rhonda stated that she not only saw me there, but that the two of us had engaged in some sort of extended conversation.  I reiterated the fact that I’d never been to that particular bar.  When Rhonda later found out that there was another person working at our company that had the same name as me, she conceded that it may have been a case of mistaken identity.  I accepted this at face value, at first, until I chewed on it for a second.

“Didn’t she say she had something of an extended conversation with me that night?” I asked.  “How can you have an extended conversation with someone and believe it’s someone else, based solely on their name?”  Before we continue, it’s important to note that not only did Rhonda know my name, but we had spent about three months working across the aisle from one another in the company.  And … and those three months were her first three months with the company, and she had tons of questions, and I was the senior agent on that team whose primary duty it was to answer those questions.  In these two respective roles, the two of us had had over 100 exchanges in those three months.  “It’s not a case of mistaken identity,” I said.  “She’s out to get me.  She wants to break us up, or something.”

She doesn’t think that way,” my girlfriend at the time stated.  “It’s just Rhonda.  She’s kind of a ditz.  I’m embarrassed that I ever believed her over you.  Forgive me?”

Of course I did.  How could I hold her responsible for another person’s fables?  I didn’t forgive Rhonda however.  I knew Rhonda was a little dingy, but I wasn’t buying the “It’s just Rhonda,” line regarding the accusation she leveled against me, and I thought less of my girlfriend for doing so.  I thought Rhonda was out to get me, and I carried that particular grudge against her for months, until I ran into Dan.

“It is just Rhonda,” Dan confirmed. “I can tell you all you need to know about Rhonda in one brief, little story.  Rhonda found out that $600.00 was missing from her checking account, inexplicably missing.  She knew that she didn’t do it, and her daughter said that she didn’t withdraw the money either.  Rhonda confronted the vice-president (VP) of the bank with this information, and Rhonda proceeded to berate this woman for her bank’s apparent lack of security. “You just let anyone walk into your bank and withdraw money from other people’s accounts?” Rhonda stated that she told the VP.  Rhonda then stated that she informed the VP that the bank would be pulling all of the bank’s security tapes, and that it had become her mission in life to get her $600.00 back if it killed her, because she knew knew that she didn’t do it.  She stated that she would’ve remembered withdrawing $600.00, because $600.00 was all she had in that account, and her $500.00 rent was coming due, and she wouldn’t just spend her rent money on nothing, and nothing was what she had to show for that $600.00 withdrawal, and if she had been the one to withdraw the money she “sure as hell” would have had something to show for it.

“Well, the bank VP called Rhonda in a couple days later to watch the tape that showed that it was, indeed, Rhonda withdrawing those funds.  Now,” said Dan.  “I’m sure that that bank VP accused Rhonda of all the same ulterior motives you just did two minutes ago, but the one thing neither of you account for is her stupidity, an almost unprecedented, embarrassing amount of utter stupidity that is just Rhonda.”

A Reaction

I came into work one day to find Bill and Jim playing on a scooter in the back office of the front desk of a hotel.  This scooter was motorized and very similar to that which you can now find at your local Wal-Mart.  Jim rode around on this motorized scooter, like a little kid with a new toy: laughing; beeping the little horn; and hooting, and hollering, and waving his pretend hat around like a cowboy in a rodeo.

That’s hilarious,” I said watching Jim go crazy.

“Yeah,” Bill said, “Too bad there’s a limit to the fun … It’s an old lady’s cart, and it can only go so fast.”

“Whaddya mean?” I asked, as Jim began his dismount.  “These things are universal.  There isn’t an old lady’s model.” 

I then proceeded to mount the motorized scooter and turn the accelerator switch from turtle to rabbit.  Just before I went on my first ride, I saw Bill and Jim’s imagination light up.  I took one run through the back office to gain a little comfort with the scooter, and its new speed, and in my second run, I began yelling, “How do you stop this thing?  I’m out of control.”  I then crashed into one of the operator’s chairs.

The operator’s initial alarm could not be faked, but as she read my face, her alarm softened.  “Jack ass!” she said with the remnants of a smile lifting the corner of her mouth.

Bill and Jim were out of control with laughter.  I thought of making a couple more runs.  It was, indeed, a blast.  The performer in me couldn’t see how I could top that first run, however, so I dismounted.

Bill replicated my run by screaming the exact same words, and he ended up crashing into the exact same operator’s chair in the exact same manner.

Look,” someone that just entered the back office area said when Bill was in the midst of his run. “Bill figured out how to make that thing go faster.” The person that said this just happened to be the most attractive female in the hotel, and I had spent weeks trying to impress her. When Bill crashed into the very same operator’s chair as I had, she laughed hard and said, “Bill, you are hilarious!”

“I did that,” I told Bill in a manner that I hoped would affect this girl’s impression of me.  Bill stopped right in front of me, looked up and grinned.  “I figured out that switch,” I said.  “I made it go faster.  I — you even ran into ran into the same operator’s chair in the exact same manner I did.”  Bill just sat there and grinned at me.  Being proprietary about a joke was not something I usually did openly.  I knew it was a fool’s errand, but this girl I was trying to impress was so good looking, and she laughed so hard that I couldn’t help but ask Bill for my proprietary interest back.  He just sat there and smiled at me.

I got credit from the schlubs at the front desk, but when the best looking girl at the hotel stepped in the back office, she only saw Bill doing it.  “You know I did that first,” I said like a five-year-old trying to reclaim a good boy deed.  I hoped that this girl would hear this and know that I was the truly funny one here, especially when he copied my run to a tee, and got her laughing as a result.  Bill’s smile only increased, until he was beaming at me.  His face was actually going red, and I hated him in that moment.  He was the beneficiary of excellent timing though, and I thought he knew it.  I thought he was continuing to smile at me for what seemed an unusually long period of time, because he was obnoxiously soaking up all the glory.  I nearly called him a filthy name, when a third party stepped in and interrupted us:

“Okay Bill, settle down.”  The third party then said in a very soothing voice, “You know you need to refrain from getting too excited.”

“What?” I asked the third party person.  “What’s going on?”

“He’s having a seizure.”

The Mess

“Jenny I think it’s poop,” Jack said leaning down to clean up a small piece of refuse at the bottom of the ballroom announcement board.

It’s not poop Jack,” Jenny replied.  “Just clean it up.”

Minutes later, the front desk housekeeper began bending down to make quick dabs and wipes with a washcloth on the floor in front of the front desk area, and she proceeded to do this down the hall.  “What are you doing?” I asked her.

Someone spilled coffee on their way down the hall,” she said cleaning a trail of brown dots.  “Happens all the time.”

Minutes later, a gift shop employee approached me saying, “I need you to accompany me out to a car.”  What?  “Just come on!” she said.  “I’ll tell you out there.”  She proceeded to tell me that a guest had knocked on the stall of the bathroom, asking the gift shop employee if she worked for the hotel.   When the gift shop employee told her that she did, the guest informed her that she had had an accident.  The guest asked the gift shop employee to go to her car and get a coat for her.  Fearing a lawsuit, or that this was some kind of ruse, the gift shop employee asked me to witness her going into the guest’s car for the guest’s coat.

Once the guest had her London Fog, knee-length coat, sans underwear and pants, the gift shop employee informed me, the guest decided to stop, en route to the exit, and shop in the gift shop for about fifteen minutes, “Like nothing happened,” the gift shop employee informed me.  She was wearing a London Fog length coat that stretched to her knees, but she had nothing else on below the waist, due to the mess she had purportedly made in her undergarments and on her pants.

“She must be used to it,” the gift shop employee surmised.

The Obnoxious Emailer

One of my fellow email employees quit the job of exclusively answering emails, because she couldn’t handle the swearing she encountered via the confrontational emails that she received.

“It’s an email,” I told her on numerous occasions.  “Prior to this job,” I informed her, “I’ve experienced face to face confrontations with angry, swearing customers, and I’ve even had some of them throw things at me.”  I informed her of some of the abusive phone calls I’ve taken over the years in which I’ve had my life threatened.  “And these are just emails.”  I told her that some customers will do everything they can to get under your skin and rattle you.  “It’s the nature of the customer service industry,” I said.  “Compared to a person trying to dress you down, face-to-face, and an irate customer that won’t let you get a word in with their less personal phone calls, an abusive emailer is nothing.  It’s impersonal, and they know it.  The anonymity allows them to think they can write anything, and it has no reflection on them.  Just ignore it, and don’t take it personal.”  I said the latter in a dismissive manner that basically suggested that once you get over this hump, you’ll probably be looking back at this with laughter.

I can’t ignore it,” she said.  “And to be quite honest, I don’t know how you all can?”

“Just laugh at their feeble attempts to prove that they’re mad,” I said the latter in a mocking tone that mocked their attempts to appear emotional via email.  In my attempts to lead her into dismissing these silly people that get emotional in emails, I was apparently acting dismissive of her complaint, and she informed me of this.  “It’s simply a mindset that you have to have in the customer service industry.  Always remember that they don’t know who you are.  They’re angry people that want to have something to be mad about.  You’re just the unlucky person that happens to be on the other end of their rage.  You’re an anonymous worker for the company.  Their grievances aren’t with you, they’re with the company.  But in the end, be happy that it’s just an email.  Most of us have experienced a lot worse.”

“I couldn’t do it,” she said greeting me months later, after numerous counseling sessions.  She was quitting the company.  “I couldn’t ignore it,” she added.  I couldn’t help but think less of her, as she told me how much my efforts to console her meant to her, and she said all that with tears in her eyes.  To say that I was shocked does not do it justice.

From that point forward I took decidedly inconsequential complaints from fellow employees more seriously, and I realized that we’re all different, and we all have different thresholds, and some of us define Darwin’s theories on natural selection and survival of the fittest better than others.

The Identifiable Characteristics inherent in the Penis

Working in the intangible world, you are often required to require that some customers send you a form of identification to prove their identity if they hope to continue to do business with your company.  In one of the replies to such a requirement, a customer sent an image of their penis.  I’m not sure if this customer was sending a statement in regards to our company’s policies and procedures, or if he genuinely believed that this would fulfill our company’s requirement for identification.

Putting Down the Dog

A friend of mine informed me that she had to put the family dog put down over the weekend.  In the midst of my sympathetic response, she said, “It’s just a dog.  You men get so attached to your dogs.  You’re all ridiculous.”  I laughed.  I agreed.  I made some joke about the inherent loyalty of a dog versus that of a woman.

“My husband’s so upset,” she said.  “He thinks I did it because the dog was messing all over the place.”  Well, I said.  That’s grief.  Maybe that’s how he’s dealing with it, by blaming you.  “No, he’s right, but it wasn’t just a mess here and there, the dog was constantly going all over the place.  Every time I came home and opened my door, I smelled pee, our whole house smelled like pee, and I just got tired of it.”  The look on my face affected hers.  “I told him to take care of it, to train the dog better.  I told him that maybe he should race home, during his lunch hour, to let the dog out one more time, but he would not do it.”  Who are you? I asked.  That’s about the coldest thing I’ve ever heard.  I meant that as a soft joke, but she didn’t react well to it.  What did you say to your husband’s accusations? I asked her.  “I said the vet said he suffered from some disease.  I can’t even remember what I said it was.”  The few conversations we had in the immediate aftermath of that conversation were not as friendly as those that occurred before it, because I “Couldn’t get past the stupid dog issue.”

The Weird and the Strange.  One of the best ways to define a relative term, like weird, is to define what it is not.  It is not, for the purpose of this discussion, strange.  Strange, by our arbitrary definition, concerns those that were affected by God in a manner that left them different.  We don’t define this separation to be nice, though we do deem it mean-spirited to mock, insult, or denigrate those people that arrive at their differences naturally; we don’t define this separation to be politically correct, though we believe that a reader would deem any attempts to poke fun at the naturally strange as an attempt to define superiority in the vein of normalcy and intelligence; and we don’t attempt to be extra-intelligent, or difficult, by creating such a separation.  The separation we make between weird and strange simply defines, for our readers, our goal to provide entertaining blogs on weird people that make weird decisions in life.

grosz8Being weird is a choice.  It could be said that Psychology is largely a study of the choices we make.  In that vein, it is our assumption that most people choose to be weird, follow weird paths, or believe in weird things, and we give ourselves license to mock those decisions.  You don’t, again by the arbitrary definition of the terms lined out here, choose to be strange.

Weird people will not be afforded the same lubricated gloves that the strange are in this blog, for the weird have made their choices, and those choices subject them to a degree of illustrative ridicule that a more politically correct writer —say, from the squishy and indecisive school of thought— would soften with moral and societal equivocations.  Some of us are the same as those we mock, and some of us are different.  Some of us are normal, and weird, and strange.

My dad did everything he could to lead me down a more normal path.  He corrected my strange ideas with sensible, normal lines of thought.  “That isn’t the way,” he said so many times, and in so many ways, that my refusal to accept his norms could only be seen as rebellion.  There were so many fights, arguments, and debates in our household that no observer could escape it without thinking that it was, at least, a combustible atmosphere.  As you’ll read later, I do thank my dad for the effort he put into trying to make me normal, because I’ve met the truly weird, and those that truly ascribe to the unusual thoughts that I only play around with as their truth, and most of them lead chaotic lives, and some of them are a little scary.

My dad was, at the very least, abnormal.  Some would say kooky, and others might say he was an odd duck.  In the frame we’re creating here though, he was strange.  He was either born with certain deficiencies, or they were a result of self-inflicted wounds.  Whatever the case was, he was decidedly different from those around him.  Being perceived as a normal man was an effort for him, and he didn’t want his children to have to endure the outsider status he had to endure for much of his life.  As I said, I rebelled to all that, because I didn’t see it as clearly as I do now.

I still like to dance in the flames of the weird, but once the lights come up I’m probably as normal, and as boring, as everyone else.  As hard as my dad tried to force normalcy on me, however, he couldn’t totally control what I watched, what I read, and listened to, and all of the artistic creations I enjoyed that were outside the norm.  Weird things were out there, and I knew it, and I pursued them with near wanton lust.

When I left my dad’s more normal home and ventured out into a world outside the realm of his influence, I was philosophically attracted to weird, oddballs that presented me with a ton of information about life that I had trouble keeping in the bottle.

I have normal people littered throughout my life, and I prefer their company in the long-term, but I’ve eagerly invited those with weird ideas into my life for a brief stay.  Their brief stay would present me with weird and strange ideas of thinking, weird platitudes, and oddball mentalities that shook the contents in my bottle a little bit more.  I needed to know what made them tock, (as opposed to the ticks I knew in my normal world).  I became obsessed with the abnormal to find out what made them different from me, or if they were in fact different from me, and I had to deal with a number of friends that informed me that I should be dismissing these people.  I couldn’t, I said, until I had thoroughly digested all that they had to offer me.

If there are any young minds reading this, engaged in a similar, passionate pursuit of all that falls under the abnormal umbrella, I want to stress one thing before we go any further.  You can be a freak in life, you can violate every rule listed in society, and become that greaser, with tattoos and spikes in your leather jacket, with an ever present snarl on your face, but you first have to learn the rules that you plan to spend the rest of your life violating.  Learning the rules gives you a base, a foundation, from which to violate properly and intelligently and constructively.  I know you think you know these rules –and they bore you— but trust me you don’t know them as well as you think.  Take a step back and realize that you have a lot to learn.  If you don’t learn these rules well, and you rebel against them, you’ll be easily dismissed as someone that doesn’t know what they’re talking about, and you’ll be deemed uninteresting.

A rebel without a cause makes for great fodder in a movie where all of the extraneous conditions and players can be manipulated to enhance the qualities of the main character, but in real life there are situations and forces that you cannot control.  There are people that will hit you with scenarios for which you’ll be unprepared, and if you don’t study the rules from every angle possible you’ll be deemed a rebel without a cause.

But James Dean was A Rebel Without a Cause, you say, and James Dean was cooler than cool.  For ninety minutes, he was, and with all of extraneous conditions and side characters exhibiting the perfect contradictory behavior that defined the James Dean character as cooler than cool.  In real life, however, where all of the extraneous conditions and players cannot be manipulated to enhance your character, a rebel without a cause is considered a rebel without substance, and he is easily disregarded as uninteresting after the initial flash of intrigue with his rebelliousness subsides. My advice would be to listen to those squares that are so normal they make you throw up in your mouth a little, for they will inadvertently teach you more about what you’re rebelling against than those that feed into your confirmation bias.

My aunt was a bore, and she told me things about life that bored the ‘you know what’ out of me with her preachy presentations on “Good and honest living.”  She didn’t know where it was at, as far as I was concerned.  I wanted to live the “Do what you feel” rock and roll lifestyle that left carnage in its wake. I debated her point for point.  I knew my rock and roll lifestyle well.  My aunt was not much of a debater.  She knew her “Good and honest living” principles, but she could not debate me point for point.  She had comparatively poor presentation skills, and she was overweight and unattractive.  Those in the entertainment fields I watched had excellent presentation skills. They were attractive and thin, and they had excellent jaw lines.  They confirmed all of the beliefs I had about life.  Life should be easy, judgment free, and fun.  It shouldn’t involve the moral trappings of what is right and what is wrong, and as long as you don’t hurt anyone you should be able to do what you feel like doing.  Viewing all of this in retrospect, however, I now realize that the boring, pedantic, obese, and unattractive people taught me ten times as much about life as any of the entertainers.  The entertainers were just better at packaging their presentations.

The crux of my rebellion was that I wanted to be a weird guy that made the mainstream uncomfortable.  I got turned on by those that did something different, and all the grownups that surrounded me were the same.  My dad vied for the same, and he wanted the same for me, but no matter how hard he tried to make me normal, I wanted to explore the abbie normal side of humanity.

“You actually want to be weird?” a friend asked me.  “People don’t want to be weird.  They either are, or they aren’t.”  Weirdness should come naturally was the import of her message.  It should be a birthright.  This was intended to be a condemnation for those of us that weren’t naturally, or fundamentally, weird.  It was a ‘how dare you try to be one of us, if you’re not’ reaction to those that apparently hold their natural weirdness as a birthright.  It was apparently equivalent to a person wearing bifocals to look sexier when they don’t have to wear them, an act that ticks off those that are required to wear glasses.

So, I’m not naturally weird.  My dad raised me in a manner that forced me to accept the norms, and I’m going to take a moment out of this piece to say something I didn’t say to him when he was alive: “God bless you Dad for forcing a foundation of normalcy down my throat.”

This person that condemned me for audaciously playing around on her ground was fundamentally and naturally weird, but she was also fundamentally and naturally sad, and miserable, and angry about the manner in which life had trampled upon her.  Anyone that knew her, or even held a simple conversation with her, would walk away knowing that chaos had dominated much of her life, and as a result she was well-known for desperately seeking refuge in controlled substances to ease that pain.

I realized through this friend, and all of the other weird characters that have graced my life, that there was weird and there was weird.  There was the weird that is a little scary when one takes a moment to spelunk through their dark caves and caverns, and there is the weird that is fun, a little obnoxious, and entertaining in a manner that tingles the brain seek that which is outside the norm.


Busybodies learn to be idlers, going about from house to house, and not only idlers, but also gossips and busybodies, saying what they should not.”  —The English Standard Version of The Bible, Timothy 5:13

I could’ve had an uneventful walk in the park on an otherwise uneventful Thursday.  The weather was uneventful, an occurrence that any resident of Omaha, Nebraska will tell you is an event in and of itself.  The conversation was pleasant, but unmemorable and uneventful, and the day could very well have ended that way, but I’d simply had enough.

I started the proceedings, by deciding to commit what I would later be informed could be considered a crime against nature, by allowing my leashed dog to chase some of the park’s ducks into the water.

Don’t do that!” some lady shrieked, somewhere off in the distance of the park. 

eyb09e00_p2My dog sniffed at the ducks from the shore, watched them swim away a couple seconds longer, and walked away.

If my wife had later said, “Did you hear that lady shriek at you?”  I could’ve gotten away with saying I hadn’t, or that I had no idea that the shrieking was directed at me.  The shriek was that faint and that anonymous.  I could’ve simply walked away from it, and no one not even my wife would’ve known that I heard her.  My pride was not on the line, in other words, and I really had nothing to gain by pursuing any sort of confrontation.  And I did think about this, all of this, while my dog happily sniffed the shore beneath us, and my wife spoke of her concerns in the background but I’d simply had enough.

Some of the times, there is something to be gained in the course of confrontations.  Some of the times your character is on the line, and you need to come out swinging, verbally or otherwise, to define yourself as a person that will not sit back and allow unwarranted, slanderous accusations.  Yet, we do make mistakes along the way when we confuse perceived slights with actual, in-your-face accusations, in our quest for definition.  Some of the times, I think, we can be so driven by the need to be respected that we engage in relatively inconsequential confrontations in which there is nothing to be gained and nothing lost.  Some of the times, I think we engage in confrontation just to feel better about ourselves, and some of the times we engage for the irrational reason that we’ve simply had enough.

When a car cuts us off on the interstate, some of us feel compelled to express our frustration in a manner that never really gains us anything.  “I don’t want them to think they’ve gotten away with it,” we later say, but we know that nothing we do will ever satisfy that need.  When a family of four takes up so much of a supermarket aisle that we cannot pass, to chat about the differences in all of the peanut butter variations available to them, we are driven by an impulse that tells us we need to inform them how inconsiderate they are?  Nothing we say will change the nature of their obliviousness, however, and we might be happier people if we just decide to avoid that impulse and just say “Excuse me” and move on.

Most people are inconsiderate, but if we took a couple of seconds to realize that they’re not being rude on purpose we could avoid most confrontations.  The difference between the words inconsiderate and rude, should suggest to us that the subject of our concern probably didn’t consider the fact that they might be rude in a given situation.  Often times, it’s us that considers the inconsiderate purposely rude, and when that’s the case we choose to act on it to satisfy our own insecurities.  We know that in most cases, it would be advisable to simply move on, past the perceived slight, and most of us do choose to be non-confrontational on most days.  On most days, we simply walk away from the shriekers, and their prosecuting friends (that you’ll meet shortly) for the purpose of having an uneventful, non-confrontational day, and we usually do it without losing a minute of sleep, because we know that most confrontations won’t do anything for us.

Those of us that choose to live peaceful, uneventful, and non-confrontational lives usually have an outlet.  We go home to our wives and inform them of the near confrontation, and how we decided to avoid to avoid saying anything, even though we were in the right.  Some of us then add what we would’ve loved to have said, or done, but it all dies there.  We all have breaking points, however, and we never know when, or how, these moments will arrive, but we know they will arrive.  Even those that stubbornly cling to pacifism, as a philosophical guide to greater happiness, know that these moments when a person has just had enough are inevitable.

I’d simply had enough of shrieking ladies calling authority figures to tell them that they —or their children— have been mistreated in some relatively meaningless manner.  I’d simply had enough of shrieking busybodies, in restaurants and malls, watching the manner in which every man, woman, and child treats every other man, woman, and child.  I’d simply had enough of shrieking busybodies reading my emails, and Instant Messages, and work details for material in their next ‘to whom it may concern’ report.  Shrieking busybodies are in government seats now, our judicial system, our hard drives, message boards, and our minds trying to ferret out the motives that we may have had swimming around in our minds when we decided to mistreat another person.

Shrieking busybodies are telling us not to wear fur; what beer to drink; where to eat based on the politics of a restaurant, and how a restaurant may treat livestock; they’re asking you if you’ve tried to quit smoking, when you purchase a pack of cigarettes at the pharmacy; they’re telling you that your child needs to be in a Federal Aviation approved car seat; that your lawn should not exceed two inches; what your body mass index should be; what you should be feeding your child; if you should be drinking coffee; what kind of Environmental Protection Agency approved car you should be driving; how much money you should have; and when they believe you have enough of whatever you enjoy having.

They are the result of a relatively peaceful nation that leaves its citizenry with little to worry about.  They’re our bored masses huddled around their lawn, picking weeds, planting flowers, and growing so bored that when the perception of a slight comes their way, they launch into a diatribe about the psychology of a duck.  They’re our busybodies, the Gladys Kravitzes, of our nation, trying to right the wrongs of a previous generation, and protect this generation’s vulnerable from the vicious assaults that they perceive to be occurring.

Gladys Kravitz, for those that don’t know, was the fictional embodiment of the busybody, watching her neighbor, the witch Samantha Stephens, on the show Bewitched.  Gladys has become the fictional representation for many –of a certain generation— of those neighbors that peer through drapes to mentally, and physically, document the goings on of their neighbors.  They know when you come home, who you come home with, how long you’re home, which neighbors you speak with, and how everything you do affects the perception of the neighborhood.  They’re the busybodies of our little corner of the world, and this is becoming their nation.

Abner, the folk hero of those that have simply had enough, would be the first responder to Mrs. Kravitz’s reports.  Abner would close his newspaper and go to the window to see what his wife was going on about.  At that point, the punchline would arrive in the form of a return to normalcy in the Stephens’ home.  After which, Abner would turn to his busybody wife and say something along the lines of “Why don’t you just mind your own business Gladys!”

My resentment for these Gladys Kravitz-types trying to tell me how to live, came out in the ten seconds I spent contemplating doing nothing in response to the faint, anonymous shriek that told me to stop doing what I was doing, and I decided to let my leashed dog have another run at another set of ducks.  I knew that faint, anonymous shriek was intended for me, and I knew that a repeat of this action would exacerbate this confrontation, and I knew I could have avoided it all without anyone knowing, but I’d simply had enough.

Watch your dog,” a fisherman, on a different shoreline, called out to initiate this confrontation, after I’d allowed my dog a second go.

“He’s all right,” I informed this gentleman.  “He’s just having a little fun.  I keep him on the leash at all times, but I do allow him to chase ducks a little.”

Be careful,” the man said.  “I’m a prosecutor, and people run sting operations in this park all the time.”  I must admit that this put me back a step.  Was that intended to be a threat?  It was.  It stoked my ire.

“We’re just having a little fun,” I said, “But I do thank you for your concern,” and I offered him an admittedly confrontational, but good-natured wave.

I was then verbally confronted by the original, ‘Don’t do that!’ shrieker.  She had been waiting for me about twenty yards further along the trail.  She informed me, at high volume, that the ducks were scared, and that they cannot fly, and some other gibberish that flew out of her mouth at such a rate that I initially feared she might be exhibiting the early, warning signs of cardiac arrest.

I stopped on the trail, for a moment, caught off guard by her venom, but I quickly realized my error and continued my progress on the trail that happened to be in her general direction.  My progression was not confrontational, and I made that clear with my stride, but I was not going to stand back, away from her, in fear of her vitriol.  She then asked me if a large dog was headed for my dog, if I wouldn’t be just as fearful as those ducks were.

“Not if that dog were leashed,” I said.

Yes you would,” she said.

The “nu uh,” “yes huh” portion of this confrontation lasted for another thirty seconds, with each party parrying and thrusting, until the shrieking woman finally turned to walk away.

I’ve been accused, in the past, of being a last word person.  I’ve often found that those that accuse me of this, need to have the last word far more than I, and they beat me to the last word by accusing me of being one that needs to have the last word.  This has happened to me so often that I’ve thought of accusing people of needing to have the last word before we begin such a discussion, just to take that arrow out of their quiver.  This accusation has been leveled against me so often that I am forced to consider the fact that I may, in fact, be a last word person.  If that is the case, it’s only because I can’t stand draws, or defeats, or the idea that my views haven’t been properly considered before the two of us go our separate ways.

“It looks like we won’t be coming to this park anymore,” I loudly informed my wife to initiate my last word.  “It’s filled with busybodies that don’t know how to mind their own business!”

Get out of the park!” this woman shrieked.  She then shrieked something about calling the humane society and anything and everything she could to defend her position.  I allowed her that final word.

It was such a meaningless confrontation.  I didn’t feel any better, or worse, when it concluded.  No points were made.  No convictions proved.  Unless one considers the goal of proving to one member of this busybody nation that I was not going to abide by her select edicts quietly.  I did, in my own quiet way, inform busybody nation that some of the times they, too, can engage in overreach.

99.5% of the American public, I’m quite sure, never would have allowed their dog a second go at the ducks after the initial shriek, for that would’ve landed you a bad guy characterization, and no one wants to be a bad guy in any scenario.  In this particular scenario, the subject would have been engaging in a confrontation with a little old lady, and their goal would be to get her to shut up about your thirty pound dog chasing largely helpless ducks swimming in a city pond.  I doubt that many, other than the .5% that get worked up over every perceived slight would’ve defended their pro dog-chase-duck position in the manner I did.  It was an indefensible position to any that want people to like them, and consider them a nice guy.

The only defense I have, a defense that borders on the time-honored, political tactic of diversion, is to tell you that I’m not necessarily a pro dog-chase-duck guy, but a man-stop-busybody guy focused on telling them they need to return to that state of mind where they’re uncomfortable telling complete strangers how to live.  No matter how inconsequential the issue is, and how indefensible it proves to be, good citizens need to turn on our nation’s busybodies and tell them “enough already!”  Good citizens need to engage in more inconsequential, indefensible arguments such as these to hold back the tide of these busybodies involving themselves in all of the otherwise inconsequential moments of our lives.  At some point, good citizens need to start planting “Mind your own business Gladys” flags in the terra firma of city parks to let these no stress, no conflict, and no turmoil busybodies know that they’re not going to receive righteous warrior badges on our watch.

This park right here is neutral ground for the inconsequential to go about doing their inconsequential things without consequence!” is something we should scream as we plant our flag.

For, if you’ve ever looked over your shoulder, after committing one of these crimes against nature, you’ve seen these otherwise harmless ducks go right back to the exact shoreline that your dog, or child, scared them off of moments earlier.  The insecure bully, that has bad intentions, could perceive this as a direct challenge to their manhood that the ducks are sending out.  I choose to believe that these ducks have realized that kids and dogs chasing after them is an acceptable consequence of living among the humans.  I choose to believe that this happens to them so often that it doesn’t ruffle their feathers too much.  If it caused them the degree of trauma the shrieking busybody world believed it does, these ducks would choose to live in a more wild atmosphere in which they have actual predators stalking them on a daily basis, and they could choose to live an existence that requires them to forage for their own food, and occasionally go to sleep that night hungry.  In a city park, however, they gorge on human largess, they have no fear of real predators, and they grow so fat and soft that they lose the ability to fly, and the many other survival skills that their forebears honed for them, except for one: a wariness of the little beings –a child or a dog— that sometimes accompany a larger being on a walk.

The Pitfalls of the Previous, Private Generation

Even those of us that despise the ways of the modern busybody must acknowledge that their gestation period occurred as a result of the pitfalls of the exaggeration of the opposite of the previous generation.

“What a man does in his own home is his business,” was the mindset of that previous generation that believed that privacy was, at least, a preferred method of dealing with neighbors, if not the honorable one.  Thus, when faced with even extreme situations, good and honorable men deemed it preferable, if not honorable, to do little-to-nothing.

Now, a good and honorable man, of that previous generation, may have been persuaded to have a word with another man perceived to be causing an extreme situation, but if that other man informed the honorable man that it was “none of their business” the good men backed off and said, “I tried, Mildred, I tried.”  The next course of action either involved a physical altercation, or a call to the police, and neither of those actions were acted upon often.

Our current generation had seen the deleterious effects of these extreme situations in which the helpless were harmed in irreparable ways that affected the rest of their lives.  Good and honorable men have realized that there has been a call-to-arms to defend the helpless in ways greater than those symbolic measures put forth by previous generations.  We may go a little overboard with our actions, at times, to protect the helpless, but we feel that some of the times it’s best to say something early before these situations can reach the extreme.  There is also some foggy notion in our head, that if we do overreact in some situations, perhaps we might rectify the wrongs of the previous generation that decided to do little-to-nothing.

The problem is that these extreme situations don’t come around as often as we’ve been led to believe, and this problem of scarcity has given rise to the perception of injustice, and the perception that the situation before us is one of the extreme, that needs to be acted upon.  “I’ll be damned if I’m going to allow them to get away with doing that,” we say when our child comes home with a real, or imagined, slight, “What’s the principle’s number again?”

Even if the situation before us is not of an extreme nature, it is possible that it could evolve into one.  Who knows how these things progress?  Isn’t it better to act now, than to allow it to fester and grow worse.  We feel a responsibility to protect the helpless, from further mistreatment.  “It may be nothing now, but I don’t want to go to bed tonight thinking that I probably should’ve said something earlier.  If I’m wrong, big deal, at least my heart was in the right place.  I will be perceived as a righteous warrior, even if I stepped in the middle of a mother scolding her child in a mall, and that child was truly acting unruly, and that mother may be more insecure, going forward, correcting her child in public, and that child may be more prone to act up in public as a result.  It’s all an acceptable error on my part, if I do manage to help one helpless child in a true, extreme situation.”

All busybodies will eventually inform their friends and family of what they did.  It’s what busybodies do.  They’re proud of it, and it’s how they get their badges of honor.  It’s why people call them righteous warriors, according to their definition of what they think people should say about them.

The audience of the righteous warrior’s retelling will usually know little-to-nothing of what actually happened, so they may inadvertently perpetuate the self-righteousness of the righteous warrior by congratulating him for stepping in.  Rarely will you hear one of the righteous warrior’s listeners ask:

“Did you know the totality of what happened before you intervened?  Did you make sure you were aware of, at least, most of the details involved, or did you simply make a leap of faith?”

What do you mean, I don’t know what happened there?” the busybody will ask defensively, “I saw an adult correcting a child in a manner that I deemed to be totally unwarranted.  It’s just a child for gosh sakes.  There was no need for that?”

“But how many times have you been wrong?” the bold questioner may ask.  “How many times have you stepped in on a situation, of this nature, and done more harm than good?”

I don’t know,” they will probably say.  “I’m not going to play this game.  I may be wrong, some of the times, but that’s the price I’m willing to pay to create a more just world where the helpless of our society are better protected.  I see it as doing my part.”

“But you don’t know that to be the case, is all I’m saying.  I’m saying that some of the times, you should mind your own business, unless you know for sure.”  This is the temptation those of us that hate busybodies have, but as anyone on the “but” end of a busybody’s complaint will tell you, the escalation of busybodies has reached a point now where there’s no turning back.  The sins of the past generation, and all the movies, and TV shows that have documented them, have led us to believe that extreme situations exist around every corner of our nation, until we’re screaming at the top of our lungs about the psychology of some poor ducks that were scared into entering a lake.

I don’t know who invented the word busybody to describe these people, but seeing the way they act, one would think that it was an ironic joke the inventor played on the world, for most busybodies are anything but busy.  If you were to confront a busybody with the idea that they may need to get out more, they would most likely begin a lengthy list of activities, and groups, that they’re involved in, and that list would surely surpass your own.  “It’s obviously not enough,” a listener should say, “If it were, you wouldn’t have been shrieking at the top of your lungs about the psychological plight of the duck.  Or, if it is enough, then you must have some past transgression eating away at your soul that comes barreling out of you when you perceive a slight against some perceived victim.”

If this confrontation that occurred on a Thursday, in the park, were simply about protecting ducks, would I have been hit with the threat of prosecution?  If it were simply about the ducks, this shrieking woman could’ve put me in my place with a quick, inside voice condemnation of my actions.  She could’ve said something like: “Don’t scare the ducks,” in a measured tone that would’ve caused me and my dog to feel so guilty that we would’ve walked out of the park with our tails between my legs.  What they did, instead, was so over the top that I’m quite sure the shrieker’s doctor —concerned about her high blood pressure, or weakened heart caused by years of volatile screaming— would’ve warned her against future outbursts, and the partners in the prosecutor’s law firm probably cautioned him against unnecessarily throwing his weight around.  Most busybodies have no authority to be saying anything that they’re saying, and this fact presumably frustrates them to a point where they feel the need to ruin your day in the manner so many of theirs have been.

Throw the (damned) ball—

Throw the (damned) Ball is the title of the first chapter of Jeff Bridges and Bernie Glassman’s collection of philosophical anecdotes: The Dude and The Zen Master.  This particular chapter details the deliberations that The Honeymooners character, Ed Norton, would go through when preparing to do things that the character Ralph Kramden would instruct him to do.  When Kramden would instruct Norton to sign a document, for example, Norton would flail his arms out a number of times, and go through a number of other, hilarious deliberations in a presumed search for that perfect, inner place he had designed for signing a document that Kramden informed him was important.  The joke was that it was just the signing of a document, but that the Norton character believed that it warranted a degree of importance he had a difficult time finding.  These deliberations would usually carry on for an amount of time that Kramden found exhausting, until he would finally explode with: “Just sign the thing!”

downloadBridges brought this scenario to a bowling coach that was hired to inform the cast of The Big Lebowski on the mechanics of bowling in a manner that would appease most bowling aficionados that happened to see the film.  The deliberations that the bowling coach went through –presumably pausing to include the necessary intricacies involved— carried out in a manner that Bridges found reminiscent of Norton’s deliberations, until Bridges said: “Anyone ever tell you to just throw the (damn) ball?!” 

The bowling coach’s friends found that hilarious.  The bowling coach, being a bowling guy and a philosophy freak, had, at one point in his life, tried to find the perfect harmony between mind and body before throwing the ball down the lane.  This search, he confessed, could take as long as five minutes, until his friends shouted: “Just throw the damn ball!”     

The import of the tale is that some of the times, we can get so locked up in our search for perfection that we end up forgetting to just do whatever it is we’re trying to do.  And, it could be added, the repetition of actually doing whatever it is we’re trying to do that can prove to be far more instrumental to learning than continually thinking about it can.   

We all fall prey to trying to perfect by doing something different, or something more, the next time out to rectify, or perfect, what we did in other attempts to make it better, or more.  We’ve all written resumes, reports for bosses, and simple emails to friends, and we’ve all tried to do more in the present than we did in the past to make it more … More funny, more interesting, and more educational.

There is this desire, in all of us, to add the perfect cherry atop the pie, or if that particular cherry isn’t perfect enough, we may try adding another cherry, and another cherry, until the pie is so perfect that it’s now overloaded with cherries, and all of the individual cherries have lost that unique, special, and tantalizing quality that one cherry can have when it sits upon a pie.

“There is always more information out there,” Bernie Glassman said. 

Writers often have to fight this urge to add more, when they’re editing an essay, a short story, or a novel.  All original drafts are incomplete in some way, but the question every writer struggles with is the idea of whether that incompleteness is as a result of quantity or quality?  Most writers want their pieces to be more: more persuasive, more provocative, and more relatable, but as we all know more is not always more.

More characterization can feel necessary when a fiction writer is attempting to make their character more relatable, and it may be in some cases, but in other cases it can be redundant, counterproductive, and superfluous information that ruins the flow of the material.  More is not always more.  Some of the times, it’s too much.  

This brings us to the fundamental question of when do we reach a point where completeness is firmly established?  I’ve often found a unique harmony in three.  One piece of information, or one example of a pro or con, usually doesn’t feel like enough to establish a relationship with the reader; two feels incomplete in ways that are difficult to explain, but you know it when you see it; and four feels like it’s too much more.  Three, in most cases, rounds the theme of the point out harmoniously.  I’m sure if I discussed this predilection with a therapist, they would inform me that most of the fairy tales my mom read me contained the magical power of three.  I don’t know if that’s the answer, but I do think there is some form of subconscious power in three.

“We’re all looking for perfection,” Bridges says to conclude the ‘Just throw the damn ball’ chapter, “But perfection is usually a past and future tense that we’re not likely to achieve in the present.”  Bridges talks about the difference between reading movie scripts in rehearsal and reading lines before the camera.  He says that when you read a chunk of dialogue in rehearsal, at times, you can walk away thinking that you really nailed it.  If that happens, you may spend the time between rehearsal, and going before the camera trying to memorize the pitch, the rhythm, and the pauses you used when nailing it, until you’re finally reading it before the camera.

Once that camera clicks on, it’s almost impossible to ‘nail it’ in the exact same manner you did in rehearsal, because the conditions have all changed, and until you can learn to adapt to the current conditions before you, you’ll never be able to repeat the lines with any proficiency.  I nailed it in rehearsal, why can’t I find that same place?  “Because,” he says, “that place may have never existed, or it may not have existed in the manner you thought it did.  A person can go through all of the deliberations of trying to find that exact same, perfect place again, and they can go crazy with the thought that they never will.  Some of the times it’s better to just throw the damn ball.”

 Be the man they want you to be—

In a later chapter, Bridges talks about a fan detailing for Bridges the idea that The Dude’s characteristics, are nothing more than a manifestation of another of The Big Lebowski’s  character’s needs.  The fan said that at one point in The Dude’s life (a theoretical point that preceded the time span of The Dude’s life that was documented in the movie), the Dude became the Dude in all the ways that this Donald character needed a Dude character in his life.  The Dude then liked those characteristics so much that he may have incidentally incorporated them into his personae.  The fan’s suggestion was that we’re all becoming different people at various points in our lives, based on interactions, events, and time.  Some of the times, we don’t like those characteristics, and we discard them soon after we’ve fulfilled someone else’s short term needs, but at other times they fit us like a glove, and we incorporate them into our spectrum of characteristics.

When a momentous moment occurs in one’s life, such as becoming a parent, few can move forward without that event affecting their character in some manner.  If this momentous moment doesn’t affect a 180 degree change on us, it changes us in a gradual way that only an infrequent visitor of our life may recognize.  We may have had parental characteristics in us before, but they were never tapped, until someone (the child) needed them. 

We can try to revert back to that character that our beer drinking buddies knew, but in the aftermath of tapping into those parental characteristics, the beer drinking buddy characteristics feel false, and if it feels false to you, your drinking buddies will surely pick up on it.

There are also characteristics that we display for the expressed purpose of impressing others.  The popular parlance for this is an ‘A’ game.  Our ‘A’ game may be something we reserve for our grandmother, prospective employers, or that incredible blonde that walks by our cubicle every day.  Some may say that displaying an ‘A’ game, if we reserve it for these temporary moments, is the very definition of phony, but is that always the case?  What if, in the course of this temporary display, we find some nuggets of our personality that appeal to us so much that we incorporate them into our spectrum of characteristics?

We’re all changing, in other words, and we’re all affected by conditions, circumstances, and the people we run across, that we all eventually achieve some sort of compilation of reactions to the people around us that informs our personality. 

You know what your problem is?  You don’t realize who I think I am—

This particular nugget, got me thinking about the mystiques and perceptions we have of others, and how it affects our perceptions of ourselves.  The premise of the line also got me thinking of one of the mind-assaulting games I played on my co-workers. 

Prior to initiating this mind-assaulting game, I had a well-established tradition of asking trivia of my fellow co-workers when we were off the clock, and we had reached something of a lull in our conversation.  With this tradition firmly established, I began feeding one of my friends the answers. 

“Before we would go out with this group tonight,” I said, “I am going to ask the group this trivia question… at some point in the night, and the answer to that question is this … ” 

The subject of this game had a well-established tradition of being goofy, silly, and less intelligent than the rest of us.  We were all comfortable with this characterization of her, and everyone liked her for all the reasons that people usually like other people, but they also liked her because she was a ‘dumb girl’, and that made them feel better and smarter.  She didn’t help matters much when she continually concluded her additions to our conversations with: “Of course, I’m dumb, so what do I know.”  I found that trait annoying, and I told her so:  

“You do realize that when you characterize yourself in such a manner, so often, that’s what people are going to think of you?” I said.  “How many times have people called you dumb, even in a harmless, joking manner?  It’s because you do that.  You give them that by continually joking that you may be dumb.  You gotta stop doing that.”  I didn’t see this as compassionate, but some may have.  I simply saw it as passing on knowledge that I had learned the hard way. 

The joke we set up wasn’t intended to be compassionate either.  I just got tired of people laughing at her ‘dumb girl’ jokes for what I thought were all the wrong reasons.  I also didn’t care for the elevated perceptions of themselves that they enjoyed while laughing at her ‘dumb girl’ antics.  I felt a need to mess with the dynamics of those relationships, so I began feeding her answers. 

“When do we tell them?” she asked at the outset of the first joke.

“We don’t,” I said.  “We never tell them.  There is no punchline, unless you consider their elevated perception of you a joke.” 

The trivia questions I asked her were somewhat obscure, but they were questions that everyone felt they should’ve known, once they heard the answer, and they all appeared to feel a little dumber in lieu of ‘the dumb girl’ beating them to the answer.  They were brain teasers, in other words, as opposed to those impossible trivia questions that no one knows.  The two of us didn’t do this every day, and neither of us played the part of joke tellers.  At times, I told her to pop off with the answer, as if it was easy, and at other times I told her to pause, to think, and to intone her answer with that guess arc at the end.  At times, she missed some questions, and we did this to prevent our listeners from recognizing the bread crumbs back to the joke, but she still would’ve achieved an ‘A’ grade if anyone had bothered to chart her answers.  We did this often enough to change their perception of her, in my opinion, but not so often that it became obvious what we were doing. 

At some point, we forgot to do it, and then we eventually forgot all about it, as other matters of consequence distracted us, but I now realize that that may have been the perfect foil for everyone’s perception of this girl.  If we continued to do it, we probably would’ve eventually overdone it, and if we had eventually given the joke up, it would’ve destroyed everything we built.  I’m quite sure this girl reverted back to her ‘dumb girl’ jokes eventually, for it was where she felt most comfortable, but I wonder if people listened to these jokes in a new light after the epiphanies they experienced as a result of our joke.  I also wonder if doing this changed people’s perception of her to such a degree that it cost her some friendships.

That’s just your opinion

The Dude and The Zen Master is great, in parts.  In parts, it gets the reader to think differently.  In one part of the book, Bernie Glassman hits upon an interesting point.  He says there are times when a person needs to say, “That’s just your opinion.” This sentence is said often in our culture, and my reply is usually, “Of course that’s my opinion.  Where do you think I got it?”  Glassman’s twist is that you need to say this to yourself.  If you have failed to the point that you’re utterly devastated by it, you could say that the definition of failure is just an opinion.  It may be your opinion, but it is just an opinion.  If you can convince yourself that it’s not a fact that you’re a failure, but an opinion, it might help you move on. While this may sound like a bunch of gobbeldy gook to some of us, if it could be used in a productive manner by a reader, and it could lead to more people just throwing the (damned) ball again without all of the complications involved from previous failures.

I am not a ‘conspiracy’ guy.  I believe Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone; I think Elvis is dead; and Paul McCartney is not. I don’t believe Colombian drug lords took the lives of Nicole Simpson and Ron Brown, and I don’t believe that the American Government had any involvement in the terrorist incident that occurred on 9/11/2001, but I do believe that the officiating in Game 6, 2002 was either so incompetent, or so exaggeratedly biased, that it invited this unfortunate ‘C’ word into the conversation.  

kobebibbyI don’t know if the two NBA officials, in question, missed calls, and simply and continually, made bad calls that led to 27 Laker free throws in the fourth quarter on May 31, 2002, for the purpose of getting one more game out of this hotly contested, highly viewed series, or if they simply wanted the Los Angeles Lakers to win.  I don’t believe the conspiracy, if there was one, reached into the upper echelon of the NBA or NBC, or that these two NBA officials had any money on the game, but I do think these officials were so biased towards Lakers that the fact that their calls ended up affecting this game, and I think that latter idea is nearly irrefutable.  I also think it’s possible that the officials may have been trying to make up for the “bad, or missed, calls” that some complain happened to favor the Sacramento Kings in game five of the series.  Whatever the case is, the officials of this particular game, made a number of calls, that provided an insurmountable advantage to the Los Angeles Lakers.

It can be very enticing to be that guy that defaults to a conspiracy theory any time your team loses.  Doing so, prevents you from having to deal with the fact that your team simply may not have been as skilled, as clutch, or as lucky as the other team in those decisive moments where your team lost. 

Poor officiating is poor officiating, and most rabid sports fans usually need to take a deep breath of fresh air to refresh in them the idea that until we load these games up with computer sensors, or mobile robots, there are going to be bad calls, and missed calls, that cost one team a game.  It’s the human element of the game that results in the fact that game officials, even in the age of instant replays, are always going to make bad calls.

I’ve dropped the ‘C’ word in the past.  It’s what die-hard fans do in the heat-of-the-moment, but at some point in everyone’s life we realize that more often than not, our team is going to lose. It’s hard to be rational in the heat-of-the-moment and realize that even though the bad call happened to be a bad call, it was nothing more than a bad call. Age and experience have taught me that more often than not, the ‘C’ word is usually better left in the hands of the screaming drunk at the end of the bar, watching his team get annihilated.

There is one conspiracy charge, however that I may never be able to entirely shake.  If I live for another forty years, and I become twice as rational as I am now, I may still be decrying the unfairness that occurred in Game 6, 2002 of the Western Conference Finals.  To say that I’m not alone with these concerns would be an understatement, as this game has become one of the most popular games cited by those conspiracy theorists that claim that the NBA will do “whatever it takes” to get their most popular teams in the championship.

To attempt to put all of these Game 6, 2002 conspiracy theories to rest, Roland Beech, of 182.com, provided an in-depth analysis of the game.  After what he concluded to be an exhaustive review, Beech found that the “Officiating hurt the King’s chances at victory,” but he found “No nefarious scheme on the part of the refs to determine the outcome.” Sheldon Hirsch from Real Clear Sports expounded on Beech’s findings, commenting that the Kings “Were clearly unlucky, (but) that’s not the same thing as being cheated.”  After reading, and rereading Beech’s analysis, I’ve found Beech’s findings to be meticulous, and objective, but they have done little to quell my irrational condemnation of two of the three referees that handled Game 6, 2002, and a Game 6, 2002 cloud has loomed over every NBA game I’ve watched since, and will continue to in any NBA games I may watch in the future.

Corroborating Evidence?

When former NBA referee Tim Donaghy was convicted of betting on games in 2007, my first thought went to Game 6, 2002.  He did not officiate that game, it turns out, but he did submit a letter, and later a book, that suggested a collusive effort on the part of two of the three referees, that did affect that game’s outcome.  This letter does not mention the teams involved in Game 6, 2002, but the Kings v. Lakers series was the only playoff series to go seven games in 2002.

Referees A, F and G (Dick Bavetta, Bob Delaney, and Ted Bernhardt) were officiating a playoff series between Teams 5 (Kings) and 6 (Lakers) in May of 2002. It was the sixth game of a seven-game series, and a Team 5 (Kings) victory that night would have ended the series. However, Tim (Donaghy) learned from Referee A that Referees A and F wanted to extend the series to seven games. Tim knew referees A and F to be ‘company men,’ always acting in the interest of the NBA, and that night, it was in the NBA’s interest to add another game to the series.  Referees A and F heavily favored Team 6 (Lakers).  Personal fouls [resulting in obviously injured players] were ignored even when they occurred in full view of the referees. Conversely, the referees called made-up fouls on Team 5 in order to give additional free throw opportunities for Team 6. Their foul-calling also led to the ejection of two Team 5 players.  The referees’ favoring of Team 6 led to that team’s victory that night, and Team 6 came back from behind to win that series.”

Then-NBA Commissioner David Stern denied the allegation Donaghy made in this letter, stating that they were a desperate act of a convicted felon.  Stern said Donaghy was a “singing, cooperating witness”, and Stern has since referred to any, and all, Donaghy allegations as those coming from a convicted felon.

It is true that Donaghy is a convicted felon, convicted of betting on games he officiated, but does that mean everything he wrote in this particular letter is completely false?  How many times has a convicted felon provided evidence that was eventually corroborated by others?  At this point, unfortunately, Donaghy’s allegations have never been corroborated, and a cynical outsider could say that Donaghy picked this particular, controversial game to serve up as a sort of plea bargain either to the FBI, or to the society that holds him as the lone, proven corrupt official of the NBA.  Some have also said that Donaghy’s explosive allegation was made soon after the NBA required Donaghy pay them $1 million dollars in restitution.  

It’s oh-so-tempting for scorned Kings fans to believe everything Donaghy wrote, and deny everything the former lawyer Stern said to protect his product, but it is difficult to deny the “desperate act” characterization Stern uses when referencing Donaghy’s allegations. Especially when we put ourselves in Donaghy’s shoes, and we imagine how desperate he had to be in his efforts to salvage the reputation of being the only NBA official convicted of throwing games.

Corroborating Outrage!

In the absence of corroborating evidence, the only solace an outraged King’s fan can find is in the corroborated outrage that resulted from the game by consumer activist Ralph Nader, the announcer of the game Bill Walton, and the numerous, prominent sportswriters that watched the game.  The latter, almost unanimously, called Game 6, 2002 one of the poorest officiated important games in the history of the NBA.

At the conclusion of the game, consumer advocate Ralph Nader wrote an email to then-NBA Commissioner David Stern:

You and your league have a large and growing credibility problem, Referees are human and make mistakes, but there comes a point that goes beyond any random display of poor performance. That point was reached in Game 6 which took away the Sacramento Kings Western Conference victory.”

As evidence of his charge, Nader cited Washington Post sports columnist Michael Wilbon who wrote that too many of the calls in the fourth quarter (when the Lakers received 27 foul shots) were “stunningly incorrect,” all against Sacramento.

After noting that the three referees involved in Game 6, 2002 “are three of the best in the game”, Wilbon wrote:

I have never seen officiating in a game of consequence as bad as that in Game 6 … When (Scott) Pollard, on his sixth and final foul, didn’t as much as touch Shaq (Shaquille O’Neal).  Didn’t touch any part of him.  You could see it on TV, see it at courtside.   It wasn’t a foul in any league in the world.  And (Vlade) Divac, on his fifth foul, didn’t foul Shaq.  (These fouls) weren’t subjective or borderline or debatable.  And these fouls not only resulted in free throws, they helped disqualify Sacramento’s two low-post defenders.  And one might add, in a 106-102 Lakers’ victory, this officiating took away what would have been a Sacramento series victory in 6 games.

“I wrote down in my notebook six calls that were stunningly incorrect, all against Sacramento, all in the fourth quarter when the Lakers made five baskets and 21 foul shots to hold on to their championship.” 

Wilbon discounted any conspiracy theories about an NBA-NBC desire for a Game 7 etc., but he then wrote that:

Unless the NBA orders a review of this game’s officiating, perceptions and suspicions, however presently absent any evidence, will abound and lead to more distrust and distaste for the games in general.” 

In his letter to Stern, Nader also cited the basketball writer for USA Today, David Dupree, who wrote:

I’ve been covering the NBA for 30 years, and it’s the poorest officiating in an important game I’ve ever seen.”

Grant Napear, the Kings’ radio and TV play-by-play man the last two decades, still labels Game 6: “Arguably the worst officiated playoff game in NBA history.”

When LA Times columnist Bill Plaschke personally asked Commissioner David Stern about Game 6, 2002, during the NBA Finals that year, Plaschke states that Stern immediately turned defensive:

He looked at me,” Plaschke said, “pointed his finger, and said, ‘If you’re going to write that there is a conspiracy theory, then you better understand that you’re accusing us of committing a felony.  If you put that in the paper, you better have your facts straight,” Plaschke said.  Plaschke alluded to the fact that he (Plaschke) didn’t have any facts, and as a result he did back off, but that he simply wanted to ask Stern about aspects of Game 6, 2002, that Plaschke had witnessed. 

Bill Simmons, of ESPN, simply called the game:

The most one-sided game of the past decade, from an officiating standpoint.”

Nader concluded his letter to Stern thusly:

There is no guarantee that this tyrannical status quo will remain stable over time, should you refuse to bend to reason and the reality of what occurred.  A review that satisfies the fans’ sense of fairness and deters future recurrences would be a salutary contribution to the public trust that the NBA badly needs.”

The point that I believe Nader and Wilbon are alluding to is that there has long been a conspiracy among NBA fans that the NBA wants the Lakers to win.  The Lakers are showtime.  They are West and Chamberlain;  Magic and Kareem; and Kobe and Shaq, and the reasons that the NBA might favor a Lakers team in the championship begins with the word money and ends with a whole lot of exclamation points.  This point is not debatable among conspiracy theorists, and non-conspiracy-minded fans, but how much the NBA would actually do to make that happen has been the core of conspiracy theories for as long as I’ve been alive.  This conspiracy theory exists in all sports, of course, but they are more prominent in the NBA, because most officiated calls in the NBA are so close, and so subjective, that they invite more scrutiny, more interpretation, and subsequently more conspiracy theories.

What was Stern’s reaction to Nader’s letter? “He spoke like the head of a giant corporate dictatorship,” Nader said.

The Point Beyond the Random

Some may see it as silly for a consumer advocate, like Nader, to cover a silly basketball game in such a manner, but I believe that Nader was right to warn Stern that public sentiment could turn away from the NBA, when such a point arrives that the normal conspiratorial whispers crank up to screams of indignation.  I know that those whispers gained more prominence for me, after Game 6, 2002, and in every game I watched thereafter.  

As Nader wrote: “There comes a point that goes beyond any random.”  There comes a point that no fan can pinpoint when disappointment becomes outrage, and outrage progresses into conspiracy theory, and conspiracy theory becomes such an outright lack of trust, that those that still believe in a fair NBA where outcomes are not predetermined, and victories are granted only to those that athletically achieve it, are laughed at in the same manner WCW fans are laughed at for still believing the same of their sport.

“The Kings could’ve won that game,” is the usual reply to charges that the officials decided the game, “And if they had secured a couple more rebounds, made a couple more field goals, and free throws, they would’ve.  The Kings had numerous opportunities to win that game, no matter how many free throws the Lakers were awarded in the fourth quarter (27) of game six.  And … and, if the Kings had won game seven, at home to boot, this whole matter would be moot.  They didn’t, and the rest is history, Laker history!”  

This reply usually quells further talk of bias and conspiracy theories, because it is true, undoubtedly true.  It’s also true that the two teams in the 2002 Western Conference Finals series were so evenly matched that that the series went seven games, and of those seven games, only one was decided by more than seven points, and the two games that preceded Game 6, 2002, were both decided by a single point, and the final game of the series couldn’t be determined until overtime.  It’s also true that when two teams are so evenly matched, anything can provide a tipping point … even officiating.

An “Oh! Come on!” look usually follows this, and that look is followed by a statement like: “Your team’s job is to make it so the refs cannot determine the outcome.”  Right, and true, but outraged Kings’ fans would suggest their 2002 team wasn’t that much better than the 2002 Lakers, and if they were better, it was only by a smidgen, and that smidgen was wiped out in game six by the Lakers having 27 free throws in the fourth quarter —in one quarter— after averaging 22 free throws throughout the first five games.

I am not a conspiracy guy, and I’m often on the other side of this argument, informing the conspiracy theorist that, more often than not, there isn’t more than meets the eye.  Most of the time, the truth is the truth, the facts are the facts, and scoreboard is scoreboard.  Facts are stubborn things, and they’re also pretty boring.  It’s boring, and anti-climactic to say that one common, ordinary man could take down a president.  There’s little-to-no literary value in stating that a bunch of ragtag losers could take down one of America’s greatest monuments to commerce without conspiratorial assistance, and it does nothing to ease our pain to simply admit that a team beat our team based solely on superior athletic talent.  And raised in a pop culture that feeds into our idea that there has to be more than meets the eye, we end up believing that there’s more to it, as we stare at those zeroes on the scoreboard, and we watch the other team celebrate, and we listen to the post-game interviews with a lump in our throat.  This dream season can’t just be over, we think.  There has to be more to it, but most of them time there isn’t.  Most of the time one team loses and another wins, and the conspiracy theorist becomes more ridiculous every time we lay the claim that there was something more to it.

Having said all that, those of us that try to avoid the ‘C’ word as often as we can, ask those that offer bemused smiles to our conspiracy theories if it’s just as ridiculous to suggest that they never happen.  To which, the rational fan would surely say, “I’m not going to say it never happens, but it didn’t happen here.”

If it didn’t happen here, even the most objective analysis would find that two of the three officials involved in Game 6, 2002, made an inordinate amount of calls in favor of the Lakers, and due to the fact that these two teams were so evenly matched, those calls provided an insurmountable advantage for the 2002 Lakers.  We’ll probably never know whether or not these “best officials in the game” were simply incompetent for one game in their careers, or if they were acting in a nefarious manner, but those of us that watched every second of May 31, 2002 game –and slammed the “off” button as hard as we’ve ever slammed the “off” button before, or since– believe that it was a point beyond the random that damaged the reputation of the NBA in a manner that can never be recovered.

You should read this blog.  It’s funny!  Very Funny!

One would suspect that such obnoxiously, over-the-top self-promotion wouldn’t work, but some productions are successfully marketing themselves with such ad campaigns today, and they have been doing so for some time.

If I were to put word out that this blog was going to pay a ridiculously high amount for promotion, and of the hundreds of ad agencies that began vying for this money, one suggested that we build a marketing plan around the idea that “It’s funny!” that campaign probably would not finish in my top 100.

ConanBath“It’s funny!” just wouldn’t seem, to me, to be a campaign built for the long haul.  This simplistic approach would surely generate some traffic in the short term, but I would think that a true, funny designation would have to be earned over time through meretricious production, and that the obnoxiously over-the-top suggestion that it was funny, would only take me so far.  “We’re not even making a suggestion, I would complain.  “We’re making a statement.  Isn’t there going to be some backlash to that?”

“Look, your blog is already funny,” would be the sales pitch that an ad man would surely use.  “We just have to get the word out.”

“That’s great,” I would reply, “But aren’t there going to be some unintended consequences involved in skipping the steps in the long haul word of mouth process?”

“Haven’t you already been trying that?” I can hear him asking. “Where’s that gotten you?”

He would be right, of course, but there’s something about determining what is funny that seems intimate to me.  You determine what is funny according to what fits your “my sense of humor” designation.  This “It’s funny” ad campaign appears to be saying: “Look, we’ve already determined that it’s funny for you, so you don’t have to go through all that.  All you have to do is laugh. You don’t have to think about it.  You can just sit back, relax, and enjoy.  You don’t even have to tell your friends about it.  We’ll take care of that too.  So just sit back and enjoy it!  It’s funny.  Very funny!” It all seems to be a violation of the principles of that intimate decision about what’s funny and what’s not.  A decision that the audience should make on their own.

Pull quotes, such as these, are effective.  As are critical praise and peer review, but I would think that if a prospective audience member were to find out that I was the one making the claim, about my blog, that there would be an immediate backlash.  I would expect to see my fellow cynical minds loading up the comments section of my blog with “You may think this is funny, but it don’t appeal to my sense of humor”.  Or, “You may think this is funny, but it’s not funny to me.”  Even if I wrote what was unquestionably the funniest blog ever written, I could see some rebels wanting to stand out from the crowd by saying, “It’s just not for me.  I can see this appealing to the common man, but I’ve read Kafka and Voltaire, and I’ve seen George Carlin at Carnegie Hall, so my expectations may be higher than some.  I prefer cerebral, subtle humor that this author apparently knows nothing about.”  One could say that such responses would happen regardless, but I imagine that an obnoxiously over-the-top ad campaign, like  “It’s funny” would only provoke more of this type of rebellion.

Saying, “It’s funny” or “Very funny!” also tells me that the product in question may be funny in a universal way, in a way my parents thought Milton Berle was funny, and Bob Hope, or Andy Griffith.  These guys may have been funny to them, and they may have even been very funny in that universal manner, but they don’t appeal to me, or my sense of humor.  I have always preferred the risque humor that comedians like George Carlin and Sam Kinison employed. There was something bitter and angry about their humor that appealed to me.  They confused and angered my parents, and I idolized them for it.  And when Andy Kaufman did the things Andy Kaufman did, few people around me got it.  They thought he was weird.  I got it, and there was something about getting it that gave it an intangible quality that may have been diminished had Kaufman prefaced one of his bits with, “Watch this next skit, it’s funny.”

I enjoy the universal slapstick, body function humor as much as anyone else, but to get me enjoying your product over the long haul, you have to be different, and over-the-top in a manner that leads me to believe that no one has ever tried that joke quite that way before.  If my parents think it’s funny, or that guy at the deli that repeats Andy Griffith jokes thinks it’s funny, I may find it humorous, but it would never achieve that long-term, “wait with bated-breath for the next episode” level of hilarity for me.

The ad campaign reminds me of the obnoxious retort, obnoxious people like Tony Kornheiser, make to comedic sentiments: “That’s funny, and I know funny!”  I’ve always wanted to ask these people, if you know funny, why haven’t you ever been funny?  You may know what you consider funny, but I haven’t heard you ever say anything that I consider funny.

I don’t know which team started this promo.  Whether it was the promo Ricky Gervais ran for his show Idiot Abroad:  “You should watch this show.  It’s funny.”  Or, if it was the TBS switching from the “Superstation” tagline, to the “Very Funny” one.  I would think that telling the audience what to think about their product would be a major no no in marketing, but if it didn’t work, they wouldn’t keep these campaigns going, and it shows that I know little-to-nothing about marketing.

In the case of the show Idiot Abroad, one could argue that Ricky Gervais probably needed to clarify that the show was a comedy, as opposed to the serious travelogue one might perceive after reading a brief description of the show. I still find it condescending.  I find it condescending in the same manner I find laugh tracks condescending.  I know where to laugh, my cynical, rebellious mind responds to laugh tracks.  I don’t need to be told where to laugh. and I don’t need to be told what’s funny … because you know funny.

It could also be argued that when a star like Ricky Gervais tells us that something is funny, we apparently listen to him because he is a star.  We know that when a star tells us how to vote, we listen.  We know that when stars tell us how to live, how to eat, and how to dress, we listen, because we’ve wanted to have people see us agreeing with cool kids since the fifth grade.  When these same cool kids happen to be hawking their own products, however, we shouldn’t allow them to have any authority over whether it’s cool, good, or funny.  They should, at the very least, be required to hire another star to make such a comment, just to avoid appearing obnoxious. There’s a part of me, a part that always hated the cool kid aesthetic –because I’ve never been a cool kid– that says that not only should this not work, for the cool kids that do it, but that they should be shamed for even trying it.

As I said, I don’t know who tried it first, but I saw the Gervais ad first, and my first reaction was that this must be common in England, the place that treats royalty like superhumans.  My next reaction was that this type of shameless self-promotion would never work here, until I heard the American broadcasting company, TBS, do it too, saying that they were “Very funny!”  I refused to watch TBS, and Idiot Abroad, for these reasons, until a friend of mine told me that Idiot Abroad was, indeed, funny, and I determined that it was, but it wasn’t the marketing that convinced me of it.

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of being real, it was the age of delusional thinking, it was the epoch of honesty, it was the epoch of lies, it was the season of transparency, it was the season of illusions, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were going to achieve, what we had already achieved, what we would never achieve – in short, it was a period of time that needed to exist to rectify a period that may never have existed to the superlative degree of comparison that some of its noisiest authorities defined for the era.

It was the age of being real.  It was the age of reality TV.  Did reality TV bring about the advent of being real, or was reality TV a byproduct of the era of being real, in the manner the body normally puts out byproducts it can’t use?  Did art imitate life, or did art reflect it?  Or, was reality TV a refraction of a very small sampling of society that the shows’ producers projected out into the society as a measure of realness that wasn’t ‘real’ to the superlative degree they portrayed?

"Lars and The Real Girl"

“Lars and The Real Girl”

How many times in one episode, of one reality show, did one participant say, “Hey, I’m just being real with ya” to assuage the guilt they might otherwise have associated with insulting another person?  How many times did one of these shows’ participants gain a certain degree of realness on the back of the individual they were insulting?  How many times was being real used as a confrontational device to belittle those people that were less real, until the real participant managed to gain some sort of superior definition?

One could be real without any substantive reflection in the era of being real.  Being real, in instances such as these, was nothing more than a cudgel used to diminish another’s values.  It was used as a weapon to castigate its victim into being more real, or more like the speaker, until the viewer of this exchange was left reflecting upon the disparity involved in their thinking.  At that point, the viewer was supposed to accept that thought as real thinking, if they ever hoped to gain greater standing in the real-o-sphere.  Most of us now reflect back on this era of being real, and see it as an intellectually dishonest era, designed to promote the drama of the interactions, and the proselytizing of speakers.

Being real was supposed to have a conjugal relationship with brutal honesty, and some of us used some nugget of that message to become more brutally honest in our personal presentations, regardless if anyone thought we were more real or not.  If you are one that has ever tried being brutally honest with others in regards to how you should be perceived, you’ve undoubtedly encountered a number of surprising reactions.

The most surprising reaction some of us received was no reaction.  Our people took it in stride, because they apparently thought they were just as brutally honest with themselves as we were.  They lived with the idea that they were so honest that most people couldn’t handle their special brand of honesty.  It didn’t dawn on them that their version of brutal honesty was almost solely devoted to assessing others. Very few will have temerity to point this out to these people, or that their particular brand of being real incorporated many of the same elements used by the dictionary to define the word delusional.  If you have pushed on someone’s bubble, in this manner, you likely encountered some confrontational push back.

If you have ever made a concerted effort to be brutally honest about yourself, you probably also expected that honesty to be somewhat influential.  You probably expected your friends to “raise their game”, in this regard, to be as honest as you were about yourself.  They didn’t, because, again, these Delusional People thought that they already were, and that they had always been as brutally honest as you.

Another surprising, and somewhat depressing, reaction to being brutally honest about yourself is that your listeners will likely begin to think less of you.  One would think that a person that provides brutal truths about their life would be embraced, as being “So brutally honest, it’s refreshing.”  One would think with such refreshingly, brutal honesty coming their way, the listener couldn’t help but be more refreshingly honest in return.  No such luck.  What usually happens is that they join you in your refreshingly honest assessments about you, but they don’t share the same objectivity.

“How do you think you’d do in jail?” A Delusional Person asks Frank.

“Not well,” Frank replies with refreshing, brutal honesty.  The Delusional Person may laugh at this point, because being refreshingly honest can be humorous when the recipient is allowed to bathe in the weaknesses of its purveyor.  The Delusional Person will usually agree with Frank’s frank assessment of himself, but they usually won’t assess himself by the same measure  “How do you think you would do?” Frank returns.

“I think I’d do all right,” The Delusional Person replies.

Even in the age of being real, most people fell prey to projecting themselves into scenarios with images from their ideal state still dancing in their head.  This particular Delusional Person was once a championship-level wrestler that endured exhaustive workouts, and exercised levels of self-discipline, that most non-athletes will never know.  This resulted in The Delusional Person being a finely crafted specimen that at one time may, indeed, have been capable of handling the hand-to-hand combat situations that could occur within the confines of a jail cell.  The Delusional Person fondly remembers those days as if they were yesterday, for the rest of their lives.  Most Delusional People haven’t lifted a weight more than a hundred times in the last fifteen years, yet they still picture themselves in that peak physical form when putting themselves in scenarios. A more reasonable and brutally honest assessment, for this particular Delusional Person, would have been:  “I don’t know, but I suspect that all of the years I’ve spent sitting behind a computer, and avoiding physical workouts, would be exposed early on.”

We all picture ourselves in peak physical condition when we listen to others speak about how some have let themselves go.  We laugh when others joke about those that have gained weight, while conveniently forgetting that last week, we were just forced to purchase a thirty-six inch waist on a pair of pants for the first time.  We’ll do this when we speak about the people we grew up with that “now look so old”, even though we’re now using hair-dye, wrinkle cream, and supplements to fight the aging process.  We aren’t lying when we do this either, we’re projecting our idyllic image into our scenarios where we are able to lay out an entire prison yard if we have to, the way we used to … in the movies.

Another surprising, and somewhat depressing, reaction to being brutally honest is that even the most polite listeners begin to feel free to be brutally honest with you:

“Are you sure that you’re capable of that?” an extremely polite, and kind, listener asked after I informed her that I threw my hat in the ring for a promotion.  The surprising aspect of this question was not that she asked it, for it could be said that she was looking out for me in her way, but that she had never asked such a question of any of our other co-workers.  With them, she issued what could be called general, Hallmark card-style responses to their desire to advance within the company. “Good luck!” she would say to them, or “I know you’re capable of it.”

To me, she asked me to carefully consider it.  Why?  Was she jealous?  After processing this, with the acknowledgement of her politeness and kindness, I realized that her concerns were simple reactions to all of the brutally honest assessments I had made of myself over the years.  She didn’t want me to get hurt by the realities of my limits, limits that I had expressed in the course of being brutally honest, and she was only reacting to what she had been told.

As a result of such actions, people like my extremely polite friend can inadvertently assist the brutally honest person into a depressing state of their reality.  The honest assessor realizes, about halfway down this spiral, that they’re only doing this to themselves, but that their friends are not helping either.  Their friends are, in fact, greasing the skids.  An honest assessor realizes, about halfway down this spiral, that they’ve probably become so realistic in their assessments that they’ve become brutally realistic.

They may start avoiding attempts to advance themselves, because they’ve become so realistic that they’re now asking themselves so many questions that they’re afraid to try and advance.  As a result of such thorough examination, they’ve also become so realistic that they don’t think it’s realistic for any honest assessor to succeed.  These could be called minor setbacks in the grand scheme of becoming more honest with one’s self, until the brutally honest person begins to see that all of The Delusional People around them —some with half of their talent— begin to succeed beyond them.  These Delusional People may even know that they’re lying to themselves, on some level, but they’re harmless little, white lies that everyone tells themselves in the quest for advancement, and if you can get all of them to add up just right, they may become a reality that no one can deny.

When Molly got this promotion, it was almost painfully confusing.  It wasn’t Armageddon, and no one was physically harmed, but the aftermath of this tragedy left a proverbial wasteland that could be confused with some of the worst, real historic tragedies.  The people that had devoted a large portion of their lives to this company felt that it could only be outweighed by familial or personal tragedies.  The world moves on after a political disaster, and religious hypocrisies can be overcome through personal devotion, but a seismic disaster like a person with Molly’s character, and work ethic, landing a top gig in their company can leave reverberations that are felt throughout a person’s life. The company is where most people live most often.  It’s a better indicator of how they’re living, as it’s the place where they devote most of their resources.

“Part of an interview involves salesmanship,” those in the know would tell their audience … in off the record comments.  And even though it was all based on a “wink and a nod” salesmanship on her part, it became the new reality, and she would have to do something truly awful now to change the new reality we all had to live with.

“That’s all well and good,” was the general reaction to these off the record comments, “But if Molly has any moral fiber, or conscience, she wouldn’t be able to sleep at night.”  No one cares.  She’s got scoreboard.

Amid the personal and professional confusion, one honest assessor stepped forth and professed the harsh reality of the situation: Molly simply fed the leadership mystique of her superiors better than others.  When others concerned themselves with learning the inner machinations of the company’s system in a proficient manner that would impress their superiors, Molly was distributing baskets for boss day.  When others were out volunteering for special projects to pad their resumé, and working untold amounts of overtime to put a smile on their bosses’ faces, Molly was at the bosses’ lunch tables laughing at their jokes.  And when all of the applicants were drilling the interviewer with the bullet points of their resumé, Molly was feeding into whatever mystique they wanted to gain in that particular setting. It was her primary skill set.

It was a bow atop the corporate basket of lies given to bosses, on boss day, in the age of being real.  In the age of being real, employees began to demand more recognition for their accomplishments, and management responded, but in the end the employees realized that it was all part of a scripted, choreographed, and edited production to pacify their audience by mentioning their name in the credits that rolled out at the end of the day.  When crunch time came, however, it was The Delusional People that had learned how to feed the mystique that left everyones’ delusions nourished.

As the nuns told us in grade school, “Those that live in a dishonest manner will eventually get theirs” and that “Truth has a way of prevailing”, and Molly was eventually discovered to be “not a good fit” for the position, but she was promoted up and out of the position, and the person that replaced her was yet another mystique feeder.  The problem, those of us naïve enough to believe in the age of being real, discovered was not with Molly, but that Molly was emblematic of the problems inherent in a system that the brutally honest once believed would eventually provide rewards to those honest, hard working people that put their nose to the grindstone.  The problem was that those that controlled the spigots of reward for their fellow man, were humans themselves, and humans are inherently susceptible to flattery.

The nuns also provided their grade school students the proviso that if you’re living the honest life with the expectation of eventually receiving concretized recognition for it, you’re doing it for all the wrong reasons.  We knew when they were doing this, they were preaching gospel.  Thus, we knew that being real, living the honest life, and being brutally honest with one’s self had only intangible, internal, and spiritual rewards, but when The Delusional People begin to beat us all to the more tangible goals, most honest assessors will admit that it’s difficult not to be affected by it, if they’re being real with you.

There are a number of psychological tactics that modern casinos will spare no expense to learn, and employ, to get an individual to part with more of their money.  Some would go so far to say that anytime that a person steps into a modern day casino, they’re stepping into the finished product of think tanks, and psychological studies.  These casinos want to create an exciting, yet soothing experience that distracts the gambler from the stress they might associate with losing all of their money, but there is no psychological tactic more endemic to the ultimate success of a modern day casino than the psychological manipulations of expectations.

"We'll always have Paris."

“We’ll always have Paris.”

Expectation, successful casinos have learned, is more powerful than the reality of accomplishment, or winning.  When a slot machine player sees a triple bar drop into the first slot, only to be followed by another triple bar, that brief moment of excited expectation has been determined to provide the player a more powerful psychological boost than the reality that would occur if that third slot were filled with another third triple bar.

When that king eventually drops, with strategic slowness, into that third slot, we’re disappointed when we look up at the menu list of winnings atop the slot machine and realize we’ve actually won nothing, but the thrill that occurred before that third slot was filled, and the idea that we came “so close” is more powerful, and more conducive, to us continuing on that machine, than winning would actually be.  Without drawing on that exact scenario, Rosecrans Baldwin, author of the book Paris, I Love You, but You’re Bringing me Down, suggests that the same psychological thrill of expectation occurs when one plans a vacation to Paris, France.

Paris is the world renowned capital of love.  For as long as most of us have been alive, Paris has provided the setting for some of the most famous, romantic movies, books, and songs.  Many people we know list visiting Paris on their bucket list.  If, for no other reason, than to find out what everyone is going on about.  There’s an air of mystery about the city that we all need to experience for ourselves.  As is normally the case, the narrative, and the expectation derived from that narrative, is much more powerful than the reality.  Some, that have actually vacationed in Paris, are often so distressed by the reality of what they experience that it can cause a psychological disorder called The Paris Syndrome.

Japanese visitors are particularly susceptible to this,” writes Rosecrans Baldwin. “This is possibly due to the uber-romantic image that Paris holds for the Japanese.”  This can get so bad, for some Japanese travelers, Baldwin writes, that “The Japanese embassy used to repatriate sufferers with a doctor or nurse aboard the plane ride back to Japan.”

NBC News also had a report on this subject that stated that:

Around a dozen Japanese tourists a year need psychological treatment after visiting Paris as the reality of unfriendly locals and scruffy streets clashes with their expectations, a newspaper reported on Sunday.”

That Sunday newspaper also quoted psychologist Herve Benhamou saying:

Fragile travelers can lose their bearings.  When the idea they have of (a place like Paris) meets the reality of what they discover, it can provoke a crisis.”

Bernard Delage, from an association called Jeunes Japon, that helps Japanese families settle in France, is also quoted as saying:

In Japanese shops, the customer is king, whereas (in places like Paris) assistants hardly look at them … People using public transport all look stern, and handbag snatchers increase the ill feeling.”

A Japanese woman, Aimi, that had some experience with this disorder, told the paper:

For us, Paris is a dream city. All the French are beautiful and elegant … And then, when they arrive, the Japanese find the French character is the complete opposite of their own.” {1}

After deciding to take up residence in Paris, author Rosecrans Baldwin found that:

Smiling is discouraged for Parisians posing for documentation like Metro passes or tennis-court permits.” 

Most citizens, the world around, can identify with this procedure.  We’ve all had experience with employees in legal departments, and DMVs, telling us that smiling is discouraged when posing for headshots that will appear in legal documentation.  It’s not illegal to smile in those situations, just as it, presumably, is not illegal to smile when posing for Parisian documentation headshots, but it may have something to do with the fact that smiling for official documentation, makes it appear less official. With regards to this practice in Paris, writes Baldwin:

The discouragement of smiling for various legal documents gets to an elemental fact about living in France’s capital.  That for a madly sentimental and Japanese tourist, visiting Paris is mostly about light, beauty, and fun with berets.  Living in Paris is different.  Living in Paris is business, and nothing to smile about.”{2}

Though this particular Paris Syndrome is obviously indigenous to Paris, the tenets of it could just as easily be applied to any popular tourist destination the world around.  Midwestern Americans, for example, also live under this “customer is king” mentality, and they have for so long that they begin to take it for granted.  Midwesterners know that the hotels and restaurants, of their locale, are so competitive that they won’t tolerate even an ambivalent employee.  There are exceptions to the rule of course, but most people that travel to the Midwest, from other parts of the country, are shocked by the Midwestern hospitality.

We expected it from you guys,” a hotel resident once said of the hospitality she experienced from Midwestern hotel employees.  “You’re paid to be pleasant, but wandering around your city, we’ve discovered that you’re all like this,” she said as if she believed she had stepped into some alternate universe.  “You’re all so nice.”  

Thus, when a Midwesterner gets so used to their locale’s common pleasantries —like the Japanese traveler, traveling to Paris— they are shocked by the contradictions that occur in their preferred travel destinations.  They probably assumed that the top-notch customer service they’ve come to expect would be a given in their chosen destination, if not amplified with the kind of money they’re spending.  They probably considered it such a given that they focused most of their attention on the other aspects of their dream vacation.  Once they’ve come to terms with the reality of the situation, they’re so shocked that not only is their dream vacation ruined, but some become physically ill as a result.

This degree of ambivalence, directed at tourists, in some popular tourist locations, can occur in some of the first steps tourists make from the airplane to the terminal.  Those wondering why this happens, should ask themselves what they thought of the thirty-second ant they watched leave an anthill.  You didn’t take the time to pick that ant out?  You didn’t spend more than two seconds looking at those ants?  Seeing ants leave an anthill is such a common experience that you don’t even look at them anymore?  Now you know what a service industry worker experiences watching tourists disembark at popular tourist destinations.

You’re not an ant, you say?  You’re a human being, and you’re not just any human being, you’re a human being with money to spend, money that helps pays their wages.  The problem is that you’re probably not the thirty-second tourist that service industry worker has seen disembark that day, or even the 132nd.  By the time you’ve stepped up to their counter, they’re probably so burnt out on tourists, like you, that you’ve become a species lowering than ants to them.  At least ants are self-sufficient, and they don’t complain about their lot in life, and they don’t live with the mindset that their existence should somehow be catered to in a manner that makes them feel special.  Ants know their role, and on a less conscious level, they know their station in life.  The harmony in that ant universe works so well that most service industry workers, in popular tourist destinations, probably believe that tourists could learn a lot from ants.

Some tourists are objective enough to acknowledge that poor service industry employees exist everywhere, even in their small town, yokel community, and they try to view this one ambivalent-to-hostile employee in that light.  They also try to view their one bad experience, with this one ambivalent-to-hostile employee, as an aberration, so that they can go about enjoying the rest of their trip.  Some Midwestern tourists also attempt to reconcile their indignation by convincing themselves to the fact that they’re small town yokels, unfamiliar with the ways of the big city, but they can’t shake the idea that their appearance should be considered somewhat special by these employees.

It isn’t too long after disembarking that the tourist comes to the realization that there are ten special tourists “looking to have a special time” behind them in line, and those tourists just want the special transaction in front of them to end, so they can finally get to the front of the line, to finish their transaction and get back to the craps table.

That “customer is king” mentality that these tourists live with is usually gone within hours, and the pattern of how things are done in this popular tourist destination becomes so apparent that by the time the tourist reaches the employee that dutifully hands them change without smiling, or even looking at them, and possibly trying to shortchange them, they’ve come to terms with the fact that those first few rude service industry employees were not, in fact, aberrations. Those that don’t recognize these patterns think that if they were that thirty-second ant, they might have a better chance of receiving more courteous treatment, if for no other reason than the idea that they might be considered something different from the lowest form of life on earth that service industry employees have deal with hour after hour, day after day: tourists.

Time; personal experiences published in online, travel forums; stories about mafia versus corporate ownership of Vegas; tales of prostitution and pickpockets; and the unsettling, almost weekly, settings on the show Cops have done some damage to the mystique of Las Vegas, but Paris’s mystique has not been forced to weather the such storms.

Living in Paris, Rosecrans Baldwin writes, does do some damage to that mystique however.  Those that believe that Paris is the home of cutting edge artistic exploration are not wrong, in the greater sense, but they also have to explain how Britney Spears’ song Toxic, remained a staple of Parisian parties years after its release.  Those that believe that Parisians have analytical palates, have to explain Paris’s culinary fascination with the food from a chain of American restaurants called McDonald’s.  These quirks may be no different than any popular travel destination around the globe, but it takes traveling to the destination, and living there, to find all this out.

“I like French Roast flavor,” I tell friends, “But I know that the term French Roast simply means robust.  I have no illusions about the fact that any of the beans I use actually spent any time in France.  I know that some Americans make attachments to the term “French” in the same manner some French make American attachments to the food of McDonald’s, but I’m not so silly that I believe that the French Roast bean I enjoy is anything less than an Americanized version of this robust bean, but” and here’s where you’ll get a wrinkled nose from your listener “I actually prefer this Americanized version.” 

You’ll get that wrinkled nose from your fellow Americans, because most of those with “analytical palates” believe that that ‘A’ word, Americanized, should never be used in conjunction with the exotic flavorings of the products that they deign worthy of purchase.  Their use of the word “French” entails exotic styling in the chain of production, transportation, that may have involved some slow crossing of the Seine River on some French version of a Gondola before being docked in an elegant port with a beautiful French name that we cannot pronounce, and that those individual workers involved in the chain of production may have, at one point, sang a French sea chantey in striped shirts and handlebar mustaches.  Those that wrinkle a nose believe that they are able to sniff out any ‘A’ word that may have wormed its way into the process that ended with them purchasing a French Roast product.

When one reads the descriptions from those that have actually walked the streets of Paris, and dined in her cafes, and tasted the true “French Roasted” bean, we learn that those cafés actually use old, over-roasted beans, and second-rate machines.  We read that Parisians so prefer the robust flavoring that we term “French Roasted”, that their cafés actually use a low-cost, low quality bean to please their customer base.  This actual un-Americanized, French Roasted bean would leave the unsuspecting, and truly analytical palates, with a thin and harsh taste in their mouth.

Paris is not about the taste of the coffee, some might argue, and no trip to Las Vegas would be ruined by the fact that a towel boy didn’t smile at me and welcome me to his city.  All of these complaints seem so trivial, and inconsequential, in lieu of everything these two, popular travel destinations have to offer.  Taken one by one, these complains may seem trivial, and inconsequential, but when a romanticized, excited traveler sits down to complete their dream of having a lunch in an elegant, little Parisian café, only to have an ambivalent-to-rude waiter deliver a cup of coffee that is so shockingly —and perhaps to them insultingly— inferior, that may only be one cup of coffee, and one waiter, to you and I, but it may also be only one incident in a series of incidents, that leads to a pattern of behavior that eventually shatters all of the illusions and dreams they had about that vacation they saved for so long for, that their country finds it necessary to have a doctor, or nurse, on board the plane home to help them deal with the fact that so many of their expectations, and so much of what they once believed in, were wrong.


{2} Baldwin, Rosecrans.  Things you didn’t know about Life in Paris.  Mental Floss.  May 2014.  Page 40-41. Magazine.

If you know anything about psychology, you know the name Sigmund Freud.  If you know anything about Sigmund Freud, you know about his theories on the human mind and human development.  If you know anything about one particular theory, his psychosexual theory, you know that you are a repressed sexual being that likely has an unconscious desire to have relations with a mythical Greek King’s mother.  What you may not know, because it’s conceivably ancillary to his greater works, is that it all began in pursuit of 19th century science’s holy grail: “The elusive eel testicles.”

FreudAlthough it is stated, in some annals, that an Italian scientist named Carlo Mondini discovered the eel testicles in 1777,{1} it is elsewhere stated that the search continued up to, and beyond, an obscure nineteen-year-old Austrian’s 1876 search.  It is also stated, that the heralded Aristotle conducted his own research on the eel that resulted in postulations that these beings either came from the “guts of wet soil”, or that they were born “of nothing”. One could say that such results had to come as a result of great frustration, as Aristotle was so patiently deductive in so many other areas, but he is also the one that stated that maggots were born organically from a slab of meat.  “Others, that conducted their own research, swore that eels were bred of mud, of bodies decaying in the water.  One learned bishop informed the Royal Society that eels slithered from the thatched roofs of cottages; Izaak Walton, in The Compleat Angler, reckoned they sprang from the “action of sunlight on dewdrops”.”{2}

Before laughing at any of these findings, one has to consider how limited these researchers were, with regard to the science of their day.  As they say with young people, Freud probably didn’t know enough to know how futile this task would be when he was first employed by a nondescript Austrian zoological research station.  It was his first job, he was nineteen-years-old, and it was 1876.  He dissected approximately 400 eels, over a period of four weeks, and he worked in an environment that the New York Times described as “Amid stench and slime for long hours”.{3}  His ambitious goal was to write a breakthrough research paper on the animal’s mating habits that had confounded science for centuries.  One has to imagine that a more seasoned scientist may have considered the task futile much earlier in the process, but an ambitious, young nineteen-year-old, looking to make a name for himself, was willing to spend long hours slicing and dicing these eels, to hopefully achieve an answer that could not be disproved.

EEL TesticlesUnfortunate for young Freud, and perhaps fortunate for the field of Psychology, we now know that eels don’t have testicles, until they need them.  The ones Freud studied, apparently didn’t need them at the time he studied them, for Freud ended up writing that he had only been supplied with eels “of the fairer sex”.  Freud did, eventually, write a research paper, but it detailed his failure to locate the testicles, and he moved onto other areas as a result.  The question that anyone reading Freud’s later, Psychological theories has to ask, in conjunction with this knowledge, is how profound was this failure on the rest of his research into human sexual development?

Most of us had odd jobs at nineteen that have, in one way or another, affected us for the rest of our working lives.  For most of us, these jobs were low-paying, manual labor jobs that we slogged through for the sole purpose of getting paid.  Most of us weren’t pining over anything, in search of a legacy that would put us in annals of history. Most of us had no feelings of profound failure if we didn’t do well in these low-paying, manual labor jobs.  Most of us simply moved onto other jobs we found more rewarding and fulfilling.

Was the search for eel testicles the equivalent to a low-paying, manual labor job to Freud, or did he believe in this vocation so much that he was devastated when he failed?  Did he slice the first hundred or so open and throw them aside with the belief that he simply had another eel of the fairer sex, as he wrote, or was he beginning to see what had plagued the other scientists, including Aristotle, for centuries?  There had to be a moment, in other words, when he began to realize that they couldn’t all be female.  He had to realize, at some point, that he was missing the same something that everyone else had been missing.  He had to have had some sleepless nights struggling to come up with some different tactic. He probably lost his appetite at various points, and he probably shut out the world in his obsession to achieve infamy in marine biology.  If even some of this is true, even if it was only four weeks of his life, it could reasonably be stated that this moment in his life affected him profoundly.

If Freud had never existed, would there be a need to create him?

Everyone has a subjective angle from which they approach a topic they wish to study.  It’s human nature.  Few of us can view any subject, or person in our life, with total objectivity.  The topic we are least objective about, say some, is ourselves.  And the topic, on which we theorize most, when we theorize on humanity, is most commonly ourselves.  All theories are autobiographies, in other words, that we write in an attempt to understand ourselves better.  With that in mind, what was the subjective angle from which Sigmund Freud approached his most famous theory on psychosexual development in humans?  Was he entirely objective when listening to his patients, or was he forever chasing eel testicles in the manner Don Quixote chased windmills?

After switching vocations to the field of Psychology, did he view the patients that sought his consultation as nothing more than the set of testicles he couldn’t find a lifetime ago?  Did testicles prove so prominent in his studies that he saw them everywhere in the manner that a “rare” car owner begins to see that car everywhere, after driving that “rare” car off the lot?  Some would say that if Freud engaged in such activities, he did it unconsciously, which others could say may have been the basis for his other theory on unconscious action.  How different would Freud’s theories have been if he had found eventually found what was then considered the holy grail of science at the time?  How different would his life have been?  Would he have ever switched vocations, or would he have remained a marine biologist based upon the fame he achieved?

How different would the field of Psychology be, if he had decided to remain a marine biologist?  Or, if he had eventually switched to Psychology, for whatever reason, after achieving fame for being the eel testicle spotter in marine biology, would he have approached the study of the human development, and the human mind, from a less obsessed angle?  Would his theory on psychosexual development have occurred to him at all, and if it didn’t, was it such a fundamental truth that it would’ve eventually occurred, without Freud’s influence?

It can be said, without too much refutation, that many in the world have had their beliefs of human development more sexualized by Freud’s largely disproved psychosexual theory?  How transcendental was this theory, and how much subjective interpretation was involved, and how much of that interpretation was derived from the frustration involved in his inability to find the eel testicle?  Did Freud spend the rest of his career overcompensating for that initial failure?

Whether it’s an interpretive extension, or a direct reading of Freud’s theory, modern scientific research theorizes that most men want some form of sexual experience with another man’s testicles, and if they say that don’t, their lying in a latent manner, and the more vociferously a man says they don’t, so goes the theory, the more repressed their homosexual desires are.

The Williams Institute at UCLA School of Law, a sexual orientation law think tank, released a study in April 2011 that stated that 3.6% of the males in the U.S. population are either openly gay, or bisexual.{4}  This leaves 96.4% of this population that are, according to Freud’s theory, closeted homosexuals in some manner.  Neither Freud, nor anyone else, has put a rough estimate on the percentage of heterosexuals that have erotic inclinations toward members of the same sex that are unconsciously experienced or expression in overt ways, but the very idea of the theory has achieved worldwide fame.  Read through some psychological studies on this subject, and you’ll read the words: “It is possible..,” “certain figures show that it would indicate..,” and “all findings can and should be evaluated by further research”.{5}  In other words, no conclusive data, and all figures are vague, purposely say some, for use by those that are in favor of the homosexual movement that would have you believe that most of the 96.4% that express contrarian views are actively suppressing their desire to not only support the view, but to actively involve themselves in the movement.

Sigmund Freud has been called “history’s most debunked doctor”, but his influence can still be seen in the field of Psychology, and in the ways society views human development, and sexual development, throughout the world.  The greater question, as it pertains specifically to Freud’s psychosexual theory, is was he a closet homosexual, or was his angle on psychological research affected by the initial failure to find eel testicles?  Or, to put it more succinctly, which being’s testicles was Freud more obsessed with throughout his life?




{4} http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Demographics_of_sexual_orientation

{5} http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/assault/roots/freud.html

A young comedian once asked comedian Rodney Dangerfield for some advice on succeeding as a comedian. Dangerfield turned to the young, aspiring comedian and said: “You’ll figure it out.”

The first thought that comes to mind when one reads this quote is that Dangerfield was probably sick of answering that particular question, and he wanted to be left alone. Either that, or Dangerfield found the answer to that question to be so overly complicated and time-consuming that he didn’t want to go down that road again with another comedian. Dangerfield might have even seen the young comedians act, and decided that it was so bad that Dangerfield didn’t know how to fix it. “You’ll figure it out,” just feels dismissive, but as with all good advice, or the best, freshest, and most perfectly ripened strawberry, it gets better the more you chew on it.

RodneySome advice is instantly worthwhile, concrete, and usable. Major League Pitcher Randy Johnson once talked about a piece of advice fellow pitcher Nolan Ryan offered him. Nolan Ryan told ‘The Big Unit’ that the finishing step of his pitching motion should end an inch further to the left. Randy said that seemingly trivial piece of advice changed his whole career. He stated that he wouldn’t have done a fourth of what he did without that piece of advice. Most advice is not near as concrete, or as instantly usable however. Most advice is more oblique, and it requires personal interpretation.

Most advice, as they say, is worth what you pay for it.  The best piece of advice I’ve ever heard combines an ackknowledgment with the struggle to succeed with a notice that you’re going to have to find your own individidualistic path to it. The best advice I’ve ever heard does not involve miracle cures, quick fixes, or the path to instant success.  Most of the best pieces of advice I’ve ever heard, such as “figuring out” how to be successful, are so obvious that it’s almost laughable.

The “You’ll figure it out” piece of advice has an underpinning to it that suggests that there are no comprehensive guides to true success. You can learn how-to-steps from a training manual, you can watch how others use these steps in their process and the various techniques and interpretations they offer, and you can internalize all of the advice that everyone involved has to offer, but you’re eventually going to have to “figure it all out” for yourself … if you want to truly succeed.

Instant success is rare in the arts, as it is in every walk of life, but if you are lucky enough to be able to avoid having to “figure it out”, what do you do with yourself?  In the course of my employment, I’ve worked with a number of “flash in the pan” workers. These are high energy, fast talking, glamor types that get all keyed up by their new job, and they burst out of the gate with instant success. Trainers and bosses love these people. “Look at Bret!” these people say high-fiving Bret in the hall to inspire those around them to be more like Bret. The one thing these bosses and trainers rarely see, or won’t admit, is that these high energy, fast talking, glamor flash in the pans often burn out quickly.

“Instant success” types are great at answering questions in training, and they usually arrive with a number of quotes on success from the successful.  They usually treat their new job as one would an athletic event, and they’re not afraid to do touchdown dances on you and your productivity numbers.  They usually wear the clothes, and drive the car, for that image, and they’re usually caught, by their manager, reading a “personal success” guide that some of them may read to chapter two, but most “instant success” types aren’t built for the long-term.

They’re usually bullet point people, and large idea people, that have no patience for the time it takes to figure out the minutiae that the rest of us will learn through the agonizingly slow trial and error process. Instant success people never want to “figure it out”, as Rodney Dangerfield advises, because they already have it figured out, or they have the image of one that has it figured out that they don’t want to stain with new knowledge. They want to be perceived as “quick learners” and most of what they learn after the “flurry to impress” knowledge they attain, is quickly dismissed as either “something they already knew” or inconsequential minutiae. They just know what they know, and that’s enough for the show.

These people are also not good at taking criticism, because they’re not built for restarts. They are too smart, and too good, for a restart. To be fair to them, some criticism is bestowed on quick learners by jealous types that simply enjoy having some form of authority on them, but some of it is constructive, and we have to figure out which we’re receiving when that time comes.  Some criticism should make us wonder if we’re deluding ourselves with the belief that we’re as accomplished as we think we are? Some criticism will suggest that to truly succeed in our craft, we may want to consider doing it like someone else. In some cases they may even be right, for there’s nothing wrong with mapping our direction to success in a manner that has already been proven. That advice could also be entirely wrong, or entirely wrong for us, but we’ll have to figure all that out.

“Do you have any tips on how to keep writing?” a fellow once writer asked me. My first inclination was to tell him about this free Kindle book: Before You Quit Writing. This, I feel, would be an excellent book to recommend to another writer, for not only would it encourage him to keep going, but it might make me look like a guy that knows what he’s talking about. I haven’t read the book, but I’m sure it’s loaded with ideas like: “Keep a lot of post-it notes on hand, so you don’t miss out on those little inspirations that could turn into great ideas,” “Write stories about your life, for your life is an excellent cavern that can never be fully explored,” and “Read, read, and read some more.” I could’ve told this writer about this book, I haven’t read, but even if I had read it, and I found it invaluable to me, my recommendation would be half-hearted, because I believe true success in writing requires nuanced ingenuity and creativity that you’ll eventually have to figure out, or you won’t, and if you don’t … go do something else. That would be the one addendum that I would add to Dangerfield’s quote. “You’ll (either) figure it out,” or you won’t, and you’ll eventually figure that out too.

I’m quite sure that that comedian went to Rodney to receive that great piece of advice that allows them an easy exit from thier cocoon, that will finally transform them into a star.

Becoming a butterfly is the result of the struggle of a catepillar “figuring out” how to get out of its cocoon.  If that struggle is cut short, by whatever means, that butterfly will not have gained the strength necessary to survive in the wild.  Some critics get frustrated with the amount of self-help charlatans moving from town to town in their “Miracle Cure” stagecoaches, promising elixirs to those seeking advice, but their frustrations should not be directed at the charlatans, so much as those seeking the elixirs that allows them to easily exit their personal cocoons without attaining the strength gained in the process of failing, learning, adjusting, and eventually becoming desperate enough to “figure out” if they are going to continue in that particular craft until they do succeed.

“You just love to argue!” a friend of mine said to me.  To me!?  To that point in my life I had been the person that walked away from arguments, said that exact same thing to my tormentors, and basically just hoped that that everyone would stop arguing with me.  I was usually left frustrated, because these types that love to argue never stopped.  They kept coming, from every angle they could think up, about everything I had to say.  I avoided speaking, at times, because I didn’t want to get in another argument.  I examined, and re-examined, everything I said, when I did say things, and I wondered how everything I said could be wrong, debatable, and arguable.  It was obvious to those around me that I didn’t know how to argue, because I wasn’t used to everyone challenging everything I said, but did they have to be so confrontational about it?  To make what was a long story short, I eventually run into that one person on the globe that apparently, thought I was one of them. A person that loved to argue.

Bear+Attack+Girl+Video+PhotoAs this accusation popped up more and more in my life, I began to wonder if I did, in fact, pick out certain people with which to argue, because there were so many others that picked me out.  Why didn’t they pick on someone their own size, I wondered.  The most interesting answer I found to both questions was that some of the times some people simply enjoy winning arguments.

The simple truth of the matter is that most of us argue.  Whether that argument consists of conservatism vs. liberalism; Darwinism vs. Creationism; The Beatles vs. The Rolling Stones; Coke vs. Pepsi; Happy Days vs. Saved By the Bell, or whether or not Suzy knows how to do her hair right.  Most of us are arguing about something every day of our lives.

You will encounter some people that simply to love to argue, and to that person you may say, “You just love to argue!”  That will be intended to be a putdown that you hope puts down any future arguments from those that love to argue, and you will grow frustrated that that doesn’t work, because some people love to argue.

The question you will have is why do they keep coming back to you with these redundant and never-ending arguments?  Why you?  Why don’t they bother Suzy Q over there?  She appears to like arguing too?  The two of them will never leave you alone with this stuff.  Answer: They love to argue, but even more than that: They love to win arguments.

Some of those that hate arguing fear the fact that they may not know what we’re talking about when our argument reaches its crescendo, and they fear that that they may be revealed in that moment, and we’ve all had those moments. The best way to avoid such embarrassing and stressful revelations, they think, is to simply avoid arguing altogether.  Those that love to argue, on the other hand, appear to think that they learn things about all the players around them, and they may feel they learn things about themselves by arguing.  And it may all be as psychologically, and intellectually complex as all that, but it might also be something very simple: it may be all about winning and losing.

It seems like such a simple argument that it’s hardly worth having, but some people love to win arguments so much that they seek out that one person that feeds their bear better than anyone else.  Is this you?  Do you have that one person that, no matter how many times you say you don’t want to argue about it, won’t leave you alone about an about an annoying amount of everything?   It may that you’re just better at feeding their bear than anyone else.  Either you walk away, or you let it be known that you simply don’t like arguing.  Whatever the case is, they must find your reactions nourishing to their ego, or they wouldn’t keep coming back.

“Why do you insist on arguing about absolutely everything?!” is something you might say, in the face of their constant badgering.  Or, “Is everything an argument to you?”  You may even decide that you just don’t enjoy being around them, that they make you uncomfortable, and that you simply don’t enjoy how they make you feel.  You may know that they enjoy watching you scream and squirm on a certain level, but you’ve provided yourself some comfort in stating that there must be something wrong with them if they enjoy doing that.  If you’re one of these people, and you’re constantly getting lost in the forest of their argumentative minds, you may want to start looking for the signs that say: “Don’t feed the bears!”

“I know I shouldn’t walk away,” you say, “But it can just get so exhausting arguing with them.”  The problem with this line of thought, as anyone that knows anything about bears will tell you, is that when you feed a bear they keep coming back.  It’s the nature of the beast to keep coming back to the spot where their ego with the least amount of challenge.  They will no longer go out into the wild, where they belong, to keep their instincts shiny and honed, and they will be become fat, and lazy, subsisting on your ineffectual, but nourishing responses.

There are some bear feeders, and we all know one, that believe that an argumentative bully can be put down with one clever turn of a phrase, or a well-timed, well-placed shot on the chin.  If you’re one of those people, you may want to consider the idea that you’re watching way too much TV.  In the fantasy land of television, the victim triumphantly issues one clever turn of a phrase, and the bully is put in his place, and that bully will eventually come around to respect the victim for their moxie, until the two of them skip off together, hand in hand, in an eventual pursuit of the conflict that led this complex bully to be so insecure that he felt compelled to pick on his victim.  If you’re one of these people, you may want to consider either turning the TV off, or switching the channel.  The Lifetime Network is simply doing you more harm than good at this point.

In the world of reality, your single shot only creates a smell of gun powder in the air that triggers an instinctual mechanism in the bear that will cause them to keep coming at you until you are forced to recognize that it’s going to take a concentration of blows to be delivered over time to put them down.  It’s going to take a thorough understanding of the bear, and an ability to constantly and patiently defeat them, until that moment of truth arrives _47451911_4compwhen they bring up an argument and sheepishly looking over at you while doing it.  Either that, or they will purposely avoid looking at you when broaching that topic that they know is in your wheelhouse.  You will know that you’ve stuck a dagger in their purported “lifelong love of the arguing” when they appear visibly relieved that for the first time in a long time, you have said nothing to contradict them.  These moments, when you become the bear, don’t come around often, and you should feel free to rub it out on the nearest tree as a reward for your constant, and confident, and strategic defeats, of every argument they casually left by the trash can for your nourishment.

Some unfortunate, and lifelong, victims believe that I am 100% incorrect in my belief that constant, confident, and calm refutation has any merit, and they opt for the high-pressured, high- volume attack that they believe will whip the head of the argumentative bully around to an ultimate realization that all victim’s desire: the ‘You don’t wanna go messing around with me no more’ realization.  This attack usually involves a lot of swear words, a red-face, and some ultimate ultimatum.  I have never found this tactic to be the effective, and I have witnessed it from all sides of the paradigm.

There have been times when I’ve been on the casual observer side, and I’ve heard these argumentative bullies whisper: “Watch this!” before launching on you people.  I’ve heard them proudly state that they can really get a rise out of you, when you’re not around.  They love this, is what I’m saying.  They take great pride, almost to the point of arousal, in the fact that they are one of the few people that can really get a squirm out of you.

“Why do you give them that joy?” I’ve wondered aloud to you people after watching you scream and squirm.  I’ve usually received a high-pressured, high volume, and red-faced response.  It has led me to believe that some of you are victims as a matter of happenstance, and some of you are a species unto yourselves.

Some arguments are germane and vital to your existence, and the best argument I’ve heard for never walking away from them is that you have to teach people how to treat you.  Those that love to argue will put you through the ringer, just to see what you’re made of.  These people disgust those of us that try to avoid arguments, because we don’t enjoy being tested.  We want to live in a world where everyone treats everyone else the way they want to be treated.  We want a land of peace of harmony.  Too bad, say those that love to argue.  This is the real world, and we’re going to force you through this tiny, revelatory hole just to see what you come out looking like on the other side.  These arguments are usually of a more personal nature, and they cannot be avoided.  You have to teach others how to treat you.

Other arguments must be walked away from to preserve sanity, and I’ve been in those too.  These arguments come from an ultimately annoying species of bear called the plane switchers.  If they accidentally trip upon a subject that you are well-versed in, they will switch the playing field on you, until you somehow end up arguing about the origin of the Wiccan religion.  How did they do that, you may wonder, when you thought you were having a philosophical discussion about the homeopathic uses of emu urine?  If you begin to become a student of the argument, and you begin reading all the signs around you in the dark and lonely forests of the plane switchers, you’ll see that ‘how’ they did that is a far less pertinent question when compared to why they did it, and that question can be answered with one word: victory.  It will take a very steady hand, in these dark forests of the plane switchers, but if you can manage to switch the playing field back to the subject at hand, you can find your way out with one victory of one argument, on one day, in the everlasting arguments with these exhausting people, and all exhausting arguers, until you eventually run across a person that somehow mistakes you for being an arguer.

I remember that day, oh so long ago, when that first person accused me of being an argumentative person, I nearly laughed in their face.  When that first person did that, they had no idea how many arguments I had lost.  They had also had no idea that I had reached a point where I no longer allowed an argument to go unchallenged.  They had no idea that they had presented me with an argument, and that I was arguing their point.  They had no idea that they just wanted me to lie down, and roll over, and accept their argument in the manner they wanted it accepted.  If they only knew the painful and emotional road I traveled on to get to the point where I received their wonderful compliment, they would have never said it.  They only knew the finished product that stood before them arguing against their argument.  They didn’t know how many years I spent in the loser’s bin, unable to compete, not knowing the right thing to say, and trying every possible method I could think up just to shut just one arguer up.  They only knew the finished product.  They didn’t know about all the Dr. Frankenstein’s that gave my beast life.

Very few arguers know the argumentative beast inside them.  They don’t know the maturation process that their beast went through, or the weaponry their beast purchased with intangible experience, but they do know that they like to argue with you over any other individual in the room, because they love to see someone else do the squirmy, screamy dance that they used to do when arguers chose them over everyone else in the room.  They may not know any of these complex intellectual and psychological ingredients of their beast, but they do know that they like to win, and they know that you –the person that doesn’t like to argue— will always give them that.

When the first self-checkout aisle was rolled out, circa 2001, I thought that Big Business had finally invested in technology for someone like me.  I thought I was being rescued from  the inane conversations that seemingly lonely checkers feel compelled to engage customers in in the full-service aisles.  I thought price checks might finally become a thing of the past, in my life, with the advent of self-checkout.  I thought I was being rescued from ever having to endure the spectacle of a customer waiting to pull out their checkbook until all the items have been scanned and the total has been given.  There are no checks allowed in self-checkout after all.  I thought self-checkout was a dream, for do-it-yourselfers around the nation, a dream come true.  I thought we would all be granted more time to do other important things in our lives.

Self service checkout-1349917As with any dream, that eventually becomes a reality, I feared self-checkout would be a temporary experiment that everyone would have to do their part in if we ever hoped for it to survive.  I knew this experiment was conducted for business, and as with any experiments in business there would have to be a learning curve in the beginning.  Eventually, I thought, lines in the sand would have to be drawn if the gods that manned the security cameras were going allow us this privilege long-term.

At some point, I thought, we consumers would have to engage in a melding of the minds that defined those that were prepared for the requirements of self-checkout and those that weren’t.  I never thought we would reach an age, in the self-checkout era, where a Darwinian divide would have to be laid out.  I just thought that those that were perpetually unprepared would eventually weed themselves out.

You can call me a fool if you want on this note, but I thought that this dream-like opportunity would eventually weave its way through our society in just such a manner that the unprepared would begin to decide that self-checkout just wasn’t for them, that it made them too nervous, or that they couldn’t handle the rigors of all that scanning and swiping.  I thought some would eventually decide, through trial and error, that they were just more comfortable with full-service, and that they would never attempt to cross aisles after repeated, embarrassing failings.  I thought a certain point of harmony could eventually be achieved where the prepared would say to the unprepared, “I have no problem with you brother.  I don’t think any less of you, full-service consumers, as long as you learn your aisle, and they stay there.”  Unfortunately, as we’ve all discovered over time, the self-checkout aisle didn’t cut dividing lines, it only exacerbated the notion that most people live with delusions and illusions of who they are.

I probably wasn’t as prepared as I believe I was back in 2001, when I first began scanning my own items, feeding machines my money, and bagging my owned groceries.  I probably made some mistakes that would greatly embarrass me if anyone had tape on it.  I wanted to be one of the prepared, though, I wanted to perform self-checkouts for the rest of my life, and I thought I would only be allowed this privilege through merit.  I never thought I could do it once or twice and be given a special designation.  I knew I would have to prove that I was a prepared one every time out.

And if you’ve ever had a hard-nosed teacher in grade school, that granted you a special privilege, you learned this principle too.  You learned that if you didn’t constantly prove yourself worthy of that privilege she granted you, on a constant basis, that hard-nosed teacher took that privilege away from you.  If you had that hard-nosed teacher, you learned that excuses played no part in her world of privileges.  Act right, and you get them, screw up, and they’re taken away from you.  That’s what I though this whole world of self-checkout would eventually become.

I thought that the prepared world would eventually acknowledge that there are some products that don’t have Universal Product Codes (UPC) symbols.  I didn’t think this message would have to be sent out twelve years in, especially when we’ve all been in full-service aisles where checkers have to look up UPC numbers on those pieces of fruit, or candy, that don’t have UPC stickers on them.  We’ve all seen this, and in the universally prepared world, we prepared for that eventuality before we reached the self-checkout aisle.

Others don’t seem to care about the special privilege self-checkout offers us.  They don’t think about the freedom performing our own checkouts offer us, or the time it frees up for us.  It’s just another aisle to them.  They do little-to-nothing to uphold the standard required to sustain this freedom.  They just buy a couple of watermelons and stare at them with confusion, with a loaded UPC gun in their hands.  At that point in their transaction, I want to run in and block them from all security cameras.  I don’t want the gods manning the security cameras to see this.  I don’t want them to know that there are still people, twelve years after its nationwide rollout, that haven’t prepared for the self-checkout aisle.

They twist the watermelons over and over, they turn to their tech-savvy teens, and then they ask the self-checkout checker for help.  They have no fear that this could be documented, and that the self-checkout could go the way of extinct animals that weren’t properly equipped to sustain themselves.  “You’re ruining this for everyone!” I want to scream.  The checker, in charge of the self-checkout aisle slides over, and she punches in the code that these watermelon buyers should’ve noted, on the watermelon bin, the moment they realized there was no UPC sticker on them.

These particular customers aren’t satisfied with the checker’s services.  They’re even more confused when she finishes punching in the code.  “I thought they were two for one?” they say.

“They’re only two for one, if you …” the checker went on to detail the specifics of the deal, and the customers only grew more confused.  The two parties argued a little.  I didn’t know the specifics of the deal, and I didn’t care what they were, but I wasn’t purchasing watermelons.  If I were, I would’ve known every detail of deal, because I am always prepared.  I belonged in this aisle.

The customers then ask this checker to take one of the watermelons off.  We’re stretching into the five minute category, at this point, much too long for a self-checkout transaction.  ‘They’re watching,’ I want to tell these customers, ‘And they’re taking note of all of your confusion.  Do you have any idea what you’re doing?  Do you even care that you don’t belong in this glorious aisle?  You need more help lady, you need full-service, and if you ever paid attention to your characteristics, you’d know this.’

Other self-checkout aisles, others that I abandoned based on the fact that they were loaded with fat, doughy customers, are proceeding through their checkouts with speedy glee.  I entered this aisle based on the fact that this family was Asian, and you can call me racist, or racial, but I thought they would have enough intelligence to figure this whole thing out.  In my experiences with the Asian people, I have found them to be either intelligent enough, or so embarrassed at their lack of knowledge in one particular area that they sheepishly accepted whatever they were told to avoid causing a scene, or an unnecessary delay to those waiting for them.  I have found them to be extreme conscientious, in other words, to a point that usually matched mine.  These Asians did not match my expectations, and they didn’t appear to care one way or another that they were causing me a delay.

In lieu of this unprepared family’s actions, I lined up all of my UPC symbols, so I could scan in a flurry.  I also took out all the cards that would be necessary to complete the transaction.  Now you could say that I was slightly unprepared prior to the example set before me, but I knew where all the UPC symbols were before I lined them up, and I knew exactly where all of my cards were.  By performing these few actions, I was not only prepared, I was extra-prepared.  I would be cutting a thirty-second transaction down to twenty with my extra-preparedness.  I considered this a service to those behind me.  I considered this doing my part to sustain the legacy of freedom created by the self-checkout gods.  I wanted to show all of those around me, and the gods manning the security cameras, that this whole idea of absolute freedom being afforded to the consumer was not only warranted but necessary in a society of impatient people.

‘We’re almost through,’ I thought when the Asians finally began swiping their credit card.  I thought about how much of my life I had already lost watching them struggle through the self-checkout process.  I also thought about how, if these people had allowed me to cut, based on the comparatively few items I was purchasing, I would already be home, immersed in a conversation with my wife.  I was soothed by the fact that they were swiping their card, though, and that this would be all ending soon, until they began having trouble with the swiping process.

As a non-confrontational individual, I decided to communicate my fatigue for their inability to swipe, through body language.  I slumped back and began texting, and I sighed.  It wasn’t a huge, look at me sigh, but it was audible. When that didn’t work, I began stretching my head up over the aisles to look at other self-checkout aisles, and how much fun they were all having over there.  I never intended to go to another aisle, it was too late at that point, but I thought if nothing else comes of this, at least I can inform these unprepared people that they should never go through the self-checkout aisle again.  They were just too unprepared for the self-checkout requirements, and if they only learn one thing from this whole experience, perhaps future generations of consumers can be spared from ever having to go through this kind of trauma again.

After the fourth swipe, the Asians cast an obligatory look at the back of their card.  After the fifth swipe, they cast the obligatory look to the staff member in charge of helping out self-checkout customers.  This staff member slid over again and achieved an approved status on her first swipe, and the customer granted the checker the obligatory excuse for why she couldn’t do it herself.  I thought of Larry David.

Larry David is not a good swiper, and he acknowledges this, and Larry David is a relatively intelligent being, and even he can’t explain why he’s not good at swiping:

If you told me twenty years ago that I wouldn’t be a good swiper,” Larry David said, “I never would’ve believed you.”

‘Being a bad swiper is not a sign of a lack of intelligence,’ I repeat in my head over and over, until I begin to believe it.  ‘You’ve had some problems swiping in the past, and you’re a reasonably intelligent being.  You know this, the gods have to know this, and they have to be making some allowances for these Asians in their notes.’

I am through my self-checkout transaction in under thirty seconds.  The people behind me love this, the gods behind the security cameras see this, and I almost sprint with my shopping cart to get right behind the Asians as we exit the supermarket, to show them that a self-checkout transaction can be performed this fluidly by someone that is prepared.  I want them to know that in the future, if they’re as unprepared as they were today, they should probably just go through the full-service aisles to engage in witty banter with a checker.  I want them to recognize which aisle of humanity they belong on, so they won’t ever venture into our glorious, self-checkout line again.  I want to tell them that it’s fine that they’re not prepared, and that I think nothing less of them, as long as they acknowledge the facts about who they are, and they don’t venture into our world ever again.  This freedom should not be afforded to all, I will tell them, and we will both laugh when they say, “Those aisles just make me nervous.”  That laughter will be fueled by both parties acknowledging that we’re just different people, neither of us superior to the other, just different, and if we could just learn to stay in our separate aisles, the world would be a much better place to live in.

Hire an expert the next time you have to have something major fixed.  Recent experience has taught me that it’s cheaper, less time-consuming, and less frustrating to just call in an expert that does this every day, truly knows what they’re doing, and will guarantee their work, than it is to bring in friends or associates to fix major projects in your home.  If you are currently debating whether or not to bring in your cousin’s cousin to come in and fix something big in your home, take it from me that you’ll save a lot of money, frustration, and time by just calling in that “unnecessarily” over-priced expert.

downloadA mechanical animal will not tell you this.  Mechanical animals will tell you that you can fix this yourself, and they’ll make you feel foolish for not being male enough, or industrious enough, to fix it yourself.  If you remain stubbornly realistic about your abilities with them, they’ll say those words that may forever taint your relationship: “Hell, I can fix it for you.”

If you want to further endear yourself to them, let them get their jones off in the field of mechanics.  Let them tell you all of their three-to-five-to-seven-to-nine point plans and smile, and nod, and say “Holy Crackers!” and “Man, you sure know what you’re talking about!”  Do this, and dazzle them with your lack of knowledge, and keep your puppy head in a non-confrontational and subservient position, and you’ll have a friend for life.  Do not, however, take this guy home with you.

He may seduce you with conversation points that concern the love and care he will show your nuts and bolts, but once the lubrication is applied he’ll be wrecking everything you hold dear.  Then, when they’re “done”, they won’t mind that you’re left incomplete, because your satisfaction wasn’t the reason they injected their ideas into your conversation in the first place.  The conversation was the purpose of the conversation. They’re mechanical animals.

In the conversation, mechanical animals are experts in the field of saving you money, time, and frustration by simply following their simple three-to-five-to-seven-to-nine point plans, and these plans are usually right on the mark. Mechanical animals usually know the plans.  The plans have been programmed into their heads in a manner Rachmaninoff can be programmed into a mechanical piano.  Like any song, a problem can be fixed in programmed steps, but where they differ is in the variables. Mechanical animals are usually great at duplicating their programmed knowledge on a lawn with a beer in their hand, but they usually fall short when variables arise.  They’re mechanical animals.

Mechanical animals are also great at telling you that the guys you’re planning on hiring are not as qualified as you might think they are, because they had a friend of a friend of a friend that hired them once, fourteen years ago, and he wasn’t satisfied with what they did.  Who do you hire then?  You don’t.  Let’s just say I was to hire someone.  Who would it be?  You don’t.  You fix the thing yourself.  This all makes for great “male, on the lawn, with a beer in your hand” conversation, but it’s been my experience that the best course of action is to finish your beer, go back in the house, and engage yourself in conversations about the finest upholstery known to man.  Do not ask for another beer, or listen to further conversations regarding the mechanical animal’s expertise with a twinkle in your eye, or you will be left with a half assed fix and an inoperable dullness in your eye that will last you the rest of your adult life.

We all know them.  They’re our brother, our neighbor, the guy that stops to chat with us at the local Home Depot, our Uncle, and just about every male that we know beyond the smiling nod.  They’re mechanical animals—usually named Morty—that have encountered just about every obstacle in life, and they can diagnose any problem you’re having in T-Minus two minutes, but if you make the mistake of turning a dime on them, you’ll be screaming: “Houston, we have a problem!” in T-Minus two months.

Morty type mechanical animals usually have an archetype male perpetually affixed in their memory that genuinely knew how to fix things, because he had a need to know, and he likely didn’t have the money necessary to hire a fix-it guy. If this archetype male didn’t learn how to fix the plumbing in his house, in other words, it didn’t get fixed.  A Morty type will usually have one great story regarding this archetype male going to a hardware store, picking up a pamphlet, and wiring his home for electricity based simply on those notes.  “It’s not that hard,” these Morty types will tell your open mouthed awe, “All you have to do is…”

That archetype male was incredibly industrious, self-serving, and patient with the trial and error variables involved in fixing things, and undaunted by matters that leave the rest of us breathless, but, again, their knowledge was borne out of necessity.  Our generation, Morty’s generation, loves the convenience that technology has afforded us, but they also miss that all-encompassing need that drove their archetype males to greater knowledge.  Reliance on this greater technology has left them feeling less male, when compared to their archetype image of what a male should be, so Morty types spend their whole lives trying to replicate their archetype male.  At some point in their lives, most Morty types will realize that they have fallen short of this idyllic image.  They know how to wire cable to their TV sets…barely.  They know how to change oil, spot a car, and relay some inane facts about that car, and they can mow, fertilize a lawn, and perform some perfunctory plumbing chores, but they pale in comparison to those archetype males of their lives, usually their Dad, because they don’t have a need to be as industrious.  And this is where you, the listener, come in.  This is where you play the role of circuitous conduit to their goal of appearing to be as industrious, and mechanically inclined, as their archetype male.

You are their idiot, and they will love you for it, “A decently trained chimpanzee could fix that,” a Morty type will tell you to take a step up on you on the industrious male totem pole, “If they were willing to put forth a little effort.  What kind of man are you that you can’t?”  Morty types usually won’t state the latter, for most of them are polite and fun-loving.  At this point, you would love to have your own idiot on the totem pole, but if you’re anything like me there aren’t any out there.

“All you need is a telescopic, shrub rake and a milled face, framing hammer,” is the way Morty types begin such conversations. “If you wanna call a fix-it guy, that’s fine,” they say in tones that provoke compulsory responses. “If you want to go into debt, and listen to a guy demean you for not being able fix your own home that’s fine, but if you stick with me we can fix this thing in a couple hours for less than a hundred dollars.”  They dazzle their listener with the hypothetical fixes that they have accumulated over the years, and they leave their listener feeling guilty for being male and not knowing all this.

To be fair to Morty types, there are Morty types and there are Morty types.  Some Morty types will confess, in typical Morty type humor, that they know “just enough to keep out of trouble”, or “just enough to be dangerous”.  They are fun-loving beasts that will usually only rear their ugly heads after they’ve had a few, and you’re with a bunch of fellas, looking out on my dilapidated lawn.  It is not the goal of these Morty types to make you feel stupid, inept, or less than male however.  “Hey, you know your stuff and I know mine,” they will say to reveal how congenial, patient, and truly humble they are.  If, however, you don’t continually lower your puppy head, they feel a need to lead you deeper into the weeds.

There are other Morty types, and everyone knows one, that will cause you to dive into a row of insulation at Home Depot the moment you spot them, if they haven’t spotted you yet.  These Morty types will lock onto your overwhelmed, vacant eyes and giggle: “Hey Martha, writer dude here doesn’t know what a milled face, framing hammer is.”  To which a more cultured Martha type will reply, “Be nice Morty!”  And he will, usually, if there are no other fellas around looking at a dilapidated lawn with beer in their hands.  He will, if you successfully respond to all of his quick-fix theoretical fixes with careful responses that provide him the illusion that you know something about what he’s talking about.  He will, if you add something that alludes to the idea that you have some knowledge of the telescopic, shrub rake and the intricately designed web of knowledge he has invited you into.

The thing is Morty types do know things. They know just enough to secure a crowned position on the conversational mountain of knowledge, but once you join them up there you see that they have the same brown patches in their yard that you do, and they’ve had a board to cover their garage’s broken window for over a year, and a bed that collapses when a sub 200 lb. man climbs aboard, and some fancy, impressive doors that just won’t close properly.  Once you get there, you are forced into the shocking revelation that all of your prior conversations with them were baked in a foundation of half-truths, aggrandizements, and makeshift intrinsics.  It’s not that they have no idea what they’re talking about.  They do know the logistics of the fix, and they know how to go about getting things fixed, but they just don’t do them very well.  They’re mechanical animals.

Those of us that have made the mistake of turning a dime on these conversations have realized our mistake shortly after saying, “Well, crap, if you can fix this for half the cost, then you are my man!” in an altruistic and platonic manner.  It was never your intention to call them out.  You just wanted your something something fixed.  You didn’t know that there were shocking revelations to be found in the man’s home, in his car, or on the dilapidated outskirts of his lawn. If you’ve made this mistake, you’ve realized that there are mechanical animals, and there are mechanical animal conversations.  You’ve also realized that there are those that do, and those that thoroughly enjoy the talk of doing, and that the entire conversation was about feeding into their ravenous need to appear archetypal.

If you are an inexperienced observer—with no precedent—currently debating whether or not to bring in your cousin’s cousin to come in and fix your light fixture, you should also know that you’ll be making a HUGE mistake by leaving them alone in the room that needs fixing.  The best diagnosis, we experienced folk have for you, is to affix vacant and overwhelmed eyes on you face, and say “Wow!” and “Holy Crackers, you’re smart!” a lot.  Let them talk, give them their crowned position on the mountain, and let them dazzle you with their expertise.  Nine times out of ten, these Morty types don’t need the money, and they usually don’t like you so much that they’re willing to fix something for you just cuz’.  Chances are you are filling a vital need they have just by standing there with your “Wow!” and “Holy crackers, you’re smart!” face on.  Chances are, if you are an inexperienced observer, with no precedent, you will find these “Holy Crackers” expressions to be tedious after a time, or you may believe that these mechanical animals will work harder, better, or faster if you leave the room to get them to stop talking about what they’re doing and just do it.  You’ll realize your HUGE mistake soon after they climb down the ladder, say they need to get a part from home, and you’re calling that “unnecessarily, over-priced” expert three months later, paying far more than you would have if you had just called him in the first place.

Epiphanies, like women, can pop up when you least expect them, and they can free you from a troubling part of your life you didn’t recognize as a problem until they were revealed.

In a PBS documentary on Mark Twain, a number of incidents arose in the building of Twain’s home, and the construction team began “badgering” Twain with questions regarding how he wanted them handled. The questions regarded the construction of his home, the place he would presumably live for the rest of his life, so the observer should forgive the construction crew’s chief for the badgering.  The team didn’t know what he wanted, and there were presumably hundreds of questions they had on his desired specifics.  What the team did not know, however, was that Twain had an oft expressed aversion for details.

TwainPutting myself in a similar situation, I realize that, like Twain, I’m not a detail-oriented guy.  I’ll listen to every question put to me, but I’ll be listening with a sense of guilt.  Details make me feel stupid, they start firing far too many neurons in my brain for me to handle, and I usually get overwhelmed and exhausted by them.  I know that I should be listening to every question, and I know I should be pondering the details they give me to come up with the ideal solution for my family, but my capacity for such matters is limited.

In the beginning of the process, I’m all hopped up.  My mind is acutely focsed, and I’m knocking out every question with focused answers.  I’m considering every perspective involved, and I’m asking for advice from all of those not involved.  I’m reading what others have done, and I’m gathering as much information as possible to make an informed decision, but I will eventually get overwhelmed and exhausted because I’m not a detail oriented guy.

By the time we reach the 7th and 8th questions, I’ll be out of gas.  I’ll be mentally saying, “Whatever, just get it done!”  I’ll be falling away from creative answers and onto what is expected in the situation, or what it is that those still paying attention want.  I will be answering in an autonomic manner.  “Yes, that sounds fine,” I’ll say without knowing what has been said.  I’ll just want the damn thing to be built already by that point, because I’m not a details-oriented guy.  I’ll want to make the big decisions, but I’ll want to leave all of the “inconsequential” details-oriented questions to others.

I do feel guilty about being this way.  I want to be involved, informed, and constantly making acutely focused decisions throughout the process.  I’ll feel guilty when others start making the decisions that affect me, because I know I’m an adult now, and I should be making all these decisions.  There is also some fear that drives me to constantly pretend that I’m in prime listening mode, based on the fact that I may not like the finished product if I’m not involved in every step.  I may not like, for example, the manner in which the west wing juts out on the land and makes the home appear ostentatious, or obtuse, or less pleasing to the eye with various incongruities, and I’ll wish I would not have been so obvious with my “Whatever just do it!” answers. Details exhaust me, though, and they embarrass me when I don’t know the particulars that the other is referencing.

I don’t know if this guilt is borne of the fact that I know I’m an intelligent being, and I should be able to make these decisions in a more consistent manner, or if I’m just too lazy to maintain acute focus.  I do have a threshold though, and I know how my brain works.  I know that if there are seven ways to approach a given situation, I will usually select one that falls in the first two selections offered.  I usually do this, because I’m not listening after the second one.  Everything beyond that involves the other party showing off the fact that they know more than I do.  I know this isn’t always the case, but it’s the only vine I can cling to when having to deal with my limited attention span and the limited arsenal of my brain.

Knowing my deficiencies for retaining verbosity, I will ask for literature on the subject that provides the subject a tangible quality that can be consumed at my pace. If I do that, and I have, I will then pretend to read every excruciating word, but I will usually end up selected one of the first two selections offered.  I like to think I have a complex brain.  I like to think that I display all that I’m about in my own way, but I’m always reminded of the fact that most of the people around me give full participation to the details of life no matter how overwhelming and exhausting they can be to me.  It’s humbling to watch these brains, I like to consider inferior, operate on planes of constant choices, and decisions, and retentions, and details I am incapable of retaining.

I have this daydream that I will one day be afforded an excuse for having a limited brain by the relative brilliance I reveal to the world in the form of a novel.  I am interviewed in this dream, and I am asked, “So, what does it mean to you to have crafted such a fine book?”  I am far wittier than reality would suggest in this dream when I reply: “It will help me deal with my faults better.  The fact that I cannot fix my own plumbing, can now be countered with, but he wrote a fine book.  The fact that I cannot fix my own car, compete with my wife in certain areas of intelligence, or hold down a decent job can now be countered with, but he wrote a fine book that is held up as a fine book in certain quarters.”

We’ve all heard the line “Everybody’s brain works differently,” but until we learn something regarding the fact that the brilliant brain that composed Huckleberry Finn has similar deficiencies, we cannot help but feel guilty about them.  “Well, work on your deficiencies,” those around us suggest, and we do when that next project comes about.  We’re out to prove ourselves in that next project.  We answer every question, from the first few to the 7th and 8th, with prolonged mental acuity.  When that third and fourth project rolls around, however, we’ll revert back to those inferior brains that can’t retain details, and it is then that we’ll envy those “inferior” brains, consistently showing their superiority.  This could lead those of us that never knew we were suffering from such a recognized deficiency into feelings of incompletion, until someone like Mark Twain recognizes and vocalizes his defeciencies for us.

Have you ever met that person that gets every joke they’ve ever been told and knows the answer to every trivia question put before them?  We’ve all met people that specialize in an area, and we’ve all met those that take that to the extreme and accidentally develop tunnel vision for that specialty.  There are others that appear to know a little something about everything but specialize in nothing.  Then you have those rare individuals that appear to specialize in knowing everything about everything, and no one can trip them up on anything.

3a96c8b34ace31e0321b289d7dcc23ed66edb244_largeThis façade didn’t bother me when it was first erected before me.  I’ve met this type numerous times before, and their ego has never had any effect on me.  Most of these types are usually so focused on creating the impression that they know everything that they avoid those people in the room that they fear might know something.  Another aspect of their psychosis that has usually led to them leaving me alone is that creating an impression in another person’s mind is hard work, and it usually involves a great deal of concentration on convincing yourself.  As a result of this, most of them have already convinced themselves that they’re so much smarter than me that they usually leave those that don’t challenge that impression alone.  When a friend of mine informed me, with a simple, relatively innocuous smile, that his façade was not only created before me, but for me, it got to me, in a competitive sense.

It happened one day when a third-party friend gave the two of us the impression that she thought my friend knew so much more than I did.  It happened, as a result of the small smile that he flashed at me after this impression was made clear.

It all began with a joke that this third-party friend told us.  I made the mistake of telling her that I didn’t get the joke, and when she proceeded to explain it to us, my friend began echoing her explanation to leave the impression that he got the punch line.  He didn’t, but he pretended so well that she was left with the impression that he did. She even went so far as to compliment him on this. She said something along the lines of: “Why can’t ever get you?” There were no specific allusions to the fact that I was any less intelligent, but that was implied, and in that vein, my friend issued me a competitive smile.  The smile began as a general one that one normally issues in the face of such a compliment, and then right before he turned to walk away, he flashed it at me.

I’m not here to tell you that I was completely innocent in the progression that would occur, and that I don’t have my own psychoses that can develop in the face of what could be called a perfectly innocuous smile.  My confidence in my intelligence is such that I can better deal with outright challenges, and I can wave those off with the idea that the need to challenge me in such an overt manner probably says more about the challenger than me, but those relatively innocuous, and I say competitive, smiles get under my skin.

“Don’t you see it?” I asked this third-party person, as my friend walked away with that competitive smile all over his face. “Don’t you see the game he is playing?” The third-party friend confessed that she hadn’t, so I laid it all out for her. The answers I gave her concerned what my friend did, but I would not get to the more fundamental question of why he did it for years.

Jokes. The what he did involved my friend uncovering various loopholes that all humans have in their interactions.  Most of these loopholes are not obvious, and they allow those that locate them to conceal the limits of their abilities. When I write the word ‘limits’ I hope that no one thinks this piece is written specifically for the purpose of exposing the limits of my friend.  We all have limits, after all, and we’re all scurrying about trying to prevent others from seeing them, but some of us are more successful in covering them up than others.  Some of us avoid issues that may reveal our limitations, and others simply learn how to roll with the crowd in such a fashion that their limitations simply aren’t considered.  My friend had managed to turn the latter into an art form by the time I met him, and it would’ve remained our little secret if he hadn’t gotten my juices flowing with that competitive smile.

The loophole that my friend found in leading a joke teller to the belief that he got the joke laid somewhere in the laughter that he provided them when their joke was complete.  It was in the thin “knowing” laugh that he had issued to this third-party joke teller to provide her a glowing compliment that she simply bathed in.  In the midst of this glow, most joke tellers don’t put the brakes on the laughter to find out why the laugher thought the joke was funny.  The joke teller will just join the laugher within the shared glow of appreciation, and they will remain in that glow while giving the explanation of the joke to that unfortunate soul that admitted that they didn’t get it.  During this explanation, the impression seeker will nod knowingly, and everyone will move on with their lives with the impression that he got it, until the joke teller says something along the lines of: “Why can’t I ever get you?”

Trivia.  My friend is smart, and he knows his stuff, but I don’t care how smart anyone is, there is always going to be someone, somewhere that will come up a joke, or a piece of trivia, that they won’t know. My friend found a loophole there too. After hearing a trivia question, my friend will sit back and offer no reaction. “Do you give up?” the trivia asker will ask after a time. “Tell me!” he will say. After they tell him the answer, he says, “That is where I thought you were headed,” and he will say that in a manner that gives the asker the impression that if they had only given him more time he would’ve come up with the answer.  At that point, he will increase their impression of him by showing a general knowledge of the chosen subject that basically provides them breadcrumbs back to the answer of the trivia question.  The breadcrumbs do not have to be specific breadcrumbs, but they’re breadcrumbs, and the asker is left with the idea that he knew the answer. The whole point is that my friend waits until after the answer is given before putting on his show, and this leads him to his impression of himself in the trivia world of being excellent at answering trivia questions.  Others believe this impression too, either because they aren’t so impolite as to suggest that he doesn’t get any of the answers before they give them, or they don’t spend enough time with him to spot the pattern.

I’ve laid out these breadcrumbs myself, I think we all have, but I’ve always prided myself on laying out my breadcrumbs in a specific manner that specifically points to the answer of the question. But, and this is the key distinction, I will always admit if I flat out didn’t know the answer the question, or if it was on the tip of my tongue, or something I feel I should’ve known.  I offer no illusions about my intelligence, in other words, but I’m more confident of my intelligence than my friend. I only get competitive when people point out that he’s more intelligent than I am, because he achieves that plateau in what I believe to be a false manner, and it’s that false manner that I want recognized more than my comparative level of intelligence.

Another loophole my friend has exploited in the human condition is the need most people have to be impressive. My friend initiates this loophole by turning your need to be impressive back on you.  You tell him something to impress him.  He’s not impressed.  Most of us are insecure in this manner, and most of us will then begin to focus our need to be impressive on that one person that isn’t impressed with us.  I fell for this at first. I felt an overwhelming need to leave him impressed. I would show him why I thought I was interesting and impressive, and I would try to show him that I was funny.  He wasn’t impressed.

It wasn’t too long before I realized that I had accidentally become more impressed with him, because he wasn’t all that impressed with me.  I had accidentally foisted upon him the status of being a barometer of what the two of us should deem as impressive, because (and here’s the key) he poked holes in all of my attempts to be perceived as impressive.  The one thing that neither of us had bothered to do was examine if he was, in fact, impressive. Our focus was on me, and by focusing on me, we provided him the status of being one that analyzes another’s attributes from on high. I allowed him this stature, until I figured it all out, and it annoyed me when others proceeded to do the same without putting any effort into studying how he had manipulated their interaction. I wanted this phony to be exposed to the world, and I told everyone we knew what he was doing, until I believed we had all achieved a degree of awareness.

Missing components. What I accidentally tripped on, years later, in the course of studying what he did was why he did it.  I wasn’t looking for an answer, when I interrogated him on an almost daily basis.  Anyone that has made the decision to be my friend can attest to the fact that being subjected to interrogations is the gift/curse of being my friend.  The answer didn’t occur in one “aha!” type of epiphany either.  It just kind of occurred to me over the course of years that my friend had a vital component missing that he concealed within all of the impressions he created for others.  There was a loophole here too, of course, a loophole that when you create your own impression others will either believe it because they don’t necessarily care if they’re wrong, or they are so involved in creating their own impressions that they don’t notice any of those occurring around them.  Sifting through all these impressions, I accidentally uncovered that fact my friend did not care for rebellion in any way, shape or form.  He would laugh when I described the various forms of rebellion I had engaged in, but when those moments came for him to display a little rebellion, he made it quite clear that he simply felt more comfortable within the confines that his authority figures had created for him.

This is not to say that rebellion completely forms a personality, or that a person that won’t rebel is always somehow incomplete.  I’ve seen those that refuse to rebel achieve happiness, and a sense of completion, within authoritarian constraints.  I’ve also seen those that solely define themselves through rebellion end up accomplishing so little in life that rebellion was all they had, and they used it in a competitive sense to define a sense of superiority against those that weren’t as rebellious.  This friend of mine was trapped somewhere in the middle, and it exposed an essential missing ingredient that suggested that the difference between him and those that he sought to deceive by manipulating their impressions of him was not so much whether or not he eventually decided to rebel against something, but why he wouldn’t.

What was the reason my friend hadn’t rebelled against everything he could find, like the rest of us had when we were teenagers?  Why hadn’t he as much to drink as a teenage body could handle?  Why hadn’t he tried to have sex with as many women as humanly possible?  Why hadn’t he tried drugs?  Did it have something to do with the fact that he was simply more responsible than the rest of us?  Was he simply smarter, and he understood the ramifications of such actions at an age when the rest of us were just stupidly going about doing whatever felt good?  Or did he just have a better parent?  And if his parent was better, was my friend’s aversion to rebellion based on the fact that he assumed that his dad provided such a sound case for not indulging that he wanted to follow his dad’s golden rules, to emulate this man that he so revered? Or did he simply not have the fortitude to rebel? Therein lies the essential ingredient that I believe is missing in my friend that most people, that don’t know him, don’t see. He was so scared of disappointing his dad that he failed to indulge in that time-honored, teen rebellion against authority that provides characterization to those of us that believed our parents were wrong about everything.

Those of us that rebelled against anything we could find, thought we were righteous warriors on the road to an ultimate truth that only we could define. We eventually found that we were wrong about most things, of course, and that we didn’t know everything, but something about traveling through that natural course of life defined us in ways that my friend lacked.  We discovered these truths the hard way, and these discoveries incrementally defined us.  Those, like my friend —that never rebelled in any substantial manner when they were young— walk around in their adult worlds with some necessary ingredient missing that they are never able to locate, so they just decide —over the course of failed interactions— to fill the gaps in themselves. They decide that no one is really looking at them with much scrutiny anyway, so no one will ever find out that they had simply created impressions of themselves for others to feed on —with fibs, and façades, and affectations— that gives those around them the idea that they are complete.  They never expect another individual to get so close that they notice.

This missing component was difficult to find too, even with someone scrutinizing him as intensely as I was, because my friend was guarded.  He talked about being guarded too.  He spoke about the fortress that he had created around himself, and how few were admitted entrance.

“You’re lucky I let you in,” he said. “I don’t let most people in.” I felt complimented by this.  Who wouldn’t?  It wasn’t until I sat back and thought about how few were clamoring for entrance that I realized that he said this for impression’s sake. The impression that most “guarded” people want to leave is that thousands are banging at the door, and that if those people don’t act right, they are denied entrance.  Most of us, like my friend here, actually have very few banging on our door, but what if they were?  How would we keep them out?  It is here that I believe my friend came up with the ideal barricade to his inner sanctum: he wasn’t very interesting.  If you don’t want people in your inner sanctum, states the logic of the ideal barrier, be boring, be quiet, and exhibit very few traits that people are interested in. If you can accomplish that, most people won’t notice you, they will not want in, and your inner sanctum will be protected.  If the Chinese had only considered my friend’s idea of displaying wares no one wanted, they would not have had to build that Great Wall thinger diller.

It should be noted here that my friend is a good guy, and I do not believe that he sat down one day and devised a strategy to create false impressions, and fool people into believing he was more than he was by exploiting all of the various loopholes that occur within human interactions.  He is not a dishonest man, and he never set about to mislead people into believing that he had a game show host’s type of charm.  He is simply an insecure man that has learned —through failed interactions that have exposed his weaknesses— how to protect himself from ridicule, scorn, or the idea that he might be inferior or limited in any way.  Other than learning through painful exposures, he probably took note of how others created impressions, until he became a hybrid of all of them.  On that note, some may think me cruel for scrutinizing him to the point of revealing him, and there were occasions when I did feel bad about all this, but any time I let my foot off the gas, my friend saw this as a moment of weakness that he seized upon to attack my character.  My friend was no wilting flower, in other words, and most of the intense scrutiny I directed at him was borne of the competitive exchanges he and I have always engaged in.

These missing elements in my friend became so obvious to me, after a time, that when he tried to turn our friendship back to the stage where I was hell-bent on impressing him, it no longer mattered to me what he thought, because I knew that that sword he used to prod my weaknesses was actually a shield he held out to prevent further investigation.

Sports are an institution in America today.  As a male, you will be required to be a sports fan.  I’ve seen numerous males attempt to escape this fact of life in America, but I’ve seen very few pull it off successfully.  If you are able to escape the super sport fan requirement, I tip my hat to you, for you will probably escape much of the pain and sorrow super sports fan status will inflict on you.  It’s too late for me.  I’ve had too many young men disappoint me on the playing field to ever truly enjoy it.  We super sports fans have reached a point where we almost hate sports as much as we love it, but we’ve found no cure for our ailment greater than most sports and other disappointments that help us forget the past ones.

Falcon fan face painterIn 2012, The Atlanta Falcons barely won their first playoff game in four years of unsuccessful attempts.  As a fanatic Falcons fan, I know that I’ll have to be prepared for those that will engage me in a discussion of the Atlanta Falcons, win or lose, in the next three weeks.  I know that such a discussion will involve attacks that I’ll deem personal as a result of my life-long affiliation with this team.  If they lose in the next three weeks, I will be guilty by association.  If they win, I will be permitted a temporary amount of basking, but I will soon have to start psychologically preparing for the next game, or the next season.  A super fan’s job is never over.

Immersing one’s self in the world of sports’ super fandom can be stressful, for a super fan is required to be avowedly unsatisfied with their team’s progress no matter how well they do.  A super fan is never happy.  A sports fan can enjoy a good tussle between two equally talented opponents, but a super fan doesn’t enjoy a good game that involves their team, unless their team wins.  A super fan wants a blowout.  Close games are stressful, and they usually suggest an obvious deficiency in your team that must be rectified before the next game.  Unadulterated blowouts confirm your superiority.

A coach says they’re not satisfied with their team’s accomplishments, and the team’s players echo this sentiment.  The two factions echo this sentiment so many times that super fans have now incorporated it into their lexicon.  I can see a player, or a coach, issuing such statements, for they are constantly on trial, they are constantly pushing themselves to be better today than they were yesterday.  It’s the very essence of the participants in professional sports to be perpetually unsatisfied.  Why does this mentality also have to exist for those that aren’t participants, but spectators?  A super sports fan doesn’t question why they have this mentality, they just have it.

Most people regard watching sports as a frivolity, a conversation piece to engage in with friends and family.  To them, sporting events simply provide an event, or an excuse, to get together with friends and family.  And for these people, sports is little more than background noise that covers the lulls that may occur at these get-togethers.  They may keep up on some sport’s headlines, but it is only to engage in these superficial, meaningless conversations.  They also use what little knowledge they have to needle the silly diehards on their team’s loss.

There’s nothing wrong with this needling on the surface.  Needling is what super sports fans do, but all super sports fans have something on the line.  When you mock a super sports fans team, you had better be ready to take as well as you give for a super sports fan will usually try to come back on you ten times as hard as you deliver.  It’s as much a part of the super sports fan culture as actually watching the sport itself.  For the non-sports fan, for whom sports is but a casual conversation piece, needling a super sports fan is revenge for all the years that super sports fans have ridiculed them for being non-sports fans, or if they haven’t been ridiculed, they have at least been ostracized from the all the conversations that revolve around sports, and they’ve built up some resentment for sports fans that comes out in these needling sessions.  It also gives them great joy, when the conversation turns back on them, and the super fan says, “Who’s your favorite team?” that they don’t have one. The fact that they don’t have one gives them an immunity card against reprisals.  It’s what they’ve dreamt of dating back to their pre-pubescent days when their peers ridiculed them for preferring Star Wars and Legos to sports.

The super fans –that don’t understand this deep psychology resentment the non-fan has— wonder why the non-sports fan would even enter into their territory, if they have nothing on the line.  If it’s just a passing fancy, and you follow the ladies to the peanut bowl during the most crucial moment of the game, the super sports fan doesn’t have much time for you.  We’re super fans, and we have a focus on the game that cannot be interrupted by your mindless chatter.

In the world of the super fan, it is seen as a testament to your character that you are perpetually unsatisfied with their team’s performance?  Even a fan of a traditional doormat, such as the Atlanta Falcons, is informed that the best record in the regular season should mean nothing to you, and their first playoff victory in nearly a decade should mean nothing to you.  You want that ring.  If you’re happy, you’re easily satisfied, and weak, and soft, and everyone around you knows this, and they won’t have much time for you if you don’t demand perfection of your team.

I once heard that the reason that the Chicago Cubs are perennial losers is that their fan base will turn out regardless how poorly they perform.  I’ve heard it stated that they’re more concerned with beer than they are baseball, and they enjoy the confines of Wrigley Field more than they do a winner.  There is a certain amount of sense in this when one considers the actual attendance figures in Wrigley Field, of course, but are they saying that a Cubs’ General Manager is apt to forego a prized free agent signing, because he knows that the fans will show up anyway?  Is a manager going to inform the organization that he is not going to call up a star prospect, because he knows that the fans will show up regardless if the team is better or not? Their job is on the line every year.  Get in the playoffs or get out is the motto in most of professional sports, and I dare say this is no different in Chicago regardless of their team’s ‘lovable loser’ tradition.

The radio show host that made some of these statements about the Cubs was making a general point that there isn’t the sense of urgency in the Cubs organization that there is in the Yankee organization.  Yankee fans are adamant that their team win the World Series every year, and they’re quite vocal with their displeasure when the organization puts anything less than a championship team on the field.  I can’t say that it’s entirely without merit to suggest this, but should this same requirement be made of the fan sitting in a bar discussing sports with a fellow super fan?  Why is it elemental to the respect of his peers that the super fan maintains this unsatisfied persona to maintain the respect of his super fan friends?

Super fans that have listened to sports talk radio for far too long, have had it pounded into our head that there’s no glory in meaningless victories … if you don’t have that ring.  If you were a Buffalo Bills fan, in the 90’s, and you were happy with an appearance in the Super Bowl for four straight years, you were soft, because those teams lost all of those Super Bowls.  The super fan would’ve preferred that the Bills failed to make it to the playoffs in the face of all that losing.  That was embarrassing.  The Bills only proved to be historic choke artists.  It didn’t matter to the superfan that they were able to do something unprecedented when they made it to the Super Bowl after three consecutive losses.  They lost the fourth one too!  Bunch of choke artists is what they were.

Did it matter to anyone that the Atlanta Braves made it to the playoffs fourteen consecutive years in a span that stretched from the 90’s to the 00’s?  It didn’t to the super fan.  They got sick of all that losing.  Did it matter to the super fan that they made the NLCS nine out of ten years?  It did not.  Did it matter that they made it to the World Series in five of those years?  If you’re a loser it did.  They only won one World Series throughout this stretch, and the super fan remained proudly unsatisfied throughout.

“No one remembers the team that lost in the championship.”  “One team wins, and the other team chokes.”  These are some of the most common tropes of the language of the super fan that you’ll have to adopt, if you ever hope to garner the type of respect necessary to sit with super fans in bars discussing sports.

If your team loses, but you’re satisfied just to be there, that says something about whom you are.  In these conversations, you are your team, and your team is you.  If such conversations make you uncomfortable, the best way for you to retain your identity will be to distance yourself from your team by informing your friends that you disagreed with a move or a decision that they made, but often times this is not enough to leave you unscathed.  Regardless what you say, you cannot avoid having them consider you a choke artist based on the fact that your team “choked” in the championship.  You can switch teams, of course, but that is what is called a fair weather fan, and a fair weather fan is the lowest form of life in the world of super fandom, save for the needling non-fan.  Your best bet is to just sit there and take it.  Your friends will enjoy that a lot less than your struggle to stick up for your team.

Even if your team wins it all, you will have no glory.  If you’re a super sports fan, you term it that way, wins it all.  Some say that their team won a championship, but most simply term it winning it all for one year, because they’re fully prepared to win it all next year.  You’re never satisfied, and winning it all for one year, only means that your concentration flips to next year.  You don’t want a championship, you want a dynasty.  The true fan is the superfan, constantly seeking definition of their character through constant calls for perfection.  If you win a championship, but you just barely beat a team that you should’ve slaughtered, there is room for improvement, and you’ll scour the draft pool and the free agent list, to find that perfect component for next year’s run.  If your team doesn’t do what you think they should do, you’ll gain some distance by proclaiming that they don’t know what they’re doing.  You know this because you’re a super fan, but you’ve likely never played the game, or had to deal with team play, salary caps, or prima donnas that generate excellent stats with no regard for the team.

The one thing that every fan, and every super fan, should be required to recite before every game is “You’re just a fan”.  I don’t care if you wear your hat inside out and backwards, you sit on half a cheek for a week, and you don’t speak of your team’s progress for fear of jinxing them, you’re just a fan.  I don’t care if you have seven different jerseys for the seven days of the week, that you paint your face, or brave the cold and go shirtless.  You’re just a fan.  You’re no more instrumental in the way they play the game than the guy at the end of the bar that doesn’t care for sports.  So, does this line of thought make it any easier to be a super fan?  It does not, because as a super fan, you know that your reputation is on the line every time your team takes the field, court, diamond, or rink.  You know that your friends are just dying to call your team (i.e. you) a loser.  It can be stressful to be a super fan.

“99% of the things people worry about never happen,” says a patient in the best known psychiatric hospital in England called Broadmoor. Yet, we spend 99% of our time worrying about these things? “What’s the point?” asks this psychopathic patient named Leslie.  “Most of the time our greatest fears are unwarranted.”

hannibalWhat is a psychopath?  The very word psychopath drums up all kinds of horrific images in our minds: serial killers, cannibals, and Hannibal Lecter in an old hockey mask.  Some shudder at the mere mention of the word, and for good reason in some cases, but is there anything about the way a psychopath thinks that we could use to live a more fruitful, eventful, and less fearful life?  Is there something we could learn from their otherwise twisted sense of reality to better our lives?  Author Kevin Dutton believes we can, and he conducted an interview of four different psychopaths —for a book called The Wisdom of Psychopaths: What Saints, Spies, and Serial Killers Can Teach Us about Success— to prove it. What is a psychopath, according to Kevin Dutton, but an individual that exhibits ruthlessness, charm, mental toughness, fearlessness, mindfulness, and action.  “Who wouldn’t benefit from kicking one of two of these (characteristics) up a notch?” Dutton asks.

The theme of Dutton’s piece, and the interviews he conducted with these psychopaths —he lists simply as Danny, Jamie, Larry, and Leslie— is that much of our lives are ruled by fear, and the fears of what others might think of us.  By listening to those that live their lives on the opposite side of the spectrum —that is a life lived entirely without fear— we might be able to achieve some insight into how fear has rooted itself deep into our decision making process.

Most psychopaths don’t allow guilt from their past, or fears of the future, to rule their present in the manner that most of us do.  For this reason, Dutton doesn’t expend any ink on the actual crimes these men committed.  This may seem to be a crime of omission by some, immoral to others, and the rest may not want to consider the wisdom of those that have committed an unspeakable atrocity, but Dutton does not think that their crimes were germane for his piece.  It may also be of note, in one form or another, to learn that the crimes these psychopaths committed are not germane to their presentation either.  They appear, in the Scientific American summary of Dutton’s piece, to have simply moved on.  They don’t appear to relish, or regret, their acts in the manner a Hollywood production would lead us to believe psychopaths do.  They appear to have gained a separation from their acts that allows them to continue living an unfettered life.  This separation, Dutton believes, is perfectly illustrated by an unnamed lawyer that wrote Dutton on the nature of psychopathy:

Psychopathy (if that’s what you want to call it) is like a medicine for modern times.  If you take it in moderation, it can prove to be extremely beneficial.  It can alleviate a lot of existential ailments that we would otherwise fall victim to because our psychological immune systems just aren’t up to the job of protecting us.  But if you take too much of it, if you overdose on it, then there can, as is the case with all medicines, be some rather unpleasant side effects.”

The patients Dutton interviewed do appear, however, to enjoy our fear of them.

We are the evil elite,” says the patient named Danny.

“They say I’m one of the most dangerous men in Broadmoor,” says another patient named Larry.  “Can you believe that?  I promise I won’t kill you.  Here, let me show you around.”

The question this reader has is do psychopaths simply enjoy the idea that we’re fascinated with their freakish nature of living a life without fear, or do they enjoy the fear others have of their thoughtless and spontaneous capacity to cause harm?

Fear causes inaction: The patients named Jamie and Leslie were presented an “every day” scenario by the author in which a landlord could not get an uninvited guest to leave his rental property.  The landlord tried politely asking the guest to leave the property without success.  He, then, tried confronting the man, but the man would not leave, and the man would not pay rent either.  That landlord was stuck between doing what was in his best interests, and doing what he considered the right thing.

How about this then?” Jamie proposed.  “How about you send someone pretending to be from the council to the house?  How about you say that the councilman is looking for the landlord to inform him that they have conducted a reading of that house?  How about that councilman asks the uninvited guest to deliver a message to the landlord that his house is just infested with asbestos?  Before you can say ‘slow, tortuous death from lung cancer,’ the wanker will be straight out the door.

“You guys get all tied up trying to ‘do the right thing’,” Jamie continued after being informed that his resolution was less than elegant.  “But what’s worse, from a moral perspective?  Beating someone up who deserves it?  Or beating yourself up who doesn’t?  If you’re a boxer, you do everything in your power to put the other guy away as soon as possible, right?  So why are people prepared to tolerate ruthlessness in sport but not in everyday life?  What’s the difference?”

“You see I figured out pretty early on in life that the reason why people don’t get their own way is because they often don’t know themselves where that way leads,” Leslie continues.  “They get too caught up in the heat of the moment and temporarily go off track.  I once heard a great quote from one of the top (boxing) trainers.  He said that if you climb into the ring hell-bent on knocking the other chap into the middle of next week, chances are you’re going to come up unstuck. But if, on the other hand, you concentrate on winning the fight, simply focus on doing your job, well, you might knock him to the middle of next week anyway.  So the trick, whenever possible, is to stop your brain from running ahead of you.”

The point in this scenario is that most unsuccessful boxers lock up when considering the abilities of their opponent. They want to knock their opponent out, before the extent of their opponent’s talent is fully realized in the ring.

“Our brains run ahead of us,” Leslie points out.

Our fear of how talented our opponent is gets in the way of us remembering how talented we are, and this causes us to forget to employ the methodical tactics that we’ve used throughout the career that brought us to the bout in the first place.  We have these voices, and the voices of our trainers, telling us to knock our opponent out early, before they get to their left hook going, while forgetting to work the body and tire them out for our own knockout punch.

The gist of this, as I see it, is that we get so caught up in the fear of failure, and rejection, that we often fail to explore the extent of our abilities in the moment.  We care about the moment so much, in other words, that we would probably do better to just shut our minds off and act.  If we place a goldfish in a tank, we may see that fish knock against the glass a couple of times, especially early on, but sooner or later that fish learns to adapt to its parameters, and it no longer bumps into the glass.  We may believe that there is some sorrow, or sadness, involved in the goldfish’s realization of its limits, but there isn’t.  We’re assigning our characteristics to the goldfish, because we know our parameters, and we’re saddened that we can’t break free of them.  Even though we have the whole world in which to roam, we stay in the parameters we’ve created for ourselves, because everything outside our goldfish bowl is unknown, or outside the routine world we know.

Asking for a raise, or a promotion, can be a little scary, because we know that such a request will call our ability into question; quitting that job and hitting the market is also scary, because we think the limits of our ability will come into play in every assessment and interview conducted; and what if we get that job and find out we’re not equipped to handle it?  What then?  Are we to shut out all those worries and fears and just act?  How is that possible?

When we were kids,” Jamie says, “We’d have a competition to see who could get rejected by the most women in a tavern.  The bloke that got rejected the most, by the time the last call lights came on, would get the next night out for free.

“Funny thing was,” Jamie continued, “Soon as you started to get a few under your belt, it actually got harder to get rejected.  Soon as you started to realize that getting rejected didn’t mean jack, you started getting cocky.  At that point, you could say anything you wanted to these women.  You could start mouthing off to these women, and some of them would buy into it.”

“I think the problem is that people spend so much time worrying about what might happen, what could go wrong, that they completely lose sight of the present,” Leslie says.  “They completely overlook the fact that, actually, right now, everything is perfectly fine.”

Fear can also get you injured: On the subject of fear, a Physics teacher once told our class that the reason we get injured is fear:

Fear causes people to tense up, it causes muscles to brace, and it usually puts you in a position for injury when, say, another car is barreling down on you.  This is why a drunk driver can plow into a light pole, demolish their car beyond recognition, and walk away unscathed.  With that in mind, the next time you fall off a building, relax, and you should be fine.”

What is a psychopath was a question we asked in the beginning of this article.  There are greater answers, in greater, more comprehensive articles out there, that spell the definition out in more clinical terms, but the long and short of it is that they’re “don’t care” carriers .  They don’t care about the people that they’ve harmed, they don’t care about the pain they caused their victim’s family members, and they don’t care that they have a greater propensity to harm more people in the future.  They may know why they need to be locked up on a certain level, but they don’t care what those reasons are.  This uncaring attitude may also be so incomprehensible that it is impossible for us to believe, but these psychopaths find it just as incomprehensible that we care so much that we’re often times, left incapacitated by it.

These psychopaths may currently live confined in the theoretical world of a psychiatric institute, and they may be preaching to us from an insular world in which they don’t have to deal with the constant failings we may experience in life by following their philosophies, but they believe that they’ve lived a portion of their lives freer than we’ve ever known, and that the only reason they’re locked up is that they may have been granted a little bit too much of a good thing.

Source: Dutton, Kevin. Wisdom From Psychopaths. Scientific American Mind. January/February 2013. Pages 36-43.

Belief in the strict, simple constructs of philosophy can be a guiding force.  Having a philosophy can provide one a sense of fulfillment, a discipline, a code, and a foundation for a way to live through the extensive knowledge of the various minds of philosophy.  A student of the mind can delve so deeply in a philosopher’s thoughts, or philosophical thought in general, that they can eventually reach a point where they believe they have an answer for everything that plagues them in life.  For most of us, however, philosophy simply provides a plan ‘B’ in life.

philosophy“Renowned philosophers have never helped me!” say those that don’t believe philosophers can even provide a decent plan B.  “All they ever do is talk about the problems of man. All they do is talk about what I do wrong, and they never teach me how to correct my errors.”

But some of the times they get close.  Some of the times they get so close it can be frustrating.  It would be one thing if they said nothing, but some of the times they get so close to the heart of all that ails us that it almost feels like they’re tantalizing us with their brilliance.  They write something that captures our attention, and then they further that original thought with another thought that brings us kicking and screaming to a point of identification.  It’s almost as if they read our minds when they wrote that, we think.  They’re pouring our heart out.  We’re breathless with anticipation.  We’re turning the pages of their book so quickly that we’re getting paper cuts.

Yes!” we scream. “Ohmycreator yes! That’s it! Sing it to me sista!”  

Then, we arrive at the solution, if there ever was one, and we think we somehow got lost in the weeds, somewhere along the line.  We retrace our steps, we turn back two of three pages, then twenty to thirty, and we can’t find where we lost the point.  “What did he say?” we ask, and we hate ourselves for asking that.  We hate it, because it reveals us as one of those that don’t understand.  It lowers our ego just a tad, but we know that that philosopher was onto something —in some form of English that we barely understood— that left us hanging off the cliff, because we just didn’t understand their proposed solution.  Somehow or another they didn’t do anything but correctly identify the problem without attempting a solution.  We didn’t exactly drop off the cliff with disappointment, but the philosopher didn’t quite help us off it either.  Not in the manner we thought they would when they swam so close to our Sun.  What happened?

A scene from the television series Taxi captures this dilemma perfectly.  In the scene, the character Latka is experiencing a multiple personality disorder.  At one point in the episode, Latka begins to think he’s the Alex Reager character in every way, shape, and form.  Latka reaches a point, in this disorder, where he’s figured out a solution to all that ails Alex, and he says so in a counseling session.  He does so by listing all the flaws with Alex’s character, flaws Alex confirms, until Latka states that he’s found a solution to all that ails this Alex persona.  This captures Alex’s attention. “It was so simple!” Latka says with an anticipatory Alex goading him on.  “It was staring me in the face the whole time!”  To each progression, Alex nears the Latka character saying: “Yes, ohmycreator yes!” until the two are inches away from one another with Alex panting in anticipation.  Much to Alex’s disappointment, Latka snaps out of the personality disorder just short of revealing the solution, and he turns back into Latka.  At that point, Alex begins griping Latka by the face, screaming at him to go back to being Alex for just a moment when Latka says: “Alex you’re squeezing me!”

The answer to the frustrations most agnostic consumers experience with philosophy, say philosophy students, is that it would be impossible for a philosopher to provide specific solutions to all of your individual problems.  The purpose of philosophy, they would say, is to lead you into asking questions that you may have never thought of before; to give you another viewpoint on what may be troubling you; and to provide its adherents an all-encompassing blueprint for life that the reader can use to interpret and relate to their individual problems.  The purpose is to get you thinking differently.  The purpose is to get you thinking.

Why do we do the things we do?  Why do we make choices and decisions in life?  How do we make them?  Who is affected by our decisions, and who do we factor into our decision making process?  The purpose of philosophy is to get us to ask these questions and other questions of ourselves.  Only by asking ourselves questions can we ever arrive at an answer that may suit our individual needs.  Philosophy requires your participation.  It requires active listening, and reading, and most of the solutions one finds in life will not be specifically lined up for you.  Don’t take it out on philosophers, students of philosophy will say, if you are too lazy to interpret and relate such concepts and propositions to your life.

The problem for most of philosophy’s agnostics is that most philosophical concepts are espoused in such an academic sense.  The philosophies of Nietzsche, Kant, Sartre, Plato, Aristotle and Sophocles, and Freud and Jung may apply to the modern day, and they may be the greatest thoughts man has ever had, but getting to the nut of what they’re saying requires too much interpretation for most modern day consumers.  Most of the philosophers listed here spoke, and wrote, in a more proper, less relatable form of English, if they spoke in English at all.  They also spoke/wrote in a vague manner that would be, and could be, so open to interpretation that it seems they never said anything specific.  Some regard this as brilliant in that a reader could interpret the words for their own needs.  Others regard it as frustratingly vague for the same reason.  If these others, these agnostic types, do attempt to subject a philosopher’s thoughts and ideas to their problems, they get slapped back by strict interpretations provided to them by a Philosophy professor.  These strict interpretations may take the vagueness out of the material, but it also takes away the individual’s joy of forming a belief on the philosopher’s concepts that may differ from the professor’s.  The professor gives a “correct” interpretation and pulls out a red pen on any student that goes off that plantation.  “I can see what you’re trying to say here,” the professor writes in red, “but it’s a lot more complicated than that.”

All of the philosophers listed here are much smarter than us, and they’ve developed some theories on the decisions and choices we make that could just blow our minds if we understood them properly.  But those that teach us their theories get a little too far into the weeds for most of us.  They get too professorial, they talk over our heads, and they fail to relay their concepts to us. Philosophy is then seen by the eager, young minds thirsting for new knowledge, as overly complicated, or so narrow that it doesn’t apply to them, irrelevant in the modern era, and something to be studied for a test … Nothing more and nothing less.  Philosophy and psychology doesn’t have to be this way.

Philosophy also doesn’t have to be that which is espoused by an egghead, hippie type that attempts to intimidate the listener with punctuation-less sentences that contain as many multi-syllabic words as the hippie can think up that are backed up by obscure quotes from a similar philosopher that was obscure 400 years ago.  These people also get a lot of mileage out of telling a listener what philosophy is not, based on these obscure quotes and references, that exhaust you, until you’re left with the empty feeling that it’s all too complicated for you to ever understand.  You don’t want to admit such a thing though, so you just quietly walk away from philosophy with the idea that you’re just not smart enough to understand it.  It shouldn’t be that way.

It should be the goal of all of those that love philosophy to carry the torch to the next generation. It should be their goal to drop the indulgence of proving their intelligence while proving their mastery of the subject matter at the same time.  Combining these two appears to be too much for most philosophy lovers.  They get so caught up trying to impress their peers that they forget to make their message appealing.  They have a gift for draining the elemental gifts these philosophers have provided us right out of their lesson plans, but they don’t appear to care about the subject matter in this way.  They appear to prefer the credo: “If no one knows what you’re talking about, no one can refute you.”

The question becomes how does one reach an audience of young computer-game, Google searchers with a limited attention span?  Certain individuals in the entertainment milieus have done it in bite-sized morsels.  They have used comedy to lubricate what is generally perceived to be the incomprehensible, rougher edges of philosophy, as witnessed in the episode of Taxi provided above. The clever minds of Taxi/Cheers fame, the writers of Seinfeld, and the Philosophy and… series of books have taken the relatively difficult concepts of Nietzsche, Kant, Sartre, Plato, Aristotle and Sophocles, and Freud and Jung and put them out to the mass consumers in comedic form to open the door to greater understanding.  It can be done, in other words, and it should be done.  A look through the best seller list, and the television ratings, shows that modern consumers are just as hungry for knowledge as they are entertainment, and the richest rewards lie out there for those that are able to do both in a highly skilled juggling act.

When our friends detail the plotline of such a comedy, and we inform them that it’s based on a philosopher’s concept, they’re intrigued.  They may not care that it came from a man named Rousseau, and they may never turn around and read a single word of that man’s writings, but the idea that this man’s concept reached them intrigues them to learn more about the concept and the way it might affect their life.  They may not have reached that concept in the manner a philosophy professor, or an uppity beatnik, would care for, but they still learned it, and their lives may eventually be all the better for it, and it may provide a window that once opened will be explored by eager young minds thirsting for knowledge.

The alternative to grasping these concepts, and subsequently living without a philosophical sense of life, is nihilism —the belief in nothing.  This belief in nothing is a contrarian tool that nihilists generally use as a shield against attack.  They may not believe in anything, but at least they’re not foolish enough to believe in something.  Nihilists usually wage a philosophical war on believers, studying up on your beliefs, your philosophy, or your religion, until they reach a point where they can proudly claim to know your belief system better than you do— or at least those that believe the same as you.  The latter is an important distinction to make, for most nihilists usually don’t single you out for their criticism.  They want you to agree with them, as they undermine your beliefs, and they don’t usually enter into this disagreement for the purpose of confrontation.   They will frame their disagreement in a manner that leads you to believe that you are one of the few believers that is open-minded enough to accept challenges to your belief system.  This guise allows them to complete their life’s mission of knocking everything everyone else believes in, but it’s nothing personal.  To suggest that all nihilists operate in a nefarious manner with the sole goal of undermining belief, would be as incorrect as the comprehensive labels they attach to believers, but they do seek some sort of validation for their mindset from you the believer.

One of the reasons they need validation, is that if everything goes wrong in their life they know that they are going to be left with total devastation.  The nihilist’s world exists on a precarious plane that there are certain truths that keeps them afloat.  Most of their truths can be found in the routines of life: work, marriage, kids, friends, weekend fun, and politics.  There is, however, no underlying foundation to nihilism, no meaning of life, no purpose, and no substantial reality in their lives to help them overcome a shakeup of one of these routines.  There’s an old saying that there are no atheists in foxholes, and that cliché is based on the fact that in times of total devastation the human mind needs a plan B, a sense of life, a philosophy, a religion, or something to fall back on.  Some say this need is biological, or anatomical, but whatever the case is, it’s undeniable that we all need something to believe in, something greater than ourselves, and a plan B to fall back on when things don’t go as planned.

The tenets of psychology, namely Sigmund Freud, teach us that we must deal with every tragedy, and every moment of despair, if we ever hope to get over them, if we ever hope to move on, if we ever hope to become strengthened beyond them.  Some of the times, that’s not true.  Some of the times, it’s better to forget, and some of the times we do, and some of the times that’s the healthiest thing we can do.

ForgetAre you a bad person?  Most people don’t know that they are, and if they did they probably wouldn’t tell you.  But how does one become a bad person?  What’s the difference between a fully formed, moral adult and a bad one?  Some would say that a bad adult is created through a series of events that have happened to them, or the way in which they dealt with them, or remember them.  Some would add that it’s the decisions that we have made in life, based on the series of events that have experienced. Others would say that it’s a great stew of the conscious and subconscious decisions we make on what to remember, and what to forget. and that that forms the core of who we are?

This relatively new belief in the healing powers of the mind to forget seems to go against one hundred years of psychological teaching, particularly those involving the philosophies of Freud.  Freud taught us that the path to mental health involved remembering every excruciating detail of our lives, until we reached a point of exhaustion where those details could be properly analyzed and interpreted.  He then wanted us to focus on why we remembered these details, how they should be remembered, and when they should be remembered most often.  Anyone that has visited a counselor of any stripe has experienced this concentration.  Most of us have wanted the counselor to move on, but the counselor decided that that the particular event in question was crucial to our growth, and it may very well be the case, but we’ve decided to move beyond it to some degree.  We decided, whether consciously or subconsciously, to forget the event and its effect on our lives.  The psychological community is now correcting itself and realizing that there may have been an element of truth to our complaints.

The psychological community has, in fact, become so entrenched in this apparent evolution of thought, that when they now run across a patient that is not able to forget certain events, after extensive counseling and other treatments, they now believe there may be something fundamentally wrong with that patient’s brain.  It’s an almost complete reversal of everything Freud, and the 100 years of psychology that followed, theorized.

If you’ve ever been under the influence of a heavy drug, say morphine, as a result of an injury or surgery, chances are you’ve relived a horrific moment of your life in explicit detail.  You always remembered that horrific incident on a certain level, as it affected everything you did in its aftermath, but you didn’t remember it on that “enhanced” level, with that kind of detail, until your mind was brought to another state.  Those of us that are blessed, and cursed, with excellent memories found it a little troubling that we forgot anything involving that horrific incident.  If you’ve ever experienced such a moment, you’ve experienced this idea that the mind is keeping certain secrets from you, to protect you from the life you may have lived if you were cursed with living with these details at the forefront of your mind every single day.

Romantic populists provide us with powerful conceits: “I think about the Holocaust every day!”  While most of us think that’s a bunch of hooey, it does give this provocateur a degree of cache we’ll never know.  “How do you know I don’t?” they ask defensively.  We don’t, of course, but we do know that doing so would make them incredibly miserable people to be around.  We could tell them that they’re doing a disservice to the memory of those survivors if they don’t move on and live the lives the Holocaust victims had unceremoniously, and horrifically, taken away from them.  We could say that relatively few of them would’ve wanted to see our lives so burdened by their demise.  We could say that they would’ve wanted us to just move on.  The truth, for most people, is that we don’t dwell on the negative as often as we purport.  The truth is that the brain works in its best interests, as all organs do, to remove those toxins that might hinder peak performance.

The mind is a powerful tool.  The mind can juggle a multitude of memories.  Some have guesstimated that we can quantify the number of memories any brain can hold at three trillion, others gauge their guesses in terabytes and petabytes, and others say that it’s not quantifiable.  Whatever the case is, most people agree that our memory resources are limited.  The mind can remember the Pythagorean Theorem, Walter Payton’s career rushing total, Eisenhower’s farewell speech on the military industrial complex, your distant cousin’s birthday, or that wonderful time you spent with your family at the lake, but it can also forget.  It can purposefully forget.

This power to forget can, at times, be as powerful a tool to your furtherance as the power to remember.  To those of us that live relatively happy lives, it could be said that the mind provides the soul a crucial ingredient that it needs to move on, when it decides to forget.  To say that the mind is simply blocking out certain memories seems a bit simplistic when it comes to forgetting those moments of despair, where all hope is lost, and where a person believes that they can no longer go on.  It seems the mind is making crucial, and subconscious, decisions to simply filter out such information to provide the soul some relief from guilt and sorrow.

It is surely human to forget, even to want to forget.  The Ancients saw it as a divine gift. Indeed if memory helps us to survive, forgetting allows us to go on living.  How could we go on with our daily lives, if we remained constantly aware of the dangers and ghosts surrounding us?  The Talmud tells us that without the ability to forget, man would soon cease to learn. Without the ability to forget, man would live in a permanent, paralyzing fear of death.  Only God and God alone can and must remember everything.”{1}

The mind also juggles inconsequential items.  Some of us remember all the lyrics of the Britney Spears songs from 1999, but most of us have forgotten them.  Most of us only remember the video, the skirt, and the ponytails.  Very few of us remember the role Archduke Ferdinand played in the outbreak of World War I, but when we had to remember it for the test, it was at the forefront of our minds.  It could be said that the mind only has so many resources –like any laptop, cell phone, or camera only has so much memory–and if we want to add new applications we must clear some extraneous information that we no longer use to provide room for it.  Most of us have forgotten more than we remember about the trivialities of life.  But, the psychological community is largely unconcerned with these occasional slips of the mind.  They’re far more concerned with the remembering and forgetting of crucial information of their patients.  Both, they feel, are mandatory for mental health and vital to mental hygiene.

Are you that annoying type of person that just keeps bringing a horrible memory up to your loved ones?  Have you ever heard the phrase: “Isn’t’ it time we moved on?” from them.  They say this with loads of sympathy and empathy, but they also say it with some degree of determination.  Those of us that have been hit with this question were almost as devastated by the question as we were the actual event.

How can you move on?  How can you just forget something like this?” You ask.  “How can you not want to talk about it nonstop?  How can you not want to get to the core of this matter and how it affects every day of your life?” 

You want to deal with it, get to its inner core, and learn that all of those affected are just as affected as you are?  They aren’t.  They’re saddened by it.  They’re lives will never be the same, but their mind is telling them to clear the resource pool for an eventual return to happiness, and you just keep bringing them back.  Repeated requests to remember are rejected, until one person get angry.  They’re tired of you bringing it up at every get together.  They want to move on, but you won’t let them.  The mind has a lot of power invested in remembering, but it has as much power invested in assisting us to forget.

Are you that bad person we discussed earlier?  Are you generally mad?  Suspicious?  Distrustful?  Sad?  Are you someone that cannot let go of the fact that you weren’t raised in a happy, functional home?  Are you someone that feels that you were not afforded the luxuries that most of the people around you took for granted throughout their youth?  Are you someone that dumps a prospective lover before they can dump you?  Are you haunted by the fact that you didn’t spend enough time with a recently deceased loved one?  Or, are you a good person that is generally happy?  Do you consider the path to happiness trying to be better today than you were yesterday?  And is all that defines your demeanor based on your memory of a life well-lived, or could it be said that you’ve forgotten a lot of the events of your life that could be making you a miserable person to be around right now?

God isn’t dead,” says a neuroscientist from Canada’s Laurentian University in Sudbury, Ontario, named Michael Persinger.  “He’s an energy field, and your brain is an electromagnetic map to your soul.”

To further define this provocative statement, Persinger conducted a series of experiments that caused “cerebral fritzing” in the hemispheres of the brain to generate images.  Persinger found that when the right hemisphere of the brain was stimulated in the cerebral region, an area of the brain presumed to control notions of self, a sense of a presence occurred.  The frizting then called upon the left hemisphere, the seat of language, to make sense of the presence.  What was that presence that the right hemisphere generated?  Was it God?  In some instances, the left side of the brain told the subject that it was.  In other instances, the subject believed they were seeing aliens, some claimed to have seen deceased loved ones, and others stated that they saw a presence, but they couldn’t tell what it was.  It all depended upon the person.

brain-255x300In a separate story, of the same theme, a young female believed she was being visited by the lord of darkness: Satan.  Every night, at about the same time, this young girl would wake with recurring night terrors, and when her parents came running into the room, she claimed to have seen Satan at the foot of her bed.  Her family was worried that their daughter may have been possessed.  They called in exorcists and various spiritualists, to rid their frantic young daughter of her horror.  After these attempts proved unsuccessful, the family called in doctors to see if these images were occurring as a result of her diet, some psychological malady, or some sort of sleep deprivation.  Others believed the visions may have been a natural byproduct of narcolepsy, sleep paralysis, migraines, anxiety disorders, or some form of obstructive sleep apnea.  In other words, they thought that her young, active mind was continually playing tricks on her, even though they all believed that these visions were very real to her.  When no medications, or psychological assistance, proved successful, the family decided to allow an experimental, investigatory group to see if their very specific ideas about the girl’s problem could help her.  The investigatory group walked around the room with an electromagnetic sensor that pinged on an alarm clock that was resting by the head of her bed.  They found that her alarm clock’s cord had become frayed, and it was emitting Electromagnetic rays near the girl’s head.  The group replaced the clock, and the young girl no longer had the visions.

Want to build the scariest haunted house ever made?  Cocoon it inside electrical wires, throbbing with pulses of electromagnetic fields.  This will stimulate the cerebral regions of your horrified guests to a point where they may believe they are sensing a presence.  You won’t need to hire sixteen-year-olds to don Frankenstein’s monster masks, and you won’t need to spend hundreds on setting.  You can just wire up a rusty, old tool shed and spend a few bucks properly insulating the wiring, to prevent injury, and voila!  You will have the scariest haunted house man has ever created.

Want to open up a fortune telling booth, or bolster your claim that you are some form of spiritualist that can conjure up the dead for your customers.  A little wiring, a conductive floor plan, a little setting here, and some costume designing there to provide aura, and you should be able to convince anyone and everyone that you have a gift.

The thrust of Persinger’s thesis is that it is your brain that creates these images.  Images that can titillate, fascinate, and horrify any audience, and when these portions of your brain are properly stimulated with electromagnetic field-emitting solenoids, they can be induced to create images that seem surreal to the human mind.

To create this atmosphere in a lab, Persinger used what he calls the “God Helmet”.  It has also been called the “Koren Helmet” named after its creator Stanley Koren.  Persinger places his subjects in a sensory deprivation tank that has white lab coat technicians on the opposite side of a 500lb. steel wall with a number of dials and switches to provide subtle stimulation through the solenoids inside this helmet.

The God helmet was not specifically designed to provide a subject with a feeling of God’s presence, but various tests ended up yielding such results.

Those with a predisposition for God, often believed that they saw God after donning the helmet,” says Persinger.  The tests that yielded these results were the ones that generated the controversy and the headlines.

In other, related speeches, Michael Persinger spoke about the effects various controlled substances (marijuana, alcohol, heroin, cocaine, and LSD) can have on the various receptors in the brain, and he suggested that these drugs would not have any effect on you if you didn’t already have the proper receptors in your brain for these drugs to stimulate.  In the proper setting, electrical stimulation can achieve the same results, he stated.

So, I can get stoned using electromagnetic stimulation?” Persinger says he is often asked when he speaks to college students.  “You certainly can,” Persinger responds.  “Electrical stimulation can trigger specific parts of the brain in the exact same manner a chemical can trigger specific parts of the brain.  But,” he warns, “Excessive electrical stimulation of certain parts of the brain can provide some of the same deleterious effects that chemical triggering can, or any excessive, exterior triggering for that matter.”

Speaking of drugs, Persinger believes that electromagnetic testing could eventually do away with the need for pharmaceuticals.  What are most drugs and pharmaceuticals but chemical triggers that let the brain know that it needs to assist the body’s healing process more.  To help mask the pain of a sore wrist, until the body can properly heal it, the brain sends out prostaglandins.  When the brain doesn’t provide enough prostaglandins, or it doesn’t provide them quickly enough for our satisfaction, we take Aspirin.  Michael Persinger thinks this same procedure can be accomplished electromagnetically, so that we don’t have to take aspirin, chemotherapy for cancer, or antibiotics in general.  “We could make EM wavelength patterns work the way drugs do.  Just as you take an antibiotic and it has a predictable result, you might be exposed to precise EM patterns that would signal the brain to carry out comparable effects.”  As with controlled substances, if our brain did not have the proper receptors for these pharmaceuticals to trigger, their effect on our body would be negligible.

Whether through Electromagnetic or chemical enhancement, we’re all looking for ways to assist what the brain does to help heal the body,” Persinger explains.  “Among more sensitive individuals, tests show that their skin will turn red if they are led to believe that a piping hot nickel has been placed on their hand.  That’s a powerful psychosomatic effect of the brain on the body.  Suppose we could make it more precise?”

In his published paper “The Tectonic Strain Theory as an Explanation for UFO Phenomena,” Persinger maintains that around the time of an earthquake, changes in the EM field can spark mysterious lights in the sky.  A labile observer, in Persinger’s view, could easily mistake such a luminous display for an alien visitation.

Persinger maintains that environmental disturbances —ranging from solar flares and meteor showers to oil drilling— can be documented to correlate with visionary claims, including mass religious conversions, ghost lights, and haunted houses.  He says that if a region routinely experiences mild earthquakes, or other causes of change in the electromagnetic fields, this may explain why one specific spot becomes known as sacred ground.

“One classic example was the apparition of Mary over the Coptic Church in Zeitoun, Egypt, in the 1960s,” he continues. “This phenomenon lasted off and on for several years.  It was seen by thousands of people, and the appearance seemed to precede the disturbances that occurred during the building of the Aswan High Dam.  I have multiple examples of reservoirs being built or lakes being filled, and reports of luminous displays and UFO flaps.  But Zeitoun was impressive.”

Might it surprise anyone to learn, in view of Persinger’s theories, that when Joseph Smith was visited by the angel Moroni before founding Mormonism, and when Charles Taze Russell started the Jehovah’s Witnesses, powerful Leonid meteor showers were occurring?”

“One might think Christians would be upset that this professor in Sudbury is trying to do with physics what Nietzsche did with metaphysics —kill off God. One might also think that devout ufologists would denounce him for putting neuroscience on the side of the skeptics.” {1} But Persinger claims that the purpose of his experiment is not to suggest that God doesn’t exist, or to disprove alien visitations.  He claims that his argument concerns the notion that certain EM fields may be tinkering with our consciousness.  He claims that most of those individuals that founded various religions may have experienced some sort of EM intrusion in their enlightening experiences.  Other than the Smith and Taze Russell experiences mentioned above, there is the Saul of Damascus transformation that occurred following a bright flash of light.  Persinger’s theory suggests that that experience may have occurred to Saul, later Paul, as a result of a minor seizure or a strike of lightning.  Moses seeing the burning bush, may have been as a result of Moses being close enough to lightning striking that bush that receptors in his brain may have heard the voice of God coming from that bush.  Persinger doesn’t appear to want to damage these stories in lieu of what these men went on to accomplish following the initial experiences, but he does believe that there was an electromagnetic element to these stories that has never been explored before.  The element is what Persinger calls electromagnetic spirituality.  These ideas, and others, have given rise to a field called Neurotheology.  Though neurotheologists are not specifically concerned with the validity of their subject’s belief, they do unapologetically seek to determine what’s happening in the brain during a religious experience.

Persinger claims he can create a religious experience for anyone by disrupting the brain with regular electric pulses.  This will cause the left temporal lobe to explain the activity in the right side of the brain as a sensed presence.  The sensed presence could be anything from God to demons, and when not told what the experiment involved, about 80 percent of God Helmet wearers reported sensing something nearby, a presence of some sort.

No matter how one reads the findings of Michael Persinger’s experiments –or the qualifiers he uses to settle the religious mind— the reader can’t help but feel they are conducted with the goal of undermining God, faith, and religion in general.  Perhaps it’s our insecure inclinations regarding faith, or the fact that so much of science these days seems obsessed with diminishing God to a point that even the most devout begin to seriously question their belief systems, but it cannot be denied that the role of God in our society is under attack, and the faithful cannot help but be defensive whenever a new scientist poses a new theory of this sort.  To the latter, a word of caution may be necessary, for as science continues to progress, your outlier status, as one who refuses to meld the two, will only increase.

As Norman Mailer once said: “If God didn’t want us to question His existence, why did He give us a progressive intellect?”  Why didn’t He give us the less complex, and thus less curious, brain of the chimpanzee, and be done with it?  If God were insulted to the point of damning us in the afterlife every time we questioned Him, why did He give us a degree of brainpower that exists somewhere between His and the chimpanzee’s?  We could speculate, and debate, the reasons for this, and we would all probably end up in the same spot where we began.  We could also spend all day speculating whether there is a grain of truth to Persinger’s theories on the electromagnetic capabilities of the brain, and the results of his experiments, but it’s hard to imagine that God would be insulted, or even aggrieved to the point of damning those involved in exploring the mind for answers, and thus using the gift of the mind He gave them, to its fullest extent.


Have you ever looked into the eyes of your child and believed that there was something special about them?  Do they exhibit traits that you consider beautiful and special?  Do they express a degree of intelligence that you consider unfathomable?  You may have an Indigo Child.

Are your children different and special?  Do they do things that are different and abnormal?  Do they have problems getting along with children their age?  You may have an Indigo Child.  Indigo Children learn that they are different at an early age, and most of them believe it with enough persuasion.  Some Indigo Children claim to have invisible friends, they say that they see dead people, and they have inter-spatial relationships with inanimate objects like products from their Great Grandmothers, teddy bears, and rubber duckies.

indigoIndigo Children are said to have a special, blue aura about them.  They are said to see the auras of other kids and adults that surround them.  They struggle with the belief that they are normal, because they have experiences that appear to be normal, but they aren’t, and they know it, because their gifted parents, teachers, and psychotherapists tell them so.

Indigo Children, we are informed, are the next step in human evolution, and they came into being, according to CNN reporter Gary Tuchman, following the great Harmonic Convergence of 1978{1}.  This Great Harmonic Convergence was an important and celebrated New Age event that was purposely linked to the completion of our sun’s 26,000 year orbital cycle around the Pleiades star system and the alignment of our winter solstice with the Galactic Center/Hunab Ku, and this transitional time period is also reflected in the shift of astrological ages from Pisces to Aquarius.

As is the case with any story of this nature, a little fact checking is necessary.  The second entry in a Google search performed on the term “Harmonic Convergence” shows that this “first, great globally synchronized meditation”, announced by Jose Arguelles, occurred between August 16th and 17th in 1987.  There appears to be a discrepancy in the dates between this Harmonic Convergence and the next step in human evolution we call Indigo, but that discrepancy can be explained with a “crop circle” bridge.  Either Gary Tuchman didn’t know of the first reported appearance of a crop circle that occurred in 1978, and the manner in which it bridged the gap between the great Harmonic Convergence and the Indigo evolution, or he didn’t report it, but it appears that the first reported “Consciousness Crop Circles of the New Earth” bridged the progressive gap from The Great Convergence to the Indigo evolution, as referenced in archived data provided by the good people at Crop Circle Connector. {2}

Crop circles have generally become a joke, as some of the thousands of crop circles that have appeared in the past decades have been found to be man-made, but the vast majority of them are of unknown origins.  Many believe that the non-man-made crop circles are being impressed upon earth’s grain fields by extraterrestrial, or inter-dimensional intelligences, for the sole purpose of activating dormant sections of human DNA to catalyze the spiritual evolution of the species we call Indigo.{3}

Any that doubt that there was a progression from the first reported “Consciousness Crop Circles of the New Earth” to the “Great Harmonic Convergence” and Indigo Children, need only look to the numbers.  Between the first, reported crop circle in 1978 to the Harmonic Convergence in 1987, there were only forty-nine crop circles reported, for a lowly average of nearly ten a year.  Following the Great Harmonic Convergence to the last reported crop circle on CropCircleConnector.com, in 2010, there were 3,281 crop circles cited, for an average of 149 reports a year.  So while Gary Tuchman’s report on the actual date of The Great Harmonic Convergence may be a little off, it all ties in together with the escalation of crop circle reports, and the emergence, and progression, of the next step in human evolution, otherwise known as Indigo Children.

Another parallel theory on Indigo Children, states that it’s based on concepts developed in the 1970s by Nancy Ann Tappe, and further developed by Jan Tober and Lee Carroll.  The concept of Indigo Children gained popular interest with the publication of a series of books in the late 1990s and the release of several films in the following decade.  The interpretations of these beliefs range from Indigoes being the next stage in human evolution, in some cases possessing paranormal abilities such as telepathy, to the belief that they are simply evolved creatures that are more empathetic and creative than their peer group.

Indigo Children are generally said to be children with blessed with higher I.Q.s that have a heightened intuition, psychic powers, and an ability to see dead people.  They are also said to be hard-wired into a sort of supernatural highway.  They are, generally, rebellious children that are hyper sensitive, but they have been known to display a generosity that allows them to share their special gifts with others.  There are even some psychotherapists, like Julie Rosenshine, that have chosen to specialize in specific dealings with the special needs of Indigo Children.

Indigo children are said to display indigo colored energy fields, or auras, about them that can be captured in photographs by an aura sensitive camera.  Aura camera specialist Nancy Stevens has been known to capture such auras on her aura sensitive camera.  She says that the auras captured by her camera locate “your physical energy, your emotional energy, and most importantly your spiritual energy in photographs.”  Aura sensitive cameras were not created with the specific intention of detecting Indigo Children, however, as they also have the ability to give those struggling with their identity insight into whom they really are.  They can detail for you any strengths or weaknesses you may have, and they can capture some of the challenges you may go through in life.

Such cameras have been able to capture auras of Indigo Children in their natural state, and this has led numerous children to finding out that they are an Indigo Child.  This, in turn, has led them to being less depressed, to doing better in school, and to performing better in social arenas where they may have previously felt disoriented about their placement.  It has also led them to being more comfortable with their identity, in that they no longer feel like outsiders in life, cursed with the feelings of being different.

Skeptics have said that these children may, in fact, be suffering from an overactive imagination, and that they may also be victims of an ADD, ADHD, or any number of operationally defiant disorders.  Labeling them as Indigo Children, the skeptics further, may assist these kids in having a stronger ego and better self-esteem with such positive, and spiritual, and unique labels attached to them, but it may also mask a disorder that needs to be treated through counseling or pharmaceuticals.

Skeptics have also stated the promotion of Indigo Children is used as a way for unqualified people to make money from credulous parents through the sales of related products and services.  Mental health experts are concerned that labeling a disruptive child an “Indigo” may delay proper diagnosis and treatment that could help the child.  Others have stated that many of the traits of Indigo Children could be more prosaically interpreted as simple unruliness and alertness. {4} One gastroenterologist has even claimed that the sensitivity that these Indigo Children have may be as a result of heightened food sensitivities.  Parents disavow all such attempts to mislabel their children on the basis that they’ve “seen too many things.”

Some have speculated that only 3% of the world’s population may be Indigo Children, but that that 3% are undeniably advanced beyond their years, and that they are hyper-sensitive to things in their environment.  Indigo Children generally have a higher I.Q. than most children in their peer group, but it isn’t clear whether or not this is based on their Indigo aura.  They have been said to be smarter than your average child, but not in any manner that can be quantified scholastically.  Indigo Children do not lay claim to the idea that they know more about concretized facts in History, Math, the Sciences, or any other quantifiable precepts of human knowledge, but that they are smarter about that aspect of the human experience that occurs between the lines, or on the supernatural highway.  They are attuned to something different, and in most cases higher, or out of the realm of normal thought patterns.

Their intelligence can be quantified in their ability to see another’s aura, and they can use that knowledge to predict the future, or learn things about you that you might not otherwise want known.  The words paranormal intelligence are often expressed by the parents that have been informed of the unique gifts of their children.  They are special children, but they don’t want to be considered abnormal.  They want to play, and run, and build sand castles just like any child, so please don’t ask them to predict the outcome of boxing matches or the rise and fall of the Dow Jones Industrial rate.

Are your children Indigo Children?  If you’re curious, you can seek out a number of sources on the net that define Indigo Children.  At last check, there were 4,920,000 results on the Google.com search engine.  The one qualifier that the curious should take into account before pursuing this information, however, is what is called the Forer Effect.

The Forer Effect (also called the Barnum Effect after P.T. Barnum’s observation that “we’ve got something for everyone”) is the observation that individuals will give high accuracy ratings to descriptions of their personality that supposedly are tailored specifically to them, but are in fact vague and general enough to apply to a wide range of people.  This effect can provide a partial explanation for the widespread acceptance of some beliefs and practices, such as astrology, fortune telling, graphology, and some types of personality tests. {5}

Descriptions of Indigo Children from the net include:

  • the belief that they (Indigo Children) are empathetic, curious, strong-willed, independent, and often perceived by friends and family as being strange;
  • they possess a clear sense of self-definition and purpose;
  • they exhibit a strong innate sub-conscious spirituality from early childhood (which, however, does not necessarily imply a direct interest in spiritual or religious areas);
  • they have a strong feeling of entitlement, or “deserving to be here.”

Other alleged traits include:

  • a high intelligence quotient (I.Q.), an inherent intuitive ability; and
  • a resistance to rigid, control-based paradigms of authority*.

According to Tober and Carroll, Indigo Children may function poorly in conventional schools due to their rejection of rigid authority*, being smarter (or more spiritually mature) than their teachers, and a lack of response to guilt-, fear- or manipulation-based discipline.

*The fact that Indigo Children reject rigid authority is listed here with an asterisk, and the further explanation: “Presumably related to the fact that their parents’ reject the rigid authority figures that might categorize their children as normal, under-achieving young ones that may otherwise provide consternation to their parents.”

As a future parent, I can attest to the fact that I, too, want to have a perfect child.  I want my child to soar high above the levels kids his age achieve in every category designed by men and women that rate my child’s various abilities, and when he doesn’t I don’t want to blame myself for insufficient parenting.  I also don’t want to unnecessarily blame my child for being lazy, rebellious, head strong, or so smart that the schools I send him to dumb down their learning exercises for the dumbest kids in the class to a point that my kid gets bored and acts out.

I’ll also want to tell my brother, and any that challenge my ability to raise my child, that they cannot hold my child to normal standards, because he’s different.  He suffers from a clinical case of ADD, ADHD, that he is an Indigo Child, or that he has had some sort of paranormal experience that has hampered his ability to learn at the same rate theirs has.  I will also tell these detractors that my child’s difficulties have nothing to do with me, because I am one hell of a good guy.  I’ll know that I’ve tried my damndest, even if I haven’t.  Even if some teacher, or parent, tells me that it might be possible that I may have made some mistake, somewhere along the line, I’ll reject that, because (again) I’ll know that I’m one hell of a good guy.  I’ll also know that there is always going to be some sort of scientist out there, somewhere, that can explain to me why my child is having some sort of difficulty, and as I run out of money trying to find explanations for it, I know I’ll run into some guy, some doctor, or some pseudoscientist or psychotherapist, that has some sort of Forer Effect to explain it, since it cannot be “explained” to me to my satisfaction by “normal” measures.

We love our kids so much, and they’re so cute and funny, that we cannot accept the fact that there’s something wrong with them, especially if there isn’t, especially if our kids just aren’t immediately able to meet our expectations.  We give tangible love to our kids by doing something to help them, even if they don’t need anything.

Parents always want to do something to help put their beloved children on an equal level with their peer group, and to assist them through life, but some of the times the best course of action to take is to do nothing.  It may go against every parental instinct we have, but it might be the best thing we ever did for our children.

In his book: Late Talkers: What to do if your child isn’t Talking Yet, Thomas Sowell states that there are some children that need to be tested.  “Silence may be a sign of a hearing loss or a neurological disorder, and that needs to be addressed sooner rather than later.”  But, he adds, “There can be negative consequences to endless evaluations and needless testing.”  As a father of a late-talker, Sowell notes that some parents may want to adopt a “wait and see” approach for not all late-talkers occur as a result of a lack of intelligence.  This, he states, is best displayed by the fact that one of the greatest minds of all time, Albert Einstein, did not speak until he was three years old.{6}

Most parents are relatively frustrated that their children haven’t escalated to the top of the class quickly enough; they are frustrated that their kids haven’t displayed the athletic prowess that they believed their children would; and they are generally frustrated that their offspring hasn’t yet developed the ability to stand out in some manner.  They’re dying for some sort of validation, vindication, or explanation regarding why their children aren’t regarded as special in the quantifiable manner that they believe they should be.  Is there some sort of frontal lobe damage that they’ve attained from the swing set accident they had when they were three?  Was there damage done to them in the birthing process, or the inoculations they received from the hospital before dismissal?  Are they Indigo Children, or do they have ADD, ADHD, or some sort of operationally defiant disorder?  We need something that relieves us of the guilt of having a child we define as insufficient, strange, or in all other ways difficult.  We need a diagnosis, so we can begin treatment, and in some cases we don’t care how bizarre that diagnosis is, because nothing the doctor, the teacher, or the theories of our fellow parents have worked yet.  There is help out there, and if the internet has proven nothing else it has shown that it can provide “something for everyone”.

{1} http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F8B3EhxnoFE

{2} http://www.cropcircleconnector.com/interface2005.htm

{3} http://causeyourlife.com/2011/02/harmonic-convergence-and-crop-circles/

{4} http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Indigo_children

{5} http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Forer_effect


As usual with any idiom of this sort, most people either don’t know, or don’t care, how the phrase “Let Your Freak Flag Fly” originated.  When conversationally attempting to trace the origin of any idiom of this sort, one usually receives the response: “Dude, I don’t know, I’ve been saying it for decades.”  It is seen as uncool to properly trace origins of hip phrases in this manner.  If an individual were to attempt a true, point of origin trace for their use of the phrase, it would probably be as humdrum as “I think my Cousin Ralphie is cool as hell, and when I heard him say it I wanted some of his cool on me”.  If this individual were that honest, they would run the risk of being “so over” as to be drummed out of the “in-crowd”, for that would be deemed a violation of the binary, unspoken agreement those in the “in-crowd” have in the phraseology world that suggests that all users are the point of origin, or that they are, at the very least, the originators from the listener’s perspective.

Freak FlagAnother unspoken rule to the use of idioms, among the in-crowd, is that you had better hurry up and use these phrases as often as you can, because before long someone will come along and inform you that it’s suddenly uncool to say such a thing.  “Dude, that is so over,” they will say.  “Stop saying that.  I’m trying to get the word out that that phrase is over.  Tell your friends.”  You may be disappointed that you are no longer able to use these words, phrases, or idioms, but you know that you have just been delivered a serious blow in the phraseology world by using something that’s over, and you know you run the risk of being “so over” by continuing to use it.

For fact checkers, a Google.com search returns that the first time “Let your freak flag fly” was publicly used occurred in a David Crosby song “Almost Cut my Hair” that he wrote for the Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young album “Déjà vu”.  We can probably guess, however, that that phrase probably made its way through the “in-crowd” circuit long before Crosby used it in the song.

The Urban Dictionary defines “Letting your Freak Flag Fly” as: “A characteristic, mannerism, or appearance of a person, either subtle or overt, which implies unique, eccentric, creative, adventurous or unconventional thinking.”  2) “Letting loose, being down with one’s cool self, especially in front of a group of strangers.  Your inner freak that wants to come out, but often is suppressed by social anxiety.”  3) Unrestrained, unorthodox or unconventional in thinking, behavior, manners, etc. One who espouses radical, nonconformist or dissenting views and opinions that are outside the mainstream.  When traveling through the bible belt of the U.S., it’s best not to let your freak flag fly high. Otherwise, you’ll be harassed and attacked by these backwater, backward thinking theocrats.

Most people fly under a flag: Americans fly under the Stars and Stripes; the Irish fly under the Irish tricolor; and the British fly under the Union Jack.  There are some people, however, that fly under no flag, and they make this information readily available to anyone that asks.  Don’t expect them to admit to flying under a freak flag however, for the very essence of flying under a freak flag is designed to give its flyer an open-ended, free lifestyle persona that doesn’t conform to societal definitions such as definition or allegiance … Even if such a definition extends itself to a freak flag.  They’re not Democrats, Republicans, freaks, or even Americans.  They’re just Tony, and any attempt that you make to define them as anything but Tony —based upon the things they do and say — will say more about you and your need for definition, than it does them.  They are usually moral relativists that may ascribe to “some” libertarian principles when those principles apply to politically pleasing policies —that suggest that there are no good guys and that there are no bad guys in the world— but they usually distance themselves from the libertarian ideals of limited government when it involves fiscal matters, for that would require too much individualism.  That would leave too many freak flag flyers without compensation.

Typical, political, freak flag flyers are specifically not backwater, backward thinking theocrats.  They’re usually high-minded individuals that fly above those low-minded individuals that believe in nouns (i.e. people, places, and things).  They usually “know things” about those nouns that the average person has never heard, because those people haven’t done their research.  Freak flag flyers usually base their outlier status on anecdotal information about the actions of those nouns that others swear allegiance, and if the “others” only knew what freak flag flyers know, they would be just as sophisticated in their approach to allegiances as freak flag flyers are.

As demonstrated, freak flag flyers generally raise their flags in political milieus, but some freak flags can involve simple eccentricities and peculiarities.  An individual that prefers to listen to difficult and complicated music could be said to have a freak flag that they keep close to their vest when their more normal family and friends are around.  An individual that enjoys various concoctions of food, philosophies, and other assorted, entertainment mediums could be said to have a freak flag, and most of these people live otherwise normal lives.  Every person can have a freak flag without being a freak, in other words, but the general term “freak flag” is usually reserved for those with exaggerated preferences and activities that could provide life-altering embarrassment if it got out to their more normal friends and family members.

One could find a freak flag in esoteric likes and dislikes, such as a perverted use of balloons in sexual activity, a personality defined by a Mohawk haircut, an apathetic reaction to a suicide, a fear of the nighttime world, and a preference for food that someone hasn’t spoken to.  While we would not make an over-arching claim —such as that which Phil Donahue used to offer on his day-time talk show after parading a bunch of extreme freak flag flyers— that this is a representation of America, or humanity, we could say that all of us might be able to spot some part of ourselves in the freaks that fly flags here.

You may have never had a Mohawk, for instance, but you can identify with the mindset of the individual that once “dared to be different” at some point in their lives with the haircut.  You may even miss your different definition, or you may be embarrassed that you ever strove for a “different definition” now that you’re normal, but most of us fondly recall a day when we dared to be different.  You may not have a name that sounds like a square peg in a round hole society, such as Todd.  You may have a name that sounds more pleasing to the ear, but some part of your personality can identify with their outlier status in some way.  You may not be an adult baby, you may not strive to be esoteric in your preferences, but we all have some sort of freak flag that we stand behind to separate us from the rest of the pack.  Some of us are just a little more diligent in our efforts.

PSYCH OPS is a term most notably associated with military operations, but it could be said that we engage in psychological operations every day.  For the purpose of distinguishing the two, we’ll call the latter social psych ops.  This allows us to distinguish daily, conversational psych ops from those psych ops that may eventuate in death.

psychHave you ever psychologically dressed a complete stranger down at a 7-11, while getting coffee, on your way to work?  Most people don’t.  Most people simply say something like “Excuse me” to these complete strangers, and move on with their day.  Most of these interactions are so routine that we drift through them, and we forget the people we’ve encountered as soon as it’s our turn to fill our cup.  If they were behind us, however, and they gave us some sign (say a noticeable fidget or an audible sigh) to suggest that we were taking too long, we may notice them.  We may even compete with them in that brief moment it takes us to complete the “Who do you think you are?” thought.  The latter would be a psychological operation we conduct to level the momentary inferiority we may have felt in taking too long.

If the process remained entirely un-confrontational, we may slip a person like this a “How you doing?” if we say anything to them at all.

If they simply reply, “Good, how are you?” there is no psychological operation at play, and both combatants would move on with their day: No points scored, no games played, and the interaction would end in a zero-zero tie … unless you happened to notice the clothes they were wearing; the manner in which they part their hair; the way they tied their tie; the way they lick their lips before speaking; or the brand of coffee they choose.  If you noticed all of the above, or any of these points, you may have accumulated some points for yourself, but those points are innocuous.  They usually do little-to-nothing substantial for our psychology, and our scoreboard is probably wiped clean the minute we turn the ignition in your car and forget everything about the interaction.

Most true points, scored in social psych OPS, involve remembering the points we score and using them in our next interaction with them.  We would probably never see this 7-11 guy again, so the fact that he was a Folger’s drinker, had a middle part, and avoided all eye-contact meant little to nothing to us.  Other than the fact that we noticed them, they really did nothing for us.

Let’s say that that “How was your day?” greeting involved someone at the office, getting coffee in the refreshment center of the office at the same time we do, instead of the 7-11.  Let’s say this person we meet is not a total stranger, but one with whom you have a working relationship.  You two are associates in the truest sense of the word.  They may know a little something something about us that they keep close to the vest, and we may know some somethings about them.  If that’s the case, a “How was your day?” greeting can take an entirely different meaning.  It may begin in a benign manner, but it’s not as innocuous as the 7-11 interaction was.  When we say “Good” to this person that asks about our day, both of you flip the page of the playbook to the chapter where the two of you have some somethings on another, and the two of you immediately try scoring points on one another.

“That’s good to hear,” they say.  “How’s the wife?”  This question right here can be located in the devious chapter of their social psych OPS playbook, for they have no real interest in the condition of our wife, they simply think that their wife is better looking, or in some way superior, to ours.  It’s entirely possible that this is not an overt attempt to be devious, but that they simply feel more comfortable discussing wives with us, because they feel some superiority in this chapter.  They may also know that our wife is something of a nag, and that we have had some resultant marital problems recently that allows them to feel dominant through comparative analysis.

“How are the kids?” they may ask.  “How’s that kid’s soccer game going?”  Again, this may be completely innocuous on the surface, but they know that our kid has had some challenges when it comes to displaying athletic prowess, and they have had no such difficulties with their kid.  They know that they have a lot of social psych op points on you on this page, and they enjoy displaying them whenever the two of you interact in the refreshment center.  It gives them a little lift for that day to know that while their lives are not completely intact, at least it isn’t as bad as yours.  They just compiled a lot of social psych ops at your expense.

Whether it’s kids, or wives, these people do not concoct conversations with us for the purpose of proving superiority, and most of them do not take overt glee in whatever causes you stress, but they feel comfortable speaking to you on these subjects.  They may not enjoy speaking to you about production numbers, because that is where you have proven superiority.  We may try to change the subject to production numbers, because that is where we feel most comfortable, and we may not take overt glee from their troubles in this area.

They may like speaking to you, because you’re humble, you’re self-effacing, and self-deprecating, and they find your self-effacing comments humorous.  You’re not like that Jones fella that is always going off about how great his kids are, and how great his life is, and how much money he makes.  He’s a real blowhard that doesn’t know how to laugh at himself like you.

“But did you know that Jones has a house that he can barely afford?” they’ll ask you.  “It’s true.  The Jones clan is deeply in debt, and they’re playing it day to day.”  Both of you know that Jones has a nicer house, and the two of you may hate him for the car he drives, but knowing that he can barely afford it all gives the two of you some degree of solace.

“I could live like that too,” you say with a laugh.  “If I didn’t mind living in debt.”  The two of you have just compiled some much needed points on the Jones fella that you can keep close to the vest the next time you see him.  You thank your associate for that information, because you really needed the lift that day.  You needed the social psych op points.

The strategic nature of the social psych op playbook concerns information gathering activities conducted by the psychological soldier to learn more about the enemy, or those immediately outside their sphere of influence.

On this psych ops page, we find soldiers that sincerely want to know more about us.  They may begin with an attempt to understand our likes and dislikes, but they will evolve this conversation to an attempt to understand why we have these likes and dislikes, until they have a snapshot of our soul, and our sense of life.  They may not be engaging in warfare in the truest sense of the word, but the knowledge they gain will help them establish a playing field for future social warfare conflicts that help them establish some sort of dominance over you.

“But I don’t do any of this,” some of our friends will explain, if we bring our social psych ops theories to them.  “I don’t dress people down psychologically or otherwise.  When I asked you how your day was, I truly wanted to know how your day was.  Nothing more.  I have no ulterior motives.  I just wanted to get to know you better.  Sheesh, maybe you need to get out more.”  It is entirely possible that some people think this way.  It’s entirely possible that their “How was your day?” conversation was truly benign, but it’s more likely that their search for dominance was occurring on a level they may not even be aware of.  It’s also likely that this attempt to tell you that they don’t play such games is a social psych op in and of itself.  The follow up sentence to further condemn you to a few moments beneath their heel would be, “And I can’t believe you do … play games like these.”

By saying this, by telling you that you have an inordinately cynical outlook on life, they just scored some social psych ops points on you.  Some of the times they vocalize such a sentiment, but most of the times it is an unspoken sentiment that they keep close to the vest for their own, internal accumulation of points.  The final social psych op occurs when we look back on this conversation and realize that they were engaging in an entirely foreign social psychological operation steeped in passive aggressions.  We may believe that, on some level, they were lying, and we believe we have just gain some insight into who they are, and that we have gained some points in the social psych ops playbook with this knowledge.

But, and this is a crucial element to understanding how other people’s minds work, they may not be lying in the truest sense of the word.  They may believe that they never engage in social psych ops.  They may believe that they’re just nice people walking through a day, trying to make as many friends as possible.  They may turn around, not five minutes later, and inform you of a social psych op they engaged in with Mary in accounting, but they don’t see that interaction the way you do.  They don’t see their actions as an attempt to achieve dominance over Mary.  They may see it as a simple conversation that the two of them had, and if you see something more in it, that’s on you.  They may simply see Mary in accounting as the hoebag that she is, and that she just happened to tell her hoebag stories to them without any prompting or ulterior motives, but the fact that they told you about it basically means that they think they scored some points on her.

The latter description is the true definition of social psych ops, for most of them occur without either party’s knowledge.  Most social psych ops occur when we notice the clothes someone wears; the coffee they drink; their inferior hygienic practices; the manner in which they entered into our conversation or exited it; how often they swear, or how they part their hair; how they tell a joke; if they’re hip to the latest music, or if they’re too hip and conformed to marketing manipulation; how they get emotional, or if they do; what they eat, and how they eat; if they’re too random, or too calculating; and where we fit into all those social paradigms.  Those are the social psych ops that we engage in every day whether we know it or not.

Like military psychological operations, social psych ops are conducted to convey select information and indicators to an audience to influence their emotions, motives, objective reasoning, and ultimately the behavior of groups and individuals.

The mission of these operations is to inform the audience that you are superior to them in some way shape or form, or if that’s not the case, we hope to at least take something away from the conversation.  The latter may be the more important, for it is in through these bumper car-type interactions, with opposing forces, that we tend to locate some definition of our character.  It is through engaging in these type of interactions that we become more equipped to deal with them in the future.  They can be practiced in wartime situations, and in peace, and they can be used define or malign, but best practices dictate that we, at least, acknowledge how often they are in play with everyone from our fiercest opponents to our good friends so that we are prepared.

As with any exercise of this sort, your opponent will attempt to survey the battlefield before engaging.  He will try to locate your insecurities and place his best forces there.  The best social psych ops general will know his weaknesses, and either bolster his forces, or cede ground.  There’s nothing wrong with temporary, or strategic, surrender, as long as you recognize your opponent’s attack strategy for what it is.  It will assist you in disregarding that attack to form your own counter-attack.  If you provide a persona of having more money than your opponent, they will counter that their life is not ruled by money.  They will state that they have a family that loves them, that they’re never left wanting, and that they’re happy.  This gives them a feeling of dominance among those that have more money, for they believe that having money and being happy is a zero-sum game in that having more money provides one an exact balance loss of happiness that is invariably dependent upon a checking account balance.  You cannot be as happy as they are, in other words, for happiness is all they have.  If the relationship between money and happiness does not gain them an advantage, they’ll switch the playing field to politics, an argument they win based on the fact that their team always beats yours, or their sports team; or the inferior company you work for; or the clothes you wear; or the type of dog you own that is physically superior to ours; or the shows we watch that are not as funny as theirs; or any sort of psychological vine they cling to as they hang off the cliff with all of their inferiorities dangling out for the world to see because they forgot to wear their psychological support hose.

Some strategic operations of attempted psychological warfare rely on professorial and clinical psychological study, but most of it relies on the incidental research we perform on friends and family to achieve active dominance on their playing field.  It is the latter that we will concentrate on in our conversations here, for if our interests lie in the more clinical and professorial arenas there are countless books and blogs that will educate and entertain in this fashion, but we only know what we know.  For the rest, we must go … elsewhere.

To this point in our psych ops training, we have focused on some strategic aspects and information gathering exercises of social psych ops warfare.  All of that is key, of course, but the next phase involves operational psych ops training.

Operational PSYCH OPS involve putting all that was gathered during the information gathering exercises of social psychological operations into play.  It is an informed approach that the psych op soldier uses to attack fellow psych op soldiers in what could be loosely be called a training exercise.  In this phase, the psychological operations soldier tests the information that he has learned to determine if it can be used to achieve dominance in a live exercise.  Failure will occur in this phase, but it will be less damaging, for it will be an operation conducted among those in their inner circle.  It will occur in a wide range of social activities including family get-togethers, social outings, and work-related activities.  This operation occurs among those that the soldier sees on a basis that is regular enough that corrections can be made, and attack strategies can be finessed with the knowledge derived from any mistakes made in the training exercise.  They usually occur during peacetime to promote the effectiveness of the individual’s attempts at superior campaigns and strategies.  The idea that a strategic operational campaign can occur without your knowledge is not only possible, it is likely for they will usually occur in a fashion similar to guerrilla warfare.  They may appear to be a training exercise, but watch what you say in these training exercises, because they can evolve to a live training exercise, with live ammo, when you least expect it.

Have you ever told a friend, “Don’t tell anyone, but I have a weakness … ” during a benign moment when the two of you were engaging in friendly fire, only to have that friend expose that weakness in a tactical moment?

Tactical PSYCH OPS are the culmination of all that was learned in the previous two psychological operations in that they are conducted in an arena assigned by the individual across a wide range of psychological operations to support the tactical mission against opposing forces.  These operations usually occur before the opposite sex, or in any arena that involves an individual that the psychological operations soldier is trying to impress.  One may not experience such tactical operations from their closest friends for years, until such time that the individual uses all that they learned in the training exercises to impress that one person that means something to them.  One may be surprised by the attack that apparently came from nowhere, and that didn’t appear to establish anything beyond the humorously insignificant.  For the operational soldier, however, the tactical use of psychological warfare is the end game.  It’s the reason they invited you to this particular outing, it’s the reason they engaged in all those private, training exercises, and it’s the reason they continue to call you friend.

One popular social psych ops weapon is the Dumb-Fire Missile.  The Dumb-Fire Missile has no targeting or maneuvering capability and is usually reserved for close combat or attacks on friendly targets.  The Dumb-Fire Missile is usually launched before a large group of people.  It gets the same reaction as live fire, and is followed by a comment like: “I was only kidding.  Sheesh!  You are sensitive aren’t you?”  This not only gives them a kill, but it can be used to encourage popular discontent against you by combining persuasion with a credible threat, and they will use it often degrade their adversary’s ability to conduct or sustain such operations against them.  They can also disrupt, confuse, and protract the adversary’s decision-making process by undermining their command and control with the idea that you never know when they’re really serious.  When properly employed, this social psych op has the potential to procure enjoyment of friendly, or enemy forces, by reducing their adversary’s will to fight.  By lowering the adversary’s morale, and then its efficiency, these operations can also discourage aggressive reactions by creating disaffection within their ranks, ultimately leading to surrender.

The integrated deployment of the core capabilities of social operations warfare, involve psychological operations, personal deception, and a display of security in concert with providing support.  These attacks can be launched under the guise of the aggressor pretending that these attacks are performed in a humorous vein, and you shouldn’t get so upset at that which they deem relatively insignificant.  It is a passive-aggressive approach that they use to undermine your base and make you feel foolish for believing that you see ulterior motives.  Once you understand that this is not so serious, any furtherance will influence you to side with them while they are attacking you, to disrupt your normal reactions, and corrupt or usurp your normal adversarial decision making processes all while protecting them from current or future attacks on the topic in question. {1}


“You’d eat it if you were on the battlefield,” my Dad used to tell me when I informed him I didn’t particularly care for the food before me.  “You’d eat it if it was part of your C-rations, and you’d eat it if you were hungry, but you’ve never been hungry…not truly hungry.”

Getting children to show some sign of appreciation for the food before them is a time-honored concern that probably dates back to the cavemen.  When the first child stated that he was sick of eating Mammoth for the eighth day in a row, the mother probably gently reminded that child of the sacrifice, and danger, their father faced to provide them with their meal of the day, but the kid probably still didn’t appreciate it.  Later, parents probably informed their children of the lack of preservation techniques available for their food, and how the children would have to eat up all their food, or it would go bad.  Modern technology has provided safer and easier access to food, and it’s provided preservation techniques that have become so common, for so many generations of Americans, that most the parents have probably taken food for granted for the whole of their lives.  We’re never been hungry…not truly hungry.

imagesThe trick to getting children to appreciate food is more difficult today than it’s ever been.  Some parents inform their children of third-world children, third-world hunters and gatherers, and third-world preservation techniques to try to get their children to appreciate their food more, but my Dad knew nothing about all that.  He knew the military life, he knew C-rations, he knew the depression secondhand, he had some knowledge scarcity, seeing it secondhand, and he attempted to use that knowledge to stoke appreciation for food in his boys.

My Dad believed that eating food was a testament to manliness, and anyone that questioned his manliness need only look to the girth he carried for much of his life for answers.  He was the human garbage disposal, and he expected as much from his sons.

One of the best “compliments” I ever received from the man was that he never had to worry about me eating.  “It was your brother that we had to worry about.  He was finicky.”

Finicky was the ‘F’ word in my Dad’s vocabulary.  A finicky eater was that certain someone that thought they were inordinately special, that took matters for granted, that would prove to be an oddball that people noticed in an unkindly manner, and that exhibited less than manly characteristics. My brother’s finicky nature was most pronounced with onions.  He abhorred them.  This was a constant source of embarrassment for our Dad.

My Dad was truly old world.  He lived in an era when the gravest insult a man could provide his host was to leave food on their plate.  Most descendants of the depression era—the last era in America when food could be called relatively scarce—knew the value of food.  They appreciated food, and they recognized the idea of scarcity, even if they never experienced it firsthand.  They appreciated food, and they were grateful whenever it was placed before them.  Most of them grew up disgusted by grown men that displayed “preferences” because they knew of a different era when such luxuries didn’t exist.  They were the ones that recited stories from the depression era, detailed descriptions of militaristic dietary conditions, and third-world dietary habits that they hoped would instill appreciation of food in the next generation.  My Dad may have been more diligent than yours, but he considered getting his boys to appreciate food a vital element of his lineage, a full-time job, and an obsession.

My brother may have been a little finicky, but more concerning to our Dad was the fact that he didn’t eat quickly.  My brother paused to think about things while he ate, he looked at things other than his food at dinner time, and he occasionally watched television while food was before him. This was anathema to our Dad.  When food was before you, you were to eat it without distraction, and by doing so you were paying homage to all that went into the food you had been provided.  You were to eat with time constraints similar to those of a prison inmate’s, or in a manner of a starving soldier in a cafeteria that ate paltry C-rations with just enough nutrition to last the day.  It said something about that individual when they ate like a man that didn’t know where their next meal would come from at my Dad’s table.  It said that you appreciated those that came before you, those that ate C-rations with a smile, and eventually died to give you the opportunity to eat the food before you.

Taste mattered to my Dad.  He enjoyed a well-prepared, flavorful meal as much as the next guy, but that paled in comparison to the characteristics he felt he displayed when eating a plate of food that wasn’t palatable to most.  He believed it displayed his mettle.  He believed it was a tribute to his ancestors that could afford nothing more than a meal of pork and beans on buttered bread.  He believed it was a tribute to those that came before him that his hunger could be satiated with a meal of one slice of bologna between two pieces of bread.

Condiments were a luxury that his ancestors did not know “when times were hard”, so he did not indulge in them often.

He wasn’t the type to suggest that eating in the manner he dictated put hair on one’s chest, but that was the thrust of his philosophical approach to food and eating.  Most that would suggest that this was his philosophical approach, did so in a comedic manner, but this was never funny to my dad.

He never had a problem with me, as I said.  My brother, on the other hand, needed constant reminders to eat.  Dad tried everything to get through to the boy.  He tried all the techniques listed above, and he tried to instill appreciation in my brother by informing him of the preparation process involved in the particular meal before him.  It wasn’t that my brother was disobedient or rebellious, and he wasn’t unappreciative or ungrateful either.  He tried to remain focused on his meal, and he tried to finish the meal in the manner that our dad dictated, but he couldn’t help falling back into his ways.  It provided our dad such consternation, over the years, that he eventually developed a song that the family called the Eat Tono Eat song.  The lyrics are as follows: “Eat Tono eat!  Eat Tono eat!!  Eat Tono eat!!!  Oh, eat Tono eat!!!!”  The emphasis that our Dad placed on the ‘Oh’ portion of the song was presumably intended to allow the listener a pleasing bridge to the fourth repetition of the refrain.  He composed no other lyrics for the song.  His songwriting acumen was as simple, direct, and to the point as he was.  He created the song to serve a purpose, and that purpose was not humor, for once that purpose was achieved the song could whither on the vine for all he cared.  You could enjoy the song if you wanted, but that was on you, and you were left wanting if you had any designs on an on-demand performance however.

With such a mindset drilled into one’s mind, over so many decades, one can’t help but be disgusted by those with preferences.  I didn’t draw a direct correlation to my Dad for many a year, as most things that we are conditioned to do do not come with immediately apparent connections.  It became an undeniable source of my Dad’s repetitious conditioning, however, when it not only tweaked me that my nephew wanted to limit his diet to macaroni and cheese, carbohydrates, and sugary sweets, it disgusted me.  It boiled up inside me, until I had to say something.  That something I said to instill an appreciation for food in my nephew was: “You don’t know how to eat.”  The reason I put those words in quotes is that it was an exact quote from my Dad to me and my brother. I nearly shuddered with realization when the words fell out.  I wasn’t disgusted with my nephew for his young, uninformed choices, however, for I saw his preferences as those of a young, uninformed child.  I just felt the need to inform him that I was disgusted by the general practice of displaying preferences.

I was similarly disgusted with the “grown man” preferences an esteemed author listed in his piece about political preferences for food.  I was so disgusted with the stories this author used in that book to describe his eventual progression to the vegetarian lifestyle that I found parts of his book difficult to read. When I read that the author’s preferences were based in part on compassion for the process that “our smaller souled animals” had to endure in processing, I had a problem borne of my Dad’s conditioning.

If he were alive today, my Dad would probably ask this author how he came about such preferences.  Do you recognize the sacrifices that so many before you have made to provide you the luxury of being high-minded about your dietary preferences?  Are you thankful for the meals that you have been provided in anyway, or do you take food for granted so much that your preferences have been made in order to achieve a superior plane of disgust for those of us that have other preferences?  The author answers this question in statements he makes about his intellectual hero, Albert Einstein’s, dietary habits.  On Einstein, and other heroes, the author claims:

“They were certainly carnivores who knew exactly what they were doing. Such facts saddened and confused me.”  The author qualified this by relaying the information gleaned from some web-related searches that informed this author that Einstein had vegetarian sympathies borne of compassion toward living beings, and not health reasons, but the author was still “saddened and confused” that these heroes didn’t make the complete leap to vegetarianism.

The author goes on to detail his intellectual journey toward vegetarianism, and the fight he has engaged in against the societal pressure to be a carnivore.  In his story, he presents those that agree with him as “highly thoughtful”.  Those that disagree provide him sadness and confusion.  The author leaves no doubt in his superior stance.  His stance is the well thought out stance that he hopes to inculcate his readers into acknowledging are the superior ways of the vegetarian.

The author furthers his progression into the evolved state of the vegetarian by illustrating his choice as a result of a knowing and heightened sense of compassion.  He writes of a day he worked in another area of his research lab in which he was instructed to grab a research gerbil and provide it to another research doctor.  The author knew he was participating in the death of this gerbil, by handing it to the other doctor, and this internal turmoil created such a dilemma in the author’s mind that he passed out.

Whether this event occurred in the exact manner the author portrays it or not, the story is included in the author’s work to describe how overwhelmingly compassionate he is, to the point that his compassion caused him to lose control of his sense.  To get my now deceased Dad’s perspective on this matter, I can only imagine it would be brutally honest if one of his son’s would display such a characteristic.  My dad would never call another man out on such characteristics, as he was considerate.  More considerate, I challenge, than this author that claims that my dad has arrived at his characteristics without thinking enough.  If it were one of his sons, however, my dad would describe us as weak.  He would claim that any man weakened to the point of losing his facilities over the plight of a gerbil was a man afforded the luxury of having so much time on his hands that he could dwell on one of life’s trivialities, and that he owes much of this dilemma to the sacrifice of soldiers that died to prevent him from having real worries in life.

“I doubt that a soldier on a battlefield would ever turn down a slice of a cow, or a pig, as a way to achieve noble goals,” I can imagine my dad saying to a son that made such claims.  

The author states that the method we have used to eat a slice of cow and pig without guilt is to call them a slice of beef and pork.  His insinuation is that if we had to ask for “some cow”, as opposed to a slice of beef, the beef industry wouldn’t be as successful as it is.  When looking at this from a marketing perspective, one must admit that there is a point to be had here, but a contrarian would remind this author of the manner in which we ask for specific parts of the cow and pig, when ordering beef or pork from a butcher.

Chicken may be the exception of renaming meat for the purpose of an order, the author concedes, but he tells a story of a young girl that wonders why the name of the food she eats and the animal are both called chicken.  The author leaves the insinuation that adults aren’t fully aware of the full association either, and if we were we wouldn’t be so carnivorous.  The author also leaves the insinuation that the reason we use the words “beef” and “pork” is to also avoid thinking about the process of their slaughter.

“Those that had real world concerns of the onslaught of Adolf Hitler, and the subsequent spread of communism didn’t have the luxury of such worries,” I am sure my Dad would say if this author were one of his sons.  “They had real world concerns that plagued them to such a degree that anyone engaged in such theoretical nonsense would be ostracized and castigated for the eggheads that they were in my time.”  My Dad’s generation saw these types achieve prominent positions in life, and they shook their head in wonderment. They laughed at these types and said things like:

“They probably never had a real worry their whole lives.  They were probably insulated from the real world in their laboratories and think tanks.  They probably never feared for their own lives a day in their life, so they focused their concerns on the gerbils’.  It gives them something to do with those abundant brains that are presumably dormant most of the time.”

A vegetarian that gets so obsessed with their compassion that he focuses his resources on the plight of the gerbil—to the point that they pass out thinking about their death—owe the generations before him that have created the techniques available for food acquisition and preservation that this author now takes for granted.  A man that engages in such trivialities has never known sacrifice and scarcity, and his preferred dietary habits are a result of those that have paved the way for him.  His stance on food displays no appreciation for those that came before him, and it shows a degree of self-anointed superiority to those that haven’t made the same choices… without the consideration that those people may not have had the same luxuries afforded to them.

Reading through this man’s book, one is left to wonder how this author teaches his kids lessons on food appreciation.  His book suggests that his lesson plans probably aren’t well-rounded, and that they probably involve only the old “my way of the highway” ways or approaching a lesson.  His book suggests that he’s teaching his kids that any thinking that differs from his is both sad and confusing.

If my dad were still alive, he would caution me against telling any man that his way of teaching his kids is a “wrong way”, and I did try to extend this courtesy to the man throughout my reading—a courtesy that the author obviously did not extend to those that think different from him—but the greater question is is this man giving his children a sense of greater appreciation, or is he focusing their attention on his ideals.

If you live your life right, and you encounter a wide enough array of characters, you’ll eventually run across a Kurt Lee, a real Piece of Work (a POS), and a thief that has an almost innate inability trust anyone, because he knows he shouldn’t be trusted.  A POS doesn’t even trust that one person you think is laughably, innocently, and naïvely, trustworthy.  “They’re up to no good,” your POS friend, with a thief’s mentality, will inform you.  To back up this assessment, they will launch into an hysterical conspiracy theory that says more about them than it does the product of their accusation.  They know that person’s true agenda, and the fact that we don’t even suspect that person of having a nefarious agenda leaves us as hopelessly naïve in their eyes.  Their theory about this naïvely trustworthy person does have a grain of truth to it, for if there weren’t a grain, they probably wouldn’t state it aloud, but they usually have to exert a great deal of effort to support that grain.  Sooner or later, that moment of truth arrives when they reveal the fact that they don’t trust us either.  We’re stunned.  What have we ever done to betray their trust.  It’s not us.  It’s them.  It’s the thief’s mentality.

retro_clipart_running_thiefKurt Lee may have inadvertently taught me more about being a thief, and a real POS, than any other person, teacher, or book I’ve encountered.  As you work your way through life and (hopefully) strive for good and honest living, you’ll run across a real POS like Kurt Lee.  You’ll be entertained by the manner in which his type thwarts the conventions that your mother taught you, you’ll be attracted to his POS mindset, and you’ll want to be around him, because you’ll be dying to hear what he says, or does, next.  A certain part of you will also envy him for living this way, without fear, but you should know that for all the bravado a POS displays while destroying the conventions that “all the squares live by” their ways usually end up destroying them from the inside out.

I was on a city bus with this POS, this Kurt Lee, and I watched him play with the ball on top of an elderly lady’s stocking cap that sat in front of him.  I’m quite sure that my reaction to this spectacle will be one of the things that I have to answer for when I reach Judgment Day, but I found it absolutely hysterical.  The gall that this Kurt Lee, this POS, could display on a daily basis made me want to be around him every second of the day.  There was something so alluring about a person that could defy societal conventions with such glee.

I now suspect that my attraction to Kurt Lee’s antics had something to do with learning.  We’re all attracted to learning what makes us tick.  Why do some lean towards morality, while others don’t, and where are all of the dividing lines that separate us?  Kurt Lee taught me that I was a pretty decent person by comparison, with some pretty decent codes that I would not violate.  I would never play with a ball on top of an old lady’s stocking cap, because I wouldn’t want to violate her sense of security on a city bus.  What if someone did, though?  Wouldn’t that be an hilarious study of human nature?  How would she react?  How would Kurt Lee counter that reaction?  Why did he do it in the first place?  Did he think he would get away with it, or did he even care?  We humans are as fascinated with why we have moral codes, as we are by those that solidify our rationale by violating them without regard for greater consequences?

This poor, old lady finally turned on Kurt with an angry expression.  I write finally, because she let the first few flicks of the ball atop her stocking cap go, as she presumably mustered up the courage to tell him off.  Kurt Lee appeared ready to concede to her initial, nonverbal admonition, until he spotted me laughing.  I, unfortunately, encouraged him onward with my laughter.  He did it three more times, before she reached a point of absolute frustration that led her to say something along the lines of, “Stop it, you young punk!”

At this point, Kurt began thrusting his hips forward in his seat, looking at me, whispering, “She just wants it up the ass!”

This particular act was fascinating to me, but not as fascinating as Kurt’s mentality, his philosophy, and what drove him to be so different from the rest of us.  In the world according to Kurt Lee, everyone was a Kurt Lee, or wanted to be one, or they were in complete denial.

“If you could get away with this, you would,” was his answer to those that questioned his actions.  “You mean to tell me you’ve never stolen anything?  Ever?  All right then, let’s talk about reality.”  Kurt Lee was a thief, but like most thieves, he wouldn’t defend his position from the position of a thief.  He would simply substitute an exaggeration of your position to tell you that you had no right to judge him if you’d stolen anything.  He was an excellent debater in this sneaky manner —what we called a master debater— that could not be pinned down on specifics.  When you asked him wear a guy from the sticks got the latest, top of the line zipper pants, a pair of fashionable sunglasses, and an original, signed copy of the Rolling stones album, Some Girls, he told you, but after a while we began to question whether Santa could be that generous.

“You think you’re better than me?” he would say when he was called out in a general manner, that left out the details of the specific items he owned.  He would then launch into a moral relativist “me against the world” tirade where even the hopelessly naïve, so-harmless-it-was-almost-laughable Pete Pestroni was actually a wolf in sheep’s clothing.  Pete was just too weak, or too scared, to let his wolf run wild, in Kurt Lee’s world.  You would laugh at the impossibility of the idea with Kurt, but he wouldn’t even smile.  This was his philosophy, a chapter in his personal bible, and an ingredient of the thief’s mentality that it took me decades to fully grasp.

The thief’s mentality, strictly and succinctly defined, is the idea that a thief doesn’t trust anyone, because they don’t trust themselves.   They live in a “screw or be screwed” village of the mind that suggests that you are hopelessly naïve if you trust that anyone is what they say they are.  It’s incumbent on you, if you want to survive in their world, to see past the façade, the veneer, that others create for you.

TV anchors with fourteen inch parts, and perfect teeth, probably go home and beat their wives, in Kurt Lee’s world.  Catholic priests are all pedophiles, all presidents are engaging in infidelity in the White House, “You think JFK and Clinton are different, they just got caught is all,” and little old ladies that complain about having the balls on the stocking caps played with probably just want it up the ass.  It’s the thief’s mentality.

I’ve never been accused of cheating on a girl more than I was by the girl who cheated on me the most; I’ve never been accused of stealing more than I was by the guy who stole the most from me; and I’ve never been accused of lying more than I was by the person that lied to me more than anyone else.  These people know who they are, and they know I’m not much better than them, so no matter what we do or say to them, they’re not buying it, because they know who we are.  It’s the thief’s mentality.

They know you too.  They know that you have a hidden agenda that may not be immediately apparent to others, that lurks just beneath the surface for the unsuspecting and naïve.  They maintain a perpetual state of readiness for that day when you finally break free of the constraints of morality and loyalty to expose your evil, naked underbelly to the world.  They have you all figured out.  It’s the thief’s mentality.

Another aspect of the thief’s mentality I learned while listening to the world according to Kurt Lee, was that thieves seek to keep the rest of us in check with their suspicions, in a manner that they know they should always be kept in check.  They seek to keep us insecure in our trustworthiness, so that we’ll remain trustworthy in the manner they know they should always be kept insecure to maintain trustworthiness.

You may attempt to turn the table on a real POS, like Kurt Lee, by telling him that other people trust you, but they will ask you if you think that makes you completely trustworthy.  Anyone that suggests that they’re completely trustworthy are probably suffering from a psychosis of another stripe, so a Kurt Lee wins that particular argument with the idea that you’re not so high and mighty after all.

With the Kurt Lee precedent always fresh in my mind, I’ve listened to a number of otherwise trustworthy friends come to me with problems regarding the thief in their life.  They don’t understand why this person —that they like or love— doesn’t trust them with even the most banal things of life.  These worried friends state that they’ve never done anything to damage that trust.  They’re insecure about their trustworthiness, in the manner most humans are, but they can’t remember the specific incident that brought all these questions of their trustworthiness down on them.  They come to me with grief and sorrow on their hearts.  “How do I win him back?  How do I regain his trust?”

“I’m sorry to say that it’s not about you,” I tell them.  “It’s the thief’s mentality.”  I am sorry to say this, because these worried friends have usually consigned themselves to some sort of relationship with the afflicted that requires them to spend long hours, days, and years with the thief.  It does help my friends through the personal crisis they’re experiencing to know that their beloved has a thief’s mentality, it has helped soften the blow of the accusation levelled against them, and it has helped them deal with their significant other in a different fashion going forward, but it doesn’t help them deal with the fact that their loved one is probably never going to trust them entirely.

Thieves, like Kurt Lee, are damaged in some irretrievable manner.  They may not enjoy the lives they’ve created for themselves, where they don’t even trust the one person in their lives that they probably could, or should, but it does help them spread their misery a little to accuse.  It does lessen their misery a little by transferring some of their toxins to you.  It does help if you’re a little more insecure about trusting people in the aftermath of their accusation, but at the end of it all they incidentally resupply and go back to being to the miserable thief they were the day they leveled the accusation.  So take heart, trustworthy people, it’s not you it’s the thief’s mentality, and they have to bathe in their own juices.

Very few of us live on the exaggerated poles of morality in life.  Most of us live somewhere in the middle, usually on the good side of the fuzzy dividing line, but we’re constantly tempted to do that one thing that may place us to the other side of the line.  Kurt Lee types know this, of course, and they choose to believe that it’s their lack of fear that separates them from us.  They also know that we place most of humanity on their side of the fuzzy line in that we all have problems trusting those that we don’t trust unconditionally to make those right decisions, but some take this distrust a step further.  Some thieves outwardly distrust those around them on such exaggerated levels that it can only say more about them than it does those they accuse.  It’s the thief’s mentality.

What would you do if you scratched an itch on the back of your neck, and your hand came back with a tiny screaming alien on it?  What would you do if another alien, perched on the opposite shoulder, said: “Quit living your life in preparation of disaster!”

alienSome of those that have witnessed the “progressions” of our society away from traditional, organized religion to Zen Buddhism and beyond, suggest that some sort of progression is inevitable.  Will we ever reach a point where we are worshiping aliens from outer space?  We don’t know, but some have speculated that time-honored traditions, such as the Zen Buddhist’s bird on the shoulder will be replaced by “progressive” symbols for the progressed mind.  Will it ever be that aliens sit on our shoulder, as opposed to birds, that remind us that death is inevitable and unpredictable?

birdThe bird taught us that while some see death as a sad and sorrowful event, others treat the reminder of death that this bird provides, and eventually the alien, as a reason to live.  The alien will be a constant reminder that you’re delusional about your abilities, your likes and dislikes, and anything that you feel makes you an individual. The Alien will remind you that you are merely a product of sophisticated ad campaigns, TV and movie rhetoric, and peer pressure.  You may believe that you are a product of individualistic, free world choices that you have made throughout your life based upon research, knowledge, and free will.  You may believe that you sit atop the hierarchal pyramid of humans that laugh at those delusional humans who are susceptible to marketing campaigns, but you’re not, and the new-age aliens from outer space will remind you that you’re as susceptible to all of this as the know-nothing, follow the crowd guy that you mock in the course of your day.  You may think you’re above the fray, and that you’re not susceptible to all that is preached in our society, but everyone thinks that.  We’ve all become frayed in the same way.  The Alien on your shoulder is there to remind you that you are a nothing more than a member of the pack, the hive, or the crowd of people that think like you do, and it is your new vocation to listen to this alien and learn a little bit about yourself from its interpretation of the collective mind.

This alien may eventually become a “Zod” in your life, but you must remember that he is only perched on your shoulder to advise.  You will remain free to accept or reject his advice with the knowledge that you have made these decisions of your own accord, and any consequences of your actions, based on his advice, are all yours.

One of your fellow humans said it is far easier to entertain than it is to educate, but your alien will try to combine the two in a daring attempt to keep your interest while educating you about you and the world around you.

I now introduce you to the alien on your shoulder.

“Quit living your life in preparation of disaster!” is the first piece of advice that the alien will provide you when you are shocked to learn of his existence.  His sudden appearance, and his entire existence, will be predicated on the collective ideal that God is dead.  The emergence of these aliens, and their deification, will be predicated on a societal progression away from traditional religion, into secularism, and eventually into a belief in anything that will not be far away when the mother ship lands in Lebanon, Kansas, a place chosen for its geographical location in the center of the United States.

At this point in history, an individual that builds a shrine to aliens from outer space is currently looked down upon as an outlier in society, but how far are we away from Total Alien Superiority (TAS) in our search for belief in something?  It will be, “as it always was”  when we reach TAS that the aliens will begin making their appearance on our collective shoulders to hit us with this first piece of advice.

Once the alien makes its appearance, and the evolution to TAS is complete, alien relics will begin replacing the current more traditional, spiritual relics in our homes, churches, and synagogues, and we will most likely develop some form of hierarchy, such as the one portrayed in Superman II.  We will have a Zod, in other words, that we pay homage to, that we sacrifice for, and that we direct the purpose of our daily lives towards.  For the purpose of clarity and consistency, we will refer to the ultimate deity of TAS as Zod in this conversation, since we cannot know what the evolved human of the future will call their god.

Any religion worthy of attaining followers also has their non-believers and heretics, and TAS will be no exception.  The heretics will suggest that TAS is an extreme reach by those that cling to traditional structures and religions norms. Those that suggest such notions are foolish are, themselves, not well-schooled in the field of neurology, for there are numerous findings documented in periodicals such as Psychology Today, and Scientific American Mind, that suggest that the human brain is hard wired to a belief in something, and as our society progresses toward the ridicule of the belief, and worship, of God, we will eventually need to find something to replace Him.  Our brains need a belief in something greater than us, in a manner similar to the way stomachs need food, and if we have no spiritual guidance we will feel a cerebral emptiness and purposeless that needs to be quenched in an anatomical sense equivalent to manner in which water quenches thirst and food quenches hunger.  Human beings need spiritual nourishment in other words, and we will look to any source we can find for that nourishment once God is truly dead in our society.

The quasi-religion that is currently helping us bridge the gap to the eventual progression to TAS is Zen Buddhism.  It is the current, most prominent quasi-religion for those seeking relief from the societal scorn of being religious, and the judgmental rules of a religion, while still feeding the need for belief.

As humans evolve past a deity, and eventually past the Zen Buddhist bird, we will evolve to (TAS).  We will also evolve past the pressure that the bird places on us to live each day to the fullest to one that involves a stress free life without expectations.  We will also evolve our deities past the idea of death to the idea that life can be free of the threat of death if one learns how to live properly.  This deity will not be judgmental, and the eventual, evolved human being will follow suit.  The “Zod” of the alien culture will speak of a life free of money, death, the stress and pressure of living life to the fullest, and it will eventually evolve us back to our metaphysical, primal beginnings where we were once at one with God –now replaced by Zod– equal with Him in a manner only the truly devoted will understand. We will also live the harmonious, drug-induced life depicted in Star Trek’s “The Way to Eden” episode. We don’t know if our women will speak in soft, sensuous whispers in the manner they did in that episode, or if our men will say “man” as a conjunction to break up a sentence and “Daddy-O” to punctuate it, but if Gene Roddenberry proves to be the excellent prognosticator he has been thus far, it’s likely.

Who is the best athlete of all-time?  This question, this debate, can be as exciting and fun as actually watching the games.  Who’s the best boxer of all-time, Muhammed Ali, or Mike Tyson?  Was there any professional athlete more exciting to watch than Walter Payton?  Does Michael Jordan have any peer in basketball?  If you grew up in the Bill Russell, Will Chamberlain era, you probably think he does.  Some debaters will tell you that the names listed here aren’t even on their personal Mount Rushmore of sports, but that’s the question, that’s the debate among sports fans.

roger-federer-28aNo matter what faces make it onto your personal Mount Rushmore, yours is filled with elite athletes.  What is the difference between a supremely gifted phenomenally conditioned, professional athlete and the pack of elite that will be debated for decades?  How does one superior athlete appear to perfectly execute every single time out, while another phenomenal athlete only executes a majority of the time?  What’s the difference between a naturally gifted athlete, like an Allen Iverson, and a gym rat like Michael Jordan?  One word.  Simple.  No argument.  Practice.

The theme of these bar stool discussions usually centers around the physical exploits of said athlete, but as author David Wallace suggests, in a posthumous collection of his essays Both Flesh and Not{1}, the physical may no longer be half as instrumental as it once was in the separation between the great and the elite.

Most of us have played organized sports at one time or another in our lives, and most of us have experienced a point, in practice sessions, where we’ve withered under the demands of a demanding coach that pushed us to levels we considered cruel and inhuman.

Kinesthetic learning (also known as tactile learning) is a style of learning that is solely devoted to physical activity, rather than listening to a lecture or watching a demonstration.  People with a kinesthetic learning style are also commonly known as “do-ers”.{2}

Most people do not have the degree of internal discipline necessary to achieve an elite level.  Most parents cultivate the divide between the creative and the active portions of their children to such a degree that these children have trouble achieving the tunnel vision necessary for such discipline.  Most people do not want to unnecessarily subject their children to “cruel and inhumane” amounts of practice.  Achieving autonomic responses aren’t even in their top 1,000 most important achievements parents have for their child.  They want their children to succeed, but not so much that they fail to enjoy their youth.

The creative portion of the mind wants stimulation, nuance, variation, and entertainment.  A creative mind can suspend this need for creativity to learn the basics of anything, especially when that something is fresh and new and exciting to them.  Once that knowledge loses it’s “newness”, it no longer excites the child.  At that point, they may begin to tune out the information that follows.  Learning sports is fun, and athletic achievement can be exciting to a young child, but there does come a point where the child learns that true success in athletics doesn’t allow for much creativity.

True, elite levels of success in sports, requires acute focus on the muscles involved in, say hitting a baseball, and there is little variation in the approach to the ball, the point of contact, or the follow through.  The creative mind may acknowledge the teacher’s bona fides in the quest to become proficient, but the more they cede to the creative portion of their brain, the more difficult it will be to fight the urge to personalize their play a little.  They don’t want to be an automaton, in other words, that is strictly a product of their teacher’s lesson.  They want to look cool, they want to have fun, and they want to introduce some creativity in the process of their swing.  The creative mind has ideas on how to achieve success, and the creative mind only desires more autonomy with more success.  Only a machine-like mind, enhanced with massive amounts of discipline, can achieve Roger Federer levels of success and maintain it over time.

How did Roger Federer learn how to return a serve, how did he learn to return a 130 mile per hour (MPH) serve, and how did he learn to return that serve to a degree that he could strategically place it in a very specific corner of the other player’s side of the court?  In David Foster Wallace essay, we receive a description of Federer’s exploits that have left tennis aficionados with their mouths hanging open for decades.  Wallace terms these moments, moments where separated Federer from the pack of the elite, as simply: “Federer Moments”.

“Successfully returning a 130 MPH tennis ball requires what’s sometimes called the kinesthetic sense, meaning the ability to control the body and its artificial extensions through complex and very quick systems of tasks.  English has a whole cloud of terms for various parts of this ability: feel, touch, form, proprioception, coordination, hand-eye coordination, kinesthesia, grace, control, reflexes, and so on.  For promising junior players, refining the kinesthetic sense is the main goal of the extreme daily practice regimens we often hear about.  The training here is both muscular and neurological.  Hitting thousands of strokes, day after day, develops the ability to do by “feel” what cannot be done by regular conscious thought.  Repetitive practice like this often appears tedious, or even cruel, to an outsider, but the outsider can’t feel what’s going on inside the player — tiny adjustments, over and over, and a sense of each change’s effects that gets more and more acute even as it recedes from normal consciousness.

“The upshot,” Wallace Continues, “is that pro tennis involves intervals of time too brief for deliberate action.  Temporally, we’re more in the operative range of reflexes, purely physical reactions that bypass conscious thought.  And yet an effective return of such a serve depends on a large set of decisions and physical adjustments that are a whole lot more involved and intentional than blinking, jumping when startled, etc.” {3}

The key, in other words, is to practice so often that the creative mind, or even conscious thought, does not enter into play.  A player can return a serve, creatively, by turning a wrist flat to achieve a flat return, and they can get a little top spin on a return by twisting the wrist a little at the point of impact, but these descriptions of a proper return are considered elementary to anyone that has played tennis.  For most tennis players, these elementary aspects of a return go out the window when a serve is flying at them at 130 mph.  Even most of those listed in the top 100 seeds of professional tennis are simply happy to return such a serve, but the elite of the elite can strategically place it.  How does one achieve the degree of mental mobilization necessary to return such a serve with a left turning topspin that hits the weakest point of a server’s court after they have served?  The short answer is that the kinesthetic learner has achieved a point where they’re no longer thinking, a result of what Wallace says others may perceive to be inhuman, cruel, and youth stealing hours, months, and years of practice to achieve a kinesthetic sense.

To suggest that this degree of kinesthetic learning is applied only to tennis, or only to the return of a serve is an oversimplification of the comprehensive idea of kinesthetic learning, for it is being taught in every sport and in numerous situational events within those sports, until the student learns autonomic actions and reactions without thought.

“Do, or do not, there is no try,” says Yoda.

If Star Wars were to properly capture the kinesthetic learning to a point where Luke could use this kinesthetic sense, i.e. the force, against all of Darth Vader’s actions, the series would’ve had to portray Luke in training for, at least, the first three episodes of the series, or episodes four, five,  and six for Star Wars purists.  They would’ve had to age him, and portray him as doing nothing but training for these episodes.  This wouldn’t have been very entertaining, but it would’ve displayed how intense this training can be.

Most people don’t have the aptitude to achieve a kinesthetic sense on this level, and they don’t have the discipline to endure these exhaustive years of practice.  Most will also never know such levels for they also don’t have the natural talent that is required to achieve Federer-level results from kinesthetic learning.

Sports, in America, used to be mano y mano.  It used to be the ultimate, physical confrontation between a naked Bob Feller against a naked Ted Williams.  The mental aspects of baseball, tennis, and all sports have always been a factor, as one athlete attempts to overpower his opponent with mental and physical prowess.  There has also always been some association with this process and top tier athletics, but one has to wonder if the current prominence placed on psychological domination of a sport, in the fashion Wallace describes, would shock even Ted Williams, the well renowned hitting aficionado of his day.  He may have practiced more than others, but did he practice to levels that some may consider inhuman, cruel, and youth stealing levels?  His levels of practice were legendary, but would he be shocked at the new levels of learning put forth by current sports’ psychologists?

Williams had mentors, and others that helped him focus on the intricacies of his swing, but this new focus on the “tiny adjustments, over and over, and a sense of each change’s effects that gets more and more acute even as it recedes from normal consciousness” surely did not enter into his world.  This acute focus on kinesthetic learning in baseball, tennis, football, and all sports and kinesthetic learning has ticked up to levels that Ted Williams and Bob Feller would’ve probably found astounding.  Williams may have watched Bob Feller’s game, and he may have learned some tendencies Feller displayed, but he didn’t spend the mind-numbing hours watching game film that a Tony Gwynn did with his opponents.  Tony Gwynn, and others, changed sports a little with intense tape study, but our current understanding of the process involved in succeeding in sports through this acute focus on repetitious kinesthetic learning has progressed to a science.

This psychological concentration on minutiae, goes beyond the positioning of the thumb on a driver in golf, the tweak of the forearm in the tennis stroke, and all of the muscles involved in the follow through.  It goes beyond the purely physical aspects of sports to the mental.  Some of these concentrations have been known for eons, and the general idea would probably shock no one, but the acute focus on the actions and reactions has increased tenfold over the decades, until you no longer have mano y mano confrontations at the plate, but one psychologically conditioned machine versus another psychologically conditioned machine.

deion1What separates a Michael Jordan from the second best player to have played the game?  What separates a Deion Sanders from the second best cornerback to ever play the game?  I used to marvel at the athletic exploits of the Atlanta Falcon cornerback.  People would say Deion couldn’t tackle.  People would say he was a liability against the run.  “Who cares?” I said.  “Do you see what that guy can do when the ball is in the air?”  An athlete’s career, just like anyone else’s career, is usually defined in the hundreds of little snapshots that most people either don’t see, or talk about.  These moments are the moments of crunch time, when the ball is in the air.  These are the moments we practice for, we think about, and we prepare for, until we’re no longer thinking when they occur, and we’re acting and reacting with autonomic responses.

Most normal humans haven’t practiced any sport, or activity, to the point of achieving autonomic responses.  Most normal humans engage in athletic activities for casual enjoyment, or they involve their kids in sports for greater character definition.  Most do not subject themselves, or their kids, to the kind of “cruel, and inhumane” amount of practice that could steal a young person’s youth.  As a result, most of us cannot comprehend how a man could return a serve of 130mph and consistently place it in a two foot square that is his opponent’s after serve weakness.   The time span involved in such a serve has been clocked at .41 seconds, or the time it takes you to blink twice rapidly, and you don’t have time to think about a return.  On the flipside, there are more deliberate acts in sports, such as when a ball is thrown to a receiver that a Deion Sanders is covering.  This could take a couple seconds from the time the ball is released to the moment it hits Deion Sanders’ area.  What happens in those seconds?  It could be called a blank space in which the athlete knows what to do, but they may not be able to consistently accomplish it.  They may panic.  Even the greatest of athletes have had these moments, and they may display absolute confusion for the fact that their minds and body didn’t act in unison for that crucial moment in time.  They had such belief in their ability, they thought they worked as hard as anyone to prepare for that moment, and they failed.  They may be confused by the fact that they’ve failed, after all the hours, weeks and years they spent practicing, but to read Wallace’s description, and the descriptions of Federer’s workouts, these players may not have worked out to the seemingly cruel, exhaustive point of practice required to reach a kinesthetic sense, or an autonomic response, to the ball being in the air.




A strange part of me came to life in the surreal stillness of the nights I tried to sleep through in strange places.  It wasn’t born in one night of my youth, or in one morning after, but it occurred over the course of decades of insomnia nights spent in other people’s houses.  I was never one who could just sleep anywhere.  I had to have my pillow, my blankets, my room temperature, my environment, and my comfort level.  When someone would invite me over, I would jump at it.

midnightI loved spending the night at other people’s houses, but I could never sleep there.  I loved the days I spent with friends, and I loved the nights.  I loved sitting around telling ghost stories, talking about football and girls, and hating on the teach, but I dreaded the moment their Mom would walk in and say, “Okay, it’s time for bed now guys.”  I knew I would be forced to just lie there, still, silent, and looking at their furniture, the ceiling splotches, and their trinkets.  I knew there would be nothing I would be able to do to find sleep.  I knew I would envy my friends for being able to sleep, and I knew their trinkets would come to life, but I had no idea that this strange part of me would come to life as a result.

When you’re in the midst of those after midnight hours, at someone else’s house, you can’t just flip on the tube, run outside to check out the various comings and goings of the neighborhood, or snoop through your friend’s family’s stuff.  Doing any of these things would be regarded as incredibly impolite.  If you’re a normal kid, and the only reason your friend invited you to stay over is because he thought you were normal, you’ll lie there quietly and just hope that the dream world will eventually take you.  But if you’re like me, it never does, because you can’t sleep in strange places.  You’re trapped inside your own head, in their bed, in a cell called insomnia.

Trinkets have little to no value to anyone during the day.  I never understood trinkets.  I never understood the selection process people went through to decide which trinkets should decorate their living room.  My life had no grand design.  I was a kid.  I lived day to day, but I thought everything an adult life had some kind of grand design to it, and I thought their trinkets reflected that.  I used to ask people about their trinkets, and I thought their answers would give me some insight into their agenda.  I was usually disappointed.  “I just like it is all,” was the usual response.  Most of them would see my disappointment and look at me strangely.  Hey, you bought them, I wanted to say.  I wanted to tell them that they should have some sort of agenda, that brought forth some predilection for choosing one trinket over another.  Life shouldn’t be so random that you just buy a cute, little ceramic frog, because it’s cute and little and ceramic.  That’s chaos.  Trinkets should speak to your personality, your narrative of life.  I don’t have an agenda now, but I’m a kid.  You should’ve figured something out about life that you could teach me.  So, you’re saying that these things are just taking up space, so your coffee table isn’t bare.  Is this why you have fruit and flower paintings on the wall, because you hate empty spaces?  Or does your life have meaning?  Give me something here!  No matter what your friend’s parents say, all of these trinkets take on a special meaning in the surreal stillness of the night when you’re the only conscious person politely enduring the hours of silence and stillness.

There was a band member with a ten foot drum tied to his waist sitting on one of my friend’s coffee tables.  The band member had a broad smile on his face that suggested that he was very proud of the station he had achieved in life.  There was a panda bear that had an arm sticking out for you to put keys or a watch on.  There was a small, replica cannon that one could roll around on a nightstand.  What went into these choices, I would wonder to myself.  I knew they would say it was nothing, but there had to be some reason that they chose these trinkets to decorate their living room.  There had to be something meaningful that I could discern from these otherwise, mundane products.

A clock had grand embroidering on its flanks.  It took the shape of a starfish with greater congruity in its flanks.  I remember wondering if it would be seen as classy among the elite interior design consultants.  It had bland, black colors on its flanks with a silver middle, but the interior design elites often complimented that which was bland.  They often insulted that which stood out with bright colorization.  They called that loud.  I remember wondering if anyone would stare up at this clock and say: “Now that’s a clock.”  Whatever value it may have had during the day was exaggerated throughout the never-ending nights I spent staring up at it.

A horse was depicted raised up on its haunches, and the man on the horse was drawn back.  I don’t know if it was General Custer, but that was the image usually used to depict Custer.  I remember wondering if anyone ever talked about this piece.  Did anyone ever pick it up, and examine it, and talk about it?  Did it have any value beyond taking up space?

That’s what trinkets are I decided on one of these sleepless nights: objects designed for the sole purpose of taking up space.  As the hours passed, and my delirium strengthened, I began to assign feelings to these trinkets.  I saw them as lonely objects in need of attention.  When the day returns, I promised myself,  I would assign some sort of value to them. I would pay attention to them when no one else would.  I would ask about their owners about them, and these questions should give them value.

I would play and replay these conversations in my mind.  I would provide my listener witty retorts, and I would watch them laugh in my mind.  I would then drift into other conversations that occurred on other days.  I would remember my responses to things said, and some of the times I would cringe.  I would correct those conversations the next time I saw that person.  I thought of the perfect responses that would lay out those who sought to damage my image.  Some of the times, I would accidentally laugh aloud when I would recall those heroic moments when I cracked a real zinger off.  I would look at my friend to make sure he was still asleep, and then I would remember how everybody laughed, and I would think of them thinking I was funny.  I would accidentally laugh aloud again.

As the hours stretched on, and my stress level and delirium began battling for dominance, I would picture how mouths moved when people spoke.  I would picture their eyebrows twitch when they made expressions.  I would think about how everyone took turns speaking, and how no matter how many people are in a room there is always a pecking order.  I would think about clothing choices, and why one person drove a jeep and another drove a VW bug.  I would think about how some people chewed their food, and I would remember that Al Gaeta didn’t mind if his Jello and his mashed potatoes mingled.  “It all comes out the same!” he said.  I thought about how I was going to work that into a conversation one day.  I would think about how some achieved dominance in the everyday of life and others were forever caught in a subservient role.  I would get so focused on the minutiae of life that it almost drove me mad at times.

These moments were stressful, unhappy moments in my life that would eventually gestate into the bountiful material that sits before you now.  It wasn’t born in one night, or in one morning after, and I’m appreciative of those moments that bore such fruit, but I would’ve much rather gotten some sleep.

Time flies by in life, and it flew by in mine, but there were those agonizing nights spent at friend’s homes when time slowed to a crawl.  In these moments I agonized and celebrated over those small moments in life, and I began to examine and re-examine those moments, until I began to wonder if anyone else in the world had these moments.  I realized that the simple act of sleeping was the mind and the body’s attempt to recuperate from the day.  I wondered if anyone valued their lives, and the fact that when we all woke we would be granted another day, the way I had in these early morning hours.  When they wake and speak to me, I decided that I would pay special attention to them, for in these wee hours of the morning communication between humans becomes a little more surreal to me.

When I was eventually awoken, I realized that I was granted some sleep, but I was so tired that I didn’t want to engage in the customary conversations of the day.  I wanted to forget all that I thought about in the grips of delirium and frustration, and just go home and catch up on some of the sleep I lost at their house.  I hated them for inviting me over, I hated them for wanting to speak to me in the morning, and I hated them for having a house.  I returned their overly cheery good mornings, and I smiled when Buggs Bunny did something that caused my good friend laughter, but I hated Buggs Bunny for being funny, and I hated my friend for being so simple-minded that he would laugh at something specifically written to generate a laugh.  I would decide, in the throes of this delirious morning, that I would return to the normal world, and I would do things that other people considered normal, so they would enjoy being around me.  I decided not to tell those who liked me, and cared about me, what went on inside my head as a result of so many delirious nights, over so many years, but you can only take so many of these blows without being affected by them.  Rilaly.com, the bizarre novels, the short stories, and the collection of creative non-fiction stories I’ve written throughout my life are the confections that were created over the many years I suffered through the surreal stillness of those nights.  So, if you don’t want your children to turn out like me, you may want to step in and make sure they’re getting some sleep.

Chances are if you were lower middle-class, Irish, and Catholic, and you grew up in a Midwestern city in the late 70’s/early 80’s, you were immersed in a culture of booze.  Every man I knew had his drink of choice in the 70’s, and his bar to drink it in. They were hard-working, lifelong Kennedy Democrats that would just as soon knock your block off than engage you in a socioeconomic discussion on the differences of the Carter agenda and the Reagan agenda. Drinking was more socially accepted back then, and drinking is what all the adults around me did.

alcoholChances are if you were an adult in this era, your parents had a Depression-era mindset given to them by their parents and you had some form of involvement in World War II, Korea, or Vietnam. Chances are you weren’t a talker in the manner that Oprah-era talkers are talkers. Chances are you blanched at the suggestion that you were a hero, or that you were a member of America’s “Greatest Generation”.  Chances are you were humble about your heroic efforts to save the world, and you didn’t want your exploits discussed, but you were just as silent about the pain you felt.  Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder would be discussed during this era, but you knew that true men poo pooed its discussion in closed quarters.  Chances are you dealt with everything you saw, and everything you experienced quietly and internally, and in the only way you could deal with all this without going insane, in the company of some container of alcohol that allowed you to forget that which haunted you…if only for a couple hours.  Chances are you accidentally passed this legacy on.

Chances are if you were an adult in this era, your home came equipped with a fully stocked bar; a mirror around that bar that had some bourbon colored artwork on it; and a wagon wheel table, or some other loud furnishings that distracted the eye from the otherwise lower middle class furnishings of your home.

Chances are if you were a woman, and a wife in this era, your tale of the tape scorecard involved your hosting abilities.  For a good hostess of this era, the question wasn’t “Do you want a drink?” it was “What do you drink?” or “What can I do you for?,” or “What’s your flavor neighbor?”  That’s if the hostess didn’t know their guests’ drink of choice.  Most good hostesses did.  Most good hostesses knew their guests’ kids’ names, and the perfect form of entertainment that would keep the kids away from the men.  I remember one particular hostess, a wife named Jean, that had Rondo at her bar.  Rondo!  How did she know that was my drink of choice?  She was an excellent hostess.

Chances are your family had a George.  George was a family friend.  George was a regular pop in.  Pop ins, in the 70’s, were frequent and irregular.  You had some notice, some of the times, but for the most part a good hostess had to be prepared for a George to pop in at any time.  It was a crucial checkmark on a hostesses’ list.  Who was George?  George was Johnny Walker Black dry.  My Mother innocently served him Johnny Walker Black on ice once.  Once.  Some of the times, once is all it takes.  It would be the shame that loomed over my family for many a year.  George was polite about it.  He allowed his drink to sit silently on the table before him while speaking of other, more pressing matters.  When he was asked why he wasn’t indulging in the fruits of our labor, George simply said, “I prefer it dry.”  My Mother scurried about emptying his glass to prepare him a glass that was dry.  My Dad couldn’t look at George.  He saved his scorn for my Mother.  George, for his part, said nothing.  He was polite, and he silently drank it dry, but the damage was already done.  George was a World War II and Korean, War Hero; he was a golden gloves boxing champion; he was the top John Deere salesman so many times that it would be more illustrative to point out how many years he didn’t win the award; and he was eventually an independent business owner that carved out a niche in the crowded furniture market of our city, but I wouldn’t know any of that for decades.  I grew up knowing him as Johnny Walker Black dry.

Chances are if you were a Catholic, Irish boy of this era, you were not permitted to have an objective view of John F. Kennedy.  We had pictures and portraits of two men in my household: Jesus and JFK.  One of the first methods through which a young male could get a foothold on an identity in my household, through rebellion, was to criticize JFK.  It was the family shame.  You could criticize Notre Dame Football in my house, you could criticize the Cornhuskers, and you could even criticize the Catholic Church when Dad was good and loaded, but God help you if you claimed that JFK might not be Mount Rushmore material.  There were numerous fights on this topic, in my house, that ended with the concession: “If you insist on popping off in such a manner, keep it in the family.”  I wasn’t to embarrass my family with these crazy, heretical ideas about JFK.  I would love to say that I stood proud atop this lonely hill, astride my verbal spears, but I was so young and so outnumbered that I questioned my stance.  I questioned it so much that when confronted by a Spanish teacher—that was kind enough to give me a ride to school—with the question of who I thought was the greatest president of all time, I said “Kennedy.”  I said this to avoid a fight from a man I judged to be my intellectual superior.  “You know I’m Cuban right?” he asked.  I didn’t, and I must confess that I didn’t understand the implications of it, but I said I did know that he was Cuban.  “Did you know that I was a Cuban rebel of Castro?”  I confessed that I didn’t.  “Did you know that I am the oldest grandson of a former Cuban emperor, and that I was in a direct line of secession that Castro wanted obliterated?  Did you know that we were abandoned by this man that you call the greatest president of all time in what is called the Bay of Pigs?”  I said I didn’t.  I was thoroughly humiliated, but I didn’t know why.  I was eventually let off the hook, because I was young, and I didn’t know any better.  “Pay more attention in History class…” this Spanish teacher told me.  I didn’t know it at the time, but I needed a drink after all that.  I would come to know that soon.  I would come to realize that all of the uncomfortable moments of life could be eased out of sight, and out of mind, with a couple of good belts under my belt.  I would learn that fun was always fifteen minutes away.

Chances are that if you grew up in this era, in a manner similar to mine, you learned that adulthood was chaotic and an awful responsibility.  You got yourself a job.  You hated this job, but every man had a job.  You got yourself some kids, but kids were seen but not heard in this era.  Every kid learned how to conduct themselves around adults, no matter how chaotically these adults acted.  You got your quarters to play Pac-Man or “Rhinestone Cowboy” on the jukebox, and you stayed away from the adults and their imbibing.  You worried about everything that happened if you were an adult in this post-Depression, post WWII era, you developed worry lines, and every piece of advice you offered a kid from the next generation involved the word “awful”.  You learned that alcohol was the escape from all that pained you, the awful life, and you indulged in her pleasures whenever you had the chance to escape it.  I saw all of the ABC After School Specials, and their thematic horrors of alcohol abuse, but I rarely saw those horrors in my life.  In my real life all the trials and tribulations, of the awful life, were fifteen minutes away—or however long it took you to get a couple of good belts under your belt—from being fun.

Chances are that through all the fun, however, you did see some chaos if you were a kid in this era.  Chances are you witnessed some evidence that the lifestyle wasn’t all it was cracked up to be.  Chances are you witnessed one of your parents, most likely your Dad, in a compromising position.  The women of this era usually comported themselves better.  For the most part, all of the adults controlled their alcohol intake in public, but there were days when the awful responsibilities, of the awful job, in their awful life got to them, and they over indulged.  Chances are they did something, in the throes of this abuse, that forever changed your perception of them, but chances are that didn’t outweigh the overall joy you saw procured from indulging.

Chances are you were already fully immersed in this lifestyle before any of the consequences of the lifestyle came to call on victims of the WWII generation.  My Dad’s generation didn’t qualify their love of alcohol.  They drank, they got sauced, they got tanked, and they liked it!  They got a few belts under their belt, and they felt better about the post WWII, Korea and Vietnam life they lived.  It was their way to escape thinking about The Depression that their parents taught them, and the lessons Hitler taught them, and to escape the fact that the U.S. had more issues than they knew growing up.  It was their way of creating an alternative universe that escaped all politics—both national and personal.  They had never heard of cirrhosis of the liver, no one spoke about the horrors of drunk driving, and they didn’t gauge the chaotic effects alcohol could have on the mind and the family, until we were all already immersed in the provocative folklore that we took from the lifestyle.  Chances are they didn’t discuss the horrors of the lifestyle, because they didn’t see them, until it was much too late for most of us.

Chances are you were probably immersed in the lifestyle before you were ready for such discussions anyway.  I know I was.  I know I took from the examples of what they did, versus what they eventually said.  I knew I couldn’t handle my liquor, and I still can’t, but I defined adulthood as one drenched in alcohol and lots of talking.  The talk was always uninhibited, slightly loony, jovial and non-stop.  If something offensive was said, during this talk, you were to ignore it. “That was the beer talking.”  It was a get-out-of-jail free card to say whatever you wanted to say whenever you wanted to say it.

Chances are once you were ready to immerse yourself in that lifestyle, you had that party that defined who you were and what you were about to do in life.  Mine occurred at the hands of a guy named Lou.  The summary of Lou’s fifteen year old philosophy was, life sucks, life is boring, let’s drink.  “I don’t want to hear your philosophies of life,” he said, “I want to get plastered.”  When I suggested to Lou that I loved music that was heavily influenced by the strange, complicated chords of Bohemian Rhapsody, he said, “‘F’ that stuff!  The stuff you listen to isn’t party rock!  If we’re going to get women involved, we got to get the Crue, Kiss, Ratt, and The Beastie Boys involved.”  Lou was all about the testosterone.  He liked to fight, he liked to have fun, he liked football, and he liked to have relations with women.  It was the 4F society of a fifteen-year-old’s world.

Chances are if you drank this early in life, you didn’t have a way for getting alcohol.  Chances are you drank anything you could get your hands on.  Chances are you drank beer that you wouldn’t touch today, but if you couldn’t get that beer, you found an exotic liquor that you hoped would launch you past all those preparatory stages of adulthood to adulthood.  Drinking a high-powered drink, like bourbon, was like stepping onto a high powered escalator that transported one to adulthood.  If you were a lot like me, chances are you were an eager student to the specifics on how to drink…If you wanted to know how to enjoy the ride properly.  You learned how to hold a drink, when to drink a drink, and how to chase it for either minimal damage or maximum effect.

Chances are if you were a naïve, young Irish, Catholic boy from the Midwest, you had a Lou in your life.  “We have alcohol,” Lou said.  He informed me of this in a somewhat guarded manner that suggested that this wasn’t just any liquor, it was emergency liquor.  It was liquor that shouldn’t be approached lightly.  But this wasn’t just any ordinary night, this was a night that would have girls in it. If this didn’t qualify as an emergency night, no night would.  “Girls don’t want to sit around and talk,” Lou said.  “Girls want to get plastered.  Girls want to party with guys that know how to party.”  If it had been any other, ordinary night, where we couldn’t get alcohol, we would’ve sat in Lou’s basement and watched his Betamax collection of nude scenes from Hollywood’s glitterati.

Chances are you were a raging ball of insecurities and hormones, at fifteen, and you believed massive amounts of alcohol would provide you some cover.  I know we did.  I know we decided to break the emergency glass on Lou’s parents’ liquor to make something happen on “girls” night.  That’s what we wanted, more than anything else, we wanted something to happen.  We wanted to be fun, and with our fifteen-year-old, Catholic, and Midwestern mindsets, we feared we didn’t have much of a knowledgebase, so we decided that alcohol would provide us some cover.  “Okay, but I’m not going to raid the liquor cabinet,” Lou said.  “After my cousin raided it a number of times, my parents got hip to the water in the bottle trick to keeping alcohol bottles filled.  We do have decanters though.”  Lou’s parents were the owners of a liquor store, so there was always plenty of alcohol in their house.  The trick was how were we going to get to this alcohol without their knowledge?

Chances are if you were a naïve, young Irish, Catholic boy, born into the lifestyle of alcohol you said, “Decanters?!” with a gleam in your eye.  “Let’s see them!” you said. “I have no idea how old they are, but they’re old,” Lou said.  He opened the closet door to reveal an array of elaborate decanters lined up in their own compartments.  They had never been opened, and they had never been touched as far as Lou knew.  “They’re, at least, as old as we are,” he informed me.

Chances are you saw decanters like these your whole life, and you probably viewed them in the manner Hobbits viewed Gandalf.  “What kind of alcohol are they?” I asked believing there was an elixir in those decanters that would reveal things about life to me that my alcoholic forbears knew for a generation.  He twisted the bottle around to read the label.  “Bourbon!”  He cringed.  I didn’t know if bourbon was more potent than scotch or whiskey, and to be quite frank I still don’t.  I’m sure that it’s all dependent on the brand, the amount of proof listed on the bottle, and the year it was produced.  I made a mistake on the latter when I said, “Alcohol doesn’t go bad with age.  It gets better.  It becomes vintage.”

Chances are you knew as little about alcohol as I did, but you provided cover for this lack of knowledge with such little nuggets of information you had picked up over the years.  Plus, you were willing to do whatever you had to do to entertain girls.  Lou knew as little about alcohol as I did, but we both knew that an emergency night that called for emergency procedures.  Dawn was coming over, after all.  Dawn.  Dawn was only thirteen, but she had a woman’s body, and she had one of those sultry, horse, Lauren Bacall voices that would melt a man’s loins, not to mention what they did to a fifteen-year-old’s ball of raging hormones.  Dawn had a vacant expression above a cut, strong jawline, beneath flowery blonde hair.  She loved to wear swimsuits all the time, even though she wasn’t going swimming, or that’s how I remember it anyway.

Chances are if you had a Dawn in your young life, you were willing to flip all of the emergency triggers necessary to entertain her.  If you could get her to laugh, just once, you could play with that for a couple months, if not years.  If she found something you said intelligent, or provocative, that could be your lone definition throughout your teens.  Even having a Dawn look at you, was worth a couple swigs off the worst drink you ever put to my mouth.  Lou seemed to gain his mantle effortlessly.  I had to drink enough liquid courage to even open my mouth for five seconds.  She was that good looking.  I wanted to be entertaining in the manner my Dad, and George, and Francis, and Sam were entertaining when they drank.  I’m not sure if it was the first time I ever drank, but it was the first time I drank with girls around.  It was my first foray into the 4F club, and I was only fifteen minutes away from fun.

Chances are when you took your first drink, it was absolutely awful.  Beer was awful and hard liquor was absolutely terrible, but chances are that didn’t matter to you.  Chances are you thought that there was something important involved in you taking that drink.  Whether it was achieving a different personality, a heightened awareness, or advancing to adulthood in some manner you couldn’t put your finger on, chances are you decided that you would acquire a taste for it, if it killed you.  I decided I would be Tommy Lee, downing this whole, fricking bottle before a drum kit if I had to.  I would be entertaining and lively.  I wouldn’t engage them in my fifteen year old philosophy.  I wouldn’t wax nostalgic on the beauty of Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody.  I would rock out and get plastered and be entertaining.

Chances are some girl, at some point in your life, called you boring. Chances are you didn’t know how to be entertaining to girls.  If that’s all true with you, and you had the opportunity I did to be entertaining through alcohol, chances are you overdid it.  If a girl like Dawn would laugh at something you said after one shot of alcohol, imagine what she would think of you after two, or three, or eleven shots.  I got so out of hand, at one point, I began sneaking other people’s drinks.  Another girl at the party, a girl named Rhonda, took one girly smidgen and decided that this wasn’t for her.  For me, drinking this drink was like diving into an extremely cold pool.  It was shocking and breathtakingly bad, but once I got it into my system, I figured my body would acclimate itself.  I began sneaking Rhonda’s drink.  When it was my turn to drink, if I missed a quarter shot for example, I downed that muther.  It would only be revealed to me later that all of the other people in the place, took smidgens and put the drink behind them.  Even if I knew this, I doubt it would’ve slowed me.  I was there to enter the 4F club, I was there to get tanked, and this was my fifteen minutes of fun.  I didn’t care that by some estimates I downed ten to eleven shots in this, my first drinking experience.  This was more about entering a spirituality of drink than it was about being responsible or having a polite, responsible time.  I was fifteen and I wanted to rock out.

Chances are that if you had a night like this, as your first drinking experience, you don’t remember a whole lot.  I remember Dawn did a seductive striptease dance, but I missed most of that(!) Why God(?!) I remember someone being somewhat-sort-of concerned with my well-being.  I remember vomiting violently, and I remember waking.  I did it all to elevate myself to another sphere of spirituality that I would remember for the rest of my life, and I didn’t remember much of it.  I haven’t had a drink of bourbon, or anything and everything that smelled something like bourbon, since.  I just threw up just a little thinking of that smell.

Chances are that you had some sort of confrontation in that first morning after, whether it was internal or not. My experience involved a verbal confrontation with Lou’s Mom. I was in on about half of that discussion, even though she was speaking directly to me.  I’ve never done well in situations where someone called my sanity into question.  When one looks at me with that look, and speaks to me in that accusatory manner, I usually shut down or leave the room rather than engage.  The times when I engaged in such confrontations have never turned out well. “What the hell were you thinking?” was the theme of her questioning.  I looked elsewhere.  “This is forty year old bourbon,” she said.  This caused one of my otherwise, carefree eyebrows to lift.

Chances are that something went through your head that suggested that she was angry because her little baby was growing up faster than she wanted, and she didn’t know how to deal with that fact.  Chances are you used one of those few nuggets of information you had about alcohol against her.  “Doesn’t alcohol get better with age?” I asked her.  “Better with age?” she asked rhetorically.  “Wine does,” she said.  “You’re thinking of wine….bourbon ferments,” she said.  “Do you know what ferments means?” she asked me from a position that was as close to hysterical as she ever got.  “You could’ve, and should’ve, died last night!”  Her eyes were boring into me, attempting to wake me to the reality of what I’d just done.  “You’re just lucky you threw it all up!” she said.  This caused both of my eyebrows to lift before I left the room.

Chances are not all of your drinking experiences were as death-defying.  Mine weren’t either, at least not to that level.  There was one night, I screamed out the lyrics to Bohemian Rhapsody in the manner Wayne’s World had.  I was drunk out of my mind, barely paying attention to the road, with a hot girl, named Adana Moore, in the passenger seat.  I think there were five people in my car that night: Me, Lou, Adana, Madonna, and some other girl they jokingly called Donna.  When the song ended, I began screaming the next song.  I wanted people to know that I knew the entire A Night at the Opera album.  I knew every lyric to every song on that album, and probably five other Queen albums.  No one cared.  They only wanted to feel like Wayne’s World for one night.  I remember Adana Moore staring at me like I was a strange character, as I worked my way through the lyrics of the next song, and the next, until I felt I proved that I would continue to do it even with her looking at me.  Then, once she looked away, I felt stupid and stopped.

Chances are if you knew a Lou, you knew a guy that had a formula to getting chicks to do things that were totally foreign to you.  I envied him for it.  He was skilled at talking to women about stupid stuff.  He wasn’t a phony guy, but he knew how to turn on the phony factor better than most people I know.  He liked to say he had a gift for it, and he did.  He liked to call this suave character he created The Louer.  The Louer was an alter-ego Lou turned on when the ladies came around, and the ladies loved this self-effacing braggadocious character.  I couldn’t compete with Lou on the Louer’s turf, so I decided to go down the opposite road.  I decided I would be a complicated, artistic individual, but the problem was I had no artistic talents at the time.  I listened to complicated music, or what I thought was complicated music back then, and I brooded.  I thought this was artistic.  I rarely spoke, unless spoken to.  I offered some clipped responses, and I tried to be ironically and sardonically funny.  Whatever the case was, I wasn’t into impressing the girls in the ways of the Louer.

If you knew a Lou, chances are you knew a guy who could flip a Louer lever to get the ladies undressed.  I would not lower myself to such a point where a girl would dictate to me how I was to act to entertain them.  I would remain true to my artistic convictions, even if most people didn’t care one way or another.  I would not entertain them in a fashion I considered demeaning.  I would be funny, but I would be funny on my terms.  I would have fun, but that would be fun that I considered fun.  In truth, I couldn’t be entertaining, and fun, in the manner Lou was entertaining and fun, but we made a good team.  If the Louer was David Lee Roth, I was Eddie Vedder before anyone had heard of Eddie Vedder.  This isn’t to say that I was sad.  I was happy and fun, but I didn’t have a whole lot of material back then.  Lou didn’t either, but he was much better at concealing this fact than I was when he was the Louer.

Chances are, if you’re anything like me, you reached a point where you realized you could not handle your liquor.  I would say this to all of my future co-workers, friends, and family at any social function I attended.  At one point, I thought of having a T-shirt made that said this, just to save all the time it took me to convince those around me that it’s not a good idea to give me hard alcohol.  “Don’t feed the bear,” I told them in a joking manner that I hoped would address the matter with humor.  I knew this made me less of a man, and that “that woman over there can outdrink you.”  That’s fine, I said.  I’ll bet I have a better jump shot than her, I’ll bet I can conjugate a verb faster than her, and I’ll bet I can name more Civil War generals than she can.  I didn’t care that I could do any of these things better than her, just like I didn’t care that she could drink me under the table.

Chances are that such convictions didn’t last throughout your drinking life.  Chances are you didn’t care when a fella called you out, but when you hung out with that cute girl you had been dying to hang out with confront you with these facets of your drinking life, you folded like a house of cards.  You may have told her of your weakness, but chances are that didn’t matter to her, and chances are that meant a great deal to you.  “Do you want me to be fun tonight, or do you want me to drink this one drink that you feel builds some form of symbolic camaraderie?” ‘Drink it!’ she said. “Do you want me to tell half of you I love you and half of you I hate you?” ‘I don’t care drink it!’ “Do you want me to start walking down that hallway over there and fall into that family of six?” ‘Drink the shit!’ “Does it really matter that I put the same thing into my mouth at the same time that you do?” ‘YES! Drink the shit!!’ “At a certain point in the evening, I will become quiet, as I grow embarrassed that everything that comes out of my mouth is twisted and tied up in my alcohol saturated brain.  You really want that?”  YES! Drink the shit!!  She was so cute, and she gave an inkling that she might be willing to get undressed for me at the end of the night, and she was losing patience with me and my stance.  She was even becoming a little disgusted by my weakness, so I drank the shit and eventually ruined (like I knew I would!) any chances of seeing her cute, little body naked.

Chances are at some point in your life, you saw the hills of drinking.  All drinkers know these hills.  One hill can be a momentary, night by night scale of debauchery, that ends at a certain point where you’ve reached maximum altitude.  Most drinkers know this hill, and they responsibly know when to say when.  They know how to have fun and engage in a little chaos that eases the awful life a little, but they know that slaloming down the hill at breakneck speed has consequences.  Some don’t.  Some always want that little, extra bit of fun that looms on the other side of the hill that doesn’t exist, but can be achieved with just one more drink.  You are forever in pursuit of that which may never have existed in the first place, if you’re anything like me.  There is also that hill of life that most drinkers acknowledge at one time or another.

Chances are if you’re like me, you never sought this hill of life, so much as it was introduced to you.  Chances are some of your friends suddenly stopped drinking, or they stopped seeing the necessity of having drink accompany every single get-together.  I remember the first one.  I remember seeing no beer in anyone’s hands, and thinking how unusual that was.  What’s going on, I wondered.  I remember the customary conversation that occurred on that occasion that I thought matched that which I had with my relatives at Thanksgiving.  I remember thinking what a travesty that was.  “We’re just going to sit here and talk?!”  It wasn’t the hill for me, not yet, but it was a sign that things were changing among my friends.  I was no longer in charge of festivities.  I was no longer “respected” as the go-to guy for fun and frivolity.  I was becoming a little sad.  I was being face-planted into a hill that exposed me as a man that began to rely on a little drink as a Band-Aid to cover my wounds.  I was becoming pathetic.  I didn’t care.  This wasn’t right.  This was boring!  Who’s in charge here?  No one would answer.  No one would look at me.  It was the changing of the guard.

Chances are if you’re anything like me, you were one of the last to jump on board this ride.  Chances are it took you years, if not decades, to realize that you didn’t need alcohol to be fun and exciting, and you chose Thanksgiving style talk as your new course of life.  You began to learn about politics and work, and you began to engage in the awful life without it being made all the more awful through chaotic release.

Chances are you began to see all the life you missed at this point.  Chances are people learned how to balance checkbooks, and fix their cars, and homes, and their plumbing.  Chances are these people made meritorious advances in the workplace while you remained in your entry level position.  Chances are they learned how to talk to women without having to have chemical courage involved.  Chances are these people all learned things about life that you spent most of your life trying to escape and avoid because they were square, unhip, nonalcoholic pursuits of life.  Chances are this was never your intention in life, but it happened progressively night after night, hung-over morning after hung-over morning.  Chances are you wasted a certain portion of your life in which you did achieve things, but not as much as you could’ve if you had been a little more focused.

Chances are if you led a life similar to mine, you started to recognize the compulsion you once had to be impulsive.  Chances are that you once flew down roads at breakneck speeds to get to an 8pm party, so that you would have plenty of time to get blitzed by the time the heart of the party started.  Chances are this started to become such a cyclical pattern of your life that these nights began to lose their fun.  You had some Mt. McKinley nights of fun that you spent most of your life trying to recapture then top, until you had some Mt. Everest nights of fun.  You escaped the pressures of the work life and the doldrums of the home life so often that those nights started to lose that crucial element of escapism.  When this started happening, chances are you started to think about going home earlier, until you got there and wished you were out drinking again.  You just wanted a fun life, and you were willing to do whatever it took to achieve it.  You wanted to avoid reflection and get extremely chaotic for fifteen minutes of fun that helped you deal with the awful life, until you realized that your life was awful because of it.  My Dad and his friends had a hill, but they knew how to drink.  Everyone does, it seems, to a point where it’s good, clean, adult fun.  They didn’t know how to live, and either do you, you realize that day you truly face plant into that hill that informs you that you’ve been avoiding life for so long that you don’t know how to live.

Chances are you figured something out, somewhere along the line, and you’re happy now.  Chances are something, or someone, happened in your life to clarify matters for you, and you’re no longer in the dark.  Chances are you were a little late to the game, but you look back on your lifestyle with some regret and some fondness, but you’ve moved on, and you’re happier than you’ve ever been.

Balloon fetishists call themselves looners, balloonophiles, or loonatics. They enjoy blowing up balloons and watching others blow up balloons. They enjoy popping either latex balloons, or the higher quality Mylar balloons when they have more disposable cash on hand. Segments of the balloonist community enjoy popping the balloon with a pin, others enjoy using a flame, but some of the more specific loonatics use a shoe heel for maximum impact. Non-poppers also like to bake their balloons in an over to make them stretchier.

“I like the image of a rough and tough man, idly and gently playing with a large, tightly inflated balloon, bouncing it gently around and roughly scraping his hands across it to make it squeal.  I like to imagine him wrapping his rough, hairy hands around it, distorting it out of shape and bursting it with sheer muscular force as if to prove his masculinity.” -Buster Steve

balloonsThere is a philosophical conflict in balloonville among the popper and the non-popper factions.  Poppers prefer to have their explosion occur in conjunction with the balloon’s.  Non-poppers, on the other hand, prefer to use the same balloon over and over again.  They see the poppers enjoyment of popping a balloon as unnecessarily violent and even a little sadistic.  They think that more can be attained from a balloon through what could be called a more monogamous relationship, especially when that balloon is made of Mylar and filled with air as opposed to helium.  Non-poppers are generally regarded as inferior in the popper community, and some have even gone so far to say that non-poppers are complete wusses for their aversions to loud noises.

“The loud noises are where it’s at,” says Jim from Richmond.  “There is something exhilarating about rubbing your fingers along a fully inflated balloon.  The sounds it makes does something those with an aversion to loud noises will never understand.  They’re like screams or something.”

Some have suggested that the orthodox balloonophile may have been borne of a castration anxiety or a denial of breastfeeding.  They also suggest that some balloonophiles may go too far in their endeavor, and that they may accidentally advance to a stage in their unique pursuit of therapy, where they manage to totally replace the natural need for human contact and become psychologically irretrievable.

“The strongest, most pervasive fantasy I have is to be in the company of a woman who is completely nonchalant and unperturbed while blowing up, playing with, and popping balloons.  A woman who has the ability to handle balloons without fear is awesome and devastatingly sexy,” –Dan.

Others confess that their fascination may be deeply rooted and psychological.  They see balloons as a psychological substitute that when deeply ingested by a female can achieve excitation, especially when the female pops the balloon upon total immersion.  For those in that camp, there is a biological inflation fetish that occurs with sudden expansion of body parts.

“The pop can be violently dramatic when it’s done right,” says a performer who engages in balloon immersion in her act.  “You have to know how to bring them in though.  It’s very theatrical when done with proper attention paid to detail and timing.  To those who think this is easy, I always say you try it!” 

Not all non-poppers have a general aversion to loud noises, just like not all poppers demand well-timed explosions.  Some non-poppers see the well-timed, loud noises as arousing as opposed to the ligyrophobic terror they usually experience with loud noises.

“It’s a non-threatening way to tweak your fears,”—Brett

In the foreplay portion of this experience, the non-popper will initiate contact on all fours, barking at the balloon for several minutes.  Once dominance is achieved, the non-popper will lower their head in a submissive gesture and progressively, and cautiously, crawl to the balloon for embraces and comfort.  They will then roll onto their backs, during this supplication phase of the tryst, to allow the balloon full exploration of their body.{1}

Many balloonists live stressful lives, in their non-balloon lives, and they consider balloonophilia very relaxing and therapeutic:

“I work 60-70 hours a week for a company that doesn’t appreciate me for what I do.  I have a wife and two kids that don’t even smile anymore.  I’m not hurting anyone.  Why does anyone care what I do in my free time?”—Leo   

“The images I enjoy are non-pornographic (and typically involve fully-clothed people), have both male and female subjects, and show people having fun blowing up or otherwise playing with balloons.  It doesn’t always have to be a sexual thing.” –Tina

Through trial and error, an experienced balloonist named Casey has developed a few words of warning for present and future loonies to abide by when indulging in balloonophilia.

“Don’t keep a balloon inside you for extended periods of time, as it can cause unintended consequences that may not be immediately apparent. 

“If you are going to pop a balloon, keep it a couple inches from your body, unless you are doing it for the pain.  It will hurt you if you put it too close to your skin, and it can cause welts, discoloration, and embarrassing, hard to explain bruising. 

“Also, be careful when having relations with a balloon.  Once you’re in the nozzle, it can be difficult to get out after the pop.  You may need to keep a razor or a knife around to cut the balloon off.”—Casey 

Baloonophilia vs Globophobia

Most people enjoy the presence of balloons for purely platonic reasons.  They have become a staple in various celebrations and rites of passage in our society that most have become ambivalent to their existence in a room.  For various reasons, others have developed exaggerated reactions to their presence over time.  How do these exaggerated reactions occur?  How is a balloonophiliac created?  How is a globophobic created?

“Usually, when someone has a bizarre arousal pattern, there has been something in their past that has made them susceptible to something deviant, or something unusual occurred,” Dr. Mark Schwartz, a practicing psychologist in St. Louis, says.

“In the first 10 years of someone’s life, there is hardwiring of sexual arousals and then, at puberty, it sort of turns on,” Schwartz said. “Then, over time, [the fetish] gets cemented through the repetition of self-pleasure to the arousing object and it becomes relatively permanent.”

Schwartz said that when he treats patients with such fetishes, he revisits the original trauma that triggered the fetish.

“By reactivating that original trauma and getting in that high susceptible state, we are able to change some of the core arousal patterns,” Schwartz said.  “You can begin to see where the arousal came in and, in the future, when it comes to your conscious mind, you think back to the traumatic event.”{2}

For the globophobic sufferers in our society there is help out there.  Globophobia has been defined as:  “A persistent, abnormal, and unwarranted fear of balloons, despite the understanding by the phobic individual and reassurance by others that there is no danger; a strong fear of, dislike of, or aversion to balloons.”

Most globophobics won’t publicly admit to their fears, but those who do admit to completely avoiding any situation that might warrant balloons.  Others say that when they attend a family function where the balloons is expected, such as a birthday party, their family members will hide the balloons in another room while they are there, which shows great understanding and concern from those family members, whereas other sufferers say that their families and friends enjoy tormenting them with balloons, knowing the kind of fear they have of balloons.  There is no talk, currently, of listing globophobia as a disability in the New England Journal of Medicine, as it is currently listed as an “abnormal phobia”.  That doesn’t mean that there isn’t help out there for sufferers, and admitting you have a problem is the first step.  If globophobic sufferers want to get any better there are ways to overcome their fears.  It may cost them some time and money to get over their fears, but if it means no longer living in fear of something that surrounds them constantly, then it will be worth it.



Would you eat something someone whispered to sweetly? Would you eat something someone cared about?

On an episode of the brilliant, hidden camera show on TruTV called “Impractical Jokers, the comedian Salvatore (Sal) Vulcano worked at the counter of a bakery.  In the course of his duties, in an episode, titled “Who Arted?”, Sal talked to pastries before putting them in his customer’s pastry box.  The implied joke, in this transaction, was that Sal had developed a familiar bond with these pastries that went beyond the usual, professional association a baker normally has with his creations.

Sal said things like: “I’m going to give you to this lady now, and she’s going to eat you.  I’m sorry,” he said. “This is just the way things are.”

In reaction to this display, the customer on the other side of the counter, decided that she did not want that particular pastry.  She didn’t reveal anything about her decision making process, but it was obvious that she was uncomfortable with the idea of eating that particular pastry.  Without saying a word, Sal selected another pastry, and he proceeded to speak to that one too.  The woman interjects quickly saying:

“I don’t want one that you’ve spoken to.”  At the conclusion of the segment, all four comedians come to the fore to comment on the segment, and they admitted that they wouldn’t eat food that someone has spoken to either.

freee-range-turkeyThe question that is not answered by the woman, or the four comedians, is why would a person reject the idea of eating a relatively inanimate object, such as a pastry, because someone has spoken to it?  I put this scenario to a friend, and he said that his decision would be based on what the person said to the pastry.

So if the person said things you deemed to be unacceptable you wouldn’t eat it?  It’s creepy, I’ll grant you that, and I may join the odd look you give the man who does it, but I would then sit and eat it without any uncomfortable feelings or guilt.

The obvious answer is that Sal’s presentation animated the pastries in a manner that this customer found disconcerting.  In her world, presumably, it has always been socially acceptable to eat pastries, and she wanted to return that world.  She didn’t want the guilt associated with eating a product that had a friend, or that someone cared about, or at the very least she didn’t want to watch their interaction.  She is so uneasy with the association that she makes a boldfaced demand that Sal give her a pastry that hasn’t been spoken to in any manner, and she does this without recognizing the lunacy of such a demand.

Proper analysis of the segment is almost impossible, since we don’t know what was going on in this customer’s head, but it appears to be an excellent portrayal, albeit incidental, of an individual who over thinks matters.  She appears to be an individual who irrationally cares about matters that prop up her perception before others.  Who would eat something that someone cares so much about?  A cad would.  Someone who doesn’t care about a person, place, or thing would.  It’s a reflection on you if you can eat such a thing without a second thought.  You’re saying you would eat such a thing without guilt?  What kind of person are you?  How would you sell your goodness to those around you after doing it?

Would you eat a small child’s beloved dog?  If you say no, where are your parameters?  Would you have any problems eating a turkey?  What if you met that turkey, and that turkey had a little personality to it?  What if it displayed a little spunk you appreciated?  What if you saw that turkey befriend another turkey?  What if it was kind to you in some manner that left you feeling touched by it?  What if it allowed you to fondle its wattle?  What if that turkey had a name? How could you eat a thing with a name?  What kind of person are you?  Would you rather eat a turkey that you’ve never met, that some individual in a factory farm slaughtered and packaged for you?  If you are that caring person that doesn’t want to see anything (or anyone) suffer, how could you eat a pastry that an individual appears to have bonded with?  What’s the difference?  Where is the line?  It’s a pastry you say, and a pastry is not the same as a well-trained turkey.

If you’re a person that would have difficulty eating a pastry that someone spoke to lovingly, then you may be a little too obsessed with presentation.  You may be as susceptible to commercialization and suggestion as all those people you claim to hate.  You’re a “high-minded” person that cares so much about the perception others have of you that you will not even eat a pastry that you purchased when no one you knew was around.  You’re afraid of what it says about you that you will eat this beloved pastry guilt-free.  You’re afraid you won’t be able to sleep at night knowing that you took a bite out of something that Sal appeared to love.  You think too much, you have too much time on your hands, and you probably think less of a person that would eat such a thing, because it gives you a feeling of superiority.

How do we make our decisions on what not to eat?  Does a vegetarian, or a vegan, make their decisions based entirely on a love of animals?  Is their decision-making process entirely based on health and other non-political reasons?  Most of them will tell you this when they introduce their predilections to you, but you usually find out their politics on the issue before you find out their last name.  You’re usually left with the notion that their predilection is a superiority play, before you learn their middle name.  If these characteristics play no role in the decision-making process, I say in an effort to try to appear objective, we have to ask why a seemingly reasonable woman would reject a pastry based solely on the fact that a Sal whispered sweet nothings to it before placing it in a pastry box?

If Sal had a Snickers bar perform the Can Can to animate that candy bar in a realistic, non-comedic manner would that woman, a vegan, or a vegetarian, be able to then eat that Snickers bar without regret or guilt?  I realize that Snickers bars and pastries are relatively inanimate, but with proper, serious characterization would it be possible to animate them in such a fashion that a vegan or a vegetarian might actually feel guilty about eating them?  Could we launch a well-funded campaign, based on political pressure, that would cause a segment of the population to avoid eating all Snickers bars based on videos about the inhumane manufacturing process involved in the creation and packaging of Snickers bars?  With the proper documentarian would it be possible to substantiate this cause and feed into a sense of righteousness among a segment of the population that caused them to denigrate all Snickers bars eaters?  Would this give these people a cause in life that gave them something to do, and something to worry about, that proved so substantial that they left the rest of us— that don’t choose our dietary habits as an avenue to feelings of superiority— feeling a bit inferior?

You are a cool dude. Nonconformity is your thing. You seek out that which others consider weird. You are weird, and you know that everyone knows it.  You know it better than they do. The difference is you know you’re not necessarily rebelling.  You don’t care for labels.  This is just who you are.  You preach your nonconformist tastes to every fake nonconformist in your inner circle, and you get off on the fact that they don’t understand you.  You are the only true nonconformist you know.  You don’t fall prey to the whims of the Man, that fat cat, or the Scooby Doo bad guy, CEO who smokes cigars he lit with $100 dollar bills.  You are an individual with selective, refined tastes that supersede everyone else’s tastes, and this is your status in your world.  You are the true nonconformist.

noncomWhat you don’t understand is that the world is immersed in nonconformist rebels, and that you are so numerous that there are nonconformist rebel markets created for nonconformist rebellious consumers who rebel against conformity. What you don’t understand is that the capitalist pig system abhors conformity for the most part, for if nonconformity didn’t exist there would be very few stores in a mall, there would be little stratification of prices in each store, and there wouldn’t be the large number of products in the large numbers of stores in every mall.  Walk into any cell phone store, and you’ll see a number of phones that conform to the function of nonconformity, but you’ll probably see that store for what it is after a while.  You’ll start to realize that they appeal to non-conformity, so you’ll skip that store and go to the one three stores down that appeals more to your idea of non-conformity, because you are an informed shopper that knows the history of such stores.  Boy, have we got a store for you!

If you’re willing to pay a little bit more for a socially conscious store, we have a whole line of products for you, and they are friendlier to the environment, they have “We support Green Peace” stickers on all of their products, and anything and we abhor what is being done in the South American rain forests.  Let those poor suckers continue to buy their inferior products from store A, we only appeal to informed, non-conformist shoppers that know that our phones have a superior operating system.

The capitalist pigs of the cell phone industry, the clothing industry, the electronics industry, and the leather wallet industry know more about your selection process than you do.  They know that you’re a shopper with refined tastes that would never buy a candle wax that is distilled from big oil.  Ours is a wax carefully removed from honeycombs created by bees, so as to not disturb their honey making process of their larvae storage.  Our process is available to all concerned consumers in a video on our website.  If you have any comments or suggestions, please visit our website.

You are a victim of your own knowledge of markets and political consciousness.  You make decisions in life, based on what you read and know.  Your desires are studied and commented on in board meetings, and there is nothing special about you.  You are a demographic, and if you do manage to somehow become an outlier in anyway, there will be a new market created to suit your new needs and desires.

This new market will want to know how much you “know” about phones and clothes, and they will soon find a way to appeal to you on your new knowledgeable level.  They want to understand what shapes you and why, and they want to have that perfect product ready for you when you’re ready to open up your pocketbook.

But you’re a true nonconformist, rebel that doesn’t give a durn about any of that nonsense.  The capitalist pig machine can shrivel up and die for all you care, but you’re adding to it poopy bear. You’re creating, and adding to, a diversified and stratified market that has existed longer than you’ve been alive.  You say you’re a rebel, okay, we’ll open up a rebel store with all kinds of rebel paraphernalia to appeal to you.  You’re a punker you say?  Where did you get all your punker gear? Did you make it by hand?  No, well, what do you have in that Punkers R’ Us bag?  It’s called consumer rebellion, and it’s become such a primary staple in the capitalist pig, American system that capitalist pigs have opened up a store in just about every mall in America just for you?  You wear a constant snarl?  Okay, we can’t sell you a snarl, but we can give you everything you need to bracket that snarl with a suitable get up that makes that snarl as powerful as you want to make it with your rebellious consumption.  You can buy tongue studs at this store; but for those who want spikes in the shoulder pads of their leather jacket they’ll have to go to another one; and to buy the latest rebellious, nonconformist Rancid album, you’ll have to go to another.  The current, capitalist pig system in America today needs you! and your rebellious consumerism to survive and thrive.

Tattoos used to be the epitome of rebellion.  An individual could define himself as an outlier with one simple tattoo that was somewhat visible, but not so visible that it was obvious.  An individual with a tattoo attained instantaneous conversation status.  Everyone has one now, so the true rebel got two, then three, and finally four, until four wasn’t enough, and the whole body art market rose from the back alley to strip mall status.  How embarrassing is it to these true rebel, tattoo aficionados that this market rose to the level where a consumer in Omaha, Nebraska found that tattoo parlors began to compete with Burger Kings in the total number of locations?

People, from the lowest marketer go to the fat cat CEOs, want to know what you’re buying and what you’re consuming, so they go to your favorite Euro bar to find out what the latest nonconformists are wearing, drinking, eating, and in all ways consuming.  There’s a whole lot of consuming going on out there, and it takes a whole team of studious marketers to understand it all.  These studious marketers then present their information to that fat cat CEO, with that mighty bank account, to create a fashion line that brackets your snarl and appeals to that nonconformist ethos that you have to tell the world that you just don’t give a durn about nothing.

The 50’s and 60’s were a relatively homogenous era that built a fairly homogenous market.  It was the Leave it to Beaver, Dragnet, Davy Crockett era.  It was an era where fat cat CEOs dictated to the populous what was hip and fashionable.  If they wanted everyone and their brother or sister to buy it, they had Marilyn Monroe and Marlon Brando wear it.  They had The Beatles sponsor it, they had Milton Bearle smoke it, and it all gave birth to the ‘keeping up joneses’ meme. Marketing and commercialization have always dictated style of dress, home décor, and artistic tastes, but their power was considerably stronger before the late 60’s.  The late 60’s were a time of nonconformist sophistication that brought forth some degree of individualism, at least when it came to clothing and music, but the markets didn’t sit around and lick their wounds over the power they lost.  They adapted.  The nonconformity markets were born.  It was a submarket that up and coming fat cat CEOs adapted to, and they left the conformists in the dust, until the nonconformist consumers adapted and bucked the current nonconformist trends, and the market adapted again and again, until they started appealing to the nonconformist goth with a snarl.  These sub markets were all created to appeal to those that marketing and commercialization didn’t appeal to.  Up and coming fat cat CEOs saw dollar signs in tie dye shirts and bell bottom pants, and Ocean Pacific shirts, and Vans shoes, and on and on, until there was a market for every form of nonconformity a hip, nonconformist dude could think up. Your degree of nonconformity is actually conformity in America today, and you are no more special than the nonconformists that you are laughing about here.

As David McRaney states in his book, You are Not so Smart: “Poor people compete with resources. The middle class competes with selection. The wealthy compete with possessions. You sold out long ago in one way or another. The specifics of who you sell to and how much you make – those are only details.”

“Who are you?  Who Who??  Who Who???” —Pete Townshend of The Who.

Some of us believe that we are very complicated creatures.  We believe we can adapt to the people around us in a manner that causes those people, and all of their respective groups, to think that we belong, and some of the times this is true.  When all of those conversations come to a close during the last call of our day, and we get into our cars, go home, and lay down in bed, we find that we actually have a very narrow definition.  Some find this narrow definition comforting, genuine, and our home base, but others find it depressing.

Those that find it depressing are usually frustrated individuals that thought they were meant for so much more. When they were kids, and teens, and twenty-somethings, they thought the world was their oyster.  When the world landed on that oyster, crushing it to smithereens before our very eyes, we were devastated.  Our character did walk away from that devastation, but we thought it was diminished.  The important thing to note here is that it did survive, and that it would become incumbent on us, going forward, to define that new, crushed, and narrow character in the aftermath.

Protons and NutronsThis new, narrow definition is made up by the actual people, places, and events that we have actually experienced in life.  It is not based on how we wish we had reacted, but how we actually reacted.  It is not based on that person you always wanted to be, who you tell people you are, or how you perceive yourself, but who you actually are.

Most of wish that we had done some things differently in life, we wish we had studied harder, loved more women, focused more on the matters we were substantially involved in, had more friends, experienced a little bit more, and some now wish they had some sort of military service for the structure it could’ve provided them.  Some of us wish that we had eaten healthier, worked out more, and led a healthier life.

As we age, and reflect back on our lives, we realize that our lives can be broken down into character-defining moments, and we’re eventually led to the belief that how we reacted in those moments define us now, for better or worse.

Most of us also wish that we had reacted differently during these seminal moments, and some of us believe that this desire has shaped us, that we learned from those experiences, and that that knowledge will shape the next seminal moment that happens.  Until we rectify those moments, however, the reality of who we are is shaped by them.

Most of us don’t care for the narrow definition of our reality, so we’ve come up with a number of definitions that suit us better.  This is our mythology, and if we have enough belief in it, we can usually sell it to others so often that we may actually begin to believe it ourselves.

You are who you believe you are on many levels, and this can change depending on who you’re with.   If you’re with your drinking buddy, you can be one guy; if you’re with your wife, you’re another guy; and if you’re with your parents or your kids, you’re another guy altogether.  You’re a different person at work than you are at home, at a family reunion, at the bar, or at the company picnic.  With so many identities swimming around in your head, it can be tough to keep track of who you are.  Who Who?  Who Who??”

The Protons and Neutrons.  “To make this complex algorithm understandable, let’s say that the definition of us can be put to a visual display, such as the model of the atom.  The protons and the neutrons, in this model represent the reality of who we are.  The protons and the neutrons are the actual positive and negative events that have occurred in our lives, and how we reacted to them.  This is a very limited, and limiting, definition of who we are, and we’re usually so unhappy with our reality that we would rather not focus on it.  We’ve all made mistakes, and those mistakes have shaped us, but most of have maintained a certain degree of mental health by focusing on the orbital region that exists outside the nucleus.

The Electrons.  In the orbital regions that exist outside the nucleus is the mythology of who we are.  This orbital region contains electrons that are the ideas we have about who we are; the lies we tell ourselves and others; the illusions and delusions we have of ourselves; and the potential we believe we have to accomplish great things.  Every electron in this region perpetuates our mythology.  The lies we tell ourselves are usually not whoppers, for we would have as much trouble buying into those lies as anyone else does.  These lies we tell ourselves usually have a semblance of truth to them, and we connect the dots after that.  The lies can be negative, if we’re seeking sympathy, but they’re usually positive electrons that we use to shape how others view us, and eventually how we view ourselves.

These lies we tell ourselves may be unconscious measures that are employed to stave off the depression that we may fall into if we allowed the reality of our current existence to overwhelm us with sadness.  The unconscious measures we use can be interpretations of misdeeds that we employ to maintain the idea that we are good people regardless what we’ve done.  Walk through any penitentiary, and you’ll hear a number of qualifiers and excuses for the things these men have done.  Are these people lying?  In the truest sense of the word lying??  Ninety percent of them probably are, but that is the obvious answer.  The less than obvious answer goes to the heart of the matter.  Why would a criminal convicted of a heinous deed, as a result of an airtight case brought forth by the state, feel the need to inform you that there were extenuating circumstances regarding their crime?  They may want you to believe they’re not bad people, but conscience laden, non-psychopaths, need to believe this for the modicum of mental health they need to believe for the purpose of avoiding becoming so depressed by the facts of what they’ve done that they don’t want to go on.

Among the most pervasive electrons floating around in our orbital region is the one that holds the beliefs we have in our own potential.  There’s nothing wrong with believing we have potential, of course, until that belief supersedes our desire to do anything about it.  For some, the belief in their potential is the reason they wake up in the morning with a smile, ready to greet a new day, and they don’t want to diminish that belief in anyway, and acting on that belief may reveal that belief for all that it is, or isn’t.  This is their mythology.

The Cheaters.  Most of us are pretty honest with whom we are, but we do cheat.  When we go out on a first date, or a business luncheon, we may tip a service industry worker a little more than we would have if we were alone.  It’s a white lie, that doesn’t harm anyone, and it only bolsters perception, but aren’t we basically making an investment in our mythology for others to see, and if we do it often enough, it becomes true on a certain level.  If we actually lay that tip out, to paraphrase Babe Ruth, it ain’t lying.  It’s only a lie, if you don’t believe it.  If you believe it, it can be an investment in your mythology.

Celebrities are almost forced to engage in this lie whenever they go out.  Their mythologies have been bought and paid for by those who stand to prosper from it, but no one stands to prosper more from a positive mythology than the celebrity themselves, so their tips are usually extravagant.  They fear that an inadequate tip could do damage to the mythology they’ve worked so hard to create.  This is particularly the case if the celebrity is generally perceived to be a good guy.  One bad tip in say an Omaha, Nebraska could get around the nation in weeks, and that celebrity could risk a lot of the good guy points he’s built up over the years.

Some of us begin to cheat in building mythologies so often that we can no longer see through the cloud we’ve created, and when this happens we usually need professional psychiatric, or psychological, help when something goes wrong.  We’ve cheated so often, and created so many mythologies, that we can’t achieve enough objectivity to see our way through a problem.  We need to pay someone to let us talk about our past.  We need someone to cold-heartedly stop us in the middle of our tale and say that some of the things we’ve discussed are not true.  We may be shocked by their cold-hearted nature, but if we’re truly trying to get healthy, we’ll drop the façade and work from the new premise.  We’ll recognize that those around us have allowed us to live certain lies, because they don’t want to be so cold-hearted.  We’ll also recognize that these professionals are doing their best to help us achieve some sort of clarification about who we are and why we do the things we do.  We can’t do this ourselves anymore, because we’ve loaded our minds are loaded with such positive clutter that we can’t see through to the truth of our existence anymore.  We thought we were somewhat happy, yet we were also very unhappy, and left with a feeling that life wasn’t fulfilling, and we couldn’t understand it because we thought we had figured it out.

Publicity and Charity.  “I live every day trying to convince others of the lies I tell them,” a friend of mine said in jest.  One of the primary lies we tell ourselves is that we’re wonderful people, and we’ll take any and every opportunity to prove it.  A wonderful person, as defined in sardonic terms, is someone that does things to be perceived as wonderful, as opposed to one that does wonderful things.  There’s a huge difference between publicity and charity in other words, and wonderful people do things for the publicity it gains them rather than the charity it provides others.

“You’re only doing this for yourself,” a sick man, lying on a death bed, says to a female that is caressing his hands and whispering sweet nothings to him.  It’s a crass and heartless statement from a man who should enjoy any comfort he receives from another in the waning moments of his life.  Was it charity she sought to provide the sick man, or was she seeking greater definition of her character by standing next to him.  What would she do in the moments that followed his death?  Would she tell people about it, or was this indeed a selfless act by a woman that only sought to provide the man some degree of comfort?

We have wonderful memories of our school days.  We remember running and playing on the playground.  We remember some of the studying we did, and some of the questions we answered in class, but for the most part we only remember the fun we had, and some of the aspects that led to our current maturity in life.  Those aren’t the only memories of course.  If we dug way back, with professional assistance, we would probably learn that those days weren’t as great as we remember them, but our selective memory has made us who we are today, so why would we bother with all of those awful memories if we don’t have to?

I had a wonderful childhood, which is tough because it’s hard to adjust to a miserable adulthood.” –Larry David

As we age, we experience the lot life has to offer us, and after a while we begin to think we have a fairly decent grasp on who we are based on those experiences. The question is which events do we call upon when seeking definition, and how do we define those selections, and what do those selections say about us?  Most studies state that for our mental well-being, we often choose positive life experiences to define who we are.  If we do occasionally stumble upon a negative experience, we’ll usually doctor that memory in a manner to make us appear better than we may have actually been. We’ll usually qualify that negative experience in a manner that excuses us from the worst part of our involvement in those instances.  It is a natural thing to do, and it’s what a majority of us do, but it also means that we have less of a grasp on the reality of who we are and more of a grasp on the mythology we’ve created.

I used to think the national obsession with hygiene was just a joke, until I witnessed a friendship form between two men on the basis of their hygienic excellence.  Theirs was not a normal standard that they required of their fellow man, but an impossibly high one that laid the foundation for their hygienic superiority.

jerry386-293449I watched Seinfeld.  I loved Seinfeld.  I found his peculiarities over hygiene hilarious, until I saw these two grown men seriously discuss their superiority on the matter.  They both agreed that the common habits of most people were gross, they both agreed that one particular person, that all three of us knew, was absolutely gross, and that our employer’s bathroom was an absolute cesspool of germs.  I laughed in the middle of this discussion, in the same manner I laughed at Seinfeld’s obsessive quirks, but these two weren’t laughing.  They had smiles, but they were beaming smiles, the kind of smile that one gives in recognition of finally finding a like-minded soul.

“If you’re disgusting and you know it clap your hands!” is the perceived mantra of a major news network’s website that a number of my fellow co-workers visit.  This site is, ostensibly a news website.  I say ostensibly, based on the fact that those that visit the site regularly know little to nothing about the news of the day, but they always have some interesting little nugget about the manner in which we could all improve our hygienic standard of living a little.

“Your kitchen counter has more germs than your floor,” one of my co-workers said when he approached our lunchroom table.  “Your dishrags and sponges are cesspools of germs, and using them continually doesn’t rid your kitchen of germs, it spreads them around,” he concluded.  That’s right, it was a male that said this.  This sentence is not included to state that it is unmanly to be hygienic, but to point out that this obsession that was once believed to be indigenous to the white, female demographic has now crossed income brackets, social stations in life, and gender.

“Install a lighter colored countertop, so you can see germs better,” “Stainless steel is the best defense against the spread of germs,” “The most germ-ridden room in most homes is the kitchen, sometimes containing up to 200 times more fecal bacteria on the kitchen cutting board than on the bathroom toilet seat,” and “Your fingertips can spread more germs than any tool in your kitchen.”  The best way to avoid germs, it appears, is to avoid the kitchen and avoid your fingertips…They’re gross!  The bathroom is obvious, but what your bedroom?  And if you have any thoughts of going into the basement, you may want to think about bringing an oxygen mask along.  It’s a cesspool!  It’s gross!  Disinfect everything!  Sanitize!  Sterilize!  We need more government research on this matter!  We could get sick!  We could die!

Our mothers taught us that the best way to avoid pathogens was to clean, but we’re now learning that she didn’t know the half of it.  She didn’t know that to truly avoid germs, you have to clean the cleaning products.  She used the same sponge and dishrag for more than a week without dipping it into a solution that contained one part bleach to nine parts warm water.  She didn’t know.  She used the same cleaning products for more than one task with no knowledge of cross contaminations.  “Especially, if you’re cleaning up appliances, countertops, tables, et cetera.  There should be different designated sponges for each function.  After you clean up the debris from the meat carcass, place your sponge in this cleaning solution for about a minute or so.  That will kill all of the potential pathogens.”{1}  She didn’t know.

air-showersShe didn’t even consider the idea of placing an industrial air shower to divide the kitchen from the rest of the house, because she was born in a generation that didn’t believe in hygienic standards of excellence.  She probably wouldn’t consider putting an industrial strength, anti-radiation shower in her kitchen for better health practices, and greater avoidance of accidental pollination by pathogens.  She didn’t have the information we do today, so we can’t really blame her.  She didn’t know that it’s probably best to stay out of the kitchen.  Her generation wasn’t privy to the kind of research that has found that it’s probably better to simply stay out of the house, not to mention going outside.  The danger of leaving the house is so obvious that it’s hardly worth exploring.  We all know that the outside air is just teaming with pathogens, but our mother didn’t.  She may have thought that going outside was relatively safe.  She didn’t have the information we do today.  She didn’t know.

One of the worst things Jerry Seinfeld and Larry David brought to the American conversation is the hygienic conversation.  These conversations did occur, sporadically, before the mindset of the Seinfeld show invaded our culture, but in the aftermath of the great show it seems every fifth conversation we hear now involves some form of obsession over cleanliness.  We all thought that the character Jerry played was silly with his obsessions.  We had no idea how influential this mindset would be.  People now proudly proclaim to the world that they not only wash their hands, but they use the paper towel to open the bathroom door.  “Oh, I know it!” their listener proclaims proudly.  “It’s gross!”  No one has a problem with cleanliness, or those that strive for greater hygienic practices, but when we obsess about it to such a degree that we accidentally tip a scale into believing that we’re superior to another human being because we have better hygienic practices it stretches into the perverse.

A Psychology Today (PT) piece details this perversity by stating that there are now some obsessives that will avoid a shopping cart that has a crumpled piece of paper in it.{2}  Why do they do that?  It’s gross.  It’s evidence that at some point, since the creation of that cart, it’s been used.  We all know, on some level, that every cart in the row before us has been used, but to see ample evidence of that fact is simply repellent.  The simple solution is to select another cart, but how silly is that?  Why would we want to avoid one cart that has obviously been used for another that isn’t as obvious?  It would be one thing, if that cart had a crumbled piece of soiled tissue paper in it, but if it’s simply a crumpled ad for that store, why would we avoid using that cart?  It’s evidence of other people, germs, pathogens, and a general lack of uncleanliness on the part of the store.  It also initiates in us what the author of the PT piece describes as, “A desire to keep that which is outside from getting inside.”

The thing about being disgusted is that it’s both learned and selective.  If the obsessively hygienic person happened to see which person left the crumpled ad from the store in the cart, and they found that person to be generally attractive, the PT piece states that they would be less disgusted by the crumpled ad, and the subsequent use of that cart.  If they judged that previous cart user to be extremely attractive, they would be even less disgusted.  To take this idea to its logical conclusion, if the obsessively hygienic person saw that it was an attractive celebrity that left the crumpled ad in their cart, that customer would not only feel privileged to use that cart regardless what that celebrity’s hygienic practices are, they would probably save that piece of paper, and take it home to tell their friends and family that the celebrity touched it.  If the customer appeared to be somewhat overweight, or of foreign descent, we would simply, and politely, select another cart.

Those that engage in obsessive, hygienic practices also tended to be less inclined to be friends with those who have physical disabilities.

“Just being exposed to images or information about illness leads some people to become less agreeable, less sociable, and to automatically use gestures that signify avoidance.”

This PT piece also suggests that if those obsessed with hygienic practices were forced to share a toothbrush with someone, they would be more inclined to share it with someone in their family over say the mailman.  “This makes perfect sense,” the author of the PT piece writes, “For we are more familiar with the activities of our family member than we are the mailman.  Plus, on a certain level, we assume that we have built up immunities to that which our family members carry on them on a daily basis, because we’re around them every day.”

What doesn’t make as much sense to those that believe their disgust is philosophically pure is the decision making process that concerns those outside our immediate realm.  Our boss, for example, is seen as a stranger who exists outside our immediate realm.  We may interact with him on a daily basis, but not as intimately as we would a family member, so why do we rank our boss below the weatherman when it comes to people we would share a toothbrush if we were forced?  If our overriding concern is hygiene, why would we prefer to share a toothbrush with a weatherman over a boss that we come into daily contact with?  Answer: A weatherman is usually better looking.  He is more clean cut and well-dressed, and our bosses are generally more disliked.

“Our attraction toward someone,” the PT author writes, “Can override our qualms about sharing bodily fluids.”

The piece does have one point of inconsistency in that one part of the article states that “Those who avoid objects touched by strangers report fewer colds, stomach bugs, and other infectious ailments,” and in another paragraph it states that “Exposure to benign bacteria stimulates the immune system so that it is better able to fight bad bacteria.”  Perhaps the inconsistency is explained in the word “benign” but other than that the two facts seem to contradict one another.

Contrary to some myths on the net, disgust is not an innate emotion based on self-preservation.  Rather, it is a learned behavior that increases every day with every news report and website link that we read.  Despite the fact that a baby will make a face of disgust when they eat strained peas, that expression is not directly linked to disgust.  Studies suggest that they won’t know disgust until they’re three years old.  If we were to make a look of disgust to a baby, say when we take out the garbage, the infant is more likely to think we’re mad at them for something than to associate the look with disgust, until they’re three years old.

This is why babies have no problem eating things they find on the floor.  This is why they don’t have a problem crawling anywhere and everywhere.  They don’t understand what is disgusting and what is not, no matter how often they are told.  It’s the reason my brother and his wife had to keep my nephew away from the dog dish, and it’s why he had no idea why it was wrong to drink it.  What was the difference between the water his parents served him in a bottle, and the water the dog just drank?  Drinking the dog’s water may also result in better overall health for the child as they age, for it may strengthen their immunity system.  Even after we achieve three years of age, says the PT piece, we don’t have a total understanding of disgust.

“It is the most advanced human emotion that requires reasoning, thought, and deduction.  Humans are the only animal with a brain advanced enough to process the complexity of disgust, and it must be learned over time.  It is also something we learn more and more about every day, and we get more and more “grossed out” by what could be deduced as minimal when it comes to actual infection.” 

It’s better to be safe than sorry is the most common response we get from those that are questioned about this obsession, and that’s from the few that will acknowledge an obsession of any sort.  They will also add that their fellow Americans are not nearly obsessed enough.  If they were, the person will say, I wouldn’t have to be the way I am.  So all these reports about pathogens, and sponges, and countertops hit home with most people, until they’re afraid to enter their homes, or anyone else’s… or go outside.

George Carlin: “Personally I never take any precautions against germs. I don’t shy away from people who sneeze and cough.  I don’t wipe off the telephone, I don’t cover the toilet seat, and if I drop food on the floor I pick it up and eat it!  My immune system gets lots of practice!  It is equipped with the biological equivalent of fully automatic military assault rifles, with night vision and laser scopes. And we have recently acquired phosphorous grenades, cluster bombs, and anti-personnel fragmentation mines.   

“Speaking of my colon, I want you to know I don’t automatically wash my hands every time I go to the bathroom okay?  Can you deal with that?  Sometimes I do, sometimes I don’t.  You know when I wash my hands? When I (expletive) on them!  That’s the only time.  And you know how often that happens?  Tops, TOPS, 2-3 times a week tops!  Maybe a little more frequently over the holidays, you know what I mean?”

I hate to be too detailed in my ruminations over the people I’ve run across, lest they know that I’m talking about them, but some people deserve to be called out.  Esoteric man was an ad exec that was trying to sell my wife on radio advertising.  The first thing that popped out at me was this guy’s checkered pants.  The checkers were multi-colored, but some of those colors were pink.  The guy wore sensible shoes, chic eyeglasses, and he wore his hair in a coif.  He dressed like every guy I hated in high school.

He was a people person that knew how to relate to the folks.  I hated him before he said his twentieth word.

Hipster“I don’t even have cable!” was the most memorable thing this nouveau hipster said to punctuate the fact that he didn’t watch TV.  “I only have Netflix, because my kid enjoys some show, but that’s the only reason.”

“Wow!” was what we were supposed to say, “You’re so esoteric, and philosophical!  You’re what they call a with it dude!”  The hipster mentioned the specific show his kid watched, but I can’t remember what it was.  I couldn’t remember it two seconds after he said it.

He was a flood of useless information about himself.  He was on the edge of his seat wondering what he was going to say next.   He was a serious man that didn’t take himself too seriously, but he could get out of control at times too, and he knew that I knew that’s just the way he was, even though I never met him before.

“I don’t drink soda! It’s gross!” he said to initiate the preferences portion of our conversation that would be delightfully informal.  He found his preferences to be very esoteric and philosophical.  He found this portion of our conversation to be a personal touch that was essential to completing the sale.  This portion of the conversation gave schlubs like me a point where we could relate with one another.  He was being real for me to sell himself in the manner all salesmen know is fundamental to obligating customers to fork over the dollar.

He decided he was losing me at one point in our conversation, so he decided to talk more.  I’m not sure if he decided to disregard transitions in his stories, or if he wasn’t a transition fella, but his stories began to arrive in such a flurry that I lost my place in his stories a number of times, and I ended up forgetting almost everything he said.  He was turning red at various points, and he began yawning in others.  That suggested to me that his brain wasn’t getting enough oxygen, but it was obvious that he preferred an oxygen depleted brain over a lost sale.

“Wow! You must really be smart,” those without control of their sardonic nature would say to the list of this man’s preferences.  This is the response he expects to elicit from a TV watching, soda drinker Neanderthal, but he didn’t get it this time.  This time, he got a guy who stared at him with silent ambivalence, waiting for him to get back to the whole reason I came to him for in the first place.

“Ya’ know?” was the only transition that this man didn’t completely abdicate.  It was the only form of punctuation this man had left to let his listener know that a sentence was complete.  He mixed in a couple “Ya’ know what I’m saying?” questions to prevent losing me with redundancies, but that was the extent of his variation.

“Yes!” I replied to put a verbal foot on the floor and keep his transitions from spinning out of control.  I almost screamed it once, but the parental, patience practice of counting to ten kept me from the outburst.

He engaged in “aren’t we guys stupid?” chats that everyone considers fun.  When that didn’t achieve the desired result from me, he flipped to the “we’re all really stupid anyway” pop psychology nuggets, and the two of us were supposed to laugh heartily at those, because we could both relate to dumb people humor.  It reminded me of a heavy metal band’s lead singer attempt to reach his audience by mentioning the fact that he actually rode in a motorized vehicle on the paved roads of my home town.  “Today as we were driving down MAIN STREET….” YEAH!!!

He was a nicknames feller.  Even though he didn’t apply such nicknames to me, I’m quite sure that he calls more than one male in his life he calls “dawg”.  He probably also calls a couple of them “Bra!” and he bumps fists with them as he works his way past their cubicle.  I don’t know if he has any authority in his place of work, but if he does, I’m sure he asks all his peeps to call him by his first name, because he’s an informal fella that wants informal relationships with all of his peeps.  I’m sure he has an open-door policy, and that all his top performers are “rock stars!”  He’s a people person that’s not afraid to let his hair down.  If one of his peeps has a name that begins with a B, I’m sure he calls them ‘B’, or ‘J Dawg’ if their name starts with a J.  He’s also the esoteric guy in the office that conforms to group thought when he’s called upon to do so.  I’ve been around his type so often that I can pick them out of a closet from fifty yards away.  They all have nihilist beliefs in private, and they don’t bow to the man, until the man is in the room, and then they turn around to insult “the dude” when he walks away.

We didn’t talk politics, but I’d be willing to wax Brazilian if it’s proven to me that we see eye to eye on anything.  He’s the type that seeks “a third way” of governing.  He doesn’t want to be labeled, he wants to be perceived as open-minded, and he pities simpletons that have been conditioned to believe that there are actually very few forms of government to choose from, and in those forms there is only going to be one of two political parties in this country to run it.  Their type knows of another way.  They don’t have specifics, but they feel sorry for those of us that have bought into the system.  They are open-minded.  They are extraordinarily intelligent.  They are thoughtful. They are wonderful.  And we are wrong when we attach labels to them, because they are “truly” so much more than that.

When he eventually swerves into the whole reason I came to see him in the first place, I’m gone.   I’m beyond listening.  He thinks he’s warmed me up with his ‘look at me’ chatter, that he considers good bedside manner, but in reality I’ve begun to feel so sorry for him, and his pointless attempts to sound interesting, hip, funny, likable, intelligent, esoteric, philosophical, and personable, that I’ve missed the first two minutes of his presentation.

“We guys don’t seek medical attention.”  He smiled after that one.  He thought that was polite guy, fun chatter.  He surveyed my reaction.  He told me he enjoyed sports, and then he asked me if the San Diego Chargers were still in existence.  I normally would’ve enjoyed such ignorance of my arena, but I realized that I didn’t care if he knew anything about the Chargers, the NFL, sports in general, or anything else.  This was a huge accomplishment for this guy, whether he knows it or not, for as anyone who knows me knows, I get off on personal preferences. I want to know what books you read, what movies you like, what music you play, and what restaurants you frequent.  I love top ten lists, the reasons you rank one over another, and the why’s and how’s of your decision making process.  I didn’t want to know any of this about this particular guy. I just wanted him to stop talking.

We all know that the quiet types have something to hide.  They don’t say what they want to say, or when to say it.  They’re frozen by the fear that you’ll find something out about them if they voice their opinion, so they usually find it more comfortable to say nothing.  When a person talks and talks, we naturally assume they are as advertised.  We assume that they’re the “open book” they’ve told you they are so many times that they can only be trying to convince themselves.  They are an extrovert that is conversant on so many topics that we can’t think of anything else that they could possibly be hiding, until we walk away from them with the realization that they never really said anything.  They just said a whole lot of nothing on nothing topics.  It’s called obfuscation and misdirection.  It’s an art form we think of when we think of magicians, but talkers can display a talent for this art form too.  They just don’t use their hands…as much.

“The worst thing that you can be is a consumer,” an elitist writer once mused.  “And I say that in the most condescending manner possible.”  I’m quite sure that that sentence received some applause from those esoteric and refined consumers in the audience that would buy this author’s products.  I’m quite sure that a number of people in that audience considered the author’s stance brave and bold.  I’m sure that no one in the audience believed he was talking about them, and I’m sure that this author felt secure in his belief that no one in his audience would stand up and say, “Hey, I’m a consumer.  How dare you crack on my people!”  I’m quite sure that just about everyone in that audience pictured that consumer that they knew –that had to purchase the latest and greatest electronics products— and they defined themselves against that exaggerated contrast.  I’m quite sure that no one in that audience was objective enough to understand that the totality of the author’s insult included everyone but him.

wine“What is the difference between consumers that purchase consumable products sold at McDonald’s and those that are sold at the local, mom and pop coffee store?” is a question that I would love to ask this esteemed author.  The answer would be that one is a consumer, and the other happens to be a consumer, but that the former would presumably be pronounced in the most condescending manner possible.  This distinction was made clear to me when I told some friends of mine that blind taste tests showed that McDonald’s coffee tested as high as the coffee found in some of the coffee shops the more erudite attended.

“Pshaw!” these friends –that probably read this author— basically responded.  They actually used words that the more refined, and somewhat polite (see condescending) use, but the import of their response was that they were/are more cultured than I am.  They are more posh and eclectic.  They eat sushi and Thai, and they broaden their minds by listening to exotic podcasts and watching obscure documentaries.

I admitted in my testimonial that I couldn’t taste the difference between beans, and that most of the products I consume could probably be found on a 1950’s table, before the research on food taught us what we now know about food.  I told them that I watch broadcast television, and that I enjoy reading mainstream books, some of the times, and I basically admitted that I may be a Neanderthal.

I am not much of a coffee drinker.  These friends are.  They enjoy exotic coffee beans that can only be found at urban coffee shops I’ve never heard of.  They also have exotic coffee makers in their homes that require minimal mixing times, gentle air pressure pushes, and low brewing times for professional cuppers and true coffee aficionados.  I am not welcome in their world.

Their world involves community venues (see coffee shops in the Neanderthal’s lexicon) with artistic geniuses throwing brilliant ideas at one another under exotic Matisse paintings, all while learning to love various styles of coffee beans that are beyond me.  Some of the community venue customers have goatees, others have cornrows and dreadlocks, and they are all very Eurocentric.  They also feel a little sorry for bourgeoisie like me that only know McDonald’s coffee PSHAW!  I should clarify, they don’t say “pshaw!” for saying pshaw would define them as elitists, and they abhor elitists.

They feel at ease when bracketed alongside fine wine drinkers.  They eat Foie Gras, black pudding, organic foods, and even beluga caviar.  They don’t eat caviar, I should clarify, for posh, eclectic types don’t eat caviar anymore.  Caviar has been defined as a product consumed by consumers that are usually wealthy, in the manner Scooby Doo cartoons might depict the wealthy.  Caviar doesn’t provide prestige in community venues.  Foie Gras is their caviar.

“But blind taste tests conducted by Consumer Reports and Canadian Business Magazine found that McDonald’s and Dunkin’ Donuts coffee tested better than the coffee sold at Starbucks or Tim Horton’s,” I told my friends, and they weren’t shocked by this.  They heard of similar tests done with similar products, but that didn’t cause them to question their beliefs.  They were confident that their tastes were simply more refined than those of Americans (the latter word should be emphasized in the most condescending manner possible).

They answered my follow up, clarification with an, “Oh, no!” and there was almost a titter that leaked out in reaction to my lack of knowledge, and it may have made it out in the less refined.  They said what they said in the most condescending manner possible.  It was obvious to all of us that I knew nothing of coffee, and they appeared to be slightly embarrassed for me, for attempting to venture into their home turf.

“We don’t like Starbucks,” they said, “and we’ve never heard of this Tim Horton’s (largely Canadian franchise).”  This missed the general point I was making, but it wouldn’t have mattered if these magazines did specific blind taste tests on their specific brand of coffee.  They would still consider themselves to be specific, exceptions to the rule.  I couldn’t know who I was talking to when I was talking to them.  No one could.  They were/are posh and eclectic.

In his book You are Not so Smart, author David McRaney cites such blind, taste tests being done with professional wine tasters sipping wine.  The tests, he cites, were done with cheap wines and expensive, exotic wines to see if professionals could even tell the difference.  The results were quite shocking, for not only could the professionals not tell the difference, their brain scans showed that they were not lying when they stated their preferences.  The scans showed that their brains altered with excitement when they drank the expensive wines.  One particular test had the controllers putting the same wine in two different bottles.  They informed the professional wine tasters that the wine in bottle A was an expensive, exotic wine, and bottle B was a lesser, cheaper brand.  The brain scans showed the subjects’ brains were only lighting up on product A.  The conclusion that the controllers reached was that the professional testers grew excited by the expectation of something more expensive.

The conclusion McRaney drew was that it is expectation that causes us to prefer Pepsi over Coke; Budweiser over Miller; and Marlboro over Camel.  Expectation brought on by marketing campaigns, and the resultant branding, causes us to believe that one product is superior to another.  Expectation is brought on by packaging, environment, and presentation.  Expectation can be just as prevalent in desire as taste.  There is so little difference between the these brands, McRaney writes, that blind taste tests prove that we usually cannot taste the difference, but we’ve been branded.  We’re Pepsi drinkers, imported beer drinkers, expensive wine drinkers, and Columbian coffee drinkers.  This defines us in a way we find pleasing, but we’re all products of marketing, packaging, and environment.  Expectation can also cause us to want to be redefined by a product.

“Have you tried the latest lager from Djibouti?” Gucci asks Dior.  “You simply must try it.  It has an exceptional respect for the ancient art of brewing.  It is a highly fermented lager with a light malt, corn, water, hops and a yeast that gives it a bright, golden color with dazzling reflections.”  When Gucci concludes his exotic description, Dior must have it.  Is Dior so excited to try it, because Gucci’s narrative has heightened his expectation?  Probably, but he also wants that aura and that identity.  He wants that prestige coated on his epidermis for all that attend the next party he attends.  He can qualify his preference with a variety of statements, but it all boils down to the fact that he wants others to think he has such refined tastes that he will only drink lagers from Djibouti from now on, until something better comes along.

These people wouldn’t be caught dead sipping coffee in a McDonald’s.  That would be defined as consumerism in “the most condescending manner possible” by those consumers that prefer a community venue that offers exotic coffee beans with exotic flavors for the exotic mind.  If they entered a community venue that offered an exotic coffee bean, and that venue had paintings of cartoon clowns in them, my friends would probably consider the bean inferior.  If it had exotic Matisse paintings on its wall, and the customers all had goatees and dreadlocks, I’m quite sure that they would be sipping on their bean with a satisfied smile.

As David McRaney says throughout his book, “You don’t know yourself as well as you think you do.  You don’t know what you like and what you don’t like, or at the very least your preferences can be altered by suggestion, environment, presentation, and advertising.”  There may be a difference between the taste of the exotic Kopi Luwak bean and the beans used in McDonald’s coffee, but you don’t know the difference in quality to the degree that you can tell in a blind taste test.  All right, that may be an exaggeration.  Perhaps the Kopi Luwak coffee berry that passes through the digestive system of the Peruvian Civet Palm Cat (and is picked out of that cat’s poo) is so refined that there is a discernible difference between that and McDonald’s, but on a more linear scale (say Starbuck’s) McDonald’s coffee proves superior in blind taste test after blind taste test.

Even if I presented this information, in conjunction with the tests that suggested McDonald’s provided a superior cup of coffee, I’m sure that these friends would pshaw me.  Whether or not they actually tried McDonald’s coffee, they would know that it provided an inferior product.  Their pshaw would also contain elements of the messenger in the message, for they would probably assume that most of those blind taste test subjects were people like truck drivers, and church goers, for the blind taste test findings to make sense to them.  They would know that they know better.  They knew that I knew little about coffee, and they knew that I had no idea who I was talking to when I was speaking to them.

I like to think that I’m not one of these people.  I like to think that I’ve made conscientious choices that have made me a Bud man, and a Pepsi drinker that enjoys more bounce to the ounce.  I understand the feds prohibited Budweiser, and all alcohol producers, from showing people drink alcohol in their TV commercials, so they decided to sell a lifestyle that those that enjoy their products enjoy, but did I enjoy the projection of the lifestyle in those commercials so much that I began enjoying their products more?  My friends would pshaw! at such soul searching, for they know who they are.  They know that they’ve made conscientious choices in the products that they’ve decided to consume, but are they buying a product or a lifestyle?  And do any of us really know who we’re talking to when we decide to purchase one product over another?  Are we talking to a consumer of refined tastes, or a consumer attempting to purchase something they’re not, until they purchase it so often that they are?

How much time, effort, and money do we spend becoming attractive?  How many deodorants, scented shampoos, perfumes, colognes, and body washes do we purchase to mask the natural scent of our body?  There are five scent masking agents listed here, and you probably thought of three or four that were missed.  How many hours do we spend spraying, brushing, scrubbing, applying, lathering, and repeating if necessary?  It has been reported, in recent surveys, that scent actually factors very low on our list of things we seek in a mate.  So, why do we do it?  Why do we spend do so much money and effort trying to give the illusion that we don’t have scents?

pheromonesWhat drives attraction if not scent?  Are we, as we’re led to believe, attracted to big muscles, big boobs, a finely tuned posterior, the bulge in the front of the person’s pants, or the bulge in the back (wallet)?  Does the visual override the sense of smell?  Does a person with a sculpted, angular face, great hair, great teeth, and a strong chin have an advantage in the world of attraction, regardless of their other features?  Pablo Picasso believed that they do.  He believed the world of human attraction was based on visual cues that are located in the symmetry and angles of the face and the human form.  Sex sells, blunter groups will say, show your angles, reveal your symmetry in the exposure of your organs, your glands, and your cleavage.  Wear tighter clothing, accentuate your walk, and the world will beat a path to your door.  If you got it, flaunt it!

In her Serendip Studio piece, Meghan McCabe writes that attraction is not as complex as Picasso theorizes, and it may not be as simple as the chants of those blunter groups.  She says that sexual attraction is based on “airborne chemicals called pheromones.”  She said that these “airborne and odorless molecules emitted by an individual can cause changes in the physiology and/or behavior of another individual.”  These pheromones are sensed by a vomeronasal organ (VNO), that is a part of the olfactory system and located inside the mouth and nose.  She believed that pheromones are chemically detected, or communicated, from one human to another by an unidentified part of the olfactory system.  In other words, those of us who cake their neck with perfumes and colognes are simply wasting a lot of money when most research on pheromones in humans indicates that the main odor-producing organ is in the skin’s apocrine sebaceous glands.

The skin produces more agents that could be used to attract than the entire line of the products in the beauty and grooming section of your local drug store combined.  This, however, is impossible to sell, so we don’t buy it.  We don’t buy the fact that the subtle smell of underarm odor may be a valuable tool to use in attracting a mate.  We’re far too insecure to walk out of the house with a scent on us, or we fear that if we have such a subtle smell we will be insecure when talking to that prospective mate.  So we wash away our body odors, and we scrub them away when we fear that masking our scent with a deodorant may not be enough.  It’s also impossible for us to believe that the subtle smell of urine may cause sexual excitation in a prospective mate.  Urine stinks.  The very idea of it causes us revulsion when we walk into an unclean bathroom, and we associate it with a lack of cleanliness.  We think the key to attracting a mate is convincing them we don’t have bodily odors, and we don’t have bodily functions, or at least we don’t want that at the forefront of their mind when they’re talking to us.

We are an insecure people, but we are also a highly competitive people.  We believe we need help attracting a mate, and we seek assistance from a company that has spent millions in research and development labs to come up with that perfect chemical combination that put us over the top in the race to attract people.  McCabe and Dr. Goldsmith believe that most of these products are not only a waste of money, they may actually be counterproductive.

Contrary to what the marketing arms of these companies tell you, the key to attracting people sexually lies in the skin generally, but more specifically in the skin’s apocrine sebaceous glands.  The skin’s apocrine sebaceous glands are usually thought to produce the most abundant pheromones in the sweat glands and in bodily tufts of hair that are located everywhere on the body’s surface.  They do, as Melissa Kaplan collates in her Herp Care Collection Piece, tend to center themselves in six primary areas: the underarm, the nipples (of both genders), the genital region, the outer region of the lips, the eyelids, and the outer rims of the ears.  This is not due to the fact that the hairs produce these pheromone messages, she writes, but that the hairs hold onto the chemical stimuli that the skin’s apocrine sebaceous glands produce.  Yet, most of us shave these pheromone holders away to attract a mate.

While we are believed to have natural predilections to these pheromones, not all of us are attracted to them all of the time.  Women, for example, are no more attracted to the smell of musk than men, during their menstruation cycle.  Ten days after ovulation, however, women become very sensitive to it.  This musk substance can be produced synthetically, as it is in exaltolide, but it is also a substance produced in the cat’s anal glands, and on the tip of a boar’s sexual organs, or their preputial glands.  Ten days after menstruation, women reach a peak in estrogen production, and this causes them to be far more susceptible to musk.

Musk is generally produced in the underarms, in a smegma substance that can be found on and around the reproductive organs, and in urine.  The fact that men’s bodies secrete these substances, and that women are maximally sensitive to them when they are most fertile, indicates that there may be an olfactory role for these substances in human sexuality.

It is also important to note that while researchers believe that the vomeronasal organ (VNO) is a powerful organ in detecting chemical stimuli that leads to attraction, these chemical messages can be refuted by other mixed messages that other senses send to the brain.  If a person provides no visual stimuli to a prospective mate, for example, chemical messaging will not have a dominant role in attraction.  Also, while the VNO’s functions are linked to sense of smell it is not necessarily directly related to scent.  The VNO detects these chemical messages called pheromones, and it is possible that an overwhelming scent could overwhelm the VNO’s ability to detect these subtle chemical messages.  If the sense of smell dominates, the message that the brain receives might only be the smell, leaving the chemical messages that the VNO picks up as secondary.  Coating one’s self in urine, in other words, will not increase one’s chances for attracting a mate.  And fecal matter is not perceived to contain sexual attractants, even though it gathers some as it comes in contact with areas of the skin believed to produce these pheromones.  So dabbing a little fecal matter in select areas will produce no sexual attraction.  The messages that the other senses send to the brain regarding visible fecal matter would probably drown out any subtle chemical stimuli the VNO detected even if it contained such properties.

Urine in and of itself is not a pheromone producing agent, but when the liquid we drink comes in contact with the various parts of our body that produce pheromones it holds those pheromones in the same manner body hair will.  Plus, as stated above, urine does produce a slight, musk smell that women are attracted to at certain times of the month, and in faint doses —where the overall smell of it does not dominate— it could contain some attractants

The study of pheromones, the functions listed above of the VNO, and the very idea that humans are susceptible to them in the same manner other animals in the animal kingdom are, is a controversial one.  For every study that suggests that humans are no different than any other animal when it comes to chemical attraction, there is another study suggests that there are no definitive conclusions that have been reached.

Enter some wise, old man.  Every day, at eleven A.M., a crotchety, old professor walked through our school’s cafeteria.  He had a bag lunch with him, but he insisted on grabbing a tray to lay his lunch on.  I don’t know if the man was as wise as the typical old man, or if he was any wiser.  I do know that the man had no allegiances.  His lectures did not favor Democrats or Republicans, women or men, or majorities or minorities.  He didn’t favor me in anyway either, even when I was speaking directly to him.

AAAAAAAAWhen we tell people about those crucial, crisis moments of our lives, most listeners will openly side with us, regardless how they feel about it privately.  Not this old man.  It was annoying.  I reached a point where I wanted him to give me one thing that I was unequivocally correct about something.  He did tell me I was right in certain circumstances, as long as all of the variables I produced for him were all lined up in a certain order and true, but he would always introduce variables that were based on other variables that I hadn’t considered.  I never left his class, or subsequently his lunch table, feeling that that I was unequivocally correct about anything I did.  As a result, I sought his counsel on a number of issues that plagued me.

He never seemed pleased by my constant need to seek his counsel, but he never seemed annoyed by it either.  He never greeted me in a pleasant fashion, but he was never rude either.  He was the type of guy that I’ve always tried to please and gain acceptance.  A dog acts this way, I realized before I approached him with this particular question.  A dog finds that one person in the room that is ambivalent to its existence, and it attempts to befriend them.  This could be a result of the dog’s identity being so wrapped up in its cuteness, that when that cuteness is not acknowledged by that one person in the room, its identity is challenged, and the dog cannot move on in life until it has convinced that one person in the room that it’s cute.

Many people have commented on the objectivity I exhibit, and they’ve said that my powers of observation exceed those they normally encounter, so why do I continually seek the counsel of the one person who never will acknowledge me in a complimentary manner?  Am I as insecure as the attention craving, identity crisis dog that needs the one ambivalent person in the room to pet them and tell them, “You’re the one living life the way it should be lived?”  The answer was that I saw this man’s ambivalence to me as objective.  I thought he would be able to answer my questions about life in a manner that was not complimentary or insulting, and he did…in one short, ambivalent sentence.

“My friend and I have been having a debate,” I said to this man I deemed wise. “I believe people are inherently good, until they prove otherwise.” I told him that I thought living with an optimistic mindset was the only way to live.  I told him that optimistic people should be prepared to be wrong about humanity on occasion, but that that anecdotal evidence should not cause them to waver in their belief that most of humanity was generally good.  “My friend thinks this is a naïve way of approaching humanity,” I told this old man.  “He thinks it’s best to live by the idea that everyone you run across is corrupt, until they prove otherwise.  So you’re prepared, he says, for that slime ball that you will eventually run across that attempts to dupe you out of all of your money.  Not everyone you run across will be evil, he concedes, but it’s best to live with this mindset in preparation for those that are.”

“I’ll give you a third possibility,” this professor said chewing on some awful smelling, squishing sandwich. “Have you ever considered the possibility that most people don’t give a crap about you?”

It may have been twenty years since that professor dropped that line on me, but it’s had such a profound impression on me that I can’t shake it.  It’s as if he said it to me yesterday.

Most of us know, on a certain level, that the world doesn’t give a crap about us, and on a certain level we don’t give a crap about them, but how many things do we do in one day to convince the others around us that we’re one of them?

The world doesn’t approach you any differently based on your individual perspective of the world.  They don’t give a crap you or your perspective.  The slime balls and shysters of the world aren’t more wary of you if you are more prepared for them, and the very idea that you believe that you’re “more prepared” for them may, in fact, be your undoing when they flip the page on you and become the guy that you want them to be.  They’re bad guys, and this is what they do, but they don’t necessarily give a crap about you one way or another.

Enter the salesman.  Anyone that has worked a high stress, incentive-based sales job knows that a majority of the population is “now prepared” for the slime balls that are involved in sales.  Most people involved in sales aren’t slime balls, but they’re prepared for you to think they are.  We salesmen are provided a massive training manual that contains reactions given to us by the sales training team.  If a salesperson receives a no, for example, they’re instructed to turn to page 23 of the “reactions” section of this sales training manual; if they receive a “hell no!” they’re instructed to turn to page 46 of the reactions section; and if they get that witty retort that you created that morning in the mirror, in preparation for someone like them, “if it’s so great why don’t you buy it” they turn to page 69.  If your reaction is a practiced one that basically calls salespeople out for being the slime ball that you know they are, “because you know slime balls,” salespeople are instructed to turn to page 92.  Your best defense is to take a step back and realize that you’re in the majority of those people that don’t trust salespeople, and you’re in a majority of the people that have witty responses that put sales people in their place.  You’re in a majority that thinks you can play this game better than them, even though this is specifically what they’ve been trained for.  This is their home turf, and they know how to play this game better than you.  They have trained and rehearsed responses that can be summarized in the idea that they don’t give a crap about you.  They don’t give a crap that you’re the smartest man that ever walked the Earth.  They’re trained to avoid the thought that you’re a good guy that knows the worst of humanity when you run across it.  They just want to make the sale.  If you truly want to separate yourself from the majority of those that think they’re smarter than a salesman, drop the ego and hang up the phone.

In all the telemarketing, sales jobs I’ve had, there is one constant: you are not allowed to hang up the phone.  No matter what “the smartest man that ever walked the Earth” on the other end of the phone says, you cannot hang up.  As a sales rep, you have sales quotas, and time allotments for each call, and the smart people “who know slime balls when they run across them” are wasting everybody’s time by trying to outdo us.  By simply hanging up, you’re saving yourself and the slime ball salesperson a lot of time and frustration.  A majority of people cannot do this, however, for they have too much invested in the fact that they’re one of those very few people that can spot a slime ball and beat them at their game.

If you are fortunate enough to run across a sales person that recognizes your worldly knowledge, and they are simply overwhelmed by it, that sales person will then be pulled aside for coaching tips.  These coaching tips will be based around the concept that they should stop giving a crap what you say.  If that sales person continues to be “overwhelmed” or daunted by the worldly knowledge that you display, they will be replaced by someone that isn’t.

For those slime balls that excel in their craft, sales can be like a penitentiary that is believed to be impossible to escape to a convict.  Convicts don’t give a crap if good men have spent their lives designing and fortifying a fortress to make it impossible to escape.  The very idea that it is impossible to escape is what intrigues them.  They spend their days and nights focused on finding that one crack in the fortress good men have built to keep them in.  Very few inmates believe they are bad guys that need to do time for the crime they committed.  They want freedom.  They want to escape.  Salesman approach sales in the same manner in that they don’t give a crap if you think they’re good or bad, they spend their days and nights thinking about ways to flip you.  So the next time you enter their lot with all of your witty responses and refusals, remember that if they’re any good at what they do, they’re probably better at understanding the psychology of you than you are.  Like an inmate in a penitentiary, salesman dream of the day when they able spot that one crack in that inescapable fortress you’ve built for them. You will not be seen as a lost cause by an accomplished salesman, you will become a challenge to them.  This is what they do, this is who they are, this is their obsession, and a well-trained salesperson will know how to turn all that you think you are against you.

Enter the panhandler.  The panhandler also doesn’t give a crap about who you think you are when you give them money.  They may manipulate the psychology of you for the period of time it takes to complete the transaction, but the minute you walk away, they won’t remember you.  If you give them a $20.00 bill, as opposed to the one dollar bills they’ve received from everyone else, they may remember you, and they may give you the obligatory response that you demand, but that’s only to feed into your ego and try and get another $20.00 out of you on another day.  At the end of the day, however, they won’t remember you.  They won’t smile fondly, in memory of you, when they purchase their goods with the money you gave them.  They don’t give a crap that you’re a good person though that trusts them to do something good with the money you’ve given them.  As far as they’re concerned it’s their money now, and they’ll do whatever the hell they want with it.  They may even laugh at you among their peers.  They’ll probably say something like, “That guy must’ve been feeling guilty about something.”  Do what you need to do to make you feel better about yourself.  Do it to relieve yourself of the guilt you feel, and so you can tell your friends about it, but do it with the knowledge that the recipient won’t think you’re a better person at the end of the day.  They won’t remember you, because they don’t give a crap about you.

Enter the fashion aficionado.  Nobody gives a crap what you wear either.  You may think that all of your people know you only wear the finest duds available to man, but most people aren’t paying that much attention to you.  In a psychological study, cited in Douglas McRaney’s book “You are Not so Smart”, subjects were instructed to wear an embarrassingly flamboyant Barry Manilow T-shirt.  Some of the subjects were embarrassed at the prospect of doing this, and they simply wouldn’t do it.  They didn’t think their pride could withstand it.  They probably thought that people would forever remember them as the guy that wore the Manilow T-shirt that one day.  Those that would wear the shirt were instructed to interrupt a class full of students to ask the professor a question.  The result: only 25% of the students in the class could remember any details about the flamboyant, Manilow T-shirt. In a separate part of the experiment, McRaney cites, the subject was instructed to wear the finest duds available to man and interrupt the professor’s class in a similar manner.  The result: 10% of the students in the class remembered any details about the finest duds available to man.  Very few people give a crap about what you’re wearing, and even fewer will remember what you wore yesterday, because most people aren’t paying any attention to you.

Enter the Speaker.  Nobody gives a crap that you just messed up in your speech.  They don’t even care when you apologize for it.  As Douglas McRaney’s book suggests, they probably didn’t notice your error in the first place, until you apologized for it.  Most people just want you to get on with it, so they can go home to watch their shows.

Nobody cares that you have mustard on your collar, that you have mismatched socks, or that you haven’t talked all day because you’re upset about the fact that your puppy passed away that very morning.  How many times a day does a person say, “I’ll bet you’re wondering why I’m so quiet today?”  The honest response would be, “I’m sorry, I didn’t notice.”  The more common, honest response would be, “I’m sorry, I didn’t notice, because I’ve had such and such happen to me.”  We all feel the need to tell other people we have problems, and in response those people tell us the problems they have that they think are so much worse.  In the end, neither party gives a crap, because most people aren’t paying that much attention to one another.  They just want their day to end, so they can get on with the lives that you don’t give a crap about.

I was thinking of you the other day.  I was thinking about how special you are.  I was thinking that you are wonderful and generous.  I was thinking that I’ve never met a person as original and unique as you are, and I was thinking about how long it took you to become what you are today.  Seriously, look where you’re at now?  Compared to where you were even ten years ago?  You’ve made a lot of progress through the trials and tribulations you’ve been through.  We’ve all had our problems, but compared to you…we don’t even know what real problems are.  We thought we had it bad, until we heard the story of what happened to you.  It’s remarkable that you’ve been able to overcome all of that and not have a single personality weakness as a result.  I was thinking how well you knew yourself, and how long it’s taken you to know you in that special way you know yourself.  I know you don’t have a lot of “me time” to think about what you mean to all us, but I wanted you to know that we think you’re special, and original, and kind, and you’re the type that would give the shirt off your back to someone in need.  They usually only say such things about people after their dead, but I wanted you to know that I know this about you now, and I want you to keep on being who you are.  We need more people like you in this Godforsaken world full of self-serving types that wouldn’t spit on you if you were on fire.

I've been thinking about you

I’ve been thinking about you

The next time you feel a little down, read this, and know that someone out there knows you for who you are.  You have a need for other people to like and admire you, and yet you tend to be critical of yourself. While you have some personality weaknesses you are generally able to compensate for them. You have considerable unused capacity that you have not turned to your advantage. Disciplined and self-controlled on the outside, you tend to be worrisome and insecure on the inside. At times you have serious doubts as to whether you have made the right decision or done the right thing. You prefer a certain amount of change and variety and become dissatisfied when hemmed in by restrictions and limitations. You also pride yourself as an independent thinker; and do not accept others’ statements without satisfactory proof. But you have found it unwise to be too frank in revealing yourself to others. At times you are extroverted, affable, and sociable, while at other times you are introverted, wary, and reserved. Some of your aspirations tend to be rather unrealistic1.  Does that sound like anyone we know?  Well, some of us out here want you to know that we’re paying attention, and we know that you’re trying, and your special, and you care.

I remember when you said that you hate people who argue with you when they don’t know what they’re talking about.  I know exactly what you’re talking about.  Some of the times, it feels like the world is against you.  Some of the times, it feels like the stars will never line up for you in your current perdicament.  I’m telling you to just keep doing what you’re doing, and things will work out eventually.  It will for you anyway, because no matter what anyone tells you, you’re doing it right.  Who are we to argue with the way you’re doing things.  We don’t understand your situation, until we walk a mile in your shoes.  Your situation is different in ways you can’t really explain to people who don’t know you.  Well, I know you, and I know that you’ve gone through a lot when you tell me the stories of your life?  Who do I think I am when I consider the other person’s viewpoint in your story, when you’ve made it abundantly clear to us that you know what you’re doing?  We’re the self-indulgent types that don’t see you for who you are.

You’re the one who thinks differently.  We believe what others tell us, when we should be listening to you.  You appear to have a better grasp on the issues, because you’ve lived life, and no one gives you credit for that.

You reached that point of hyper-awareness on that drug that one time that helped you understand a fundamental truth about life that we never would understand?  Then you couldn’t remember it the next day, you remember that?  Yeah, you got so obsessed with it that you started taking drugs so often that you forgot why you were taking the drugs in the first place.  I know that we shouldn’t laugh, but the only reason you took the drugs in the first place was to facilitate extraordinary thought in your brain, but you took so much that you ruined it.  There were a lot of people laughing at you for that.  That wasn’t you?  Oh, sorry.  You sure, because I could’ve sworn…

Then you were the one who described that one person in a sexually gratuitous manner.  I remember that, because we were all stunned, and that’s exactly what you wanted.  You wanted us to drop the pretense we had of you being all graceful and polite.  You wanted us to know that you were not constrained by the constraints of your gender, but we all thought you took it too far.  We kind of felt sorry for you in a way.  You thought it was daring and confrontational, but we thought it was kind of sad that you had to fight so hard to appear to be an individual. You danced around your lust to us, when you probably would’ve been better just stating that you lusted after that person blatantly.  That wasn’t you either?  Oh, sorry.  You sure, because I could’ve sworn…


“Didn’t you hear the old, Native American woman say that there’s a monster in the lake?!” one of the great looking people on shore screams.  Dougie doesn’t know the golden rule of modern cinema: Always listen to Native Americans, especially if they’re old, and they speak in hallowed tones.  “You’ve gone too far Dougie!” all the great looking people on shore continue screaming.  “Come back!”

“C’mon ya’ chickens!” Dougie says backstroking leisurely.  “It’s fun, and there’s nothing out here!”

DragonThe music that cues Dougie’s impending doom spills out of the speakers of our movie theater.  It is followed by a subtle roar.  We tense up.  We’re gripping the armrests of our seats so intensely that the muscles in our forearms are flexed.  We’re joining the gorgeous people on shore with mental screams sent to Dougie to get out of the water.  The great looking people on shore grow hysterical, screaming that there are swirling waters.  “Dougie please!”

“Ah, shut it!” everybody’s favorite clown, Dougie, says waving off their warnings.  The trouble is the actor who plays Dougie is slightly unattractive and out of shape.  Those of us that have watched movies for decades, and know casting, know Dougie’s in trouble.

The monster roars up to an impossible height.  Dougie looks up at it, and he finally begins screaming.  The monster takes its time, so we can see the full breadth of its horror.  It gnashes its teeth a little, it swivels its head about, and it looks menacingly at Dougie.  Dougie continues to look up, and he continues to scream, as the monster lowers onto him and bites his head off.  The fact that this scene took a whole thirty seconds leaves those of us that have watched too many horror movies in a squirming state.

Why didn’t he just move, is a question horror movie aficionados have asked for decades.  Why did he sit there and scream for thirty seconds?  We could live with the fact that the monster would’ve moved through the water quicker than Dougie, had Dougie attempted to swim away.  It’s more aquatic than Dougie.  We could’ve also lived with the fact that Dougie probably didn’t have much of a chance the minute he jumped into the water, but as a person that gets titillated by horror movies, I would like to see their victims do a little more to survive.

Later, when I found out that actors have to “hit their mark” and stay on it, I was a little less disgusted with the actors who played Dougie types.  I still wanted them to move, but I realized that they were instructed by the director to stay on the spot the director designated for the decapitation scene.  This clichéd scene may strike horror in some, but I would venture to say that most of those people are not quite thirty.  For the rest of us, it’s just plain irrational that a person wouldn’t move, or do anything and everything they can to survive.

Author Douglas McRaney argues that not only are Dougie’s reactions normal, but they are actually closer to the truth than anything we movie goers call for.  The book McRaney wrote is called You Are Not so Smart, and it basically states that the only aspect of such a scene that may be overdramatized is Dougie’s screaming.

Most of those of us that are casual, non-psychology types, believe that there are two basic reactions every human will have in the face of catastrophic, chaotic moments: action and non-action, or those that act and those that choke.  Those that act may also be broken down into two categories: those that act to selfishly save themselves and those that act in a heroic fashion to save others, but there are still only two basic reactions for casual, non-psychology types.

McRaney argues that there is actually a third course of action, and casual, non-psychology types will likely view this course of action as an extension of their idea of choking.  McRaney argues that it’s more than that, as “choking” could be seen as that which occurs in routine circumstances in which a person fails to act.  The involuntary, automatic instinct called fear bradycardia is likely to follow those moments that, for us anyway, contain unprecedented aspects of chaos and horror.  Fear bradycardia is the idea that a person, a Dougie, simply stops moving and hopes for the best.  It is based on the idea that most of us are not accustomed to moments of abject horror in which our lives are truly on the line.  It is based on the idea that in those moments, most of us will not know what to do, and we will simply freeze in place with the hope that that moment will simply go away, and we won’t have to decide what to do, or how to act, in anyway.  It is an automatic and involuntary instinct in all of us.  Fear bradycardia is also referred to as tonic immobility by some, but no matter what it’s called it falls under the umbrella of a term psychologists call the normalcy bias.

McRaney details several incidents in which people experienced fear bradycardia.  He lists an F5 tornado that occurred in Bridge Creek, Oklahoma, a plane crash in which the plane managed to get earthbound before exploding and killing everyone on impact, survivors of floods, and the Trade Center terrorist incident that occurred on 9/11/01.  According to some first responders, the one thing common to most survivors of such tragedies is that they go to a dream-like state.  With their world falling down around them, and no one to shake them out of it, most survivors will simply shut down and go to a safe, normal place in their minds where all of this horror isn’t occurring around them, and they aren’t being called upon to act in a manner that will result in their survival.

In the aftermath of the Trade Center terrorist incident that occurred on 9/11/01, some first responders spoke of the orderly fashion in which the survivors evacuated, and how they were grateful that people responded in such a fashion. They held it out as an example of how they hope more evacuations would occur.  Other first responders agreed with the general sentiment, but they added that it was almost eerie how orderly and calm some of the survivors were.  Very few survivors were screaming, and though there wasn’t much room to sprint, very few added to the chaos by trying to find some way to get out of the buildings quicker.  Some of the first responders, cited by McRaney, spoke of the manner in which some survivors taking a couple of extra, crucial moments to log safely out of their computers before listening to the first responders; some gathered their coats, and others even engaged in mundane conversations with their cohorts on the way out.

What a bunch of idiots, those of us on the outside looking in may think.  If that were me, I can tell you I would be running.  I would probably be crying, even screaming, and I might even be knocking little, old ladies down, but I would do everything I could to get out.  I don’t care what this pop psychologist says I’m all about survival brutha.

We’ve all seen scenes in movies, and TV shows, that depict such scenes, and we’ve all mentally placed ourselves in the mind of the characters involved, and we’ve all done things a little differently in our mind.  We’ve all shouted things at screens when the Dougies just sit there as a monster nears them, and we all know how we would’ve reacted, but do we?

Do we really know how prepared we are for a moment of unprecedented horror and catastrophe?  Have we ever actually been involved in a worst case scenario in which our lives are on the line?  If you haven’t, writes McRaney, you can never truly know how prepared you will be, and you can never truly know how you’ll react.  Our reactions to these situations may be lies we’ve told ourselves so often that we’ll only find the truth of the matter after it’s too late to rectify it.

Shutting down computers, gathering coats and having mundane conversations are automatic and involuntary responses that occur as a result of this dream-like, normal state that we go to when it becomes clear that no amount of rationalizing will ever make this horrific, and unprecedented moment of chaos, a normal moment.  It’s a shutdown mode we go to to block out the flood of external stimuli that may otherwise cause us to panic.

The people in the World Trade Centers on 9/11 had a supreme need to feel safe and secure,” McRaney writes.  “They had a desire to make everything around them “go” normal again in the face of something so horrific that their brains couldn’t deal with it in a functional manner.”

As previously stated, most casual, non-psychology types would characterize this as choking in the clutch, but McRaney states that it goes beyond this, because you’re not necessarily freezing up out of panic.  “It’s a reflexive incredulity” McRaney writes —attributing the term to an Amanda Ripley— “that causes you to freeze up in a reflexive manner.  It’s a reflexive incredulity that causes you to wait for normalcy to return beyond the point where it’s reasonable to do so.  It’s a tendency that those concerned with evacuation procedures— the travel industry, architects, first responders, and stadium personnel— are well aware of, and that they document this in manuals and trade publications.”

McRaney provides just such a list from a journal called “The International Journal of Mass Emergencies and Disasters.” This entry lists the course of actions most of us will experience when we go through a chaotic catastrophe.

1) Interpret. You will attempt to define the incident that is occurring around you in terms that you are familiar with, and in doing so, you will underestimate it.

We’ve heard a couple of tales, such as the one involving the “underwear bomber” where passengers of a plane reacted in a manner that called alarm to an incident. Thanks to the incident that occurred on 9/11/01, we all now have precedent for such an incident, and we are all living in a post-9/11 world where such incidents have been defined as a new norm for us that wasn’t available before 9/11. Save for those few on flight ninety-three, that crashed ninety-three into the ground near Pittsburgh, one has to imagine that most of the passengers on the other flights, froze up with reflexive incredulity when the terrorists took control of the planes.  They didn’t know a world where terrorists flew planes into buildings, and they had no way to interpret the information that they were seeing.  Even those that acted on ninety-three had to have their norms redefined by those loved ones they called.  They received information that their loved ones were seeing on TV, and they turned to their fellow passengers on ninety-three to redefine the norm for them.  This, in essence, woke those passengers out of their reflexive incredulity and prompted them to act in the manner they did.

2) Information. You will seek information from those around you to see what they think of the incident. This may involve, as McRaney points out in other parts of the chapter, listening to radio and television, and any source of media that helps you come to terms with the incident.

Again, from the reports we’ve had of flight ninety-three, there was a great deal of discussion in the aircraft, and with others on the ground that occurred before Todd Beamer said: “Are you guys ready? Let’s roll!” They helped each other interpret what they were experiencing with the information they gleaned from those on the ground. It helped them interpret the bizarre information they were experiencing, and they detailed this information to the others on board flight ninety-three before acting.

3) Preparation. You will attempt to contact your family and begin building shelters or preparing to evacuate.

4) Move. After doing all this, you will evacuate.

The sociologists, McRaney cites, say that “You are more likely to dawdle if you fail to follow these steps properly and are improperly informed of the severity of the issue.”  Those that are not properly informed are more likely to compare and contrast this incident to other incidents that have occurred in the past to rationalize that this incident is not as bad as a previous one they’ve experienced, or that it’s not that bad as they thought it would be.  This is the attempt to normalize the incident in such a way as to help you deal with it in terms with which you are more familiar. You reach a point where you are able to stave off panic with these rationalizations, in other words, until it becomes apparent that this incident is far worse than anything you’ve ever imagined.

Men, in particular, have a way of rationalizing fear away.  Fear, by its very nature is irrational, and most men feel it incumbent upon them to keep fear a rationalization away.  Most men will even rationalize horrific incidents that are reported in the news to prevent the totality of its potential horror from penetrating their shield.  It’s never as bad as the media is portraying it they say.  They want viewers, so they drum up the horrific details of the incident, to get you to tune in.  While it is true that the media played the 9/11/01 incident for all it was worth, it could arguably be called the most horrific incident to occur on our soil.  The source of 9/11: terrorism, could also debatably be called one of plagues of our current world, but many men have rationalized it away from their minds by calling it a media, or politically created event, hyped up to generate fear in our society.  By doing this, men create a place where they don’t have to deal with the irrational fear that could be caused by it.

Having said all that, no one should debilitate their lives with constant fear throughout their days on earth, but they shouldn’t deflect all concern either.  In doing the latter, one may be able to reach a point where they are able to rationalize themselves to calm, cool, and collected levels in the face of an incident that provides them unprecedented horror and tragedy, and they may be able to bring themselves to such a rationalized point that they’re incapable of acting.  They may have rationalized themselves to death.

For these reasons and others, it is crucial that a city facing an ensuing crisis, have their local media inundate us with reports concerning an impending storm, because the media needs to help us redefine our norm.  It is also a reason, for those of us that make fun of our friends for paying attention to the stewardess’ instructions, to drop our macho façade and listen.  We may also want to drop the pretense that we’re such frequent travelers that we’re prepared for anything and get our normalcy redefined in preparation for what could go wrong.

Even with all the information McRaney provides, I still find it hard to believe that those movie scenes that depict the near-catatonic reactions a Dougie will display as a monster nears him, are closer to the truth than I am about how I will react.  I live with the belief that a survivor instinct will kick in when I see a monster coming at my head, and that I will do whatever it takes to try to survive the incident, regardless if I am great looking, unattractive, or slightly out of shape.  That doesn’t mean, however, that I am going to be so afraid of appearing afraid that I will disregard the information that may help me avert disaster.  We’ve all had some incidents in our lives that could be called mini-disasters in the grand scheme of things, and most people have a fairly decent batting average when it comes to reacting to them.  Here’s to hoping that if my life ever depends on my reaction times that I don’t experience a fear bradycardia, a tonic immobility, a reflexive incredulity, or any of those normal bias tendencies that McRaney says are automatic and involuntary instincts among the unprepared that have lied to themselves for so long that they accidentally rationalize themselves to death.

I used to think I would eventually become Batman, but I wasn’t willing to do the work it took. After reading the comics and waking up at six a.m. to watch the Superfriends cartoon to learn the formula, I realized that I would have to buy a number of gadgets. I was on a limited budget at the time, I think I was seven, and I realized it wasn’t going to be cost-effective. There were a number of other complications that arose that I won’t go into, but I never did become Batman. When I got a little older, I decided on the Fonz. He had a confluence of nerdiness and coolness that I could never quite tap into, but it seemed attainable to me, then there were my dreams of becoming Walter Payton and Johnny Jefferson, and finally Stephen King.

I was young, and these fantasies were powerful forces in my mind. I thought there was something special about me, and when I say special I’m not talking about Grandma rubbing my hair and telling me I’m special. I mean really special, I mean my whole world would be shocked when they found out the truth special. When I would get a bad grade, or when a teacher told me I wasn’t cutting it; when a bully would pick on me, or I would be ostracized from the ‘in crowd’ in some way; or when I went through those normal, insecure moments of doubt and indecision that weigh down the mind of an adolescent, I would fantasize about them finding out the real me that existed beneath what they thought they knew of me. I thought that I had an alter-ego that only I knew.

At a certain point in time, I realized that all I would ever be is me. Some have wanted to be more than what they are, and some have wanted to be less. I pretended like I was more, at times, to impress people, and I’ve pretended like I was less to gain their sympathy and empathy. It never did me a damn bit of good one way or another. I’ve thought I was more than whatever job I was working at the time. I’ve thought that the company was not using my skill set properly, and then I realized that I was the one not using his skill set properly. I was the one who chose this job after all, but I knew that I needed that alter-ego to get through the day and the job. It’s a part of who I am. I’ve also thought that I was less than the job I’m in. I see all these people around me, with their glorious numbers, and I would think that should be me. I have the potential, but I don’t have the wherewithal to get her done, and I didn’t care about all that at the same time. That’s not me, I would say, I know my potential, but is that potential the Batman alter-ego potential that they’ll never know, or that I’ll never know entirely?

I love to tell jokes that don’t get a laugh. I love to bomb like Johnny Carson and Andy Kaufman did. I’ve had people tell me I’m not funny more than once. My apologies to those of you who thought you were the first. The truth is I love that more than if someone were to tell me I’m funny. Yeah, I don’t entirely get it either. I loved David Lynch movies in which nothing seemed to happen and no one said much. People hate those movies. Trust me, I’ve talked to them and sat through the movies with them. Mike Patton’s music turns me on. People say it’s not music. They say it’s just some guy screaming and yipping and yiping for three minutes like Warner Brother’s Tasmanian Devil on crack. I’m not a tool, but rules are important to me. If you don’t know the rules, or don’t have them, what is there to rebel against? I used to religiously seek non-conformity, until I realized that there was a degree of conformity to the non-conformity I sought. I used to think that the key to intellectually superiority was in secular avenues, until I realized that I wasn’t even listening to the other side. When I began listening to the other side, I began listening to the secular, more liberal side again. When I began listening to the more liberal side, I did it for the sole purpose of appearing enlightened and open-minded, until I began to see the zippers in the back of their costumes. From that point forward, I listened to the more liberal arguments to strengthen my arguments against them and their agendas and formulas.

I’ve fantasized about becoming Batman, the Fonz, Walter Payton, Johnny Jefferson and Stephen King, but I wasn’t willing to put in the work to achieve what they’ve achieved. I’ve realized that while they may have some natural gifts that I have never had, they put in a lot of work to get where they are. Somewhere along the line, I began fantasizing about becoming me, and I realized that’s going to take a lot of work.

Interested in reading the non-political, fiction side of Rilaly? Follow the link below:


What must it be like to be so political that you can’t sleep at night?  Liberal extraordinaire Bill Moyers answered this in his February 10, 2015 Salon column.  Those of us that heard about the horrific burning of a Jordanian air force pilot, by the terrorist group known as ISIS, couldn’t help but think that it may have been one of the most horrific events we have ever heard about.  Some of us were so horrified that it even kept us up at night, as we thought about the unnecessary pain the terrorists in ISIS inflicted on the young pilot’s family, the effect it must’ve had on Jordanians as a whole, and the subsequent effects the terrorist incident could have on geopolitics.  The barbaric incident did keep the former PBS personality up at night, but his insomnia was apparently not related to such altruistic concerns.

The column does contain the requisite condemnations of this act committed by ISIS, but after getting those out of the way, Moyers focuses on the concern that his readers, and Americans in general, might think that such incidents only happen in other places, or under the name of another religion.  This concern, say some, has been the driving force for much of Bill Moyers’ broadcast career.

My mind kept roaming the past trying to retrieve a vaguely remembered photograph that I had seen long ago,” he wrote.  “Suddenly, around two in the morning, the image materialized in my head.”

Moyers and Coates

Moyers and Coates

This painstaking search through his memory produced, for all readers of Bill Moyers’ column, a photo –a photo nearly 100 years old— that depicted a slave being hung.  Moyers also includes the horrific details of the story behind this photo, the type of horror that does match the horror that the Jordanian pilot must have experienced at the hands of ISIS.  This photo, and the accompanying story, suggests that Americans, and religious people, shouldn’t get on their high horse when they learn of this incident involving the Jordanian pilot, because “Home grown insiders, Godly (people), our neighbors, friends, and kin, (and) people like us” have committed similar atrocities throughout the course of human history.

I understand that Bill Moyers former profession involved political commentary, and that a majority of his career was spent providing political commentary that attempted to tie horrific world events to those that have occurred in U.S. history.  I understand that it is apparently Moyers’ driving force in life that Americans not fall prey to the conceit that theirs is the most “awesomest” country in the world, and that their particular religion is the most “awesomest”, but how many narrow-minded, political partisans could witness an event as horrific as a man being burned alive in a cage and believe that it could be used to politically persuade people to your way of thinking?  How many people are so political that when they learn of such an honorific incident, they immediately begin searching their memory for an equivocation that confirms their contention that America is not exceptional in this manner?  How many people would endure such a seemingly futile pursuit to the point that they stayed up until two A.M. chasing it, before they finally, finally, come up with a photo that is nearly 100 years old to validate their mission in life?

Other equivocators —after presumably spending their own sleepless night trying to come up with one— had to go further back than 100 years, to The Civil War, to find a leader of the South declaring that the positions the South held on slavery –positions they knew would lead to war— were justified based on his interpretations of The Bible.

The point, writes Ta-Nehisi Coates in his Atlantic column, is that equivocating what “Americans have done, on their own soil, in the name of their own God, something similar to what ISIS is doing now does not make ISIS any less barbaric, or any more correct. That is unless you view the entire discussion as a kind of religious one-upmanship, in which the goal is to prove that Christianity is “the awesomest.” The point, he writes, interpreting the president’s words at the National Prayer Breakfast, is that we should all seek “faith leavened by some doubt”.

Mr. Moyers, and Mr Coates, would most assuredly inform you that if all you took from their columns were equivocations, you probably didn’t read them right.  You can be assured that they would also tell you that their columns are about so much more, but the timing of these painful stretches suggests that they were written in support of President Barack Obama’s equivocation, at the National Prayer Breakfast, in which the president was forced to go back nearly 1,000 years, to The Crusades and The Inquisition, for some of his equivocations to find some human rights violations on par with those committed by ISIS, for those on high horses.

What’s the point of making an equivocation in this case, some non-political people might ask.  What difference does it make to anyone?  Why do these politicians and commentators even feel it’s necessary to do?  Non-political, and non-partisan, people may know that this is just how some politicians and commentators think, and that they’re simply giving voice to their worldview, but non-political, and non-partisan, people probably still won’t understand why anyone would find it necessary to equate one violent act to another, especially when that other act occurred nearly 1,000 years ago.  These people might fear that politicians and commentators equivocating such horrific acts could lead to those acts being minimized to some degree, and that the perpetrators may never come to any form justice as a result.  Get off your high horse for one second, these equivocators might reply, and examine why your sole focus is retribution when it could be said, through painstaking research, that there are moments throughout the course of human history in which other, horrific acts of violence have occurred, and that some of those acts could have some sort of loose association to you.  It’s far more conducive to your mental health to take a step back and examine, through the intellectual exercise of equivocation, how easy it would be for you to be tempted to burn someone alive in a cage, or behead another person, when given the right cause.  They’re not saying it would be easy, and you may have to stay awake until two in the morning trying to do it, bursting some capillaries in your eyes in the process, but once you do, you’ll find that “faith leavened by some doubt”, and you’ll recognize that these are just random acts of violence no different than any of those committed by home grown insiders, Godly (people), our neighbors, friends, and kin, (and) people like us.

Before I begin, let me take this opportunity to talk about “my process”.  I am in love with my process, like many in the media, and I thought now would be the perfect time to tell you what an uncommon genius I am.  The five stories I have chosen were not randomly chosen, they were chosen randomly, and if you are one of those that are fortunate enough to have a DVR, or you have some fast forward minutes on your live TV function, you’ll want to scroll down twelve paragraphs, and seven commercial breaks, to get to the actual list.

(Edited for time constraints.)

5) Delfategate— Now that we have the final chapter of this story completed, a chapter titled 37-50, for 328 yards, 4 TD’s, and a 140.7 quarterback rating, we now know the plot of this story involved the media giving cat nip to the crazies that hate the Patriots.  To those of us that don’t hate, or love, the Patriots, it was a non-story.

Tom Brady Bill Belichick 2For those that comprise the “hate Tom Brady” contingent –the Brady smile, the Brady confidence, the beautiful wife, and the wonderful life— the story was erotica.  For the networks that willing to feed into this “Let’s put a taint in Tom” narrative, the ratings were a boon.  We couldn’t get enough of it.  For those that don’t have an irrational hatred for Tom, Coach Bill Belichick filled that void for them.  Belichick is arrogant and mean to the press (i.e. he doesn’t give away the game plan); he doesn’t smile enough, and he doesn’t equivocate enough for those that prefer equivocators.  OH, and he has a boat called Five Rings (a boat he’ll now have to rename six rings).  If you have no emotional investment in either of these two, you probably have a general hatred for the Patriots because they’re there every year, and you believe in the word deserve, as in someone else deserves a turn; or you’re just a person that roots for the underdog, and everyone likes everyone that roots for the underdog.  Whatever the case is, the success of the Patriots has garnered a whole lot of hatred out there, and this Deflategate story came about at just the right time, right before another Super Bowl appearance.  The cat nip the media gave Patriot haters amounted to a two-week, pleasure cruise aboard the boat “Cheaters!” It allowed them to chant “Cheaters!” when the subject of all of those Super Bowl appearances came up.  It allowed them to nullify all of those rings, and it allowed them to think (for two glorious weeks!) that the wife, and the life, were all based on a lie.  The story was, in essence, a digestive aide for all those years of indigestion.

When Brady threw his first interception –a throw that went to a defender that stood about five years away from the nearest offensive player— one could almost hear eyebrows being raised around the nation.  Is it the grip?  Is the ball not the way the all-American heartthrob likes it?  They were giddy.  It provided a seismic move in the culture, until Brady went on to complete a Super Bowl record thirty-seven passes.  He eventually gave up another interception –thanks to a brilliantly deceptive move by a linebacker— but other than that Brady turned in a 37-50, for 328 yards, 4 TD’s, and a 140.7 quarterback rating performance.  With each completion, and Touchdown, one could almost hear those eyebrows lowering, until all but the most passionately disgruntled Patriot hater realized that this whole Deflategate story was nothing more than a ruse that the media had sprinkled around the pre-game entrance for the rubes to nibble on.

4) Marshawn Lynch— In the weeks leading up to the Super Bowl, the press began throwing an hysterical hissyfit over the fact that the running back from the Seattle Seahawks continued his boycott of the media.  He showed up for his contractually obligated press conferences on Super Bowl media day, but he did not provide answers that the reporters could take to the bank.  Some have stated that his non-answer answers were a thumb to the eye of every fan, as the “press is a vital conduit to the fans”.  Others have said that it undermines the republic, and the idea of a free press.  “Reporters, with a soul, are as repulsed by this whole mess as you are,” Seattle Times Columnist Larry Stone writes.  “And it could lead to a backlash,” he writes, predicting that players of all sports could begin to avoid answering the important questions that reporters might ask of them, and thus lead to the fall of what Abraham Lincoln once called this “Great Experiment” called America.  The question I would have, if Lynch’s antics led to a larger backlash is: “Who cares?”  Certain players enjoy speaking with the media, others don’t.  Interview those that enjoy it. Remember, Mr. Stone, these are athletes, not federal bureaucrats that should be required to answer the people’s questions for their actions.  The answers athletes provide are as meaningless, to most of us, as the questions reporters ask.  We understand that you want to make a living in this profession, and we have no problem with that, but telling us we are “as repulsed by this whole mess as you are,” doesn’t make it so.  We also understand that Marshawn Lynch’s antics insult your profession, and it threatens to undermine the future of it, if it results in this larger backlash, but most of us do not see the imminent danger of your prophesy.  We also think you may be overstating the role of sports journalist in our culture, and perhaps that’s the source of your hysteria.

Some have flirted with the notion that Lynch’s antic were a result of a calculated business decision to ink an endorsement deal for his “Beast Mode” products.  Former NFL players, on NFL talk show panels, could also be seen nightly providing high-minded ideals to Marshawn’s stance, and some of these explanations were so fawning that one would have to think that they will become a point of ridicule for decades to come.  The question I have for all these people attempting to explain Lynch’s attempts to undermine of the Republic by avoiding Super Bowl media day questions like, “What’s your favorite color?” is “Have you heard this man speak?”  He does not speak well.  I don’t know how intelligent he is, and I know that communication skills are not a comprehensive barometer of one’s intelligence, but is it possible that his reluctance to speak to the media might be a result of Marshawn Lynch not liking how Marshawn Lynch sounds in Q & A press conferences?

3) Human Interest Stories— I could go through a laundry list of examples here, but I won’t.  Suffice it to say that of those questions reporters ask of players in Super Bowl Q & A press conferences –those deemed vital to the Republic— about 50% of them involve human interests that no I know cares about.

2) The Media— Due to the fact that my teams have not been in contention for national championships, or Super Bowls, for about fifteen years, I now (largely!) cheer against a team more than I cheer for one.  The reason: media fawning.  I know, I know, the media fawns over Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, the Patriots, and Bill Belichick, and I don’t hate them.  I know it’s hypocritical, but I guess I’ve reached some sort of acceptance with them.  I’ve been beat over the head for so long, over a decade, with non-stop discussions about their brilliance, that I guess I’ve been hypnotized into acquiescence.  The fawning makes me ill, regardless of the direction, and ESPN has appeared so infrequently on my television that when I do have it on, it almost feels nostalgic, but I loathe nothing more than the flavor of the month club in the media.  The flavor of the month club involves a team (hopefully from a highly populated state, i.e., New York) that is on the rise, and has the greatest (fill in the blank) to ever (fill in the blank), and they tell us it enough times to hopefully make it true in our minds too.  You can try and try to pound that nail in my brain, I mentally tell them, until it reaches a layer of conscious thought, but I’m not going to accept it as truth, until it is.  I may take this a bit further than most, as a result of age and countless hours of rebelling against their indoctrination, but I actively cheer against the flavor of the month.

1) “That’s Football”— is a quote that you’ll likely only hear from players, after a reporter has jammed a microphone in their face, in a sensitive moment, after a crushing defeat.  For the reporter, and the recipients of their largesse, the events that shape a football game are equivalent to life and death, and they mock and ridicule any player that says anything to the contrary.  For them, these moments are about championship or choke; legacy or failure; and the greatest to ever play the game versus the guy that will be haunted by an asterisk on his deathbed.  It’s football.  It’s the way the ball bounces.  Some receiver that hasn’t caught a ball all year will make a catch, because he’s taller than the guy that’s covering him; some guy will fumble, because human beings drop things; one will throw an interception, even though he’s never done it all year, based on percentages.  It’s football.  There are twenty-two professionally trained athletes on the field at any given time, and if they’re in the Super Bowl, they’re likely to be some of the best athletes on the planet.  These people are obsessively trained to make things happen, and at least one of them does on every play.  “That’s football.”

Obsessed fans walk away from such a quote believing that it means that the player was somehow less focused on winning?  If this is your take, you can go ahead and assume you’re wrong.  You can go ahead and assume that that game meant more to them than it could ever possibly mean to you.  If an NFL player is lucky enough to play in a Super Bowl, it’s possible that they may have just endured 19 games to get there, and this doesn’t account for all that they had to endure before that season even started.  If the player is in the NHL, or the NBA, they could play over 100 games; and the players in the MLB could play in over 180.  How many momentum swings do professional athletes have to endure in those games, or in that season, to reach the pinnacle of their sport?  How many lucky plays –that shouldn’t have happened— have gotten them to this point?   How many injuries has each player had to endure to get to that point where they made a crucial mistake that cost their team a championship game?  Most players would not ask the conduit of the people (the reporter) for sympathy, but they’re probably shocked to learn that the invested (see obsessed) fan is crushed with this “That’s just the way the ball bounces” answer.

It’s possible that a player may be saying something like this out of pure exhaustion, or it may have something to do with the fact that after going from pee wee football to the greatest stage the game has to offer, they know that no matter how much blood, sweat, and tears you cast, the ball simply bounces the other way some of the times.  It may also have something to do with the fact that if they dropped to their knees, weeping in utter despair –like you do— they would have more people than you will, considering them an absolute laughing stock.

Read through the various periodicals on the net, and you’ll find the words earn, deserve, and merit listed as relatively interchangeable.  These three words are conflated so often in these periodicals, that they might be some of the few words, in the usage war of words, that the prescriptivist dictionaries(1) and the descriptivists dictionaries(2) agree upon.  Read through those blogs that make a serious attempt at getting it right, and you’ll find that if these three words are not listed as synonyms, or interchangeable, they’re listed as derivatives of one another.

This casual, but curious, observer of language would not go so far to write that any of these authors are incorrect, but in the lexicon of the common man the words ‘deserve’ and ‘earn’ have grown so far apart as to be almost antonyms.  When the office worker speaks of deserving a raise, even those that know the measurements of the company would not bring up the word earn, for fear that it would spark a confrontation that would forever change their relationship; when the sports fan speaks of his team deserving a championship, only his antagonists that will mention the fact that they obviously haven’t earned it yet; and when the lovelorn and politicians speak of the deserving, it is an emotional appeal that cannot be countered without one doing some damage to their public perception.  In all walks of life deserve is used as a word to describe that which one is entitled to, as if by birthright, and merit has become the exclusive right of the word earn.

cavernThe definition of deserve, in the lexicon of the common man at the proverbial water cooler, has regressed to the succinct definition: “To have, or display, qualities that should result in one naturally attaining rewards.”  In this sense, deserve has come to be of an adjective to describe those that should attain, and earn is more a verb to describe the act of attaining.  Deserve is also a term used by those that feel they are owed something by working hard, by being a good person, a human, or more specifically a human being that is living.

All philosophical differences aside, this causal, but curious, observer can’t help but think that those that fully invest their emotions in this idea of being deserving, at the expense of earning, set themselves up for failure, heartache, and even diminished mental health when the reality of their circumstances continues to dispel their notions.  One would think that at some point the perpetually confused would take a step back and provide the situation a reexamination steeped in rational objectivity, but for most that’s easier said than done, for it could lead them to believe that they’re a lot less deserving than they believed.

Love is a complicated algorithm fraught with failure that begins with simple, intangible superficialities, such as appearance; the way a person comes their hair; their scent; the clothes they wear; the way they smile when they see you coming down the aisle at Cracker Barrel, and all of the other, relatively meaningless intangibles that form superficial attraction.  Love then gains meaning as it progresses into shared values, complicated ideas, and philosophies, until it eventuates from that initial, superficial attraction into the ultimate, comprehensive decision we make about another person called love.  Long-term love is then earned every day thereafter by maintaining the conditions that the other party either overtly, or implicitly, lays out for you … Hence the term ‘conditional’ love.

“And you think you should be afforded all this by simply being?” I would ask the deserving person.  “Do you think that you should be able to walk up to a total stranger on the street and inform them that you are generally a good person, and therefore deserving of love, and that they should do their civic duty, as a good citizen of the world, and love you.  If that’s what you think, you’ll probably get the type of love you deserve.” 

The point is that being deserving should open up a whole can of why for anyone that truly believes it.  Why do I deserve, should be the first question they ask themselves; and why am I more deserving, should be the next, and all of the answers should culminate in self-evident facts and figures that result in the use of the words merit and earning.

High-minded types would tell you that love is nothing more than a complex mixture of chemicals in the brain, and they do so under the theoretical umbrella of humans being no more complex than, say, the penguin.  They would suggest that certain animals, like some penguins, actually have long-term, monogamous relationships based on decision-making.  If our decision making is no more complex than the penguin’s, and our drive to be loved, and love, is nothing more than a natural and primal need to procreate, then all humans do deserve to be loved by the primal, prospective mate that senses when we’re in heat.  Or if the human’s senses are so inferior to the penguin’s that they can’t tell, we may want to develop a mating call that informs prospective mates when we’re deserving, and we’ll see what comes running.

Most of us prefer to believe that the love we have is perpetually earned, and thus more complex than the penguins, and that it progresses based on the variables we introduce to it on a daily basis.  If we settle on this primal, penguin definition of love, and we choose to believe that our love should be nonjudgmental, and lacking in morals and values, and nothing more than a stick that stirs the chemicals in our brain, the love we get will be as meaningless as the penguins’, and exactly what we deserve.

(1) Prescriptivists are concerned with how language is supposed to be used (i.e. the formal and more correct).

(2) Descriptivists are concerned with how language is used (i.e. more casual).

The government has less money!  Everybody, to the nearest shelter!!  Stock up on the grain pellets!!!  Prepare for the seven trumpets that herald the second coming.  There is no hope!

We do have hope, actually, as spake the prophet Nancy Pelosi:

I do think that if there’s ever going to be an opportunity to raise the gas tax, the time when gas prices are so low — oil prices are so low — is the time to do it.” 

chopper-shot-of-falling-debris-coverRaising taxes on the people.  What a novel idea.  Usually when a politician threatens do raise taxes, they provide us the courtesy of at least pretending there’s a crisis.  In this particular instance, Ms. Pelosi doesn’t even do that initially.  Initially, she simply suggested this was a good time for a tax hike, and when Republicans suggested that it may be a good time, but that they would like an offset somewhere else … say a cut in individual income taxes, even if it’s just middle class tax cuts, Nancy Pelosi wouldn’t respond directly, and she later called it showbiz.  She then said something sensible in her otherwise habitually incoherent press conferences when she said, “How do you relate the gas tax to the Highway Trust Fund.  That’s the relationship that is real.  If there is to be an increase in the gas tax, that’s where those resources should be used.”

The thrust of her message was: put the onus on the people, the voters, or to paraphrase Ms. Pelosi’s like-minded colleague, Harry Reid (Democrat, Nevada) those that smell.  The idea that fluctuations in the gas price, and the subsequent effects it may have on certain allocations, may provide a need to restructure spending occurs to Ms. Pelosi as an afterthought.  The idea that these fluctuations may give rise to the belief that state and federal governments have mismanaged the receipts that come in from the gas tax doesn’t appear to be a pressing issue to her either.  It appears to be more a matter of compromise to her.  The only thing that occurs to her is raising taxes at a time when those that smell may feel it less than at any other time.  To those that flirt with the other “showbiz” notions, Ms. Pelosi has always been quick to dispel such notions, as she did in 2013 on CNN’s State of the Union show:

The cupboard is bare.  There’s no more cuts to make.  It’s really important that people understand that.”

Lower Gas Prices

One of the many factors in the lowering of the gas price is the lower demand the market has seen over the last ten years.  Experts say that the Saudi’s have had an effect, as has the increased supply of oil as a result of domestic production.  Others have said that social pressures, and tax incentives, have led to more people biking to work, walking, carpooling, buying more cars that operate on alternative fuels, and increased CAFE standards on automobile manufacturers have all led to lessen our dependence on foreign oil, and oil in general, until we finally arrived at the glorious day where demand has ticked downwards.

One would think that the effectiveness of these campaigns, that have to be factored into the lowered demand, would be a cause for celebration in the halls of Washington.  One would think that they would even allow those of us that smell into the celebration, and that they would allow us to bask in the reward of our combined efforts to drive supply up and demand down, until it resulted in lower prices and more expendable income in our pockets.  They don’t, of course, they slam the door in our face and tell us there is no celebration, because they have less money.  They tell us that nothing they said in those various social media campaigns, and in various election campaigns, matter now that they’re faced with the reality of having to do our job with less money and the prospect of even less in the future as a result of forecasts of even lower gas demand by the consumer in the future.

The thing is, the current federal gas tax is a fixed 18.4 cents a gallon, as opposed to an 18.4% tax that may have been affected by any fluctuations of the gas price.  The only aspect of this equation that could cause less tax revenue to flow into federal coffers is if the American public purchased fewer gallons of gas, a result that many in Washington have implored for decades, and now that we have reached this point, they believe it open up an excellent opportunity for them to go get more of our hard earned money, because we’ll feel less financial pain from it with the lower prices.

According to the figures compiled by Energy Information Administration officials the consumption of gasoline has ticked slightly downwards over the last ten years, and they predict that a greater drop will occur “as baby boomers age and stop driving, and as more fuel-efficient cars and trucks hit the road, Americans’ gas consumption will ultimately fall.”  They also say that, “Looking forward, we expect to see weakening in gasoline consumption as fuel economy improvements outpace population and miles-traveled growth.”  It’s all resulted in more money in our back pockets, and less in theirs.

As Nancy Pelosi stated with the Saudi’s recent decision to lower oil prices, and keep them flat for an undetermined amount of time, and some would say greater domestic production via fracking, there probably won’t be a better opportunity for Congress to raise taxes now that prices are so low.  This concerned citizen would love to ask Ms. Pelosi, “If the perfect time to raise taxes occurs when gas prices are low, is there going to be a future date that opens up a perfect time for Congress to lower these gas taxes if the gas price should rise again?  Will this gas tax rise and fall in conjunction with the gas price?”  I would then pause to allow for her laughter, and the laughter that arises from anyone that knows how she ran Congress.

To Pay for Infrastructure

The line advocates use for raising gas taxes sound something like this: Gasoline taxes have not been raised in more than 20 years (1993 to be exact).  Our roads and infrastructure are decaying and falling apart.  The news program 60 Minutes had reporter Steve Kroft speak to former secretary of transportation Ray LaHood, on this matter, before gas prices fell to the level they are now.  In this piece, LaHood provided numerous details regarding when certain bridges and roads were constructed, how many cars travel on these roads on average, and how woefully unprepared these roads are for that kind of volume.  They discussed how there simply isn’t enough money to pay for these projects, and how long (under these current financial constraints) it will take to fund the projects that need to be completed throughout the country.

The import of this 60 Minutes piece, and the various articles written on this subject, is that the current situation is unsustainable, and that the current Republican leadership in Congress is largely to blame, though the subjects of the 60 Minutes interview included an asterisk that Democrats didn’t do much either when they were in charge.  The subjects of the 60 Minutes piece also suggest that President George W. Bush is largely to blame for not doing anything about it while he was president:

They had two blue ribbon commissions about infrastructure finance that recommended a lot more money, and additionally the gas tax being increased.”  But Democrat Congressman Earl Blumenauer (Oregon) concluded, “We couldn’t get them to accept being able to move forward.”

He included an asterisk statement that alluded to the fact that President Barack H. Obama hasn’t done anything about it either.  The takeaway from this is that the ordinary citizen has not put enough pressure on Republicans to raise the gas tax, and that Democrats haven’t done so either.  Though he probably would’ve included the latter with a verbal asterisk.

The Allocation of the Gas Tax

When this former transportation secretary’s attempts to make us all feel guilty for the conditions of current roads and bridges concluded, I would ask what percentage of blame should go to the state and federal politicians (Democrats included I would state with a verbal asterisk) for diverting these highway funds to other projects.  I would note for him that in Michigan around 0% of the state gas tax is currently being devoted to the Highway Fund, according to the House Fiscal Agency Memorandum, February 6, 2012.  I would note for him that this fiscal agency states that the sales tax is constitutionally (state constitution) directed to schools and local units of government.  In North Carolina, I would add, a greater percentage of the state’s gas tax goes to pay education, hospitals, and other government programs.  New Jersey allocates a percentage of the tax to paying off debt interest payments, and I would add that the feds have followed suit in using the gas tax to help pay off federal debt.  I would add that while some of these allocations are honorable, and even necessary, now may be the perfect time to restructure how these allocations are made to help pay for all of these infrastructure projects.  The response, if it follows the usual response of those in Washington would be: “Okay, let’s raise the gas tax first, and we’ll follow that up with restructuring the ways in which the tax receipts are spent,” and if the current lot of politicians followed the usual ways of Washington, the latter would probably never get done.

“It is clear,” writes Veronique de Rugy of Reason.com, “That the diversion of gas tax funds to non-highway projects is the biggest cause of the underfunding problem.”

As Reason Foundation Director of Transportation Policy Robert Poole has explained:

The federal Highway Transportation Fund was invented in 1956, promising motorists and truckers that all proceeds from a new federal gas tax would be spent on building the interstate system.  They aren’t.  Congress has expanded federal highway spending beyond interstates to include all types of roadways.  And since 1982, a portion of “highway user taxes” have been diverted to urban transit (non highway use). Today, the federal role in transportation includes maintaining sidewalks, funding bike paths, and creating scenic trails.

“Poole estimates that some 25 percent of the gas tax goes to non-highway use.  As the Federal Highway Administration’s “Highway Authorizations” table indicates, Congress allocates highway money to truck parking facilities, safety incentives to prevent operation of motor vehicles by intoxicated persons, grants for anti-racial profiling programs, magnetic levitation trains, and dozens of other non-road activities.  He also notes that one of the main diversions of the gas tax is devoted to rail and public transit, which are allocated in this manner to hopefully encourage ridership of public transit.

The gist of this, according to de Rugy, is that it’s the politicians that have “transferred highway dollars to transit programs and increase state and local taxes to fund transit agencies.”

As Poole stated, the hope that politicians have is that increasing the funding for these transit programs will naturally result in more people riding them.  This, according to de Rugy has not happened.  De Rugy cites a figure that states that while the funding of these programs increased by 42% (between the years 1978 and 1995) ridership decreased by 11% during the same time period.  She opines that the only clear beneficiary of this increase in funding, during this time period, were the transit workers, generally members of public sector unions –that, it could be theorized, likely donated to the sympathetic politician’s election campaign.

This 60 Minutes piece concludes with a piece from Kroft’s interview with a past president of the American Society of Civil Engineers, named Andy Herrmann, stating:

You’re sitting there at these committee meetings (in Washington); they seem to agree with you.  Yes, we have to make investments in infrastructure.  Yes, we have to do these things. But then they come around and say, “Well, where are we going to get the money?”  And you sort of sit to yourself and say to yourself, “Well, we elected you to figure that out.”

Where do you get the money, Nancy Pelosi might ask stupefied, from the people.  I can’t believe you’re seriously asking that question, she might add.  One plus one equals two right?  You raise the gas tax, you get more money.  What could be complicated about that?  But, I would say if I were the investigative journalist interviewing her, if you don’t change the manner in which the receipts derived from the gas tax are allocated, how would that resolve the problem?  I understand that your modus operandi in Washington is show me the money, and that’s the driving force behind wanting to increase the gas tax, but if we are specifically talking about fixing the infrastructure in America, and we raise the gas tax without changing the manner in which those tax receipts are allocated, how could that resolve the problem former secretary LaHood calls an unsustainable problem?

Nancy Pelosi, or anyone that thinks like her, would probably point out that the conservative Senator from South Dakota, John Thune — slated to be the new chair of the Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee — has stated that even he would consider a gas price increase as a way of fixing the Highway Trust Fund in the next Congress. That’s fine, even the most anti-tax advocate would reply, as long as federal and state politicians learn that the short-term method of dipping into the gas tax to magically resolve the problems facing their constituents must end, because as we all now know resolving short-term problems to get re-elected, results in unforeseen long-term complications down the road that do not get covered by investigative journalists.  And this answer to the problem, we all hope Thune recognizes, is two-fold.  Such an approach would probably not be viewed favorably by those politicians that either don’t want to focus on their role in the complicated and unsustainable problem, or the role their fellow politicians have played.  It’s simply less confrontational, and therefore easier, for an investigative journalist, or a sitting Congressman, to focus the resolution of the problem on getting more money out of the people now that we have more a little more of it, and the roads and bridges in our nation are falling apart.