A Simplicity Trapped in a Complex Mind

“That’s David Hauser,” my friend Paul responded when I asked him about the guy in the corner of the liquor store, speaking to himself.  “He’s crazy.  An absolute loon.  Went crazy about a year ago.  People say he got so smart that he just snapped one day.”  Paul snapped his fingers. “Like that!” he said.

I frequented The Family Liquor Store for just this reason: I loved anomalies.  I knew little-to-nothing of anomalies in the sheltered life I lived prior to walking into The Family Liquor Store.  I knew that some people succeeded and others failed, but those in my dad’s inner circle that hadn’t succeeded, were a rung lower.  I knew nothing of the depths of failure and despair that I would encounter in my friend’s parents’ liquor store, where he happened to work.

albert-meme-generator-the-thing-about-smart-people-is-they-sound-crazy-to-dumb-people-cc1514Even while immersed in this world of despair, I encountered pride, and coping mechanisms, and lies.  John informed me that he once played against Wayne Gretzky in a minor league hockey match, Jay informed me of the time he screamed “Go to Hell JFK!” to the man’s face, and Ronny told me you of the various strength contests he won.  The fact that I flirted with believing any aspects of the tales told those in The Family Liquor Store that I was almost as laughable as the fools that told them.

“Why would they lie about things like that?” I asked to top off the joke.

“Wouldn’t you?” they asked when they reached a break in their laughter.  “If you lived the life they did?”

The unspoken punchline of this ongoing joke was that I may have been more lacking in street smarts than any person they had ever met.  The answer to the question that was never asked regarding my standing in their world was that a thorough understanding of their world could be said to be on par with any intellectual study of the great men of the book smarts world, in that they both involve a mastery of human nature.

“You see these guys here,” Paul’s father whispered to me on another day at the liquor store, gesturing out to its patrons.  “I could introduce you to these men, one by one, and you’d hear varying stories of success and failure, but the one thing you’ll hear in almost every case is the story about how a woman put them down.  They all fell in love with the wrong woman.”

Knowing full well how this line would stick with me, I turned back to Paul’s father while still in the moment.

“What’s the wrong woman?” I asked.  “What did those women do to these guys?”

“It varies,” he said.  “You can’t know.  All you can know is that you don’t know, because you’ll be all starry eyed in the moment.  Bring them home to meet your dad, your grandma, and all your friends, and listen to what they say.”

In the life that followed that advice, I met a number of picky guys.  Some of them wouldn’t even look at a woman that was below an eight.  Others looked for an excess in class, intelligence, strength and weakness, and still others were in a perpetual, perhaps unconscious, search for their ma.  For me, it’s always been about sanity.  I would date some beautiful women.  I would date strong women that could school me in intelligence, and most of the women I dated brought that sassy element that I so enjoy, but it’s always came back to the fruitloopery index for me?  I had an inordinate attraction to the mama-that-could-bring-the-drama for much of my life, but when those ultimatums of increased involvement arrived, Paul’s father’s whisper would work its way through my emotions and into my prefrontal cortex.  I did not want to end up in an incarnation of my personal visage of hell, otherwise known as The Family Liquor Store, where it appeared a wide variety of bitter, lost souls entered by the droves, and none escaped.

For all that I learned in The Family Liquor Store, I still had one question that I dare not ask, why would a normal family, with normal kids, want to open a liquor store on the corners of failure and despair?  I would not ask this question, even as a young man with an insufferable amount of curiosity, because I knew that the answers I received would reveal some uncomfortable truths about the person that answered.  One answer I did receive, over time, and in a roundabout way, was that surrounding one’s self with failure and despair, makes one feel better about their standing in the world by comparison.

“How does one get so smart that they go crazy?” I asked Paul, still staring at this man that sat in the corner, and spoke to himself, named David Hauser.

“I don’t know,” Paul said.  “They say he had a fantastic job, prestige, and boatloads of money, and he just got fired one day.  No one knows why.  Then his wife divorced him when he couldn’t find other work, and he ended up here talking to himself for hours on end, drinking on his brew.”

That made a little more sense to me.  It was a woman.  Paul’s father was right.  I was satisfied with that answer, but Paul –and those that informed Paul– wouldn’t let the “too smart” angle go in regards to David Hauser’s condition.  He/they declared that it was: “The nut of it all.”

Most of the patrons of The Family Liquor Store spoke to themselves.  It was, in fact, those that didn’t that stood out.  David Hauser, however, had full-fledged conversations.  David Hauser was a good listener in these conversations, a characteristic that made him an anomaly in a world of anomalies.  There were times when David Hauser looked to this speaker that no one else could see, but this glance was one often reserved for the introductory section of the speaker’s conversation.  When this purported speaker’s dialogue would progress, David Hauser would begin looking at a diagonal slant, then an outward glance, followed by that inward glance that suggests that he’s contemplating what is being said. There were also times when he and this friend said nothing.

Prior to David Hauser, I assumed that people that spoke to themselves do so to fill a void.  David Hauser filled that void, but he and his invisible friend created other voids, what some might call seven second lulls, and there were times when the lulls in those conversations would end with active listening prompts on David’s part.  This display suggested that it was the purported speaker that had ended the lull, and David’s listening prompts encouraged the speaker to continue.  This added element to David Hauser’s conversation deepened my fascination, until I had to know what this man was saying.

“I have to know what he’s saying,” I told Paul.

I went on to inform Paul that my curiosity was based on comedic intrigue, but that was a ruse to cover for the fact that my obsession with David Hauser had grown into a full blown desire to understand something about humanity that I didn’t think I could learn from my otherwise sheltered life of books.  I needed to know if a person, as progressed as David Hauser appeared to be, continues to speak to themselves to sort through internal difficulties, and they recognized it for what it was on some level, or if they genuinely believed that they are talking to someone else.

Paul laughed and gave me a ‘for God’s sake, why?’ expression, when I informed him that I had to know what those active listening prompts were, and that I was getting frustrated trying to read the man’s lips.  This part was all true, other than the fact that I implied that it, too, fell under the umbrella of comedic intrigue.

I did not provide Paul details of my full blown obsession with David Hauser for all the reasons that a young person doesn’t provide his adversary ammunition for ridicule.  I did not tell Paul that I believed that the words this man selected to prompt the speaker would tell me everything I needed to know about David Hauser, and how much the man believed he was talking to someone else.  I did not want to tell Paul that my obsession was such that I couldn’t focus on anything else, until I found out what words David Hauser was using, because I didn’t know what word would’ve informed me if David Hauser was perpetuating a façade of a man talking to himself, if he believed there was another person there, or if his need had manifested one.  The latter was so far beyond my comprehension that I didn’t want to spend too much time thinking about it, but I figured that his mannerisms, his tone, and the context of his active listening prompts would form a conclusion.

“Be careful,” Paul said.

Those two words slipped out, as if Paul was repeating what had been said to him when he considered further investigation.  He then focused his attention on me and dropped some dramatic repetition on me:

“Be careful!”

I was willing to accept these words of caution on the face of what they implied, but my curiosity got the best of me.

“Why?” I asked.

“I don’t know, what if he says something so intellectual that it gets trapped in your brain and you go insane trying to figure it out?”

“Could that happen?”

“How does a guy go insane by being too smart?”

It is possible that Paul was messing with me, and that I was so obsessed with this whole matter that I couldn’t see it, but it’s also possible that he believed it.  We were both avid fans of the horror genre after all, and we were both irrational teenagers that still believed in various superstitions, black magic, curses, elements of dark art, and the supernatural.  Our minds were just starting to understand the complex, adult understandings of the real world, while still young enough to consider the possibilities of what could occur under an altogether different premise.

Long story short, his attempts to warn me did set me back, and I did try to avoid the subject of David Hauser for a spell.  I was not what one would call an intellectual young man.  I had an insatiable curiosity, and I was an observant sort, but tackling highbrow intellectual theory, or highbrow literature, was beyond me. I was ill-equipped for that.  Ill-equipped, naïve, and vulnerable to the idea that a thought, like a corruptible woman bent on destroying, could leave a person incapacitated to a point that they frequent a low-rent liquor store for the rest of their days and speak to non-existent people.

I thought of the idea of an intellectual peak during that brief moment.  I knew I hadn’t even come close to my intellectual peak at that point in my life, but I wondered if there was a peak, and if a person could know it when they’ve arrived at it?  Is there a maximum capacity that a person should be careful not to extend themselves beyond?  And if they do, do they risk an injury similar to those athletes risking physical injury to accomplish that which lies beyond the actual limits of their ability?  I thought of a pole vaulter here, sticking a pole in the ground, attempting a jump he should have reconsidered and the resultant injuries that could follow.

When I recovered from those irrational fears, I went over to David Hauser.  The level he spoke at, before I arrived at the windowsill he sat on, lowered as I progressed.  I was still somewhat distant, pretending to look out at something beyond the window, standing near him.  I neared even closer, and his volume dropped even more.  Was it a coincidence that his volume dropped in direct relation to my proximity, or was he lowering his voice to avoid being heard?

Whatever the case was, I couldn’t hear him, and I was a little relieved.  I felt encouraged by the fact that I had dared to near him without fear and more than a little relieved that no overwhelming theories had been implanted in my brain, in a manner I feared might be similar to an alien putting a finger on a human head and introducing thoughts to that brain that are so far beyond its capacity that the victim starts shaking –like what happened to that kid in The Shining, shaking and drooling with horrific thoughts dancing in his head– until the victim wakes up in a strait jacket repeating those thoughts over and over, screaming for the nurse to come in and provide them some relief in the form of unhealthy doses of chlorpromazine to release the pressure in their brain.

I would later learn that David Hauser had achieved a doctorate in some subject, from some northeastern Ivy League school, and that fact placed him so far above those trapped in this incarnation of hell, AKA The Family Liquor Store, that I figured everyone involved needed a way to deal with his story.

And we all loved the story of how a once prominent man, of such unimaginable abilities, fell to such a level of despair and failure, “Like that!” and everyone snapped their fingers to punctuate their description.  Bubbling beneath that surface fascination, were unspoken fears, confusion, and concern that if it could happen to this guy, who’s to say it can’t happen to anyone one of us?  In place of traveling through a complex maze of theories, and research findings, to find the truth, was an answer.  No one knew who came up with this answer first, and no one questioned if that person knew what they were talking about.  We just needed an answer.  A coping mechanism.

The fact was, no one knew the undisputed truth of what happened to David Hauser.  We knew some truths, because he told us some truths, but he wouldn’t give us an answer, because he probably didn’t have one.  My guess was that even if you could sit David Hauser down in a clinical setting, or create some sort of climate that would assure him that his answers weren’t sought to satisfy a perverse curiosity, you still wouldn’t get answers out of him, because he didn’t have any.

The man that had spent the first half of his life answering the most difficult questions anyone could throw at him, had reached a block regarding the one answer that could prove beneficial to his continued existence.  His solution, therefore, was to talk it out with a certain, special no one for answers.

This led me to believe that the reason his volume dropped as I neared, may have been based on the pain and embarrassment of having such a complex mind –built on answering the greatest complexities for which the human mind is capable– devolve to searching for that one simple answer that he feared an eavesdropping teenager might find for him.

I had that answer, we all did, but I’m quite sure that our answer didn’t come anywhere close to solving the actualities of how a man could fall so far.  I’m quite sure that our answer was nothing more than a comfortable alternative developed by us, for us, to try to resolve the complexities of a question that could’ve driven us insane if we sat down and tried to figure it out, and it trapped itself in our brain.

Scorpio Man II: The Second Testimonial

Since last we spoke, my life has taken quite a turn.  I may still experience some unease when confronted with the dark shadow of my fixed, archetypal Scorpio male leanings, when the moon is in the north node of my chart, and you ask what Sun I was born under, but I now understand this may be be due to years of patriarchal conditioning being bred into my psyche and stored there.  Those of you that read my May 17, 2014 testimonial may have deemed me an irretrievable lost cause, and I still may be, but I am spending a ton of money and working very hard to progress through the three totems of this Scorpio archetype.  To suggest that I have changed, or even that I’m progressing towards change, would be harmful to my evolvement, but suffice it to say that my wonderful Natural Psychologist, Ms. Maria Edgeworth, has informed me that I’m more open to balancing my summer and winter –an accomplishment most associate with the Pisces– and closer to moving my energy to the center, than any of the Scorpio males she treats that are stuck in the first level of Scorpio Evolvement, the Scorpion totem.

f6f6007c4f7698e01fbc7af84f13137fAs I work my way through this, I am still going to lie about my archetype, as I told you I would in my May 17, 2014 testimonial.  It may be dishonest to do so, and I experience deep regret doing it, but I find that this temporary lie cleanses the slate for the worried that I may still be ruled by Mars the god of war and Pluto the god of the underworld, while I undergo intense Level One training to face my limitations in order to transmute and evolve past them.

My hope is that everyone will one day move past their unconscious displays of a need for emotional security that take the form of a silent scream when they are trapped with me in enclosed spaces, like an elevator, because of my aura.  I also know that the very act of lying about my essence is counterproductive to my therapy, but it’s just so frustrating that I haven’t seen any progress.  I want to tell these people, these silent screamers, that I’m working on it, but that I’m not yet to the point where I can harness the discordant aspects of my power.  And until I achieve that degree of confidence, I’ve decided to avoid elevators.  The always positive Ms. Edgeworth tells me there is hope, however, and that all of the expensive and intensive sessions we have endured together to purge the limitations of my past and foster growth, will pay dividends in the form of spiritual fulfillment of my aura that will become evident to all.

Ms. Edgeworth has proclaimed that controlling the criminal element of the nature of all Scorpio men is the most difficult aspect of Scorpio Evolvement, for those seeking to achieve the enlightenment found in The Eagle Totem stage of Scorpio Evolution.  She says that I’ve made great strides in this regard.  She also says that the amount of hours that I’ve spent in the company of my new woman, without giving in to the impulsive desire to harm her in the sadistic ways that I’m predisposed to, suggests that I may already be on the cusp of advancement.  She also informed me that sexual congress with this woman may be an ideal method to metamorphose some of my limitations.

That’s right!  Scoop!  I have a woman to spend my evenings with.  When I met her, she told me that she was a Pisces, but when I saw her sink a frozen to the rail cut shot, using a medium stroke in our first game of eight ball, and several near ninety degree cut shots in the games that followed, I knew she was harboring some secrets I could identify with.  No Pisces could sink a frozen to the rail, cut shot, after calling it, and walk away as if nothing happened.  I didn’t hold it against her though.  She thought I was a Virgo after all, so she couldn’t know that I have the same powers she does of detecting when mind games are being played.  She would later tell me that she was onto the fact that I, too, was ruled by Mars the god of war, and Pluto the god of the underworld, the moment she caught wind of the articulate nature of my dark sense of humor.

As I said in my previous testimonial, it’s you people that have forced us to conceal our true nature.  You have made us so ashamed that no matter how hard we’re working through our predispositions, we feel the need to deceive you into believing we’re something that we’re not.  So, I identified with her need to tell me that she was a Pisces, until I came to know her better, and she felt comfortable disclosing her sensitive information.  She just wanted a chance, that non-discriminatory, judgment free chance that we all strive for.

After a time, Faith agreed to metamorphose my limitations, through sexual congress, with the proviso that I continue to work with Ms. Edgeworth to confront my pre-exiting limitations and make a commitment to grow past them.  I informed her that that would not be a problem for I was already seeking the balance between summer and winter, while acknowledging that I was predisposed to cling to my blossoming previous life at the same time, but I informed Faith that that was only through my compulsion to interact with others to delve beneath the surface and prepare for a more spiritual and fertile future.

She said that was fine, as long as I didn’t become so dependent on her that I would be unable to achieve the highest expression of Scorpio, The Phoenix Resurrected Stage, in which, like that mythical bird I would rise from the nature of my being and overcome it all.

At one point in our relationship we fought.  Imagine that, two people ruled by Mars the god of war and Pluto the god of the underworld fought.  Ha!  This fight involved the fact that I exited a packed movie theater aisle, to go to the bathroom, facing the people in the aisle.  Faith declared it a microagression that I would position my “front side” to the people sitting on the aisle in such a manner, and in such close quarters.

“Front, back, what’s the difference?” I asked.

“You are, essentially, putting your penis right in their face.”

She said the latter with some exasperation for having to explain that to me.

I informed her that that could not be termed an aggression, of any sort, if I hadn’t intended the action.  She invited me to look up the term microagression, and she added that I would see the word ‘unintended’ was one of the first words listed in that definition.  That back and forth went on through various incarnations and details, but the import of it was that while she was a little disturbed by my action, she was “completely mortified” by my failure to acknowledge how my derogatory action was directed at people rooted in marginalized group membership, and until I confronted that, we were “totally incompatible”.

“Welcome to primacy of the secret intensity of Pluto’s bearing on the Scorpio archetype’s personality,” Ms. Edgeworth said when I detailed this confrontation for her.

“Pluto?” I said.  “Don’t you mean Mars?  Don’t you mean the fires of Mars?”

She laughed in a soft, polite pitch.

“A number of people think that,” she said.  “And I think that is largely based on the idea that Pluto is a relatively new planet, dwarf planet, or whatever they’re calling it now, to us.  I would not say that you, or anyone else for that matter, are wrong in this debate.  I would just say that due to the fact that Pluto is relatively new to our interiority, that we haven’t evolved our understanding of the effect of it’s strange elliptical orbit, quietly driving and defining people like Faith’s characteristics in what some call a manifestation magnet, conjunction with the more consistent, more understood fires of Mars acting in a manner that when Pluto is in the Scorpio node two, and Saturn is in Scorpio ten, opposing the Taurus moon, and squaring Venus in Leo and Jupiter in Aquarius, out of character reactions will occur in your archetype.  Some may use this alignment against themselves and others, attracting destructive outcomes through hyper-awareness and obsessing on negative observances, but when you have two Scorpios interacting under the same manifestation magnet conjunction, you can get some of the most intense energies that result in either the darkest shadows or the bravest, brightest lights.

“My advice,” Ms. Edgeworth continued, “is to simply talk to her in a non-manipulative manner.  Explore the dynamics of power and powerlessness in your relationship and coordinate those with your patterns of behavior, and her desire to invest future emotions in you.  You may find that you’ve accidentally introduced the darkest aspects of the Scorpio archetype into your psyche that have manifested a situation of non-growth, and stagnation, which result in her lashing out in a manner that just happened to occur in the movie theater, but could’ve occurred just about anywhere.

“If you can somehow tap into undistorted expressions of the Matriarchy,” she continued, “to heal your relationship and connect to the healing process to achieve a plane above limitations you may find deep communion with the higher levels of the Scorpio archetype that are so full of healing, grace and compassion.

“It’s up to you of course,” she concluded, “but I have always found that Scorpio’s intense nature can be distorted or misunderstood, but underneath that is the desire to get to the bottom of things, the real truth as it relates to the soul.”

Ms. Edgeworth was right, of course, as Faith agreed to work with me towards a greater understanding and a better future. I can tell you now that with their guidance, I have never been as happy, or as confused, as I am right now, but if there’s one thing to take from this testimonial let it be this: there’s no substitute for a well-informed partner providing a thorough, and subjective, reading of your charts.  Not even a wonderful Natural Psychologist can provide such assistance in intensive and expensive, five-day-a-week, hour-long sessions.  For those, like me, that spend so much of their time struggling to understand their charts to escape the first totem, Scorpion level of the Scorpio archetype, that we no longer have time for sports, sitcoms, or beer with the buddies, I haven’t found a better method of achieving spiritual fulfillment, or your life’s goals, than sitting down with someone that can help you find your individualistic method of transmuting past your pre-existing limitations in a caring and non-manipulative manner.

The Future of Sci-Fi Tropes and Dystopic Hopes

In the future, roads will exist, but they will be miles off the ground, if the architectural images of futuristic sci-fi movies are to be believed.  These roads often sprout from an enormous, corporate monolith in the manner of an octopus.  The import of this sci-fi trope is that we will no longer have cars in the incarnation we now know.  These cars do not even require a runway, they lift off the ground, which begs the question why do we need these roads?  The unspoken answer is that while roads may no longer be constructed for human travel, they are necessary to provide a foundation of stability for the evil, corporate structure.

The corporation, in question, is often an intangible, ominous main character in the story, with an ominous name, which begs the question why would the founder choose a name for his creation that potential clients might associate with evil?  Answer: It’s rare that the discussion of the origin of a corporation occurs, but it’s implied that it did not originate from human idea.  This corporation, it could be said, was, is, and always will be, springing to life from some sort of primordial, evil ooze.  The corporation then evolved from a they –those humans that sat on its corporate boards, and worked in its departments, and divisions– into a self-serving “It” that no longer has a need for employees, much less customers, or any actual goods or services to provide to those customers.

TMLandThe few humans still involved in the corporation are those made all the more faceless by the fact that the corporation requires them to be in full battle gear even while tasked with the most mundane chores, such as inputting data into a computer, and their prime directive (much like the drone bee) is to carry out a prime directive to kill anyone that dares to question It.  And the “It” (as forecast by those that know) will find a way to progress into our neighborhoods; put us in pods, as opposed to suburban housing; take away our need for Puggles, and parakeets; and drain us of every vestige of humanity, until it can achieve an end game.

This end game often gets muddled in a loose group of references, but most sci-fi fans don’t require a great deal of detail regarding the evil plan.  (This viewer also thinks the specifics of the corporation’s evil plan end up on the cutting room floor with a “too preachy” note on it from the monolithic, evil production studio chieftains.)  The average sci-fi fan cares more about the chase scenes anyway, and the battle scenes, the CGI, and how the movies’ gorgeous heroes overcome the final obstacle, the manifestation of It (often a monster that drools).  The details of this plan would be redundant anyway, for as all sci-fi fans know the sole purpose of all corporations is to end humanity as we know it, so the corporation can franchise out to a chain that will exist for the sole purpose of being evil and ending humanity as we know it, unless our unassuming, swashbuckling, and gorgeous heroes can put a stop it.

The website The Millions states that the word trope has taken on a different incarnation through the years:

“‘Various scholars throughout history … have argued that a great deal of our conceptual experience, even the foundation of human consciousness, is based on figurative schemes of thought.’  The writer also notes that ‘Tropes (in the sense of figures of speech) do not just provide a way for us to talk about how we think, reason, and imagine, they are also constitutive of our experience.’” Modern language has it that the word trope has come to mean: “a common or overused theme or device: cliché.”  

The origin of the trope for the octopus road coming out of the monolith, corporate structure may have occurred long before The Jetsons, but most of us (of a certain age) saw it displayed there first.  To our minds, therefore, when sci-fi movie makers feel compelled to add the octopus road they are either paying some sort of tangential homage to The Jetsons, or they are attempting to appeal to our “figurative schemes of thought that are constitutive of our experience” of what the future will look like by way of The Jetsons, or the sci-fi novels and comic books that preceded it.

The unspoken reason behind these miles high roads, is based on the idea that we’ll run out of the space necessary for more traditional, ground bound roads.  For some reason, however, pedestrians keep falling off these roads that are created miles above the terrestrial plain.  We have roads and walkways that were constructed high off the ground, in the present, but they’re often enclosed, or they have substantial guardrails that prevent people from falling.  There is no apparent need for guardrails in our shared “figurative schemes of thought” of the future.

If guardrails become passé in the future, one has to wonder how the original architect of the evil monolith (composed of shiny crystal) will manage to avoid federal and state zoning codes that governments throw at every project prior to construction.  If this architect is crafty enough to evade government intervention, or he has enough money to bribe government officials, one has to imagine that he will see financial ruin by way of personal injury lawyers looking to cash in on the mental duress their clients experience when thinking of falling from these roads, and from those families of the victims that do fall.

If this architect managed to develop some patented safety measures that thwarted most of the personal injury lawsuits that hit him, and he managed to avoid getting bogged down in all of the bureaucratic red tape from government officials –expressing alarm for public safety with one hand pointing at the inherent danger and taking payoffs for their silence with the other– the architect would go broke trying to win cases brought by patent lawyers going through the finer details of their patent to help their clients siphon as much cash off the architect as possible, until no future architects, seeking to create evil, corporate monoliths would follow the original architect into this minefield.

The future, as some non-sci-fi fans see it, is not one of crystal cities, miles high roads, and constant innovation, but of government-mandated open spaces and wide open plains as far as the eye can see.  One has to guess with the current path we’re on –of government officials and lawyers destroying creators’ finances– that our current course dictates that the future may not be one of architectural brilliance and innovation, unless an ingenious mind comes along and discovers a way to bubble wrap the world and have gelatinous bubble guns at every portal to protect anyone from ever being harmed again.  Until that day arrives when a dystopic sci-fi movie depicts our future being one of wide open plains and prairies that mirror Kansas and Nebraska where a screaming fall of a couple miles before one makes contact with terra firma is more of a trip over a piece of loose soil.  This movie would not provide us the stunning visuals we have come to expect from big budget sci-fi movies, projecting our current figurative schemes of thought, of course, but with the course we’re now on it would be a lot more realistic.

That’s Me In the Corner

I never thought, for one second, that I was witnessing a physical manifestation of me –that speculative writers might call a doppelganger– dancing on the dance floor.  I did not expect, for example, this kid to take to a corner, open up an NFL preview guide and eat an entire bag of soda crackers, while listening to Kiss.  I don’t know what I would’ve done, had that happened, as I had already reached a frequency of thought I could never reach on my own –thanks to that near impenetrable, crusted shell of good and bad memories that prevents, and protects, the human mind from seeing who we were when we weren’t paying attention– just watching the kid.  By watching the kid more, to the point of an unusual, momentary obsession, some part of me thought I might be able to answer some unanswered questions that plagued me.

dancerI wasn’t watching him at first.  He was the bride’s son, from a previous marriage, and as distant from my attention as every other participant in the wedding ceremony.  He did little-to-nothing to stand out, in other words, until he took to the dance floor.

“Look at the kid,” I heard some wedding patrons whispering to others.  “Look at Kevin!” I heard others say.  I was already watching him.  I thought everyone was.  How could you not?  He was putting on a show.

There was a ‘something you don’t see every day’ element to this kid’s step that challenged you to look away.  He didn’t look out into the audience, he didn’t smile, and he made no attempts to communicate with the audience in a manner I suspect a well-trained dancer would.  There was however, an element of showmanship in his step that should not have occurred in a typical nine-to-ten-year-old’s “conform as opposed to perform” step.

The kid’s shoulders dropped lower than any of the other uncomfortable kids on the dancer floor, his hand claps were a little harder than any of the others struggling to follow the beat, and his gyrations were so out of step with the rest of the participants that those of us not in the wedding party had trouble stifling our giggles.  This kid was dancing.

“Who’s the kid?” I asked my uncle.

“That’s Kevin,” he said.  “The bride’s son.”  His smile mirrored mine, and those of all of the whisperers watching.

Right after I asked that question, I realized I was one of those whispering and pointing at this Kevin.  My initial assumption was that they were all watching this kid in the same manner I was, with one bemused eyebrow raised, but the sheer volume of whisperers called to mind the first time I heard Miles Davis Kind of Blue.  That album was considered a masterpiece, Davis’ Sgt. Peppers.  I liked it, but masterpiece?  The structure seemed so simple.  I discovered its simplistic brilliance after repeated spins, but the point is I may not have listened to it a second time if group thought hadn’t conditioned me to believe that I was missing out on something.

It was this fear of missing out, FOMO in common parlance, that prompted to continue to watch this kid.  I knew as little about dance as I did jazz, so I figured it was possible that there was something I was missing out on here.

“Why are we watching him?” I asked my uncle.

“Because it’s cute.”

My Uncle gave me a look that informed me that we shouldn’t try to make more out of it than what it was.  He then went back to watching the kid, and he even regained an appreciative smile after a bit.

There was no simplistic brilliance going on here, in other words, it was just cute to watch a young boy carry on in a manner that suggested he knew what he was doing.  The kid didn’t know how to dance, most nine-to-ten-year-old boys don’t, but the effort he put into it was cute.

Anyone that focused attention on the kid’s step –as opposed to the surprising amount of bravado he displayed by attempting to dance– knew that the kid didn’t know what he was doing.  He had no rhythm, no choreography, and no regard for what others might think of that fact that he had no knowledge of the crucial elements of dance.

My guess was that at some point, someone, somewhere had informed him that free-form dancing has no choreography to it.  You just get out there, lower your shoulders a bunch of times, throw your arms about, pick your feet up, and jiggle every once in a while.  It’s free-form dancing.  A trained chimp could do it.

When the kid made a bee-line to his chair the moment this obligatory dance concluded –a dance I assumed his mother had forced him to participate in– I imagined that some people may have been shocked at the manner he exited.  I laughed.  I thought it added to the spectacle.  I laughed outward, believing that my laughter would be shared by those that laughed while he danced.  It wasn’t.  I received confused looks from those I’d turned to.  They weren’t shocked by his bee-line, they’d moved on.  I tried to, but I was fixated on this kid.

Some may have characterized this kid’s exit as a statement regarding what he thought of the art of dance, but I didn’t think that captured it.  I thought this kid’s exit was fueled by the expectation of watching this party unfold.

He was one that preferred to watch.  It was aggravating to those of us that watched his initial dance routine and thought he had something to offer to this otherwise routine wedding reception.  He didn’t appear to be the least bit embarrassed by it, so why would he prefer to watch?

Psychologists state that we have mirror neurons in our brain that seek enjoyment through another’s perspective, and that that enjoyment can be so comprehensive that we may reach a point where we convince ourselves, that we’re the ones doing them on a level most don’t acknowledge.  Others describe it as a frequency of thought, or a through line to the greater understanding of being: being funnier, more entertaining, and better in all the ways an insecure, young man thinks everyone else is better.  Honing in on this frequency is something that TV watching, video game playing nine-to-ten-year-olds know well.  It goes beyond the joy of watching others make fools of themselves, for the sole purpose of being entertained by it, to a belief that when watching better performers attempt to be entertaining, we’ve achieved that level ourselves without having to deal with all the messy details involved in the trials and errors to get to that point.

I knew, even while doing it, how weird it was that I was obsessing over the actions of a nine-to-ten-year-old boy, in such an innocuous moment of the boy’s life, and I made several attempts to look away.  Every time someone made a foolish error, or made a misstep of any kind, I watched the kid laugh harder than anyone else in the room.  My guess was that that raucous laughter was fueled by the relief that he wasn’t in the position to commit such errors.  Every time a joke was told, I would to look over and watch this kid laugh loud enough to be heard above all the other laughers.

“He’s attempting to cross over,” I thought.

“What’s that?” my uncle said.

“What?” I said.  “Nothing.” 

My uncle’s ‘What’s that?’ is often characterized by a preceding pause.  The pause suggests that either they know that you’re talking to yourself, and they’re looking to call you out on it, or they believed the comment was situational, until they chewed on it for a bit and realized they couldn’t place it.

Whatever the case was, I hadn’t intended for that thought to be verbalized.  I was embarrassed.  I was embarrassed that I was so caught up in searching for this nine-to-ten-year-old’s motivation, and prognosticating his future moves, that a part of me wanted it out of the mind and onto the record when it all went down.

What I would not tell my uncle, for fear of being deemed a devoted nerd, was that this ‘cross over’ is the Houdini milk can of the observer’s world.  It is an attempt to establish one’s self as a participant in the minds of all party goers without participating.

The initial stages of a crossover are not a difficult to achieve.  Anyone can shout out comments, or laugh in an obnoxious and raucous manner that gains attention.  There does come a point, however, where one can overdo the attempt, and receive “We know you were there.  You wouldn’t shut up about it” comments.  The perfect crossover calls for some comments and/or attention getting laughter interspersed in the emcees presentation to lay the groundwork for the stories the subject would later tell others regarding his participation.

“He knows what I’m talking about,” the groom, acting as the emcee of the event, said at one point.  He was alluding to Kevin, and Kevin’s over-the-top laughter.

It would be almost impossible for me to know if this kid achieved a total crossover, for I had no familiarity with the family, and I would have no opportunity to hear the after-party stories.  The kid did accomplish an excellent first step, however, thanks to the groom that, I assume, had spent the last couple years trying to have the kid accept him as an eventual step-father.

The answer to dilemma involving why I was so obsessed with a 9-to-10-year-old crystallized soon after the groom’s comment.  Kevin’s mother called upon Kevin for increased participation.  He waved her off.  He waved her off in the manner I waved off so many of my own calls for increased participation.  It dawned on me that my preference for observation went so deep that it was less about fearing increased participation and more about a preference that was so entrenched that any attempts to have me do otherwise would be deemed an obnoxious distraction.

That’s me in the corner I thought.  That’s me in the spotlight, losing my sense of belonging.

“You were just integral to the party,” I wanted to shout out to that little kid with such vigor that I would’ve revealed myself, “Why would you prefer to sit on the sidelines of your own mother’s wedding?”

Could it be that this preference for observing has something to do with the idea that we’ve all been participants and audience members at various points in our lives, and we’ve all witnessed the fact that the memory of the roles participants and observers played in the incident is by and large equal?  Unless, said participant is over the top funny, entertaining, or an athletic stand out accomplishing memorable feats, the idea of your participation is regarded in an ancillary manner.  Unless you screw up.

If you are an athlete, the members of the audience may cheer your athletic exploits in ways that make them as proud of you, and proud of the fact that they’re associated with you in some way.  When you screw up, however, the lone association they will have with you is a vicarious definition of themselves through you, and the fact that they wouldn’t have done what you just did, if they were in a similar situation.

Some may view this as a bit of a cop out for opting out of participation.  It may have been a cop-out for this kid, just as it may have been for me, but I do have fond memories of various events that I refused to participate in, in the same manner this kid might have of his mother’s wedding.  I laughed with my fellow party goers, as we all recalled the events that took place with fondness, and I did offer funny anecdotes to those conversations, but my role was often limited to that of an observer.  Actual participation in these events, was the furthest thing from my mind.

If this kid shared as many traits with me, at nine-ten-years-old, my guess was that he was already documenting stories that he would retell for years.  Some of these stories might involve slight exaggerations regarding his role in them, but my guess is that few listeners would have the temerity, or the memory, to dispute him.  Some of his versions of the story may offer interesting insights, and if those little vignettes are entertaining enough, they might get repeated so often that listeners may join him in making the leaps to re-characterizing his actual involvement.

If this kid manages to accomplish this, and he gets so good at it that others start corroborating his version of other events, he may make the leap to an almost-unconscious discovery of a loophole in his interactions that provide him a future out on his own requirements of participation.

If he already does this, on a conscious level, and his evolution is so complete that he’s already choosing vicarious participation over actual participation on a conscious level, then that is where the similarities end.  I thought he was too young for all that however, but I did consider the idea that he might be slipping into an all too comfortable position where he is neglecting the importance of being a part of them on purpose.

The problem that I foresaw for him, a problem I now see as a result of watching him act out a page in the first chapter of my autobiography, was that he was learning what to do and what not to do through observation alone, in the same manner he did while watching too much TV and playing too many video games, with all the same vicarious thrills of victory and dis-associative feelings of failure.  I also thought that he would come to a point where he had problems learning the lessons, and making the vital connections, we only make by doing.  If I would’ve been in a position to advise this nine-to-ten-year-old of the lessons I’ve heard, but did not heed at his age, I would’ve shouted:

“Get back on the dance floor kid!  I don’t care if you were already out there.  Get out there and do it, and do it again, until you tailbone is on the line, and you’re making an absolute fool out of yourself.  And when that obnoxious person steps up to laugh at you for being so foolish, you can turn on them and say, ‘At least I was out there.  Doing it!  What were you doing?  Sitting on your can watching me!’”

Anti-anti-Consumer Art

I may be in the minority, but I’ve always enjoyed the work of artists that are bitter, angry, and relatively maladjusted people.  If I deign to offer my bourgeoisie, Skittle eating, domestic beer drinking, and Everybody Loves Raymond-watching opinion on their artistic creation, and they don’t offer me a red faced, spittle-flying “YOUR OPNIONS ARE EXCREMENT!”, I will begin to question if they have the kind of pent up aggression required of those that have no other way of venting their rage on the world than through artistic creation.

If I am going to take their work of art seriously, they better view me as symbolic substitute for that America loving, God-fearing, football fan of a father that ruined everything the artist held dear as a young child.  I want them to see me as a symbolic substitute for that art critic that deigned to call their work pedestrian, the fellow artist that told them they’d never make it in this world, or the art teacher that told them to consider changing their major to Economics.

I would probably go so far as to question the artistic temperament of any artist that greeted me with a warm, appreciative smile that lacked all condescension, while asking me what I thought. I would probably leave their exhibit without even giving their piece a second glance.

Margaret Roleke "Hanging"

Margaret Roleke “Hanging”

The path to artistic honesty is different for every artist, of course, but most true artists do not set out to create consumer-friendly pieces.  Some, however, loathe the common man’s opinion so much they’re looking at something else before the common man can complete their second sentence, and this usually comes through in their art.  Even those authors that write bestsellers, for the sole purpose of writing a bestseller, will argue till they bleed that their art was not intended to be as consumer-friendly as perceived, and that they just happened to create something that consumers love.  You can’t blame them, no matter how much you may disagree, for if they openly stated that their creation was intended to be universally pleasing to consumers, no one would consider them serious artists.

If you are a starving artist, that openly states how much you love fans in your artistic statement –and you’re hoping to have your art in a New York City gallery– you may want to save yourself a lot of heartache and just consider another profession now.  You may want to consider trying out for the Denver Broncos instead, because you’re going to have a better chance of making their team than the ones that have their works considered for a New York City art gallery.  You can write that you enjoy receiving input from those that have experienced your piece, but it has to be meticulously worded so as to avoid anyone interpreting your artistic statement as one of appreciation.

The anti-consumer theme has a timeless quality about it that goes to the heart of the artist.  Its provocative nature does not yield to pop culture winds.  It is anti-pop culture, and thus a “hot ticket” in any era that appreciates their artists.

Little, old ladies that are perpetually attempting to be young and hip, will walk up to you in these galleries and tell you that they find the most disturbing pieces: “Wonderful!”, “Amazing!”, and “Wonderful and amazing!”

“You are so not my demographic,” is something a true artist of an anti-consumer piece of art might say if they heard such comments from little, old ladies.  A rejection of such compliments, from such people could enshrine the artist in the word-of-mouth halls of the art world, particularly if the artist put some sort of exclamation point on their rejection, by spitting on their shoes.

Anti-consumer artists are always torn over compliments, for their product is intended to be a rejection of everything we hold dear.  They’re meant to be disturbing, provocative pieces that unsettle you in your conformist, little world.  A little, old lady trying to let others think that she’s still young and hip enough “to get” such a piece that is an angry, bitter denouncement of her generation, and a direct commentary on how her generation screwed us all up with their toys, and wars, and unattainable gender-specific imagery has to be particularly vexing for the artist that feels an instinctual warm glow rising whenever anyone compliments them on something they worked so hard on.

Narrowed view

Narrowed view

The best way to handle that might be to spit on her shoes.  An enterprising, young, anti-consumer artist may even want to set a situation like that up, in a publicity junket, for she would surely be the talk of the town if she were able to pull it off.

“Did you hear what happened when some old bag complimented Janice on her anti-50’s piece?” word-of-mouth patrons would say to one another.  “She spit on her shoes.”  It could become the artist’s folklore.

Criticism of the theme of the piece would be the next-best reaction, for the angst-ridden, bitter, and angry artist, especially if it were to come from some old crank from the 50’s.  This would allow the artist to say, “Good, it was meant to make you angry.  It was meant to have you re-examine all that you’ve done to us.”

If you’re not of the 50’s generation, and you deign to criticize anti-consumer art, you could be deigned part of the problem, a person that needs to get out more, or someone that doesn’t understand the full scope of what the artist is trying to say.  The sociopolitical theme of anti-consumerism could then be said to be insulated against criticism by its very nature.  If that is the case, why wouldn’t every curator want their gallery lined with anti-consumer pieces?

The anti-consumer artist doesn’t have to worry about using timely products either, for it could be said that all consumer-related products can be used as symbols to transcend the ethos of any era.  A pro-consumer piece is not provided such allowances, for to try and create an artistic expression that professes an enjoyment of Superman cereal, the consumer must have some experience with Superman cereal that they can use to relate to the theme.  That piece may evoke some sentiments of quaint nostalgia, but if you’re not willing to include some underlying, angst-ridden message about the ways in which eating Superman cereal created unrealistic expectations in your mind, and thus messed up your childhood, you’re probably not going to fetch the kind of price tag that a bitter, condemnation of consumerism will.

"Eat at McDonald's"

“Eat at McDonald’s”

The question that I’m sure many anti-consumer, starving artists would love to have an answer for is, is there a sliding scale on anti-consumerist statements?  If your piece is subtly anti-consumer, with an ironic twist, what kind of return can you expect for your time?  If you’re vehemently anti-consumer how much more profitable will that piece be, and is there a percentage by which your price tag increases in conjunction with your bullet point adherence to the sociopolitical, anti-consumer theme?

Walking through these galleries, one can’t help but feel overwhelmed with the amount of anti-consumer art for sale.  It has become the most consumer-friendly, rebellious, and radical theme in the art world.  It’s become a staple in the art world.  If you’re a starving artist, and you’re not painting, sculpting, or putting together an anti-consumer collage, your fellow artists have probably already asked you: ‘what the hell you waiting for? If you want your work even considered, it’s the closest thing we have to a surefire avenue.’

Curators don’t have to worry about fads or trends in the art world, for the very idea of fads and trends are consumer-friendly, and that which an anti-consumer artist rebels against.  All a curator has to do is occasionally rotate their anti-consumer art year around, and their gallery can exist in the radical, counterculture milieu 365 days a year. It’s progressed to a point where one would think that a truly rebellious artist –looking to be truly counterculture, regardless what it said in his pocketbook– would take one look around at all the anti-consumer art in the art world and artistically stick their middle finger up in the rebellion to expose it for what it has become.

The question of how to frame it would be an obstacle of course, for it would be career suicide to have your anti-anti-consumer art be confused with pro-consumer art.

It says eat at McDonald’s,” a curator would surely say with disgust for your piece.

“Exactly,” you would reply, “It’s my attempt to highlight the stereotypical art of anti-consumerism.  Grimace is a vehicle for the larger idea through which I attempt to explore the tendency our counterculture has to use social media and propaganda to prescribe narrow contrived definitions of art to individuals and the nation.”

The hip, avant garde patrons of your piece would surely consider your artistic statement to be a subtly ironic stab at consumerism.  They might consider it quaint, hilarious, and an incredible salvo sent to consumers around the world that don’t get it.  If you were available to answer questions, and you implored them to accept your anti-anti-consumer theme for what it is, you could be quite sure that all those smiles would flatten out, and they might consider you obnoxious, and maybe even a whore for corporate America.

I just want to celebrate the history and tradition of Grimace,” would be our intro to the patrons of our exhibit.  ”I also want to explore, in my painting, all the joy and happiness Grimace has brought to so many lives?”

“Are you being subtly ironic?” they would ask.

“No.  It’s an anti-anti-consumer theme that I hope to explore here.”

“So, it’s a pro-consumer statement?” one of the more obnoxious patrons would say to intrude upon your pitch.

“Good God no!” you would be forced to say at this point, if you hoped to generate the amount of interest that might result in a sale.

If you had the type of artistic temperament that didn’t care about the sale, however, and your focus remained on the theme, you would probably have to engage in a substantial back and forth with the patrons of your piece before they came to the conclusion that you weren’t putting them on, and that you weren’t being obnoxious.  As stated earlier, being obnoxiously anti-consumer is not only accepted, it’s expected, but being obnoxiously anti-anti-consumer would probably be deemed pro-consumer and thus inexcusably obnoxious.

I’m guessing that not only would you have trouble attracting patrons to your exhibit, but it would be difficult to find a self-respecting curator to showcase your work.  If you did find a curator that was willing to showcase some of your early, more obnoxious works, and that curator knew enough about his industry to be objective about it, they would probably sit you down, at some point, and say something along the lines of:

I know you want to be considered a serious artist, you should know that this anti-anti, countering the counter theme is not built for the long haul.  If you want serious cachet in the art world, you have two genres to consider: anti-consumerism and vehemently anti-consumerism.  I’d suggest you drop this anti-anti-consumer statement and make it known that your works contain a subtly ironic, anti-consumer twist, if you ever hope to sell anything.”

If you somehow managed to achieve a degree of fame with your theme, you can bet you would be the scourge of the art world, and at some point your fellow artists would roundly condemn you for your audacity.  “You’re ruining this for all of us. What are you doing?”

At which point you could look them all in the eye and ask, “Are you being subtly ironic?”

Fear of a Beaver Perineal Gland

“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, that our homes are just teeming with pathogens and microbes, that the automobile we’ve chosen has some substandard emission that is harmful to the environment, and that everything we consume has some particular something we know nothing about.  We all put up with it, however, because the alternative means conceding to the idea that there’s 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 we thought the complaint 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, we might be able to get behind that.  Even when an informed consumer decides that it’s acceptable for him to share his knowledge on the ingredients of the food we’re about to eat, we might still wince at what we hope amounts to nothing more than casual, and humorous observations that we should place some kind of Orwellian governor on the information outlays that are available on net.  We might say that it’s on the individual to put a cap on the type of information they provide others, insofar as it might be something that their audience cares little about, and it should be their responsibility to recognize when we don’t care, and that it’s something of a violation to intrude upon our 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 are forced 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.  And if you’re one that is willing to pay a little bit more for a product that contains the words “natural flavorings” tagline on its product face, you’re either eating beaver taint, or a wide array of animal byproducts, that may shock you.  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 in your strawberry shake, you’ve been devouring a yellowish secretion from the dried perineal glands of the beaver, in a gratuitous manner, for years now.”

The Castoreum Connection


The exudate from the castor sacs of the mature North American Beaver is called castoreum, and consumers have stated that they 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 also important to note 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 just means that before the source went through many chemical processes, that it came from an organic, 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 hot dogs?”  “Do you know what they 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 had no idea I was eating a chicken when I was a little girl.  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.”


“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 the same additive they add to your favorite tasty, little morsels to make them shine.  What’s the problem with that, if it has 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, the female lac beetle in particular. Glazed donuts and glossy candy shells owe their shininess to these secretions.”


“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 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 receive no harm from these products.  I would also submit that in most areas of the food and beverage industry, profits are 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 often the difference between being able to deliver said products to you, and folding up shop.  If you are an informed consumer that DEMANDS! More corporate responsibility along industry lines, however, be ready to pay for the alternatives they’re forced to use.  Informed consumers are also 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

Ambergris: The Love Molecule?

Ambergris: The Love Molecule?

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.

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 ingested.  As such, the ambergris that is used in perfumes can often 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, all located in the same region) 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 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 required staple of day-to-day bathing deprives us the very human scents that could be used as attractants.  Decide not to bathe very often and your visual cues may 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 manufacture these scents in a more organic manner, 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 day-to-day basis.  We are then required, by the same, prospective dating community, to replace those scents we wash away on a day-to-day 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 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?

Did it have anything to do with the fact that someone noticed that an inordinate amount of women were inordinate with their attraction to whalers?  Did this observer set about trying 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 that women seemed to associate 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?


For 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 less consistent results that would have a difficult time standing 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 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 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 finding that 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 a natural venom that the toad 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 ill, or even paralyzed as a result of milking the toad in a squeezing motion and taking it in an oral manner.  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 word lick?  This researcher, or the researcher after him, must have tried drying it and smoking it, until word “got out” that a researcher had found it, the holy grail of brain cell killing euphoria.  Word leaked, of course, and the secretions of the Bufo alvarins toad soon became so pervasive in a society, and then so detrimental, that Queensland, Australia, was 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 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 don’t care one-eighth 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.

The Real Back Pain Solution

How many of you woke with the same back pain I experienced the other day?  It’s excruciating.  It can ruin your whole day.   Pain is pain.  It doesn’t matter to us that other people might be in more pain.  It doesn’t matter that others may experience chronic back pain, where ours could be called occasional and temporary.  Pain is pain.  It makes us irrational, emotional, and cranky, and it disrupts our lives.

The first culprit we seek for interrogation is our sleep.  Did we sleep on too many pillows, or in some way that caused our head, neck, or back to be at an odd angle the night before?  Sleep is often a hostile witness, however, never answering our questions, or if it does those answers are often incoherent and incomplete.  Out next step, is to retrace our steps in the day leading up to the moment we fell asleep to see if any of our actions could be determined to provide undue stress on our head, neck, or backs.  Whatever the cause of it, temporary back pain happens to us all, and it can be so bad that it’s memorable.

Woman-With-alot-of-Back-Pain-walking-tall-chiropractorTo deal with that pain, some take pain meds, others heat or cool the affected areas, and if it becomes a recurring pain we may take a trip down to the fine massage therapists at Balance Works Massage to have them work it out until it’s gone, and to provide us tips to prevent it in the future.

When we’re immersed in that pain, we may vow to develop a routine at the gym that will strengthen those particular muscles as a form of preventative medicine, but that vow often lasts about as long as the pain does.

The next, and more prominent, question is how often does back pain occur in our lives?  The answer to this question gets to the heart of why we should not complain about intermittent, minor, and temporary back pains as often as we do.  We all complain when it happens, but some of us complain in a manner that suggests that God and nature are somehow against us.  Some of us even act like our body has failed us in some manner for which we are not to responsible, and we go to a doctor to tell them to fix it.

On the situation comedy, Louie, Louie complains to his doctor, a Dr. Bigelow, about the temporary back pain he is experiencing.  Rather than treat Louie in any manner, Dr. Bigelow informs Louie why he has back pain.

“You’re using it wrong,” Dr. Bigelow says.  “The back isn’t done evolving yet.  You see, the spine is a row of vertebrae.  It was designed to be horizontal.  Then people came along and used it vertical.  Wasn’t meant for that.  So the disks get all floppy, swollen.  Pop out left, pop out right.  It’ll take another.  I’d say 20,000 years to get straightened out.  Till then, it’s going to keep hurting.

“It’s an engineering design problem.  It’s a misallocation.  We were given a clothesline and we’re using it as a flagpole.

“Use your back as it was intended.  Walk around on your hands and feet.  Or accept the fact that your back is going to hurt sometimes.  Be very grateful for the moments that it doesn’t.  Every second spent without back pain is a lucky second.  String enough of those lucky seconds together, you have a lucky minute.”

The human body may be a marvel in many ways, in other words, but it also has some structural flaws.  The back, for instance, has structural flaws, and it functions for most of our lives from a flawed premise.  So, rather than complain about our temporary back pains, we should take a moment, consider our age, and calculate the number of days when our back was defying nature and providing us with a pain-free existence.  We don’t appreciate the back until it fails us, of course, and now that it has, we should take that opportunity to thank it for supporting all of the innumerable actions we’ve asked it to perform for all those years.  If Dr. Bigelow’s assessment of the back’s design flaws is to be believed, those days of peak performance shouldn’t occur as often as they do, and that’s the marvel of the back.

When you’re in pain, however, logic is about the furthest thing from your mind.  Pain is pain, and when your back pain is so severe that you can do nothing but crawl on the floor, you’re not going to be comforted by the idea that the sole reason that your down there is a structural flaw that human evolution has yet to iron out.  As for the idea of being grateful to your back that you’re not down there more often, as a result of its flawed design, that’s about as irrational as being grateful that at least you’re not being attacked by a big brown bear.  As a former ground bound, back pain sufferer that has never been eviscerated by a bear, I can relate, but I still have to imagine that being attacked by a predatory, brown bear would be worse.

At maximum size, a brown bear can weigh 1,500 lbs., and they reach a height of ten feet when standing erect.  On all fours, some brown bears have even been measured to be five feet high, near the height of the average human. After imagining the hysteria you might experience with something that large racing at you, you should know that bears aren’t known to go for the throat in the manner wild cats will, and the nature of their attack is such that they often don’t employ tactics that would lead to a more instantaneous form of death.  If they are protecting their young, or acting in a manner that could later be determined to be defensive, they may let most humans off with a warning.  That warning may land you in the hospital for a year, and leave lacerations on your head and face that have you looking like the elephant man for the rest of your life.

I would have to guess, however, that in the aftermath of a defensive bear attack, fruit will taste better, and you’ll begin to say ‘I love you’ to your people more often, after park rangers inform you that the bear was not acting in a predatory nature, and all that that implies.  If you’re one that is witnessing a bear acting in a predatory manner, and you don’t believe in guns, you might find it interesting that they can sprint at speeds of up to thirty miles an hour over short distances, and that they can break a caribou’s back with a single swipe of one of their massive paws.

It has never been proven that bears prefer you alive, based on the notion that some horror writers have submitted that adrenaline makes you taste better, but whether or not fear provides a condiment to you, bears appear to have little regard for your state of consciousness while feeding.

Due to the fact that bears are forced to store food for their long hibernation periods, most of their dietary needs involve fat content.  What this means to you, if you are being attacked as a food source, is that they’re prone to go after your intestines, and your other internal organs.  To get there, of course, they will have to claw away at the skin casing, and your rib cage, while you lay conscious, trying to fight for your life, with one paw holding you down, as they rip these fat-laden morsels from your body.

“That still does not help me!” you scream immersed in the comprehensive agony of back pain, and the act of screaming tweaks those inflamed muscles that forced you to the ground in the first place.  It may not, I’m forced to admit, but it may answer the question why God can’t hear your cries.  Some people are screaming louder.

Are You Superior? II

Is it true that we’re searching for our superiority, or inferiority, in even the most casual conversations?  I don’t know, and some would say no, and others would say hell no!  “I’m just asking you about the latest wheat and grain prices on the commodity markets.”  So, why do we loathe speaking to you, what makes me so uncomfortable, why do I leave our most casual conversations feeling incomplete and inferior to you, and why do I enjoy casual conversations with Betty Beetle so much more?  The thing is that those of us that have stumbled upon this psychological truth wish it weren’t the case, and now that our mind’s eye is open to it, we wish we could turn it off, and enjoy the fruits of casual conversations again.

malczykWorking 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 so cool.  I could find no reason that these would want to stop their truck in the middle of the road and “just talk” to someone like me.

In 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 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 attuned to pop culture, pop culture references, and pop culture characterizations, I knew that meant that these two guys had to be 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.

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 couldn’t even imagine 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.  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 on a day-to-day basis.  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 must have 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 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 might 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 truck, 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, that they 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 to 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 now rid of.

Something I did not expect happened to me in the midst of this conversation, however, and it happened soon after they told me they had to go.  This something caused me to miss them before they drove away.  I enjoyed speaking with them, and I realized that they had no pretensions about them, and that they may have been just a couple of good guys, and that I liked being the guy they thought I was.  The latter point was the something I didn’t expect.  I wasn’t all that 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 may have 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 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 often lost in high school, and I was still so locked into a defensive position that it had ruined my life for years.

Is it true that we’re searching for our superiority, or inferiority, in even the most casual conversations?  If it is, where was I in this casual conversation with two guys that wore a bandanna, beneath a backwards facing hat and sunglasses?  That was never established in a substantial manner, but the takeaway I had from this particular encounter was that I didn’t care, and that may have been what I liked, and what I missed, and what caused me to watch them drive away, until they were gone.

Wearing a Mask the Face Grows Into

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”.

The Unfunny

There was a time, in the timeline of the history of comedy, when the subversive brand of humor was so comprehensive that it became conventional and needed to be torn down.  Although the late, great Andy Kaufman may never have intended to undermine, and thus destroy, the top talent of his generation, his act revealed his contemporaries for what they were: conventional comedians operating under a like-minded banner.  In doing so, Andy Kaufman created an art form all his own.

Those of us that had an unnatural attraction to Andy Kaufman’s game-changing brand of unfunny comedy now know that he was oblivious to greater concerns, but we used whatever it was he created to subvert the conventional subversions, until they were no longer considered subversive.

Michael Richards, Andy Kaufman, Melanie Chartoff,  Brandis Kemp, Larry David

Michael Richards, Andy Kaufman, Melanie Chartoff, Brandis Kemp, Larry David

Those “in the know” had a very distinct, sociopolitical, and outright political definition of subversion before Andy Kaufman. They may deem the art form of subversion Andy Kaufman developed as that of a certified comedic genius, now, but they had no idea while he was doing it.  They may have even cautioned him against doing it.

I see what you’re trying to do, but I don’t think it will play well in Omaha.  They’ll just think you’re weird, and weird doesn’t play well on the national stage … unless you’re funny-weird.”

Being weird, in the manner Andy Kaufman was weird, was regarded as just plain weird … even idiotic.  Those in the know didn’t know what he was going for.  Before Andy Kaufman became Andy Kaufman, and his definition of weird was defined as an art form, being weird meant going so far over-the-top that the audience felt comfortable with the notion that you were being weird.  It required the comedic player to provide the audience with visual cues that could be communicated in the form of a weird facial expression, so that “less sophisticated audiences in Omaha” could understand that you were being weird.

One can be sure that before Andy Kaufman took to the national stage, on Saturday Night Live, all of those “in the know” warned him of the potholes that lay ahead of him if he didn’t find some conventional method of subversion, or weirdness, to let the audience in on the joke.  Kaufman didn’t listen.  For whatever reason, be it confidence, perseverance, or the lack of talent required to be funny in a more conventional sense, Kaufman maintained his unconventional, unfunny, and idiotic characters and bits, until those “in the know” declared him to be one of the funniest men that ever lived.

The cutting edge, comedic intelligentsia now speak of the deceased comedic actor as if they were onto it the whole time.  They weren’t.  They didn’t get it.  I didn’t get it, but I was young, and I needed the assistance of repetition to understand the genius of being idiotic, until I busied myself trying to carve out my own path to true idiocy, in my little world.

Andy Kaufman may not have been the first true idiot in the pantheon of comedy, but for those of us that witnessed a display of his idiotic behavior, it opened up a whole new world.  We didn’t know that one could be so idiotic, until someone came along, broke that door down, and showed us all this furniture.

For those that never saw Andy Kaufman at work, his claim to fame was not jokes, so much as it was the situational humor.  The situations he created weren’t funny, in the conventional sense, so much as they were so unfunny that they were deemed idiotic.  He was so idiotic that many believed that his shows were nothing more than a series of improvised situations where he reacted “on the fly” to a bunch of idiotic stuff, but what most of those “in the know” did not know was that everything he did was methodical, and meticulous, and choreographed.

Being Unfunny in Situations

Like the knuckleball, situational humor can get better or worse as the game goes on, but if you’re going to have any success with it you’re going to have to devote yourself to the pitch.  People will hit the occasional home run off you, and you will knock out the occasional mascot with a wild pitch, but for situational jokes to ever become effective, they can’t just be another pitch in your arsenal.  They require a commitment that will become a concentration, until it eventuates into a lifestyle that even those closest to you will have a difficult time understanding.

“Why would you try to confuse people?” they will ask you.  “And say things that aren’t funny?” 

“I would like for someone, somewhere to consider me idiotic,” will be the response of the devoted.  “Any idiot can fall down a flight of stairs, trip over a heat register, and engage in slapstick comedy, but I want to achieve a form of idiocy that leads others to believe I am a total idiot, and I don’t know any better.”

If you’re less confident with your modus operandi, and you’re still searching for answers, high-minded responses may obfuscate the truth regarding why we enjoy doing this.  And the truth may be that we don’t know why we enjoy doing this.  We just do.  The truth may be that we know the path to achieving laughter, through the various pitches and rhythms made available to us in movies and primetime sitcoms, but some of us reach a point where we’ve so thoroughly mastered that template so well that it now bores us.  Others may recognize, at some point in their lives, that they don’t have the wherewithal to match the delivery that our friends –with gameshow host personalities– employ.  For these people, the raison d’être of Kaufman’s idiot may offer an end run around the traditional modes of comedy.  Some may employ these tactics, to simply stand out, and above the fray, and others may enjoy the superiority-through-inferiority psychological base this mindset produces, but most people find themselves unable to identify the reason behind doing what they do.  They just know they like it, and they will continue to like it, no matter how many poison-tipped arrows come their way.

I had an acquaintance that learned of my devotion to this lifestyle, when she overheard me contrast it in a conversation with a third-party.  What she heard in that conversation was a brief display of intellectual prowess that crushed the characterization she had of me prior to that moment.  When I turned back to her, to continue the conversation that she and I were having before being interrupted, her mouth was hanging open, and her eyes were popped wide.  What she said in that moment, and in any moment I acted idiotic thereafter, was:

“Whatever, I am onto you now.  You are not as dumb … as you pretend to be.”

She had me all figured out.  She was proud of herself.  She beamed.  The delicious moment occurred seconds later, when it dawned on her that what she figured out made no sense in conventional constructs.  People pretend to be smart.  They don’t pretend to be dumb, or inferior.  She was looking at me when she stated that she was onto me, of course, and her expression appeared to mirror mine, as it dawned on her that this epiphany was not as comprehensive as she had first believed.

The pause before her second sentence included an expression that every idiot lives for, one that caused the pride to fade, and the beam to subside, as it dawned on her that everything she thought she figured out opened up more questions, and an eventual flowchart that ended in rabbit hole that once entered into would place her in a variety of vulnerable positions, including the beginning.  She pursued me after that, to inform me that she was onto this whole thing I was doing, until it became obvious that I was no longer the primary audience of her conviction.

I’ve never thrown an actual knuckleball with any success, but watching her flail away at the gradual progression of my situational joke –trying to convince herself that this had no effect on her– cemented my lifelong theory that jokes can be funny, but reactions are hilarious.

The point is that if you devote yourself to this mindset, and you try your hardest not to let your opponents see the stitches, you can convince some of the people, some of the times, that you are an idiot.

The List

The following is a list of idiotic gems. This list is by no means comprehensive, for aspiring idiots looking to spread the seed of idiocy among their peers.  As stated earlier, most idiotic behavior is situational, and thus impossible to catalog in a simple piece such as this one.  This list can be also used as a primer for those looking to buy into the mindset, or it can be used as an explanation for the curious:

1) So’s your mother.  Most idiots prefer the non sequitur made famous by The Office, “That’s what she said.”  A non sequitur is defined as a conclusion, or statement, that does not follow the previous argument or statement in a logical manner.  There’s nothing wrong with “That’s what she said,” of course, and “So’s your mother” is not a better non sequitur, so much as it is different.  “That’s what she said,” thanks to The Office, has now become so ubiquitous that it’s an expected non sequitur, even if it does not follow the logic of the argument, or conversation in play.  Your goal, if you choose to accept the non sequitur, situational lifestyle of the idiot, is to seek that response that exists outside the patterns and rhythms of the norm.  Another key, as expressed in the knuckleball analogy, is repetition.  It takes patience and perseverance, to become locked in, but if you do it right often enough, you can become a “So’s your mother” guy, until those around you begin to believe that you have such unique rhythms and patterns that they’re irritated by you, and they dismiss you as a person that “Says weird things”.  If you are able to maintain this façade through all of the ways that people attempt to dismiss you –and they will vary, and some of them may hurt a little— you may reach a point where someone, somewhere will deem you to be a total idiot.

2) “What did he say?” is a much more difficult non sequitur to land, even for the seasoned idiot, well-schooled in the art of being idiotic.  This response may never receive the laughter that a well-timed, “So’s your mother” or a “That’s what she said” response may.  It’s the sequential reactions this line receives that may be better than those other two if you are strategic in the manner in which you place it in your conversations over time.  All non sequiturs, it should be noted, are required to be delivered in a careful, measured tone that leads the listener to believe that you believe in what you’re saying, and that you may not know that they don’t follow the logical order, because you may be a little damaged, but none of them require the diligence and patience that “What did he say?” requires.

This response is not a joke to you.  You believe that when someone introduces a story that involves an agreed upon female name –like Martha, Barbara, or Beatrice– that they are speaking of a male.

“What did he say about that?” you ask in a manner dictated by the situation.

If your audience has no reason to believe that you’re a total idiot, they may attempt to determine if your confusion is genuine at this point.  If you are successful in completing this portion of the conversation, they will say, “I said it was Martha that did this … ”  This is the crucial point in the conversation, that which is referred to in idiotic parlance as crunch time.  You cannot smile, act humorous, or let them in on the joke in anyway.  You are not attempting to pull someone’s leg here.  This is a serious attempt to pull off a difficult joke.

It requires attention to detail.  It may even require you to go into your grab bag of emotions to find the display of confusion that convinces your audience.  If your audience knows your reactions, they will know how your confusion is displayed.  They will know if you look them in the eye when you’re playing with them, and if your insecurities are such that you look away when you’re confused.  They will also know if you’re one that pries into a subject to get to the heart of a matter you don’t understand, or if you’re one that pretends that you know what they’re talking about.  This is no time to project your ideal image onto the listener.  This is a time to be honest and pure, and objective in your understanding of your reactions.  This is also a moment to realize that you’re not brilliant and perfect, and that the best standup comedians don’t get it right the first out.  Watch their reactions to your reactions and take note of your failings for the next time out.

One other thing, before we continue, this space in time will also provide a chicken exit.  If you’re more interested in having friends, and having people like you, or you’re one that grows insecure or uncomfortable when people begin to view you as an idiot, you’ll want to pull the ripcord on the joke right here.  You’ll want to say something like, “Ok, I heard you,” or “I’m just kidding you.”  Some people also feel a little uneasy playing with another person’s head in this manner, as they fear it may lead the other to find them deceptive in some manner that may place a wedge between them and the other person, and this is the perfect moment to end it all before feelings are hurt.

For those that are willing and able to proceed, once they have their confused reactions correct, they’ll want to say something along the lines of:

“I heard you.  What did he say to that?”

Seasoned idiots, that have experienced some failure at this point in the situation, will tell you that the key to making it through crunch time unscathed can only be accomplished by emphasizing the word ‘you’ in this reply, as opposed to the word ‘he’.  Emphasizing the word ‘he’ lets the audience in on the joke in a premature manner, and while they may consider you something of an idiot for attempting to play such a game on them this is not the elevated form of the joke that you seek, and you’ll find it far less rewarding.  Emphasizing ‘he’, to go back to our analogy, will reveal the stitch in your knuckleball, and it will result in an eye roll, or some other form of dismissal that allows your audience to avoid stepping further into the rabbit hole you’re placing before them.

“It’s a girl,” they’ll say, if your reactions and emphasis are perfect.  “Martha is a girl.”

To lay the depth charge of this joke, you will then want that particular conversation to conclude as all of your other conversations conclude.  A deadpan “Oh, ok!” should accomplish this.  You may even want to increase your confused reaction, sprinkled with a dash of embarrassment to complete the affectation of you digesting what went wrong in the exchange.

This line of responses will not bear fruit at the outset, and you may want to skip the next story involving an agreed upon female name, like Barbara, to avoid them seeing the stitches of your situational humor, but when they approach you with a third story, about a person name Beatrice, you will say, “What’s he doing now?”  The emphasis on the word ‘he’, at this point in the joke, is acceptable, if you’ve set your listener up well enough.

This is the portion of the joke where you are to receive dividends for all of your hard work.  Some may enjoy pursuing this façade ad infinitum, adding intricacies here and there to it as it expands, but most of us want payoffs.  The payoff may not be immediate.  You may not see that perfect expression on their face, as they become aware of all that you’ve done to them.  They may not say anything, for it may be embarrassing to them that they fell for it so hard.  If you’re knuckleball was successful, you’ll know when you try to pull the joke on someone else, and your initial victim turns to them, with empathy, and says:

“Don’t fall for it Judy.  He’s not as dumb as he wants you to believe.  He’s just an idiot.”   

3) “What’s that?”  This should be a conjunctive sentence that follows the first sentence, and is followed by a repetition of the first sentence.

Example: “I don’t like the way the road construction crew fixed Main Street.  What’s that?  I said, I don’t like the way the road construction crew fixed Main Street.” 

Needless to say, you are the one that says all three sentences.  Your third sentence should be followed by some fatigue, or some tone of urgency that suggests that you’re tired of repeating yourself.  The most hilarious reaction I received to this was:

“I did not say what. YOU DID!” 

The person that said this colored her response with an ‘I’m not the stupid one here, YOU ARE!’ intonation that suggested that my impatience with her was uncalled for.  I was only afforded one more opportunity to pull this joke on her, due to time constraints, and she was more adamant the second time through, but I was never afforded the opportunity to do this as often as it may have been necessary to see this joke to fruition, and no other person has fallen for this as hard as she did.  This one is the most difficult to pull off, for most people see the stitches of this knuckleball and avoid swinging at it.  Or, at the very least, I haven’t been able to deliver it in such a fashion that the recipient didn’t see the stitches.

Another important note to make, before we continue, is that most idiotic humor is not funny as a standalone.  If you have no desire to become an idiot, and you are reading through all this as a curious visitor, the corner of your lips may not have even curled enough to form a polite smile.  The words “None of this is funny” may have already crossed your lips a number of times while reading, and if you confronted me with this assessment, I would agree.  I would then ask you what is funny?  At that point, you may list off some lines that Jerry Seinfeld, Steve Martin, or George Carlin have said.  “Fair enough,” I would say.  “I am not as funny as they are.  How many people are?  How many people have reached great highs in their life, believing that the sky was the limit on their potential?  How many have done the same after recognizing their limitations?  We untalented folks have learned that there are individualistic ways of achieving humor, and it can be found in the unfunny, common situations one finds oneself in.”

My modus operandi, brought to you, in part, by the late, great Andy Kaufman, is that while jokes are funny, reactions are hilarious.  If you are practiced in the art of deception, and you can deceive another into believing that you are an idiot, you too can produce some jewels that will leave you with the feeling that you’ve created some rewarding moments in your life.

4) Recite an Inappropriate Song Lyric in an Appropriate Moment

It’s a cultural trope that many have picked up from the movies, that when situations dictate, song lyrics can capture a moment.  This can be done in business, politics, and most often in romance.  It’s become such a staple of our culture that some idiots have developed the perfect non sequitur songs that appear to have significant and poignant song lyrics to match a number of different situations.

An example of using song lyrics to capture a moment, with some attachments to context, was performed to perfection by the show The Simpsons when Millhouse Mussolini Van Houten said, “So this is what it feels like … when doves cry.”  It was humorous, because it did have some application to the feelings of utter hopelessness and despair that Millhouse was experiencing after Lisa Simpson informed him that they would not be a romantic couple.  It was also hilarious, because it was typical of a young person’s dramatic attachment to utter despair that the rest of us know is momentary.

Everyone reaches a point of despair, or hopelessness, that they want to define for others through artistic means.  In previous generations, people sought Shakespeare and The Bible for a point of reference.  Our generation seeks song lyrics and chunks of TV dialogue.  My personal favorite song lyrics are those of the Alan Parsons Project’s (APP) song: “Where do we go from here now that all of the children are growing up?” And Ween’s lyrics: “What can you do when your world is invaded by a reggae junkie Jew?”  And the lyrics of a Motorhead song: “All right, all right, I hope you son of bitches see the light.”

The purpose of the cryptic use of these lyrics is that when your listener first hears you use them –and they are immersed in the cultural trope of using song lyrics to capture a moment– they may believe that you have a firmer grasp on the situation than they do, until they hear you use the same lyrics in an altogether different situation.  When they hear you do it again, they may feel foolish for having believed in it the first time, and in every instance they hear you do it afterward they may begin to believe you are an idiot.  The point, in evidence with the use of the APP lyrics in particular, is that most lyrics are so over-the-top, self-indulgent serious, that they are ripe for ridicule.  The point is that this ridicule is so poignant that it doesn’t just mock the idea of a hopeless and dire situation, but the general practice of using serious lyrics to capture such a moment.

The most hilarious reaction to the APP lyrics in particular was, “I guess we grow with them?”

The Idiostory

Most true idiots acted idiotic before they ever heard of Andy Kaufman, but whatever it was he did opened up this whole can of unfunny hilarity to us.  After seeing what he did, it became obvious to some of us that the constraints we placed upon ourselves to get along in the normal world, no longer needed to be maintained.

Some of us bought every VHS tape, book, and album attached to his name, and we read everything we could about him online to try and figure out how he became such an idiot, why he chose to go against the advice of those “in the know”, and if it was possible for us to follow this indefinable passion to its bitter end, until it became a lifestyle that we could use to confuse the serious world just enough to lead to some seminal moments in our pursuit of the idiotic life, based on the reactions our audience gave us.

If our goal was to be funny, we would’ve attempted to pursue the trail Jerry Seinfeld laid, and if we wanted to be weird-funny, we would’ve adopted the weird-funny voice that Steve Martin used in the movie The Jerk.  If we wanted to be sardonic or satirical, we would have looked to George Carlin for guidance.  We knew we weren’t as funny as those three, however, and we reached a point where it didn’t matter to us that we weren’t.  When we discovered the unfunny, subversive idiocy of Andy Kaufman, however, it filled us like water in a dehydrated man.    

Most of our friends considered it being weird for the sake of being weird, but they didn’t recognize the depth charges until they were detonated.  Even when they were detonated, most of them didn’t find the humor, and they didn’t think it was funny, and they may have never wanted to be our friends, or have anything to do with us, if that’s how we were going to act.  Most of them were so confused, and irritated by us that they found themselves confronted, once again, by the question of why we do it.  And we may never be able to answer that question to anyone’s satisfaction, least of all our own, but we know we like it, and we know that we will continue to do it.

The Disclaimer

This particular mindset should not be used by anyone that wants others to consider them funny.  If this is your goal, you may want to learn how to incorporate your responses into conversations by putting acute focus on the beats and rhythms of your delivery.  Quality humor, like quality music, should have pleasing beats and rhythms that find a comfortable place in the listener’s mind.  It should then be repeated for the purpose of providing a pleasing pattern that your listeners will recognize before you hit the punchline.  Once you hit that punchline, and the listeners’ brains reward them for figuring out how you arrived at that point, before you did, they’ll be rewarded with a shot of dopamine, and you’ll be rewarded with their laughter.  They may even say the punchline before you do.

If, however, your goal is to be an unfunny idiot that gets no laughter for your efforts, you will want to know those same rules of comedy, regarding the beats and rhythms of humor, but you will need to know them even better than funny people.  As any gifted practitioner of the art of idiocy will tell you, it is far more difficult to find a way to distort and destroy people’s perception of conventional humor than it is to abide by them.  It takes being practiced in the art of practice in other words.  It takes an ear tuned to the rhythms and beats of a conversation, or situation, and it takes a lot of trial and error.

As expressed throughout this article, the rewards for being a total idiot are far and few between, but if you ever manage to achieve total destruction, or distortion, of what is believed to be the beats and rhythms of humor, you may encounter a sympathetic soul that considers you such an idiot that they consult you about the beats and rhythm of your delivery.  For the most part, however, the rewards you will receive are the damage to your reputation as a potential funny person, some dismissing you as strange and weird, others wanting little-to-nothing to do with you, and women saying they won’t date you, because they prefer nice guys that are funny, “and you, you’re just kind of weird, or a total idiot.”

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.  The term strange, by our arbitrary definition, concerns those that were affected by a more natural malady.  Through no fault of their own, they have had something inflicted upon them that they cannot escape, and nothing they do will repair that differentiation.  We don’t define this separation to be nice, though we do deem it mean-spirited to mock, insult, or denigrate those people that arrived at their differences in a natural manner.  We don’t create this separation so that our readers may consider us more understanding, wonderful, or compassionate, but we do deem those that would go out of their way to poke fun at the strange to be lacking in basic compassion.  This also isn’t an attempt, on our part, to leave you with the impression that we are more intelligent, more normal, or better than those that think the strange should be ostracized.  This arbitrary separation is designed to provide a clarification on any confusion that might exists between those that had no choice in the matter, and those that choose to be weird through the odd decisions they make in life.

Being weird is a choice. 

George Grosz, Ghosts, 1934

                      George Grosz, Ghosts, 1934

Psychology, it could be said, is a comprehensive 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 article, for the weird have made their choices, and those choices subject them to a degree of illustrative ridicule that a nicer, more wonderful writer –say, from the squishy and indecisive school of thought– would use soften to soften their conclusions with moral and societal equivocations.  Some of us are as weird as those we mock, and some of us are different, and 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 exaggerated forms of weird, and those that 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 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.  I rebelled to all that, because I didn’t see his efforts for what they were.

I still like to dance in the flames of the weird, but once the lights come up I’m as normal, and as boring, as everyone else.  As hard as my dad tried to force normalcy on me, however, he couldn’t 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 normal home and ventured out into a world outside the realm of his influence, I became attracted to weird, oddball philosophy.  I found the information they presented me so intoxicating that I had trouble keeping it in the bottle.

I have normal people littered throughout my life, and I prefer their company in the long-term, but I found myself eager to invite challenging, weird ideas into my life for a brief stay.  Their brief stay would present me with different and weird 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, or if they were, 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 digested all that they had to offer.

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 spoken and unspoken rule of our culture, 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 one a proper foundation, from which to violate.  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.  Violation comes with its own set of rules, if you hope to violate in a constructive and substantive manner.  Failure to learn the rules, and the proper violation of them, will allow those that set the rules to dismiss you as someone that doesn’t know what they’re talking about, and your goal of undermining those rules will also be dismissed with ease.  You do also run the risk of being deemed uninteresting, and a rebel without a cause.

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 your whole argument will be forgotten soon after you make it.

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 being controlled to exhibit the perfect contradictory behavior that would define the James Dean character’s rebellion, James Dean was cool.  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 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 may 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 step into that “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 poor presentation skills, by comparison, and she was overweight and unattractive.  Those in the entertainment fields had excellent presentation skills. They were attractive and thin, and they all 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 was 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.”  Your weirdness should be natural, was the import of her message.  It should be a birthright.  This was intended to be a condemnation for those of us that aren’t weird in a natural, and fundamental, sense.  It was a ‘how dare you try to be one of us, if you’re not’ reaction to those that hold an organic state of weird as a birthright.  It was her 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 weird in a natural and fundamental sense.  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 being audacious in my attempts to play around in what she claimed her birthright, was weird in a natural, and fundamental, sense, but she was also sad in a natural and fundamental sense, 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 being so desperate as to seek refuge in the controlled substances she found that eased 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 fun, a little obnoxious, and entertaining in a manner that tingles the brain that seeks to step outside the norm, and there is the weird that is a little scary when one takes a moment to spelunk through their dark caves and caverns of their mind.

Busybody Nation

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 even 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 had enough.

I started what would become 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. 

My 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 plead innocence in this regard, saying I hadn’t.  Or, I could’ve said that I had no idea the shrieking was directed at me.  The shriek was that faint and that anonymous.  I could’ve 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 had nothing to gain by pursuing a confrontation.  And I did think about this, all of this, while my dog enjoyed sniffing the shore beneath us, and my wife spoke of her concerns in the background, but I’d had enough.

Some of the times, there is something to be gained by pursuing confrontation.  Some of the times your character is on the line, and you need to come out swinging, with your best vocab, to define that 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 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 in irrational, unnecessary confrontations for the irrational reason that we’ve had enough.

When a car cuts us off on the interstate, some of us feel compelled to express our frustrations in a manner that will not result in anything more than releasing the pressure valve.  “I don’t want them to think they can just get away with something like that,” 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 different peanut butter variations available to them, we are driven by an impulse that tells us we need to inform them how inconsiderate they are being?  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 at the base of the word inconsiderate is the word consider, we’d realize that they didn’t consider the ramifications of their actions.  There is, in most cases, a wide chasm between being rude and being inconsiderate, and it’s our perceptions of these incidents that drive them together.

We know that in most cases, it would be advisable to move on, past the perceived slight, and most of us do choose to be non-confrontational on most days.  On most days, we find a way to walk away from the shriekers, and their prosecuting friends (that you’ll meet in due time) for the purpose of having an uneventful, non-confrontational day, and we do it without losing a minute of sleep, because we know that most confrontations won’t teach these people those life lessons that we feel they need to know.

Those of us that choose to live peaceful, uneventful, and non-confrontational lives have an outlet.  We go home to those that make us happy again, and we inform them of our near confrontation, and we tell them that we avoided saying anything.  We say we know we were right, but we did it to be the bigger person.  We may recite, for them, what we would’ve said, but we let the matter die there.  We play with our kids, we love our spouse, and we pet our dog.

There is a point, however, when inconsiderate incidents begin to build up in the pressure valve.  We all have these moments, and we never know when, or how, these moments will arrive, but the nicest, most peaceful person can experience a clog.  Even those that cling to pacifism, as a lifesaver against the tide of the irrational, know that those moments when a person has just had enough are inevitable.

I had enough of shrieking ladies notifying authority figures that they –or their children– have been mistreated in what unconcerned parties would term a meaningless manner.  I 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 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.

It’s one thing for one fellow human to inform another that everything in moderation is a rule to live by, and it’s quite another to inform you of the deleterious consequences of indulging in that which may harm you, but as anyone that has known a busybody knows, their motivation is not limited to being an information resource.  If that were their goal, they wouldn’t grow so frustrated with you when you refuse to change, refuse to adhere to their strict definition of order, and refuse to be more like them that they shriek in a city park.

Most busybodies are the result of a peaceful nation that leaves its citizenry with little to worry about.  They’re a segment of the population that spends most of their time in their lawn, picking weeds and planting flowers, until the boredom sets in.  They may not even know how far gone they are, but their loved ones should have informed them that it’s not normal to inform your neighbor that grass should be cut one-and a quarter to two inches in April through gritted teeth.

They’re our busybodies, the Gladys Kravitzes, of our nation, trying to right the wrongs of a previous generation, to 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– for those neighbors that peer through drapes to document the goings on of their neighbors.  They know when you come home, who you come home with, how long you’ve been home, which neighbors you speak with, and how everything you do affects the perception, and property values, 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 this, 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 still 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 could exacerbate this situation, and I knew I could have avoided it all without anyone knowing, but I 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 a smile and a good-natured wave that was as confrontational as a smile and a good-natured wave can be.

The ‘Don’t do that!’ shrieker stepped to the fore.  She had been waiting for me about twenty yards further along the park’s trail.  She had been waiting, I can only assume, to see how the prosecuting attorney’s threats would affect me.  When it was determined that I was nonplussed by them, she stepped to the fore.  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 feared she might be exhibiting the early, warning signs of a cardiac arrest.

I stopped on the trail, for a moment, caught off guard by her venom, but I realized that faux pas soon after, and I continued to 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 provide me a scenario in which a large and menacing dog was headed for my dog, and she asked me 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 uninteresting “nu uh,” “yes huh” portion of the confrontation lasted for another thirty seconds, with each party parrying and thrusting, until the shrieking woman decided to turn and walk away.  She was still saying things, but her venom had diminished a tad.

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 me, 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 even begin such a discussion, just to take that arrow out of their quiver.

I do concede that if more than five to seven people make such an accusation, there may be something to it.  And if that is the case, it may have something to do with the fact that draws, and defeats, don’t settle well in my digestive system.  I prefer to think that I can accept draws, and defeats, as long as the other person has considered my point of view before we go our separate ways.  I will also concede that this consideration of my point of view is relative to my definition, and that I don’t provide the most objective perspective on me.

“It looks like we won’t be coming to this park anymore,” I informed my wife, at loud volume, 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 edicts in silence.  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 them a bad guy characterization, and no one wants to be a bad guy.  In this particular scenario, the subject would have been engaging in a confrontation with a little old lady for the purpose of getting her to shut up about a thirty pound dog chasing what she deemed 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 would’ve been considered a no-win position to those that want people to think they’re a nice guy.

My only defense –a defense that I agree borders on the time-honored, political tactic of diversion– is to tell you that I’m not a pro dog-chase-duck guy, but a man-stop-busybody guy focused on informing these people that we would all appreciate it if they would take one step back to that time-honored state of mind where people were uncomfortable telling complete strangers how to live.  It’s a first step that I would love to spearhead that suggests to all followers that regardless how inconsequential their moment of confrontation may be, and how indefensible it may appear on paper, we all need to step up and tell our local, state, and federal busybodies: “Enough already!”

If I were lucky enough to be considered for this role, I would inform my followers that we need to engage in more inconsequential, indefensible arguments such as the one that occurred on my Thursday in the park to roll back the tide of these busybodies involving themselves in all of the otherwise inconsequential moments of our lives.  Our goal would not be to stop busybodies for that would be impossible, but to start planting proverbial “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 proverbial flag in the confrontation.

If you’ve ever looked over your shoulder, after committing one of these “crimes against nature”, you’ve seen these otherwise unharmed ducks go right back to the exact shoreline that your dog, or child, scared them off of moments earlier.  An insecure bully –that found some happiness scaring innocent little ducks– might perceive this as a direct challenge to their manhood that the ducks are sending out.  Our movement would not support doing this in the vein of the bully.  We would do it with the idea that these ducks have realized that kids and dogs chasing after them is an acceptable consequence of living among the humans.  We would do it with the belief that this happens to these ducks so often that it doesn’t even ruffle their feathers anymore.

For, if it caused them the degree of trauma the shrieking busybody world believe it does, these ducks would choose to live in the wild, with actual predators stalking them on a daily basis, as opposed to a thirty pound Puggle giving chase to tweak some instinct he has never executed to completion and wouldn’t know how to complete if he accomplished it.  If the trauma of the Puggle threat were such that they opted to forgo the world gorging on human largesse to the point of obesity that threatens their ability to fly –and the many other survival skills that their forebears honed for them– they would opt for that existence that might result in them going hungry for the night, if they were to survive it.

I don’t know how advanced, or informed, the decision-making process of the city lake duck is, but I’m guessing that the wariness they have for the little beings –a child or a dog– that tend to accompany a larger being on a walk, trumps the fear they have for all the other beings that exist in all the areas of the world not preserved by man for their comfort and well-being.

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 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 that principle’s phone 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.  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 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 acting up to the extreme, and that mother may be more insecure, going forward, correcting her child in public, and that may result in the child being more prone to act up in public.  It’s all an acceptable error on my part, if I manage to save one helpless child from a true, extreme situation.”

All busybodies will find a way to inform their friends and family of their act.  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 may know little-to-nothing of what happened in the incident, so they may perpetuate the self-righteousness of the righteous warrior by congratulating him for stepping in.  It’s rare that a listener will prod righteous warrior for more details:

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

“What do you mean, I don’t know what happened there?” the busybody will ask in a defensive posture, “I saw an adult correcting a child in a manner that I deemed to be unwarranted to the extreme!  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 say if they’re being honest.  “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 have to guess 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 begin a lengthy list of activities, and groups, that they’re involved in, and that list would surpass your own.  “It’s obvious that that’s not enough for you,” 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 about protecting ducks alone, would I have been hit with the threat of prosecution?  If it were focused on well-being and livelihood of the ducks, this shrieking woman could’ve put me in my place with a quick, inside voice condemnation of my actions.  She could’ve undressed me, in a psychological manner, with a couple of quick words like: “Don’t scare the ducks.”  If she had used a measured tone, when she said that, my dog and I would’ve left the park with our tails between our legs.  What the two shriekers did, instead, was so over the top that I’m quite sure that the second shrieker’s doctor –concerned about her high blood pressure, and her heart valves weakened by years of over reacting to perceived slights and perceived extreme situations– would’ve warned her against future outbursts, and the partners in the first shrieker’s law firm would’ve cautioned him against throwing his weight around in meaningless moments.  Most busybodies have no authority to be saying anything that they’re saying, and this fact, I assume, frustrates them to a point that they feel the need to hit the release button on the pressurized valve that may ruin your day in the manner so many of theirs have been.

Scorpio Man

The next time I’m in an office elevator with some nosy, busybody that badgers me for my date of birth, I’m just going to lie.  Those of us that had the Sun positioned in Scorpio have been worn down by your non-verbal shrieks, the attempts you people make to hide your children, and the not-so-subtle attempts you make to escape our company.  We are people too, with all of the same hopes and dreams as the rest of you.  We want to have friends, and people that love us very much for who we are, but those of you in the twelve other sectors of the ecliptic have created a climate where the only way Scorpio males can feel comfortable in our celestial phenomena is to just lie about our Sun’s positioning.

“I mean you no harm,” I want to say, as if that would do anyone any good at this point in human history.  “I do not want to hurt you,” I do say, at times, when I see how badly you are shaken by my revelation.

f74ac12de26c0241d623f5dcea85df66-d42a2w6Rather than go through that all that, yet again, I’ve decided that I’m just going to start telling anyone that asks that my date of birth happens to fall under a Virgo Sun, and that my Zen cannot be disturbed even with an Aquarian Mars coming down on me hardcore.  If they continue to question me, stating that they can smell the darkness on me, I’m just going to say I’m a Pisces, because they can be whatever the hell they want to be.

I’m just so tired of the prejudicial reactions I receive after telling people that I happen to be a man, born of Pluto, the god of death and mystery and rebirth that lying about the essence of my being, and all that I stand for, is now preferable.  Is this really what you all want?  It appears as though you do.  I’ve thought about fighting it.  I’ve thought about telling you about all of the peace-loving Scorpio brethren that litter history, but it’s an unwinnable war.

Some of you, and you know who you are, have decided that it’s acceptable, in this age of supposed enlightenment and acceptance, to call Scorpio men a dark force!?  I’m sorry, but that’s a pejorative term that my people have dealt with since the Hellenistic culture exerted its influence on Babylonian astrology, and just because a few bad eggs have gone rotten since that point does not mean that the whole basket out should be thrown out.  In this era of enlightenment, one would think that we would all make a more concerted effort to see past whatever constellation the Sun happened to be in at the time of our birth.

Even those of us that have undergone extensive, and expensive(!), training to achieve the evolved state of a Scorpio man, still get that look from you troglodytes that happen to have crawled out of the womb during another, superior positioning of the Sun, when you suggest that we “Can be total trips sometimes.”  Then to have that air of superiority that comes from some of you (I’m looking at you Cancer Sun women!) that know that we will either get murdered (statistical samples show that most Scorpio males may get murdered in their bed) or murder (statistical samples state that Scorpio males “Can be most high rated criminals” (sic).  And just because we tend to be serial killers that “Thrive on power and control because they (Scorpios) are so insecure, and if they loose (sic) that power or control they go crazy” does not mean that it’s going to happen in the immediate aftermath of the revelation of our birth date, on that particular elevator ride we share with you.  We don’t know when it’s going to happen, if you want to know the truth, and some of us have been able to control our Scorpio man impulses thanks to extensive and expensive “Scorpio man” evolvement courses.

It’s obvious you don’t care about any of that though.  You’re not even curious enough to ask.  You can say you are, but we all know what you say about us when we’re not around.  We know you think we’re “Sadistic in our ability to bring out the worst in others.”  We realize that no matter how hard we try to prove that we might, might be exceptions to these rules, you’re still going to say things like: “There may be exceptions to this (Scorpio man) phenomenon. Would not want to rule out that possibility, however, they are rare.”

It’s this kind of talk that has led even us tweeners (i.e., those so close to other signs that they may share astrological characteristics with another sign) that have taken classes to diminish the power of their dark half, to decide that we’re just going to lie about our date of our birth from this point forward.  We didn’t want it to come to this, and our intention is not to deceive you, as most of us are quite proud of the position of the Sun in the constellation at the time of our birth, but the climate you have all created, with your prejudicial reactions, is now so toxic that it’s become almost impossible for some of us to live normal lives, and we’ve reached a point where it’s just easier for us to conceal that aspect of our identity that was, at one time, such a proud heritage to some of us.

{Update: I have made some strides toward greater spiritual fulfillment, as documented in my second testimonial.}

The Big Lebowski and Philosophy II

[Editor’s note: This is the second part of a two-part review of the subject matter discussed in The Dude and The Zen Master.  Part one can be found here.]

All wars, all conflict, can be resolved, and redefined, through interconnectedness—

You might think it would be wonderful if we could go in and extract all the evil people out of this world, like we extract cancer out of a body,”  Jeff Bridges says in another chapter of the collection of philosophical anecdotes The Dude and the Zen Master he made with Zen master Bernie Glassman.  “But as Solzhenitsyn says, evil runs through all our hearts, and who wants to cut a piece of her own heart?  We are part of nature and nature uses violence and war to make its blade sharper and sharper.”

The-Dude-and-The-Zen-Master-Gear-Patrol-FullBridges expands upon this theme by describing cells and magnification, and how the magnification of a cell reveals that every cell involves two parties fighting for survival, and that those parties are both essential components of the same cell.  They are, in his words, an interconnected whole fighting for the same thing.  Bridges states that there is order within the perceived disorder of that cell, and if we were able to disrupt that order to such a degree that we were able to kill all of the germs, viruses, and bacteria in our body, we would cease to live.  Germs have a right to live too, he concludes, –which when taken to Bridges’ extended analogy between the internal skirmishes that occur within a cell and the wars of human history— reminds one of Rosie O’Donnell’s line: “Terrorists have children too.”

Bridges then speaks about how the fight that occurs within a cell is equivalent to the fights between good and evil that have occurred throughout human history.  Within a cell there is the constant division process that occurs in which the organisms fight, and who is right and who is wrong is less important than the fight for survival.  When you alter the magnification even more, he says, you could equate that cell to the Earth, in which humans are fighting in the same manner, and each parties believes he is right, and when you alter the magnification even more, you have Space, where the simplistic differences between right and wrong are negligible in the grand scheme of things.

Taking such a philosophical overview of humanity is a wonderful notion, and if everyone agreed to debate the topic in that forum, planet earth would be a wonderful place to live in.  Humans have to live on the sphere we call Earth, as opposed to the theoretical one that is a speck in the universe, and doing so requires that we accept the realities of the place where we live in, and it also requires us to do everything possible to maintain livable conditions.

Bridges states that setting that forum to make planet earth a more wonderful place to live in should be the whole idea.  He says that we don’t have to accept the realities of the place we live in, and that we can alter it.  Anyone that questions this, says Bridges, should look at how President John F. Kennedy set the course for landing a man on the moon.  He said that at one point in our nation’s history, sending the man to the moon seemed a far-fetched idea, until the president changed the conversation by informing the nation that it would be done.  After he did this, the conversation centered around how it was going to be done, not if it was going to happen. 

Bridges general approach to war, conflict, and his specific approach to the attacks on 9/11/01, is that we should try doing nothing to see how that works.  On the subject of 9/11/01, Bridges states that he was all for doing something to those responsible for that act, but that he didn’t agree that that something should involve such a global war on terror.  He says that we should’ve spent more time examining our role in 9/11/01, and that we should’ve apologized for our role in making them angry.  As anyone that has read the history of terrorism vs. America knows, we did try the tactic of holding those responsible in criminal courts, after the first World Trade Center attack, and al Qaeda saw that as a sign of weakness.  They called us a “paper tiger” and decided to explore the idea of doing something more.  We have tried apology tours to quell the animosity the world is purported have for America, and humanity has also tried appeasing the evil intentions of those that plan to do us harm.  These procedures have not worked.  We should, of course, continue to try every method at our disposal for maintaining peace on our planet, and just because one measure did not work, with one lunatic, doesn’t mean that it won’t with another, but there is a point where Albert Einstein’s definition of insanity comes into play, and Bridges fails to incorporate that definition into his line of reason.

A philosophical inconsistency later arises when Bridges begins speaking on the subject of slavery.  He states that when we were forming our Constitution, it was a difficult chore for our Founders to find unity on the many subjects before them, but the issue of slavery proved to be so divisive that it threatened to end the proceedings, so they decided to shelve it for a later date.  They decided that all of the other aspects of our founding were so important that they couldn’t be derailed.   This, of course, came back to bite the nation in the butt, and Bridges believes that if the Founders had tackled this issue at the time, there may not have been the sense of disenfranchisement among blacks that lives on to this day. By the same token, it could be said that if we initiated a more global war on terror after the first World Trade Center attack, the incident that occurred on 9/11/01, may never have happened.  The fact that we followed what Bridges still believes is the desired course of action, after the first World Trade Center attack came back to bite us in the butt.  

If peace could be attained in a manner where all the good guys had to do was view the human characteristics of their opponent as nothing more than an organism that wants to survive, and that that opponent would then appreciate that acknowledgement so much that they sat down at a peace accords table to engage in a serious and genuine discussion of their grievances, the Earth would be a more wonderful place to live on.  Everyone wants to live in that world.  Viewing this world through that lens, however, neglects the irrational component of evil people.  Why would anyone want to set out hurt another person?  They do.  It’s irrational, but they do.  Yet, it appears that ridding the world of evil, in this manner, would be like cutting out a piece of our heart out.

The danger of viewing evil people through such a simplistic lens occurs when we believe those humans, that happen to be evil, when they enter into peace accords to sign a Munich Agreement.  The danger occurs soon after the Munich Agreement when we lay trust in the fact that they’re human too, and that judging people as evil is simplistic, and that they just want Poland, and we can relax our forces and draw down our defenses with the knowledge that we have peace in our land.  The danger occurs when that evil person leaves that peace accord, and joins their generals at the planning boards with the knowledge that they acted their part so well that we’re now a little more vulnerable to their forced persuasion. 

In a certain magnification of the historical lens, everything Adolf Hitler did may have been evil, but in another setting, say his, they could be viewed in another manner.  Did Hitler wake up in the morning and think, I’m going to do something evil today, or was he eating apple fritters and drinking cocoa with his wife and dog?  Hitler was a person too, and he had a quest for survival that was similar to the quest of germs, viruses, and bacteria.  They don’t invade our body’s cells with evil intentions.  They just do what they do.  If we get cancer, as a result of their victory over our white blood cells, we may consider that a bad thing, but if we alter the magnification, and attempt to view it from their perspective, we could see it as their victory.  Modern day evil people may go home at the end of the day to watch Happy Days reruns, and laugh with their kids bouncing on their knees, but that doesn’t change the fact that the actions they engaged in that day left their streets littered with dead people, homeless people, and a greater portion of their population starving than there were the day before.  If we view that from a different magnification, an objective view that accounts for their definition of these actions, we could see the mass slaughter of civilians as a victory for their cause.  It’s all relative. 

If you’re one that lives with the relative notion that murdering an estimated eleven million people is a bad thing, or that a leader’s policies led to the mass starvation of his people, then you have to be willing to set a course of actions in motion that will, in a temporary fashion at least, set aside the fact that these evil people are just human, with kids, for at least as long as it takes to either contain their evil, or to set a precedent in the minds of evil men that their evil acts will no longer be tolerated. 

Some peacenik, that may not abide by the methods of achieving peace that The Dude does, alluded to the fact that the best way of achieving peace was through strength, and his record proved to be more successful than Neville Chamberlain’s, or The Dude’s. 


The Conspiracy of Game 6, 2002

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 biased, that it invited this unfortunate ‘C’ word into the conversation.  

kobebibbyI don’t know if the two NBA officials, in question, missed calls or made multiple 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 heated, popular series, or if they just 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 the Lakers that that their calls ended up affecting this game, and I think that latter point is near 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 their team loses.  Doing so, prevents them from having to deal with the fact that your team may not have been as skilled, as clutch, or as lucky as the other team in those decisive moments when their team lost. 

Poor officiating is poor officiating, and most rabid sports fans 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 often 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 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 lone 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 favored Team 6 (Lakers).  Personal fouls [resulting in 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 false?  How many times has a convicted felon provided evidence that was corroborated by others?  At this point, however, 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 lone NBA official convicted of throwing games.

Corroborating Outrage!

In the absence of corroborating evidence, the outraged King’s fan can find solace 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 called Game 6, 2002 one of the poorest officiated important games in the history of the NBA, and that characterization is almost unanimous.

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 didn’t just result 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 asked Commissioner David Stern about Game 6, 2002, in person, during the NBA Finals that year, Plaschke states that Stern 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 had just wanted to ask Stern about aspects of Game 6, 2002, that Plaschke had witnessed. 

Bill Simmons, of ESPN, called the game:

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

Nader concluded his letter to Stern:

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 do to make that happen has been the core of conspiracy theories for as long as I’ve been alive.  

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 more conspiracy theories than any other sport.

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 a populist play for a consumer advocate, like Nader, to cover an insignificant 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 to those that 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 response 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 response often quells further talk of bias and conspiracy theories, because it is 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, one game 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 often 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 that their 2002 team wasn’t that much better than the 2002 Lakers, and if they were better, it was 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 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 admit that a team beat our team based on superior athletic talent alone.  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 they attempt to say 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 these moments never happen.  To which, the rational fan could 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 never know whether or not these “best officials in the game” were just 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.

Brutal Honesty in the Age of Being Real

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 it, in the manner a body puts out byproducts it can’t use?  Did art imitate life or reflect it?  Or, was reality TV a refraction of a very small sampling of the culture 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 such instances, 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 the being real era, and see it as an intellectually dishonest era, designed to promote the drama of the interactions, and the proselytizing of the speakers.

Being real was supposed to, at the least, have a conjugal relationship with brutal honesty, and some of us used some nugget of that message to put more brutal honesty in our personal presentations, regardless if anyone thought we were more real or not.  If you are one that has ever tried to present yourself brutal honesty with others, in regards to how you should be perceived, you’ve 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 thought they were just as 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, however, that their version of brutal honesty was devoted to assessing others. Very few 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 encountered some confrontational push back.

If you have ever made a concerted effort to be honest about yourself, you may have also expected that honesty to be somewhat influential.  You may have 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 honest as you.

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

“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 this honest can be humorous when the recipient is allowed to bathe in the weaknesses of its purveyor.  The Delusional Person will often agree with Frank’s frank assessment of himself, but they won’t assess themselves 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 are reported to occur within the confines of a cell block.  The Delusional Person remembers those days with fondness.  He 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 brutal and 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 forgetting that just 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 that idyllic image of ourselves into these scenarios that used to be able to lay out an entire prison yard when we had to when we were … in the movies.

Another surprising, and somewhat depressing, reaction to presenting an image of brutal honesty 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?” a polite, and sweet, listener asked after I informed her that I threw my hat in the ring for the promotion that had everyone abuzz.  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 a 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.”

She asked me to reconsider if I was qualified.  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 brutal honesty presentations I had provided her 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 honest with my vulnerabilities, and she was just reacting to what she had been told.

As a result of such actions, people like my sweet, polite friend can inadvertently assist the person striving for brutal honesty into a depressing state of their reality.  The honest assessor realizes, about halfway down this spiral, that they’re doing this to themselves, and that they’re becoming too honest.  Their friends aren’t helping, but their friends are just listening and forming opinions based on what they’ve heard, and their regurgitating your opinions of yourself back on you. Their friends are, in fact, greasing the skids.  An honest assessor realizes, about halfway down this spiral, that they’ve 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 person engaging in brutal honesty 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, the confusion it created was almost painful.  It wasn’t Armageddon, and no one was harmed in the tale, 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.  This was their “wink and a nod” attempt to assuage the confusion that was building around what many considered an absolute travesty.  And many thought the truth would find a way to rear her beautiful head and rectify the situation. If you have ever been in such a situation, you know the term new reality.  You know that some in the know person will come along and say, “You should be happy for her” to suggest that most of the confusion that surrounds the promotion is born of a personal animus.

“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 into 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 purchasing gift 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 out of the department, 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 honest people once believed would find a way to provide rewards to those honest, hard working people that put their nose to the grindstone.  The problem that seemed so complex to those of us that tried to wrestle with it, turned out to be so simple. The problem was that those that controlled the spigots of reward for the hard working women and men in company 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 said this that they were preaching gospel.  Even if we didn’t know the depth of their statement, at the time, some part of us knew that the rewards of living the honest life involved intangible, internal, and spiritual rewards.  When the Delusional People began to beat us to the more tangible goals, however, most of the honest assessors in the group would be forced to admit that it was difficult not to be affected by it, if they were being real with you.

The Paris Syndrome

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.”

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 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 the ant 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 of 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 far superior to the American one, 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 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.

To Thine Own Self Be True

“I do not know myself yet, so it seems a ridiculous waste of my time to be investigating other, irrelevant matters.”  —Socrates stated on the subject of studying Mythology and other trivial matters.

“Know thyself?” we respond, “I know myself.  I know myself better than anyone I’ve ever met.  Why would I waste my time trying to understand myself better, when it’s the world around me that makes no sense?  Trying to know thyself better, to the level the Ancient Greeks and Socrates speak of, seems to be nothing more than a selfish conceit for pointy-headed intellectuals with too much time on their hands.”

Fantasy vs. Reality

   Fantasy vs. Reality

Perhaps a more modern update of the Ancient Greek maxim know thyself is needed.  Perhaps, keep track of yourself might be a better interpretation for those modern readers blessed, or cursed, with so many modern distractions.  Keep track of who you really are.

Although it could be said that man has found the investigation of other, more “irrelevant matters” far more entertaining for as long as man has been on earth, it could be argued that man has never had as many other, more irrelevant distractions than we have right now. These “ridiculous wastes of time” that we investigate in this, the modern era of screens, may provide so many distractions, that it’s now possible to lose track of who we are, who we really are.

The end game of those that produce images on movie screens, TV screens, and mobile devices is to get the consumer to identify with the images of the characters on screen, while providing the audience idyllic images of themselves at the same time.  The question is how much do we identify with these characters, and where do we draw the line between our identification with them and our realization that they are not us?  And is it possible, in our pursuit of investigating their idyllic paths and pursuits on such a continual basis, for us to lose track of how we handle our own paths and pursuits without noticing the progression, until a moment of personal crisis arrives.

When those moments of personal crisis arrive, we may project a version of a screen image into our reality, and that version we have of ourselves may know how to handle this crisis better than we do.  This image may not be us, in the truest sense, but a future “us”, a different “us”, or an idyllic image of “us” that handled this matter so much better, but we can’t remember how exactly now that we’re being called upon to handle a crisis.  We may have been a swashbuckling hero —in one scene in our lives— that encountered a similar problem and dealt with it in a heroic fashion.  We may have encountered a verbal assault on our character —in another scene of our lives— and we have been a cynical, sardonic wit that countered a damaging insult with that perfect comeback that laid our verbal assaulter out, but we can’t remember how we did it, because it probably wasn’t really us.  On some level, we may even know that it wasn’t us, but we’ve seen so many images of people, handling these situations so adeptly, that we’ve accidentally incorporated those idyllic, screen images into our image of ourselves.

Another idyllic image occurs over time, and in the mind, in our interactions with peers.  These images may be nothing more than a false dot matrix of carefully constructed tiny, mental adjustments made over time to deal with situational crises that have threatened to lessen our self-esteem, until we became the finely sculpted specimen that is capable of handling any situation that arises.  These adjustments may be false interpretations of how we handled previous crises that we made up on the fly to rewrite those substantial attacks that hobbled us, and we either erected them so often, or so thoroughly, that we convinced ourselves of our idyllic image.

Have you ever been forced to correct a peer on how an event actually occurred?  Have you ever felt the need to gather corroborating evidence for this peer, from others that were involved in this event, only to find that the subject of this correction was genuinely shocked by the overwhelming evidence you accumulated against their recollection?  Have you ever found it difficult to believe that they were genuinely shocked?  Have you ever walked away thinking that these people had to, at least, be delusional to believe it happened the way they explained it?  Have you ever thought that they had to know the truth, but that they chose to see things differently?  Have you ever thought less of these people from a distance, a distance that suggested that you’ve achieved a plane of honesty that they could never achieve?  Or, did you think that your peer needed to colorize their role, in some way, for greater self-esteem?  After thoroughly condemning this person, in your mind, have you ever thought that there may have been some instances in your life, where you were on the opposite side of this scenario?

Esteem can be found in the fourth layer of Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.  Maslow states that this need for greater self-esteem, this need to be respected, valued, and accepted by others is vital to one’s sense of fulfillment.  If esteem is this vital to our psychological makeup, what happens when one is confronted by the fact that they are not as capable of achieving as their peers?  If it were one solitary moment, we may find an excuse for why that person achieved and we failed, but when it’s repeated over and over, with peer after peer, we start to get frustrated, confused, and possibly depressed.  To attempt to avoid going down this spiral, we develop defense mechanisms.

And if these defense mechanisms involve nothing more than harmless delusions and illusions, say mental health experts, it’s actually quite healthy.  Especially, they say, when the alternative is depression, or other forms of regressed mental health.  If that’s true, where’s the dividing line between healthy delusions and being delusional?  If an individual successfully uses delusional thinking to thwart off depression, and they get away with it, what’s to stop them from using it again?  When they’re rewarded with greater esteem among their peers, and perhaps more importantly greater self-esteem, why would they choose to only use it in moderation?  What’s to stop this delusional thinker from continuing down this delusional path, until they lose track of who they are … who they really are?

It’s a biological function of the brain to distill horrific memories and bad choices out, for greater self-esteem, and greater mental health.  Some have said the brain works, in this manner, to improve mental health in a manner that is similar to the ways in which the liver distills impurities out for greater physical health.

If this is true, it could be said that people seek counseling, because they have decided to go down the delusional path so often –blocking out bad memories, and self-esteem crushing decisions along the way— that the person has spent so much time in their bright and shiny forest of positive illusions and delusions that they eventually need a professional to take them by the hand and guide them to the truth that they’ve hidden so far back in the forest of the mind that they can no longer find it without assistance.

It is for these reasons that greater brains than ours, have suggested that the true path to greater knowledge exists on the fundamental path of knowledge of self, and that most of the other knowledge, purported to be more expansive, is superfluous minutiae for people with too much time on their hands.

When Geese Attack!

If you’ve ever watched an episode of Shark Week, or one of the numerous other home movie, blooper-oriented clip shows that appear on just about every network now, you’ve seen what happens when animals attack.  You’ve seen shark attacks, bear attacks, chimpanzee attacks, and even deer and geese attacks.  If you’ve watched these shows as often as I have, you’ve seen many of the victims of such attacks say that they have no hard feelings for the beast that attacked them.

“I don’t blame the animal, and I have no ill will towards it,” they say.  “I was in their domain. They were just doing what comes natural to them, and I also deserve some of the blame for being there in the first place.”

768px-Goose_attackSome of us just stare at the screen in silent awe.  Either these people are the most wonderful, most forgiving people on the planet, or they’re just plain stupid.  They had the threat of having their limbs being separated from their body, at the very least, yet they maintain that they are not in the least bit bitter toward the animal.  Some of us find this reaction so incomprehensible that we have to wonder if we aren’t being played just a bit.  We wonder if the networks have test-marketed victims’ reactions and found that the audience finds these little clips a little less horrific, and thus more entertaining, if the victim comes out on the other side with wonderful, forgiving sentiments.  We hate to be cynical, but if this isn’t the case why do almost all of these victims appear to react in almost the exact same manner.  It almost appears as though they’re reading from a script.

We here in hysterical, emotional reaction land, know that it’s reasonable to state that a bear is “Just doing what comes naturally to them” when it rips a human being apart for food, when that human happens upon that bear’s domain, with a full backpack of food on them.  We know that the victims want to say whatever they have to to avoid appearing foolish, as they would if they tried to suggest that they were caught off guard by being attacked by a bear in a bear preserve.  And they would appear foolish if they said that, or at least more foolish than a guy that expressed surprise after being attacked by a bear at a Schlotzky’s sandwich shop in Omaha, Nebraska.

We also understand that it’s their goal to appear reasonable when they say that “It was just a bear doing what a bear does” when she clenched her jaw on their face and left them looking like the elephant man.  We understand that to suggest that the attack was, in anyway, vindictive, personal, or anything other than instinctual on the bear’s part, would make them appear foolish, and we all know that most animals don’t single people out for attack, and that they prefer to avoid humans, unless their condition dictates otherwise.  All of this is reasonable, even to those of us in hysterical, emotional reaction land, but it discounts the normal, hysterical reactions one should have if a bear removed one of your limbs, or left your face in a manner that now causes little kids to run screaming from you at the mall.

One would think that a bear attack survivor would spend the rest of their life cheering on bear hunters.  Would that be reasonable, seeing as how they were in a bear preserve when the bear attack occurred?  It would not be, but most victims of bear attacks shouldn’t be able to hide their new lifelong, irrational fear (see hatred) of bears in the aftermath.

Charla Nash

Charla Nash

If there is anyone that could be excused for being bitter, and hateful, it is Charla Nash.  Charla Nash was the victim of a chimpanzee attack, in 2009.  That chimpanzee was a friend’s pet, a 200-lb chimpanzee named Harold.  In this attack, Charla was blinded, and her nose, ears, and hands were severed.  She also received severe lacerations on her face.  Her life was as ruined as any that have survived an animal attack, but Charla Nash, somehow, remains forgiving.  She wasn’t as forgiving as those that appear to have prepared responses that I believe result from TV producers issuing a “Do you want to be on camera?  Then say this …” type of stated, or unstated ultimatum.  She does appear to be forgiving, and that forgiveness appeared genuine:

“I’ve gotten angry at times,” Charla Nash is quoted by the USA Today as saying.  “But you can’t hold anger.  It’s unhealthy.  It goes through you.  You’ve got to enjoy what you have.”

Charla Nash provides a philosophical outlook on life that those of us that have lived without such a horrific moment in our lives can learn from.  Her response to such a vicious attack is nothing short of admirable.  It’s a little incomprehensible to most of us, but we still respect Charla Nash for maintaining a somewhat optimistic about life after such an attack.  This “goose guy” is not Charla Nash, however, and he should not be afforded the same admirable plaudits Nash is due.  The “goose guy” is just an idiot.

Pro kayak angler, Drew Gregory (aka the goose guy) was fishing in a river, and he appeared to be feeding the geese that swam near him.  One of the geese, in the competition for the food Gregory was offering them, decided that the best way to beat his competition to the food was to go to the source of the food. The source of the food, in this case, was “goose guy’s” backpack. The goose, doing what a goose does, attempted to empty the backpack, and in the process sent “goose guy” overboard.  After this, the goose appeared to either be laughing at “goose guy” or making sounds that could be interpreted as sounds that express dominance.

The first thing that struck me is why does someone film themselves fishing?  I understand that fishing shows date back to an era before I was born, but I have never understood how it achieved a level of popularity in a visual medium.  The next question I have for “goose guy” is why did you allow this particular, embarrassing video distribution?  Why didn’t you hit the delete button on your phone in the immediate aftermath, or burn the video if it was recorded on another device?  If this were me, no other set of eyes would ever see this video.  I don’t think I would even be able watch it.  My pride couldn’t have survived the hit.

Some have suggested that we are now at a point in human history where some will do whatever they have to do for their fifteen minutes of fame.  If Andy Warhol, the originator of this quote, were still alive, and he saw this video, and learned that the victim, Drew Gregory, distributed it himself, and that that victim made himself available for aftermath commentary, as Gregory did in the TruTV airing of the video, Warhol would smile and say: “Told you!”

It is just a goose, I’m sure most readers will say, and what are the chances that an (on average seven to eight pound) animal could end your life?  We can all agree that they’re slim, but what are the chances that that same animal could do irreparable damage to an eyeball or an ear?  What are the chances that a goose could give you lacerations that could land you in the hospital?  I can tell you one thing, I would not be calculating these probabilities in the moment of the attack.  I’m thinking that some primal, self-preservation tactics would rise to the surface as I fought this thing off.

I can also guarantee you that the networks –that run these type of clips– would deem my reaction to the goose attack as unusable, as I’m sure that most goose beheadings don’t test well in market research.

I would also not be that amiable dunce that found a way to laugh about it later.  I would not see this moment in my life as entertaining in anyway.  I would not qualify it by saying that I was in their environment, and I received everything I deserved.  I would see that moment as one of those survival of the fittest moments.  I would think about all these videos I’ve watched, and how the one thing we do know about nature is that it’s unpredictable.  Or, I wouldn’t think at all.  I would just act.  I would just grab this thing by the throat, whisper Hannibal Lecter lines to it, and separate the head from its body.  If that bird managed to escape all retribution, and I still had some angle on it, I would grab my kayak oar and drive the bird in a manner that would make fellow lefty, golfer Phil Mickelson, proud.

If the bird managed to escape all retribution, you can bet I wouldn’t be smiling and forgiving in the interview that followed.  My, edited for television, version would go something like this:

I don’t know how you guys attained this video, but it has ruined my life.  Everyone I know, now calls me “the goose guy”.  If I get a hold of that goose, I will find the slowest, most agonizing death possible for it.  I’ve already killed twelve geese in this area, thinking that they might be that one that ruined my life, and I’m not sure if I’ve killed this particular goose yet, or not, but I’ll probably end up killing twelve more before I rest.”

After witnessing a Rottweiler attack, in person, I am forever relegated to an embarrassing hysterical, emotional land whenever the average, full grown Rottweiler walks into a room.  It’s irrational and emotional, two reactions I strive to avoid in life, but they’re a part of me that cannot be soothed.  I’ve lost arguments with those that state that no dog, be they the Rottweiler, Pit bull, or otherwise are evil by nature.  They cite science, I cite hysterical emotions based upon experience.  I lose.  Even as I’m losing these arguments, however I know I’m not the alone with these feelings, and I am quite sure that those that hold such views, in the aftermath of their near-death attacks, or embarrassing attacks, are edited out of these home movie, clip shows, for those animal lovers that would not appreciate what I have to say, or what I do, in the aftermath of such an attack.

Feedback: Have you ever been attacked by an animal?  Have you ever witnessed an attack?  Have you walked away from such an attack so shaken that you felt unreasonable emotions toward the animal?  I know I’m not the only one that watches these aftermath testimonials and thinks there’s something more to it.   

An Argument About Arguing

“You just love to argue!” a friend of mine said to me.

To me!?

To that point in my life, I had been that person that avoided arguments.  I often walked away from them.  When that wouldn’t work, I was prone to level the “You just love to argue!” charge against them.

Bear+Attack+Girl+Video+PhotoI don’t think even this friend of mine would accuse me of being a hyena, in the world of arguers, but I was once a limping antelope caught up in a pack of hyenas.  It got so bad, at times, that I would examine, and reexamine everything I planned on saying.  I wanted to have one peaceful day at work.  When that wouldn’t work, I just stopped talking.  I didn’t understand how everything I said could be so wrong, so controversial, debatable, and the subject of argument, and I gave up trying to figure it all out.

It was obvious to this pack of hyenas that I didn’t know how to argue, because I wasn’t used to everyone challenging every idea I had, but the fact that they were so confrontational about damning my ideas told me more about arguing than any debate class could.

Receiving the charge that I was one of them, a person that loved to argue, after a number of years, also taught me something.  I found the charge shocking, but I also found it a little pleasing.

As that accusation popped up more and more in my life, and it caused me to reflect on the nature of the charge, I began to wonder if I used the same process that those that picked me out used when they wanted to argue with someone.  To those people, I thought they enjoyed picking on someone that lacked the degree of intellect they had.  Or, at least, someone that hadn’t spent a sufficient amount of time arguing, to know how to argue.  Was I, now, guilty of the same, I wondered when this charge was being directed at me?

The simple truth is that most of us spend most of our lives arguing.  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.

Some might consider these subjects, subjects of debate, and that the difference between a healthy debate and an out and out argument is seismic.  Even if some of these healthy debates are characterized in this manner, by the hyena that won’t leave you alone, you’ll find yourself levelling the “You just love to argue!” charge to end all future debates, healthy debates, and out and out arguments, and you will grow frustrated when none of it works.

The question you will have is why do they keep coming back to you with new information, new points to ponder, and a never-ending cycle that appears to be redundant to all observers? Why you?  Why don’t they bother Suzy Q over there?  She appears to enjoy arguing as much as they do?  Yet, they keep coming back to you.

After receiving the charge that I’ve made against many, for so many years, I found the answer.  I found the answer to why they sought me out, in my search for why I sought some of them out: I like to win.

Those that hate arguing, hate losing.  They fear that if they enter into an argument with you, over subject ‘A’, you’ll prove that you know what you’re talking about, as you’ve proven in the past.  And when the argument reaches its crescendo, they fear that that they may be revealed as a person that doesn’t know what they’re talking about.  The best way to avoid such embarrassing and stressful revelations, they think, is to just 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 a complex pursuit of intellect and psychology, but it might also be something very simple: it may be all about winning and losing.

Most arguments seem so simple that they’re not worth having, but some people love to win arguments so much that they seek out the one person in the room that feeds their bear better than anyone else.  Is this you?  Do you have a 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 be that you’re better at feeding their bear than anyone else.  Either you walk away, or you let it be known that you just 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 everything?!” is something you might say, in the face of their constant badgering.  Or, “Does 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 don’t enjoy their company.  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 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 may 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 was nourished with the least amount of effort involved.  They will no longer go out into the wild, where they belong, to keep their instincts shiny and honed, and they will 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 world of television, where the screenwriter of that show has their character deliver the one shot, clever turn of a phrase they wished they said to their bully, the bully is put in his place.  In the fantasy world of television, the bully comes to respect the victim for their moxie, and the two of them may 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 doing you more harm than good at this point.

In the world of reality, your single shot results in little more than the smell of gun powder in the air.  The reason that you fired that shot was not to hurt them, but to try and scare them off a little.  As anyone that knows anything about bears can tell you, the smell of gun powder 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 strategic 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 defeat them, with repetition and patience, until that moment of truth arrives when they bring up an argument and try to avoid looking over at you while doing it.  Either that, or they will avoid broaching that topic that they know is in your wheelhouse.

_47451911_4compYou will know that you’ve stuck a dagger in their purported “lifelong love of the arguing” when they give visual cues that they’re 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 left by the trash can for your nourishment.

Some unfortunate, and lifelong, victims believe that I am 100% incorrect in my assessment that constant, confident, and calm refutation has any merit, and they opt for a more high-pressured, high-volume attack that they believe will whip the head of the argumentative bully around to a realization that all victim’s desire: the ‘You don’t wanna go messing around with me no more’ realization.  This attack often involves a lot of swear words, a red-face, and some ultimate ultimatum.  This tactic has never been proven to be the effective, in my experience, 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 state with pride that they can 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 get a lot out of you.

“Why do you give them that?” I’ve wondered aloud on more than a few occasions.  The reactions I’ve received, as a neutral party, are just as red-faced, and laced with profanity, and high volume. 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 that try to avoid arguments at all costs, because they don’t enjoy being tested.  They want to live in a world where everyone treats everyone else in the manner they want to be treated.  They want to live in 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 often 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 for the sake of preserving one’s sanity, and I’ve been in those too.  These arguments come from an annoying species of bear called the plane switchers.  If they trip upon a subject that you are well-versed in, they will switch the playing field on you, until you 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 seeing all the signs around you in the dark and sparse forests of the plane switchers, you’ll find that ‘how’ that happened is far less relevant to why it did, 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 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 run across the person that mistakes you for being a person that loves to argue.

I remember that day, oh so long ago, when that first person accused me of being an argumentative person.  I almost laughed in her face.  When she 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 countering their argument.  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 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 just 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 of them up.  They just knew the finished product.  They didn’t know about all the Dr. Frankenstein’s that gave the 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 algorithm of their beast, but they do know that they like to win, and that you –the person that doesn’t like to argue– will always give them that.

Mechanical Animals

Hire an expert the next time you need 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, 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 in a debate regarding 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 “over-priced” expert.

A 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 maintain a realistic limitation about your abilities in this discussion, 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 plan never involved them coming over to your house, screwing your lightbulb, or saving you one thin dime.  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 following their simple three-to-five-to-seven-to-nine point plans, and these plans are often right on the mark.  Mechanical animals often know the schematics of a blue print. These schematics 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 the difference lies in the variables.  Mechanical animals are often great at duplicating their programmed knowledge on a lawn with a beer in their hand, but they often 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’ve been led to believe, because they had a friend of a friend of a friend that hired them once, fourteen years ago, and that man wasn’t satisfied with the work they did.  Who are you to hire then?  You don’t hire anyone.  You fix it yourself.

This all makes for excellent “male, on the lawn, with a beer in your hand” conversation, but it’s been my experience that the best, least expensive course of action for you to follow at this point right here, is to smile, finish your beer, walk into the house, and involve yourself in the conversation the females are having about the finest upholstery known to man.  Do not ask for another beer, or listen to further “beer in the hand” conversations regarding the mechanical animal’s expertise with a twinkle in your eye, because you’ve found that someone that knows what they’re talking about at long last, 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 –often 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 may have an archetype male affixed to their memory that knew how to fix things, because he needed to know, and he 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 have one great story regarding this archetype male going to a hardware store, picking up a pamphlet, and wiring his home for electricity based on those notes alone.  As the audience of this narrative, you may revere the industrious, rugged individual characteristics of Morty’s archetype male, but Morty will temper your awe with a summation along the lines of:

It’s not all that hard,” these Morty types will tell your open mouthed awe, “All you have to do is …”

That archetype male was 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, that knowledge was borne out of necessity.

If your attention has wavered to some degree while reading this narrative essay, this is the point where you will want to regain focus.  For, it is this point where a Morty type may begin fuse the abilities of his archetype male with his own.  He may say something like:

The man taught me everything I know.”  

There will be something romantic about that notion that will grab you here, as you realize how much Morty revered his father.  You may either recount the ways in which you revere your own father, or wish that you did in the manner Morty does.  It may touch you to watch this man go through this, but you will want to keep in mind that Morty is not his father.

Morty’s generation, our generation, loves the convenience that technology has afforded us, but the luxury of technology has also deprived us of the need that drove archetype males to become what they became.

Reliance on this greater technology has left us all feeling less male, when we compare our knowledge to what the archetype image dictates it should be.  As a result, Morty types spend their lives trying to replicate the archetype model.  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 … with some margin of error.  They know how to change their own oil, spot a car, and relay some inane facts about that car, and they know how to mow and fertilize a lawn, and perform some perfunctory plumbing chores, but they pale in comparison to the archetype male of their lives, often their father, 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 trained chimpanzee could fix that,” a Morty type will tell you from their new found step on the industrious male totem pole, a step your open-mouthed awe created for them.  “If they were willing to put forth a little effort, a trained chimp could fix that to get their Frito reward.  What kind of man are you that you can’t?”  Morty types don’t often say the latter, for most of them are polite and fun-loving, but it is implied in their narrative.  At this point, you would love to have your own idiot to create a step for you on the totem pole, but if you’re anything like me there aren’t any.

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.

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, be my guest,” 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.”

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 may rear their ugly heads after they’ve had a few, and you’re with a bunch of fellas, looking out on their 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 may say to reveal how congenial, patient, and humble they are.  If, however, you don’t make it a practice of lowering your puppy head, they feel a need to take you deeper into their 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 instruct him to, “Be nice Morty!”  And he will, if there are no other fellas around looking at a dilapidated lawn with beer in their hands.  He will, if you find a way 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 intricate 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 no one can close.  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 complete these tasks 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 soon after saying:

Well, hell, if you can fix this, for half the cost, then you are my man!” in an altruistic and platonic manner.  

It was never our intention to call them out.  We just wanted your something something fixed.  We 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 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– 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, the experienced, 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.  That’s what they’re there for.

Nine times out of ten, these Morty types don’t need the money, or the steak that you’ve promised them if they can fix your something something, and it’s not characteristic of Morty types to 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, and/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 “over-priced” expert three days later, paying far more than you would have if you had just called him in the first place.

Finding the Better, Happier Person Through Change

Are you happy?  I mean happy? You can tell me. I’m just an anonymous writer.  Are you happy?  Whisper it to me. You’re not?  Well, what are you going to do about it? You just gonna sit there like a chump while the rest of us are living in the land of sunshine with fortune smiling down upon us?  Get out there and get you some happy sistas and brothas!

I used to believe I was close to happy.  I thought that I was so close that if my Dad would just loosen the purse strings and purchase this one, solitary item of the moment for me, it would launch me through the entrance of the land of hope and sunshine.  This wasn’t a con game I was running.  I believed that if my Dad would just purchase this one pack of Kiss cards for me, it would go a long way to helping me achieve an ideal state.

clowns sadness and smilesHe told me “No” on more than one occasion (cue the dark and foreboding music), and there were even times when he would follow that ‘No!’ with a big old heaping pile of “Shut up!” (Cue the B roll with the creepy B actor, with bushy eyebrows that point inward, playing my Dad in this segment.)

A part of me believes that a part of my psychosis was developed in reaction to the constant “No’s!” I got from him. Another part of me wonders what kind of man I would be today if he purchased everything I wanted. Would I be a spoiled brat?  Would I have some sort of obnoxiousness about me that expected to be able to have everything I wanted –deserved– regardless if I had to go into debt to get it?  Would I be one of those ‘I deserve it’ adult babies that permeate our culture?  Another part of me knows that I would’ve had to work my through whatever psychosis my Dad chose to inflict on me, and that I would end up in the exact same place I’m in right now.

The point is that almost all of us are on a point on the equator just south of happy.  Most of us are not miserable, depressed, or depressed in the sense that we should seek diagnosis.  Most of us are just a little unhappy, and a little unsatisfied with the way our lives turned out.  We had incompetent parents; we lived in broken homes; we were the subject of bullying in schools; our grades weren’t what they could’ve and should’ve been; and if we were able to do it all over again … we wouldn’t want to go through it all over again.

We are who we are based upon what we’ve been through.  Am I unhappy?  No.  Could I be happier?  What do you got?

Was I unhappy in that temporary sense that every teen is unhappy when their parent tells them no? I’m quite sure that if a casting director spotted me in the dramatic aftermath of one of those denials, they would’ve had their guy call my guy, and “That kid’s got the goods,” is something they might have said.

My Dad did buy me some things, but did those things make me happy?  I’m sure they did, but throughout my reflective examinations, I have found those moments to be absent in a conspicuous measure.  I’m sure I received some sort of validation from those sparse moments in life, until the next time we went to the department store, and I had the same notion of being on the cusp of happiness again, and his decision of whether or not to make a purchase for me would land me in a land of sunshine once again, until he didn’t.  At that point, the cyclical drama would begin again. The question is was I so unhappy in that my definition of happiness was dependent on my dad’s decisions in department stores?

What I thought I was talking about, when I talked to my Dad about making these purchases, was definition.  I wanted to be a somebody that had a something that someone else had.  I wanted to be a “have” in a world where I felt like a “have not”, and I knew that those “that have” are happier.  I was also talking about fulfillment, whether I knew it or not.  I was talking about a “quick fix” that would help me live with the self-imposed, teenage, “all hope is lost” problems that I had.  I was talking about becoming a real player in a world of people that had products.

How many unhappy people get their Kiss cards and realize that that was it?  One simple pack of Kiss cards, that cost about twenty-five cents back then, was all it took. That may have been thirty-five years ago, but I’m happy now.  I reached the point, after all these years, of fundamental happiness.  I have no wants or desires any more.  I am what you could call a fulfilled man.

“And Dad, it was those Kiss cards that you purchased, when I was all but thirteen years of age, that accomplished that for me.  I find it hard to believe too, but all I can say is, I told you.”

Are we happy people in a fundamental sense?  Or, do we define fundamental happiness on the basis of attaining things?  If we experience fundamental unhappiness, we may not know what caused it, but we know we need things, and change, and things that change us.  We need constant change!  Change for definition and redefinition, until we achieve the ideal state of being that we believe is forever beyond our reach, but one solitary purchase away.

Or, are we so bored with our lives that we need something to provide us a lift out of the tediousness of today, regardless what we did to get a lift yesterday?  If we’re unhappy, in a manner we define, how do we achieve constant and fundamental happiness?  What do we resort to? How do we define ourselves, and if we make sweeping changes, are we ever happy in the aftermath, or are we in need of more change?

A friend of mine resorted to drastic change.  She needed it.  She pursued it.  She achieved it.  The drastic change was so elemental to her makeup that she believed it bisected her personal timeline into a B.C/A.D. demarcation.  When I ran into her –after years of separation in which the drastic change occurred– she no longer wanted to discuss the B.C. (before change) life that I knew.  That discussion seemed irrelevant to her when compared to the A.D. (after decision) lifestyle that she was now living. She was no longer that person I knew.  She had changed, and any observer could see that she was bored by my attempts to relive our past.  The topic she wanted our focus on, regarding our discussion of the past, was how I thought all of the various characters therein would’ve reacted to her drastic change … if they had lived long enough to see it.

The question that I would’ve loved to ask her –as if I didn’t already know the answer– is did this fundamental change do anything to help her achieve greater fundamental happiness?  The inevitable ‘yes’ would follow.  Change is good, change is always good, but more change is better.  Once she accomplished these drastic changes, was she able to wipe those memories of a rough upbringing off the slate?  Yes she was.  Did these changes accomplish everything she hoped they would?  Yes they did.  These questions would go to the very heart of why she decided to change, and very few would admit that they were an utter waste of time, but the greater question would be was this change so complete that she would no longer need drastic changes in future?  I’m quite sure that the next time I run into her, she will have undergone a number of other, drastic changes, now that she’s married a man that can afford them for her.

Another question I would’ve loved to ask her is if she thought she could’ve achieved that same amount of happiness without the drastic changes?  “Yes,” I’m sure she would say, “and I did try them. Nothing happened.  I needed change.” O.K., but how much effort did you put into taking inventory of everything you have that should have made you happy, versus everything you could have that could make you happy?  And how much of you have you lost pursuing these total transformations in a perpetual fashion?

If you run across that rare individual that admits that their transformational changes didn’t accomplish what they thought they would, they will have their remedy all ready for you: they need more change, other changes, and a change into something they hadn’t considered before to save them from what they were, or what they might become if they don’t change.  They have too much invested in change now.   There’s no turning back.

Are we ever happy?  I mean happy!  Or, is happiness a state of mind that will receive internal activation soon after a series of events occur in a very specific way that we define?  We’re damaged, and we can’t fix it on our own.  We have flaws, but there is hope.  There is always hope.  There is something we can change that can change us.  We have the money.  We have the technology. We can rebuild it. Better than we were before…Better…stronger…faster…happier…more money…a better job…a different job…change…more love…more sex…better sex…affairs…therapy…divorce…more change…drugs…alcohol…beauty…more beauty…better products…better supplements…more gym time…thinner…happiestdifferent change…tummy tuck…collagen injections…more colonics…boobs. More boob…better boobs…younger…better…thinner…better definition…more feminine…less feminine…more masculine…better implants…more beer…better beer…more food…better food…a better car…the rock and roll lifestyle…more gym time…more “me” time…change…focus on changing…more products…better trips…more reflection…greater self-indulgence…getting what you deserve…something different…I’ll try anything once…changehappinesschange…repeat if necessary.

The Psychology of the Super Sports Fan

Sports are an institution in America today.  As a male, you are 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.  If you are able to escape the super sport fan requirement, I tip my hat to you, for you may escape the pain and sorrow watching sports can inflict on you.  It’s too late for me.  I’ve had too many teams disappoint me on the playing field to ever enjoy it in the manner we should all enjoy sporting contests.  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 other than more sports and other disappointments that help us forget the past ones.

In 2012, The Atlanta Falcons 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 reconfigure my psychology in preparation for the next game, and the next season.  A super fan’s job is never over.

Falcon fan face painterImmersing one’s self in the world of sports’ super fandom can be stressful, for a super fan is required to be unsatisfied with their team’s progress, regardless how well they do.  A super fan is never happy.  A casual sports fan can enjoy a good tussle between two opponents, measuring one another’s physical abilities, but a super fan doesn’t enjoy a good game that involves their team, unless their team blows the other team out. Close games are stressful, and they suggest an obvious deficiency in your team that must be rectified before the next game.  Unadulterated blowouts confirm 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 understand a player, or a coach, issuing such statements, for they are always on trial, they are always pushing themselves to be better today than they were yesterday.  It’s the very essence of sports for the participants to be 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 normal people regard watching sports as a frivolity, a conversation piece to engage in with friends and family.  To them, sporting events provide a simple 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 get-togethers.  They may keep up on some sport’s headlines, but they often do so to engage in superficial, meaningless conversations.  They also use what little knowledge they have to needle the obnoxious diehards on their team’s loss.

There’s nothing wrong with this needling on the surface.  Needling is what super sports fans do to one another, but in the world of super sports fans everyone has something on the line.  When you mock a super sports fan’s team, you had better be ready to take as well as you give for a super sports fan will often come back ten times as hard.  It’s as much a part of the super sports fan culture as 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 dreamed of dating back to their pre-pubescent days when their peers ridiculed them for preferring Star Wars and Legos to sports.

In the world of the super fan, it is seen as a testament to their character that they remain 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 almost a decade should mean nothing to you.  You want that ring.  If you’re happy with progress, you’re satisfied, and being satisfied equates to being 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 they perform.  I’ve heard it said that they’re more concerned with beer than they are baseball, and that 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 said this 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 this is without merit, 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 maintain an 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 proved to be historic choke artists.  Nothing more.  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 grew tired 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 won one World Series throughout this stretch, and the super fan remained 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.   You’re never satisfied, and winning it all for one year, just means that your concentration flips to next year.  You don’t want a championship, you want a dynasty.  The true fan is the superfan, always seeking definition of their character through constant calls for perfection.  Even if you win a championship, you didn’t win by much.  You should’ve slaughtered that bunch.  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 most of you have 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, and that can make it stressful to be a super fan.

Conquering Fear: A Few Tips from Psychopaths

“99% of the things people worry about never happen,” says a mental 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.

To B or not to B

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.  Some nihilists even condemn atheists for their beliefs. Atheists may share the metaphysical belief that God doesn’t exist with nihilists, but where they divert is in the meaning of life.  Atheists believe that one doesn’t have to believe in God for life to have meaning.  Nihilism maintains that life has absolutely no meaning, purpose, or value, and the godfather of nihilism even went so far to write that Christianity may actually have more in common with nihilism than atheism does, based on the fact that Christians place less value on this life than they do the afterlife.

This absolute belief in nothing, when used in conversation, can be a contrarian tool that a self-proclaimed nihilist can use as a shield against attack.  It may allow them to sit back with a smug smile while atheists and Christians attack one another with the mindset being that 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 may actually go so far as to single you for support by saying that you’re not one of those they’re talking about, because you’re more open-minded, erudite, or one of the few that can speak about this rationally.  Whatever guise they use to avoid further confrontation, they do so to complete their life’s mission of knocking everything everyone else believes in, by trying to keep it impersonal. 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 when everything goes wrong in their life they know that they will 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 may actually be 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.

Oh! Our Electromagnetic Minds

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.

In 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 always 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 permit an experimental, investigatory group to walk through and 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 cause them to 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 to insulate 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 stimulated with electromagnetic field-emitting solenoids, in a designated manner, 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 designed for the sole purpose of providing 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 for Persinger and crew.

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 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 do away with the need for pharmaceuticals over time.  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 find a way to heal it, the brain sends out prostaglandins.  When the brain doesn’t provide enough prostaglandins, or it doesn’t provide them soon enough to our satisfaction, we take Aspirin.  Michael Persinger thinks this same procedure can be accomplished in an electromagnetic manner, 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 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 experiences enough 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 do not have specific concerns related to the validity of their subject’s belief, they do seek to determine what’s happening in the brain during a religious experience without apology.

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 ask serious questions about 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, could 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 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.

Indigo Children: The Next Step in Human Evolution

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 a young 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 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 synchronized, global 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 become a joke in most quarters, 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 look to the numbers.  Between the first, reported crop circle in 1978 to the Harmonic Convergence in 1987, there were a mere forty-nine crop circles reported, for a low average of near 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 the Indigo Children theory was based on concepts developed in the 1970s by Nancy Ann Tappe, and further developed by Jan Tober and Lee Carroll.  The concepts involved in this theory 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 may be evolved creatures that are more empathetic and creative than their peer group.

Indigo Children are said to be children with blessed with higher I.Q.s, in some quarters, 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 considered rebellious children that may be 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 perhaps most important 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 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 in areas where they may have 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 operational 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 that 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 interpreted in a more prosaic climate 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 a mere 3% of the world’s population may be Indigo Children, but that that 3% are advanced beyond their years, and that they are hyper-sensitive to things in their environment.  Indigo Children tend to 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 by scholastic measures.  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 are supposed to be tailored specific to them, but are in fact vague and general enough to be assigned 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 not function well in conventional schools due to their rejection of rigid authority*, being smarter (or of a more spiritual 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: “Presumed to be 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 blame my child, in an unnecessary way, 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 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, if there isn’t, and if our kids just aren’t able to meet our expectations in the manner we require.  We give tangible love to our kids by doing something to help them, even if they don’t need anything.  We want to do that something that someone should’ve done for us to put them 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 frustrated that their children haven’t escalated to the top of the class soon enough; they are frustrated that their kids haven’t displayed the athletic prowess that they believed their children would; and they tend to grow frustrated that their offspring hasn’t yet developed the ability to stand out in the manner their friends’ have.  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 operational 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


Let Your Freak Flag Fly!

As usual with any idiom of this sort, most people either don’t know, or care, how a phrase originated.  When attempting to trace the origin of any idiom of this sort, in casual conversation, one tends to hear the response: “Dude, I don’t know, I’ve been saying it for decades.”  It is perceived to be uncool, to 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 might result in something 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 designed for the world of phraseology.  In this world, all users are the point of origin, or they should be considered the originators from the listener’s perspective.  If you are one that insists on being curious, you’ll find yourself drummed out on an “If you have to ask …” basis.

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 now 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 used in public, 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 venture a guess, however, that that phrase may have 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, preferred usage to occur 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 have this information on hand for 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 tend to be moral relativists that may ascribe to “some” libertarian principles when those principles adhere to pleasing, political policies –that suggest that there are no good guys and that there are no bad guys in the world– but they tend to 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 not backwater, backward thinking theocrats.  They tend to be high-minded individuals that fly above those low-minded individuals that believe in nouns (i.e. people, places, and things).  They are prone “know things” about those nouns that the average person has never heard, because those people haven’t done their research.  Freak flag flyers base their outlier status on anecdotal information about the actions of those nouns that others swear allegiance, and if the “others” 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 will 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 reserved for those with exaggerated preferences and activities that could provide life-altering embarrassment if it made its way 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 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.

Feedback: Everyone has that certain something that they’re proud of/embarrassed by, and we hold them so close to our heart that we feel insecure discussing it among those we deem important.  While some claim that we should all fly our freak flag high, others find that it adds value to their freak flag to keep it close to their heart.  They believe that if everyone knew about it, it would lose that special, individualistic quality that it has for them.  Do you have a special quality/freak flag about you that no one knows about?  Do you find that it’s a struggle to maintain this aspect of your identity, or do you flaunt it?  Or, are you one that enjoys this super-secret part of you so much that you don’t feel the need to share?

Social Psychological Operations

Most people don’t regard normal human interactions as social psychological operations.  Attaching a military term to normal human interactions may appear foolish to most people.  Most people may believe that anyone that thinks this way may have too much time on their hands, or that they may think too much.  The question that believers would ask is how often do most people get obliterated in the psychological field of battle without recognizing that a shot was even fired?

Most people don’t recognize the psychological battles that occur at a 7-11, while waiting in line to fill your cup with coffee.  The simple act of dressing a fellow customer down, in a psychological manner, is just something we do.  Most people see interactions that may elicit nothing more than a “Hello” or “Excuse me” from the coffee filler as a forgettable moment in a day.

psychWhen it’s our turn to fill a cup, most people may view the fidgeting, sighing person in line behind us as nothing more than an impatient customer of 7-11.  We may view them as inconsiderate, and we may shoot them a “Who do you think you are?” look to compensate for the momentary feelings of inferiority we may have experienced by taking too long.  Some of us may attempt to diffuse the situation with a quasi-confrontational “How you doing?”  For the most part, however, we forget all about these encounters the moment we put our keys into the ignition.

Regardless how these moments play out, there is often some sort of PSYCH OP (psychological operation) at play in even the most mundane interactions.

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

If the impatient customer says, “Good, how are you?” both parties have diffused the situation, and both combatants will move on with their day: No points scored, no games played, and the interaction would end in a zero-zero tie … Unless we happened to notice the clothes they were wearing; the manner in which they parted their hair; the way they tied their tie; the way they lick their lips before speaking; or the brand of coffee they chose.  If we noticed any of the above, we did so to counter their brief evaluation of our character, and the points we gained by noticing their flaws are often innocuous, and they do little-to-nothing substantial for our psychology, and we forget all about them the moment our coffee cup is full, because the likelihood of running into this 7-11 customer again is negligible.

Most true points, scored in social psych OPS, involve remembering the points we score and using them in future interactions we have with people.

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.  Let’s say this person we encounter is not a total stranger, but one with whom we have an ongoing relationship.  They are work associates in the truest sense of the word.  They may know a little something something about us, but that they keep that information close to the vest.  We may know some somethings about them, but we would consider it a violation of protocol to use that information against them.  If that’s the case, a “How was your day?” greeting can take on altogether 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 parties flip the page of the playbook to a chapter where they have some somethings on another.

“That’s good to hear,” they may say.  “How’s the wife?”  This question right here centers on the information that good people would never use on one another.  The question is not a direct assault on your person, and it allows the attacker an out if you offer a counter attack.  “Hey, I just asked how she was doing.” 

The question those that don’t regard normal human interactions as social psychological operations would have to answer, at this point, is why the speaker chose to focus on our wife?  In the myriad of conversations they could choose, they chose to focus on our wife.  Most people may choose to believe that these questions are innocuous, but some of us believe that this tactic can be located somewhere in the devious chapter of their social psych OPS playbook, for they have no real interest in the condition of our wife.  They may think that their wife is better looking, or in some way superior, to ours.  They may also know that our wife is something of a nag, and that we have had some resultant, marital problems as a result that allows them to feel dominant through comparative analysis.  It’s possible that this is not an overt attempt to be devious, but that they just feel more comfortable discussing wives with us.  This answers the question for most people, but some of us see something there there.

“How are the kids?” is another question they may ask.  “How’s that kid’s soccer game going?” 

Again, this may appear 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 what anyone would call intact, at least it isn’t as bad as yours.

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

They may also enjoy speaking to you, because you’re humble, 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 wife is, and how much money he makes.  He’s a real blowhard that doesn’t know how to laugh at himself like you do.

“But did you know that Jones has a house that he cannot afford?” they’ll ask you.  “It’s true.  Everyone thinks Jones has it all, but I’m here to tell you that the Jones clan is deep in debt, and they’re playing it day-to-day.”  

Both of you know that Jones has a beautiful house, and the two of you may hate him for the car he drives, but knowing that he cannot afford it all gives the two of you a lift for the day.

“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 needed that lift.  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 outside their immediate sphere of influence.

On this psych ops page, we find soldiers that want to know more about us, and that their motives are sincere.  They may begin with a simple 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 complain, 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 just 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 possible that some people think this way.  It is possible that their “How is your day?” conversation was benign?  It’s also possible that their search for dominance was occurring on a level they may not even be aware of.  It’s also possible 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 telling you that your outlook on life is steeped in inordinate cynicism, they just scored some social psych ops points on you.  Some of the times they vocalize such sentiments, 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 a social psychological operation that is foreign to us, one steeped in passive aggressions.  We may believe that, on some level, they were lying, and we may believe we have just gained some insight into who they are, and that we have gained some points in the social psych ops playbook with that 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 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 see Mary in accounting as the hoebag that she is, and the fact that Mary just happened to tell her hoebag stories to them was done without any prompting on their part, but the fact that they told you about it means that they think they scored some points on Mary.

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 our audience that we 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 interactions.  The latter may be more important, for it is in these bumper car-type interactions, with opposing forces, that we tend to locate some definition of our character.  It is also by engaging in these 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, our opponent will attempt to survey the battlefield before engaging.  He will try to locate our insecurities and place his best forces there.  The best social psych ops general will also have knowledge of his weaknesses, and either place some forces there, or cede ground.  And there’s nothing wrong with temporary, strategic surrender, as long as we recognize our opponent’s attack strategy for what it is.

Those equipped with a brain that requires more processing, may need to concede ground to those that are blessed with quick-wits for a time.  If you are one of those that require a little consideration, consider the fact that your life will be filled with social psychological operations from all quarters, and you will need to learn how to react to them.  Accept your defeats for what they are, recognize these psychological ploys for what they are, no matter what excuses are given for deployment –and there will always be excuses given for few openly admit their strategy– and develop counter attacks that may foil or prevent future attacks.

All attacks and counterattacks are situational, of course, but once one establishes a frame of reference they can develop an ability to counterattack with equal measure in most cases.  This universal frame of reference is vital to a psychological operations soldier, for once we’ve established ourselves in a given area, our antagonists will attempt to switch the playing field on us.  They may choose politics or sports, because their team has a recent history of beating ours; they may choose the department of the company they work in, or the inferior position in the company we have; or the clothes we wear; or the type of dog they own that is superior in a physical sense; 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 the battleground.  It is the latter that we will concentrate on in our conversations here, for if a reader’s 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 know what we know.  For the rest, you 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 this is key to understanding how these PSYCH OPS are employed, of course, but no amount of theoretical discussion will help a reader understand what they’re up against better than witnessing them deployed in live action.

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 loosely be termed a training exercise.

“Don’t tell anyone, but I have a weakness … ” is something we have said to a true friend, during those benign moments true friends have.  Have you ever had that friend use that information against you?  “I confided that information to you in strict confidence!” is something you may say.

If you have been in this situation a number of times, you know the U-bend pipe defense that PSYCH OPS soldiers use in the manner cartoon characters use it to return gunfire.  “Don’t be so sensitive,” they might say, or “Don’t be so defensive.”  Whatever tactic they use, it’s incumbent on you to get over the violation of trust.

Those of us that have witnessed intimate revelations evolve in a manner where they are used in tactical moments, recall those moments when they were used in operational, training exercises.  Failure will occur in this operational, training phase, but it will be less damaging for the PSYCH OPS soldier, for it will be conducted during family get-togethers, social outings, or any intimate outings that involve those that allow them to correct any deficiencies in their delivery.

The idea that a strategic operational campaign can occur without your knowledge is not only possible, it is likely, for they will often occur in a fashion similar to guerrilla warfare.  This may appear to be a training exercise to all parties concerned, but watch what you say in these training exercises, for they can evolve to a live training exercise, with live ammo, when you least expect it.

Tactical PSYCH OPS are the culmination of all that was learned in the previous two, social 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.  When the PSYCH OPS soldier exploited your weakness in the training exercise, they were testing your vulnerabilities, and gauging your reactions to see if the material could be used later, 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 tactical operations from their closest friends for years, until such time that the individual uses all that they have learned in training exercises to impress that one person that means something to them.  The victim may be surprised by the attack that appeared to come from nowhere and didn’t appear to establish anything beyond what could be termed humorous and 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 with you, and it’s the reason they continue to call you friend.

One popular tactical weapon is the Dumb-Fire Missile.  The Dumb-Fire Missile has no targeting or maneuvering capability of its own, and it is often maintained in reserve for stealth attacks on friendly targets.  The Dumb-Fire Missile is often launched before a large group of people.  It receives the same reactions as live fire, and is often followed by an:

“I was only kidding. Sheesh!?” comment when a counterattack is issued.

The stealth effectiveness of the Dumb-Fire Missile occurs when it goes beyond dismantling the defenses of its opponent to encouraging popular discontent against the counter attack with persuasion.  Used often enough, the Dumb-Fire Missile can degrade an adversary’s ability to conduct, or sustain, future operations against them.

The Dumb-Fire Missile is similar to the U-bend pipe defense in that it returns fire, but it is more effective in disrupting and confusing the adversary’s decision-making process by undermining their command and control with the idea that you never know when they’re really serious.  Most people that don’t regard normal human interactions as social psychological operations know that these soldiers aren’t serious, and they will attempt to laugh as hard as others, because they don’t take themselves all that serious, and they’re perfectly capable of laughing at themselves, because they’re wary of being perceived as too defensive.

The successful deployment of this strategy, followed by the Dumb-Fire Missile, has the potential to procure enjoyment of foreign forces to a point that the social PSYCH OPS adversary loses 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 total 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 to be 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, in a manner that will 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.

Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Psychological_Operations_(United_States)

Eat your meat! How can you show appreciation for life, if you won’t eat your meat?

“You’d eat it if you were on the field of battle,” my Dad used to tell me when I displayed preferences for the food he had prepared.  “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 known hunger … not in the sense that others have known hunger.”

FatherSonDM_468x308Getting children to show appreciation for food is a time-honored concern that dates back to the cavemen.  When the first children stated that they were sick of eating Mammoth, their mother must have felt compelled to remind her children of the sacrifice, and danger, their father faced to provide them with their meal of the day.  Those days of acquiring food were much more perilous, and we can assume the kids knew that, but we can also assume that the kids still didn’t appreciate it.  Later in the timeline, parents 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 even most parents have taken food for granted for the whole of their lives.  We’re never known hunger … not in the sense that others have known hunger.

The 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.  My dad knew nothing about all that.  My dad knew military life, he knew C-rations, he knew the depression secondhand, he had some knowledge of scarcity, seeing it secondhand, and he attempted to use that knowledge to stoke appreciation for food in his boys.

My Dad believed that eating 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.

This led to one of the best compliments I ever received from the man:

“I never had to worry about you 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 special, that took matters for granted, that would prove to be an oddball that people noticed in an unkind manner, and that exhibited characteristics that were less than macho. 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 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 associated with the term 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 (see obsessed) in his efforts, but he considered getting his boys to appreciate food a part-time job, and a vital element of his heritage.

My brother’s finicky nature was the primary concern of my dad’s life, but he was also concerned with the fact that my brother didn’t pay as much attention to his meal as my dad felt was necessary.  My brother would pause to think about things while he ate.  He would talk during the meal.  He even looked at the television set while eating. 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 soldier appreciating the nutrients contained in C-rations, that the soldier knew was just enough to get them through the day.  It said something about that individual that ate like they 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 that gave up their lives to provide you this opportunity to eat.

Taste mattered to my dad.  He enjoyed a well-prepared, flavorful meal as much as the next guy, but anyone could eat a meal that tasted good.  What separated one man from another, in my dad’s world, was what he did to a meal that was less than flavorful.  In his internal, sliding scale of characterization, eating a foul tasting, poorly prepared meal was a tribute to those ancestors that could little more than a meal of pork and beans on buttered bread.  The pièce de résistance of his person campaign to honor those that came before him was one slice of Oscar Meyer bologna between two slices of bread, no mustard, or mayonnaise, for condiments were a luxury that his ancestors knew nothing of “when times were hard”.

He wasn’t the type to suggest that eating in the manner 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 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 he placed on the ‘Oh’ portion of the song was 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, that was on you, but you would be left wanting if you had any desire for an encore.

With such a mindset drilled into one’s head, 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’s philosophy for many a year, as most things that we are conditioned to do do not come with immediate connections.  It became an undeniable source of my Dad’s repetitious conditioning, however, when my nephew limited his diet to macaroni and cheese, carbohydrates, and sugary sweets, and 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 shuddered a little when those words fell out.  I wasn’t disgusted with my nephew for his young, uninformed choices, however, for I understood that his preferences were those of a young, unformed child, but I felt the need to inform him that I was disgusted by the general practice of displaying preferences.

Although my dad never had a philosophical pivot point for his beliefs on food in general, and the appreciation thereof, I believe that it all centered on these preferences we all have.  Preferences for food was an ostentatious display of luxury to my dad that he chose to deprive himself of, in a manner equivalent to a man that buys a moderate sedan when he can afford a luxury vehicle.

He would never call another man out on his preference, for he was far too considerate. He was also a product of a bygone era when one did not comment on the ways and means of another lest it be interpreted as one seeking some form of superiority over another.  Those days, of course, are so far in the rear-view that no one remembers them anymore.  In its place, are lists of preferences, and proselytizing of preferences, until one achieves their desired state of superiority.

This considerate nature did not extend to his sons, however, for when we displayed preferences, his honesty could appear brutal to the outside world.  He would allow some preferences as long as we understood the luxury we were being afforded, as long as we didn’t indulge in preferences for the purpose of being high-minded, and as long as we didn’t indulge in our preferences for the purpose of achieving a superior plane of disgust for those of us that have no preferences?

“Those that had real world concerns of the onslaught of Adolf Hitler, and the subsequent spread of communism didn’t have the luxury of having preferences,” my dad would say to us.  “They had real world concerns that plagued them to the point that anyone that engaged in such theoretical nonsense would be ostracized and castigated for the eggheads that they were in my time.”

A man that engages in such trivialities has never known true scarcity, and sacrifice.  He leads the life of blissful ignorance, and for that he cannot be blamed.  He is a product of his time, but it is his parents’, and grandparents’, responsibility to inform him that his self-anointed superiority condemns not only those that don’t share his preferences but those people may not have had the same luxuries afforded to them.

The Thief’s Mentality

If you live your life right, and you encounter a wide array of characters, you’ll 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.  And we listen to them because we know that most people shouldn’t be trusted, and we believe that starting from a premise of being too trusting leaves us vulnerable to those that should never be trusted.  What we fail to recognize at the outset, is that their game is one of deflection and obfuscation that leads us to trusting them a little more, because at least their honest about their dishonesty.

retro_clipart_running_thiefThe first chink in their argument appears when they suggest that the one person you think is so trustworthy that it’s laughable to suggest otherwise, is up to no good.  If you know this naïve person, you know that this argument is absurd.  To the POS, with a thief’s mentality, it is a natural extension of the argument.   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 you don’t, leaves you as a person that is so naïve that it could be hopeless.  Their theory about this person that is so trustworthy that it’s laughable to suggest otherwise, does have a grain of truth to it, for if there weren’t a grain, they would try to avoid stating it aloud, but they often have to exert a great deal of effort to support that grain.

Sooner or later, the moment of truth arrives when they reveal to us 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.

Kurt Lee may have taught me more about being a thief, and a real POS, than any other person, teacher, or book I’ve read on the subject.  You’ll learn this too, if you haven’t already run across a real POS with a thief’s mentality, and you may find their methods of thwarting the conventions your mother taught you intoxicating in the beginning.  You may even find yourself attracted to their POS mindset, and you’ll want to be around them, because you’ll be dying to hear what they say, or do, next.  A certain part of you will also envy them for the way they live, but you should know that for all the bravado a POS displays while destroying the conventions that “all the squares live by”, their ways tend to 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 elder 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 hysterical.  The gall that this Kurt Lee could display on a day-to-day 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 joy.

I now suspect that my attraction to Kurt Lee’s antics had something to do with learning more about myself.  Why wouldn’t I play with the ball on top of an old lady’s stocking cap?  Are there dividing lines that separate the moral from the immoral, and how stark are they?  I had always been taught that when you see an old lady, you smile at them and try to think up something nice to say, you hold the door for them, and give up your seat on the bus to them.  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 a POS counter that reaction?  Why did he do it in the first place?  Did he think he would get away with it?  Did he even care?  We humans are as fascinated with the moral codes we abide by, as we are by those that solidify our rationale by violating them without regard for greater consequences?

This poor, old lady did turn on Kurt with an angry expression.  She did let the first few flicks of the ball atop her stocking cap go, as she went about trying to find the courage to tell him off.  Kurt Lee appeared ready to concede to that initial, nonverbal admonition, until he spotted me laughing.  I 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!”

Had Kurt Lee picked on a normal adult, his ability to thwart convention and stick his middle finger up into the face of authority, an elder, would’ve been comedic and fascinating. The fact that he chose the sacred cow of our culture for his act of rebellion, a frail, little old lady, made his actions over-the-top hilarious.  In my young, uninformed mind, this was like taking David Letterman’s brand of man-on-the-street up ten notches on the bold-o-meter.  I would later learn that Kurt Lee was something of a coward that selected his victims based on their inability to fight back, as opposed to making a profound statement about our social conventions.

This particular act was fascinating to me, but not as fascinating as Kurt Lee’s mentality, his philosophy, and what drove him to be so different from the rest of us.  To listen to Kurt Lee, however, he is not different, and neither are you.  You’re either afraid to be like him, or you have had this part of you denied for so long that you believe you are different.  It’s not about him, it’s not about you.  It’s about us, human nature, and the thief’s mentality.

“If you could get away with this, you would,” was his answer to those that questioned him.  “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 substitute an exaggeration of your position on this precarious moral line to tell you that you have no right to judge him if you’d ever stolen anything in your life.

He was an excellent debater in this sneaky manner –what we called a master debater– in that he could never be pinned down on specifics.  When you asked him how a guy from the sticks could afford 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 even the most eager member of his audience had a hard time believing Santa Claus could be that generous.

“You think you’re better than me?” he would say in a defense that was high on emotion but provided few, if any, specific details.  This was the point where his moral relativist “me against the world” tirade would reach its logical extension, where even those so naïve that they border on hopeless and, so-harmless-it-was-almost-laughable Pete Pestroni was declared a wolf in sheep’s clothing.  Pete was just too weak, or too scared, to let his wolf run wild, in Kurt Lee’s philosophical view of the world.  You would laugh at the impossibility of the idea of Pete Pestroni having a Kurt Lee trapped inside, dying to come out, and your intention was to laugh with Kurt Lee about it, 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 took me decades to grasp.

The thief’s mentality, defined in a succinct manner, is the idea that a thief doesn’t trust anyone, because they know they shouldn’t be trusted.   They live in a “screw or be screwed” village of the mind that suggests those that trust anyone outside their home is so naïve as to be hopeless.  It’s incumbent on you, if you want to survive in this world, to see past the façades, and the veneers, that others present to you as a truth.

The truth, in Kurt Lee’s worldview, was that TV anchors with fourteen inch parts, and perfect teeth, end their day by going home and beating their wives.  No one attained wealth in an honest manner, 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, just want it up the ass.  As I said, there is a grain of truth to some of it, but they often have to extend a great deal of effort to support that one grain.

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 that 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, on some level they’ll never own up to, 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 all are.  It’s the thief’s mentality.

They know you too.  You may think that you’re all virtuous and holy, and perhaps so I that it’s impossible for you to even conceive of involving yourself in their lifestyle in anyway, but they know that you have a hidden agenda that may not be apparent to others on the surface, that lurks just beneath for the unsuspecting and unaware.  They maintain a perpetual state of readiness for that day when you do break free of the constraints of morality and loyalty to expose your evil, naked underbelly to the world.  They have you all figured out, because they know the same lies.  It’s the thief’s mentality.

Another aspect of the thief’s mentality I learned in my brief stay in Kurt Lee’s world, 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 more trustworthy.  Anyone that suggests that they are more trustworthy, they will add, are suffering from a psychosis of another stripe, and you know this to be true, and you now know that you’re not so high and mighty after all.

With the precedent of Kurt Lee 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 can’t remember what they did to damage that trust that their beloved declares irretrievable.  They’re insecure about their trustworthiness, in the manner most humans are, but they can’t remember the specific incident that brought on all these damning questions regarding their trustworthiness.  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 consigned themselves to some sort of relationship with the afflicted that requires them to spend long hours, days, and years with them.  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 leveled 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 never going to trust them anymore than they trust themselves.

Thieves, like Kurt Lee, are all damaged in irreparable and relative ways.  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 could, or should, but it does help them spread their misery a little to accuse.  It does lessen their misery a little to transfer some of their toxins to you.  It also gives them a little lift to know that you now trust no one.  It helps them to believe that they’re not such an aberration, but this belief is temporary and situational for them, as the toxins that have made them what they are are as endemic to the biological chemistry as white and blood red cells, but it does please them to know that you now view humanity in the same cynical, all-hope-is-lost manner they do.

Very few of us live on the exaggerated poles of morality in life.  Most of us live somewhere in the middle, somewhere on the good side of the fuzzy dividing line, but we’re always tempted to do that one thing that may place us to the other side.  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 to make those moral decisions, in an unconditional manner, but some take this distrust a step further.  Some thieves’ outward distrust for those around them is so exaggerated that it says far more about them than it does those they accuse.  It’s the thief’s mentality.

Feedback: Most of us have had our experience with a thief.  Most of us have had that one person that we were trying to impress dash all of our hopes and dreams with one, simple characterization. That characterization may not have been true, and it may have said more about them than it did us, but it still hurt.  And we can’t shake it.  Do you have any experiences, or words of advice for those that are involved with an emotional thief, that might help people get passed the fact that these people have prodded their weakness? 

Kinesthetic Learning in Sports

“Who is the best athlete of all-time?” This question, this debate, can be as exciting and fun to engage in, as 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 a peer in basketball?  If you grew up in the Bill Russell, Will Chamberlain era, you 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, and 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 the gifted, well-conditioned, professional athlete and that pack of elite athletes that you consider worthy of debate?  How does one superior athlete appear to execute to perfection every single time out, while another phenomenal athlete executes a majority of the time?  What’s the difference between the natural gifts of the supreme athlete, like an Allen Iverson, and a gym rat like Michael Jordan?  One word. Practice. We’re talking about practice.

The theme of such bar stool discussions often 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, the physical may no longer be half as instrumental as it once was in the separation between those in the upper echelon 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 devoted to physical activity, rather than listening to a lecture or watching a demonstration.  Those that are more inclined to this kinesthetic style of learning are also referred to as “do-ers”.

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 subject their children to, what they deem to be “cruel and inhumane” amounts of practice.  Achieving what those in the field call autonomic responses, may not be in the top 1,000 most important concerns parents have for their child.  They want their children to succeed, but not so much that their youth is taken away from them.

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, when that something is determined to be 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 in the way of variation for how to 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 can be the lone 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 desires more autonomy with progressed levels of success.  It is then perceived that it takes an almost inhuman, machine-like mind, enhanced with massive amounts of discipline, such as that of a Roger Federer, to achieve 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 in a manner that placed it in a specific, and strategic, 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: “Federer Moments”.

Returning a 130 MPH tennis ball, in a successful manner, 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 day-to-day 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, of pure 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.” 

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 with some creativity, 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 the proper return are considered elementary, even to those that play tennis for recreation.  For most tennis players, most of these elementary aspects of a proper 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 satisfied to return such a serve of that speed, but the elite of the elite can place it in a strategic position.  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 exclusive to tennis, or exclusive 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 attempt capture the basics of 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 wanted 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 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 Bob Feller against a 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 manner 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” did not enter into his world we can be sure.  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 may have 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 pure physical aspects of sports to the mental.  Some of these concentrations have been known for eons, and the general idea may not be a shock, 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 machine conditioned to the psychology of the game versus another equipped with the same.

What 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 often defined by 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.

deion1Most normal humans haven’t practiced any activity, to the point of achieving autonomic responses.  Most normal humans engage in athletic activities for casual enjoyment, and they involve their kids in sports for the purpose of the character definition it can provide.  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 place it in that tiny spot that is his opponent’s greatest after serve weakness on a consistent basis.

The time span involved, in such a serve, has been clocked at .41 seconds, or the time it takes you to blink twice in rapid fashion, or a speed that defies the natural facilities of human reaction.  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 accomplish it on a consistent basis.  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 during 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 point that some characterize as exhaustive and cruel amounts of practice required to reach a kinesthetic sense, or an autonomic response, to the ball being in the air.

Chances Are You’re a Lot Like Me: My Life with Alcohol

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.

The Balloonophilia Conflict

Balloon fetishists call themselves balloonophiles, looners, or loonatics, I learned soon after the group’s moderator, Olive Branch –a name I was sure was a pseudonym the woman chose for the purpose of this meeting, but I never verified this– made a call to order.  I would later learn, from those that were kind enough to stay for an after-meeting conversation, that Baloonophiles 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 oven to make them stretchier.  Needless to say, except for a few anecdotal examples these balloonophiles provided me, these acts were performed in conjunction with various sex acts.

balloonsAfter the brief, tedious introductions were conducted for the newcomers, Olive opened the floor for the discussion of the day.

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,” said a man that went by the name Buster Steve.  “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.”

There is a philosophical conflict in balloonville among the popper and the non-popper factions, I would learn as the discussions grew heated in some cases, and contained an undercurrent of tension in others.  Poppers, it appears, 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 too violent and even a little sadistic.  I also gleaned from the many comments made, that non-poppers also tend to believe that more can be attained from a balloon through what could be termed a more monogamous relationship, and this is more often than not the case when that balloon is made of Mylar and filled with air as opposed to helium.  The definition of the word more in these descriptions was never explained to my satisfaction, and it was not a word that they used, nor was the word monogamous.  Those ideas were approached in many ways, however, by many of the non-popper community, and they left those ideas as a standalone that I implied to be a self-evident proposition of theirs.

The popper community, appeared to regard the non-poppers as inferior in the balloon community, and some even went so far as to imply that non-poppers are complete wusses for their aversions to loud noises.

“The loud noises are where it’s at,” said a man named Jim.  (Jim would later inform me that if this piece was going to see publication that he would prefer to be referred to as Jim.)  “There is something exhilarating about rubbing your fingers along a balloon that is inflated to maximum capacity.  The sounds it makes does something those with an aversion to loud noises will never understand.  They’re like screams or something.”

“There are a number of theories,” Olive Branch said scanning the room with an experienced speaker’s ease, “As to how a balloonophile is created, and I know we’ve discussed them ad nauseum, but I thought we’d discuss them again for some of our newer members.”  Olive didn’t look at me when she said this, but the energy of the room turned towards me.

I wasn’t sure if I was the lone, new member, or if I stood out more than any of the other ones to the point that I attracted most of their attention.  I still don’t know the answer to that question, but if the various speakers weren’t looking at me when they spoke, I felt that their energy was focused on me.

“Some have suggested that the orthodox balloonophile may have been borne of a castration anxiety,” Olive continued, “or a denial of breastfeeding.  They also suggest that some balloonophiles may go too far in their endeavor, and that they may advance to a stage in their unique pursuit of therapy where they manage to replace the natural need for human contact and become irretrievable in a psychological manner.  How many of us think these theories hold any measure of truth?”

The “No’s” went around the table, but as opposed to most denials on most subjects these people didn’t feel a great deal of need to back up their rejection of such ideas with constructive refutation.

Terrance Gill, a non-popper, chuckled at “The very idea that the ‘castration fear’ was even a theory.”  A few others joined him with soft chuckles of their own.

“What about the Freudian, breastfeeding theory?” Olive asked. 

One person informed the group that they may have been breastfed too long, according to what their mother told them.  This led the group to decide that that anecdotal attempt to refute the Freudian, breastfeeding theory, meant that the theory must, in turn, be anecdotal.  Various members began offering other theories that they’d heard, or read on the internet.  These theories appeared to be placed on a tee for other members to bat out of the park.  It wasn’t long before each member offered a theory, and another batted it down with what appeared to be a rehearsed answer.

To this point in the meeting, I was a quiet observer.  I smiled at many of the descriptions of the fetish, and my smile was polite.  I even allowed most of the rejections to pass by without comment.  It wasn’t in my nature to remain silent for long periods of time, however, and this aspect of my personality was even more difficult to maintain as the attempts to defeat what these individuals believed to be anecdotal theories proved to be anecdotal.

“Everyone is not a damned anomaly!” I said. 

I looked out on the group, and they were shocked.  They appeared to have never heard a rant start in this manner, and I presumed that few had.  I realized, in the space of the silence that followed that outburst, that I was a bit ahead of myself, and that I had overstepped my station in this group by questioning them in such a manner.

“I’m sorry,” I proceeded, now that it was too late to take it all back, “But it gnaws at me that people invest so much in what they are not, and they fail to invest any thought into what they are, or how they came to be.

“Most people are so much more comfortable telling you that other’s theories are either wrong, or that they are anomalous to that theory. They want you to believe that anyone that tries to figure them out is, wasting their time.  I have no problem with the idea that you think you’re complicated, don’t get me wrong, but let’s dig through those complications.  Let’s try and find a truth that lies somewhere between simple logic and a lack of objectivity.”

When no one spoke in the space of the silence the followed, I continued:

“We develop rules of logic, in our studies of human nature, to govern our ways of life.  We say that it’s possible that you may become a specific type of person based on upbringing, economic indicators, locale, and various other social conditions, and while there will always be some anomalies to those findings not everyone can be one.  The fact that most people believe that they are anomalous to every rule just tells me how poor self-examination has become.  It doesn’t, to my mind, say that there is anything wrong with the general rules that we’ve established.  There’s a reason general rules are laid out, and that is that they are generally correct.  If you are anomalous to what Olive just laid out, you should be required to refute it.  You can’t just go around saying all of the rules and theories are wrong.  You have to offer a countervailing theory that says you are what you are for the reasons you lay out.”

You’re never sure how such a rant is going to be received.  You’d like to think that what you’ve just said is such a profundity that the silence that follows is such that it swings the group in your favor, but I had no such delusions.  I was, however, confident in the idea that what I had to say was provoked by thought, and that my conclusions should, at least, be considered.  They weren’t.

“They just are,” non-popper, Vicki Lerner, explained.  She looked around for a brief, pregnant moment, “We just are.”

That gained Vicky some good vibes from the other members.  There were no words of thanks, or congratulations, offered to Vicky, but the energy of the room swung into her lap and against mine.

I smiled at her words and the congratulations that followed.  That smile concealed my fatigue.  The minute after Vicki said that, I realized I should’ve qualified my statements by saying, ‘and you cannot just say we just are’.  You cannot say, and on the eighth day, God created the balloon people.

“There has to be a reason that you are the way you are.  I can pretty much trace all of my characteristics that led me to being the way I am.”

“Why do you need labels?” Terrance Gill asked me to put me on the defensive.  “Balloonville is not about labels.” 

They all liked that.  Captain Federico, an obvious toucher, reached out and touched Terrance’s leg and pointed to his face, with raised eyebrows, on that one.

“You speak of a lack of examination,” Jim Rhodus said.  “Let’s examine you for a moment.  Let’s examine why you need very specific answers to your specific questions.  Is there a part of you that abhors chaos so much that you pledge to fight the random wherever it rears its head?  Have you always been this way, or now that your days are becoming more numbered do you need answers to questions that have plagued you throughout life?  Some of the times, things are random, and some of the times people just become what they are by a random series of events.”

“That’s true,” I said, “It’s undeniable, but if we all examine those events that seeming to be random, we might find some correlations that lessen the randomness of it all.”

The idea that trying to figure out their origin had never been a point of discussion for this group, was made all the more obvious when they began ganging up on me with counterpoints.  I won’t bore you with the details of what followed in this particular section of the discussion, because everything I heard was either redundant, or circuitous, and maddening.  The one conclusion we found that satisfied everyone in the room, save for one, is that they just were who they say they were, and we all grew a little closer in the aftermath, with the realization that I was the one with the problem.

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

Others confessed that their fascination may be deep rooted and psychological.  They see balloons as a physiological substitute that when ingested by a female can achieve excitation, and this is often the case when said 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,” said a stage performer that 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 may experience with loud noises.

“It’s a non-threatening way to tweak your fears,” said a man named Brett.

A man named Captain Federico was far more open than any of his counterparts.  Captain Federico claimed his name was chosen from a Star Trek character, and none of the members of the group knew his real name.  Captain Federico detailed for us the foreplay of the non-popper.

“I initiate visual contact with the balloon while on all fours.  I begin barking at the balloon, until I believe dominance has been achieved.  At that point, I lower my head in a submissive gesture and crawl to the balloon, in a cautious manner, for embraces and comfort.  I will then roll onto my back, during this supplication phase of the tryst, to allow the balloon full exploration of my body.”

I witnessed one set of eyes pop wide following that explanation.  The rest of the group remained supportive.  Terrance Gill even returned the touching gesture that Captain Federico had provided Terrance earlier.  Terrance touched Captain Federico’s shoulder and held it there for a second, as the two of them shared a warm smile.  Terrance appeared to be thanking the Captain for his courage in coming forth.

Many of the balloonists at the meeting, lived stressful lives, in their non-balloon lives, and they considered their acts of balloonophilia very relaxing and therapeutic:

“I work 60-70 hours a week for a company that doesn’t appreciate me for what I do,” said a man named Leo.  “I have a wife and two kids that don’t even smile at me anymore.  They don’t greet me at the door, and the boy doesn’t even look away from his Gawdamned Playstation long enough to acknowledge me.  I’m done screaming at them all.  They don’t listen, and, hey, I’m not hurting anyone.  Why does anyone care what I do in my free time?”

“The images I enjoy are non-pornographic and tend to involve 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,” said a woman named Tina that claimed she couldn’t find any place that would hire her, other than the “stressful, unrewarding field of telemarketing.”

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 apparent at the outset. 

“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.” 

As I stated earlier, the balloonophiles that attended this particular meeting, at our local Starbucks, weren’t very forthcoming with their predilection, but in my research on the subject I found an internet article from a practicing psychologist in St. Louis named Dr. Mark Schwartz that I think summed the nut of it all that I was trying to achieve with these people.

“As is often the case, 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.”

“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 permanent in a relative manner.”

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.”

Two days later, I was informed, via email, that “although balloonophile meetings are open to the public, and I could attend if I wanted to, that the group had decided that it would be in everyone’s best interest if I decided not to attend.”

The email stated “that the group decided that ballonophile meetings are intended for ballonophiles, and that I had made it clear that I was not one, and that I had no interest in becoming one.”  I realized that I had just been excommunicated, or exiled, from something for the first time in my life.

The email also stated that “Some in the group determined that I could even be characterized as someone that was against balloonophilia.”  The email did not call me an anti-baloonophile, or an anti-loonite, but everyone that has read this email agrees that the language in the email is implied.

It was a little frustrating, because I wanted to provide them these quotes from the Doctor.  I was also a little frustrated that I hadn’t found this article before I attended the meeting, but I have to imagine that someone would’ve said something along the lines that they hadn’t become a baloonophile until they were an adult, and even if I had argued back, I’m sure that the group would’ve agreed with that general sentiment so much that they wouldn’t have searched deeper.

“So you failed to convince a bunch of loons that you were correct,” has been the general reaction to my complaints regarding this meeting. Another theme to these reactions has been “Is your ego so huge that you can’t take it when everyone doesn’t agree with you?”

After some reflection, I think I can now say that it has so much more to do with where we’re all headed.  We are now so attracted to this sympathetic, compassionate, and understanding lexicon that we’re no longer interested in what makes people different.  We just walk around saying that they’re different, and you’re different, and it says something that you cannot accept their differences for what they are.  This results in us being so pleased with ourselves that we don’t recognize differences, and that we no longer take the time to understand anything anymore.

Would You Eat Someone Somebody Cared About?

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 has with his creations.

“I’m going to give you to this lady now, and she’s going to eat you.  I’m sorry,” he whispered to the pastry. “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 interjected quick 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 a person would reject the idea of eating an 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 had 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 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 yourself to those around in the aftermath?

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 a manner that left an impression?  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?

And Then There’s Todd

Most people don’t think it’s possible to curse a child with a name.  Even a name that some deem odd does not curse a child, not in the manner you suggest anyway.  A child can go onto achieve great things as an adult, regardless what their name is.  They can gain acceptance among their peers, they can be happy, and they can escape anything put before them.  A name is a trivial concern in the grand scope of things.  Contrarians might admit that there are names out there that could cripple a child, such as those names that rhyme with body functions, but how many parents would set out to cripple their child in such a manner?  And there’s Todd.

Todd is not a cruel name you say.  It’s a common male name in American society today, as a matter of fact.  I even know a couple Todds, and they’re not cursed in the manner you suggest, and there’s no such thing as boxing a kid into some sort of predestination by giving him a name.  The very notion is irrational.  Most of those that say such things, I challenge, are not named Todd.


The first time I met Todd’s mom, I knew I would be able to have relations with her if I decided.  She would give me “extra” looks when Todd wasn’t looking, and she said things that let me know that all she needed was a thumbs up to start the proceedings.  If she was attractive I might fear appearing egotistical writing such a thing, but there was a reason that a forty-something female made it clear that her intentions with her son’s twenty-year-old friend were not honorable, and most of the reasons had more to do with her marketability than it did mine.

She wore a frayed, yellow T-shirt that said something like “smell the magic” with an arrow pointing downwards.  Her hairdo led the observer to believe that she had spent quite a bit of money on oils, and a considerable amount of time curling it.  I wasn’t able to determine if either of these enhancements were natural or not, but judging by her overall appearance I guessed that she hadn’t been to a beauty salon since Gorbachev stepped down as General Secretary.  She also had a “What are you looking at?” expression on her face that led one to be apologetic when meeting her, until it could be determined that this was her natural expression.

She was the first parent I met that didn’t have puritanical notions about underage drinking, smoking pot, and premarital sex.  She was free spirited and open in her disregard for the conventions of our constrained society.  She was the first cool parent I ever met.  She was so cool that she offered to drink and smoke with us once her work day concluded.  When that sentence was out, and Todd gauged my reaction to it, the mother shot me another “extra” look that told me that those pants would be coming off.  A full grown woman hadn’t been attracted to me at that point in my life in anyway, so it was quite a turn on … even though she was unattractive and there were things going on with her that my young mind wasn’t able to process yet.

I’m sure that the cynical bitterness that I perceived in her did not cause her to name her only begotten son Todd, and I have no doubt that her overt hatred of men didn’t provoke her to give her son a life of misery with a name.  I’m sure she just liked the name.

When I first met Todd, I thought he was an idiot.  This assessment was unfair, of course, because it was based on the fact that he was a Todd.  Yet, when I learned that Todd couldn’t tie his own shoes, I thought that a bit of a stretch beyond even my initial assessment.

“Come On!” I said, “He’s nineteen!”  I was a naïve twenty-year-old that was not difficult to fool.  I didn’t know that at the time, of course, but I sensed a certain susceptibility that I would expend effort against.  Even with that though, I thought this idea they were trying to sell me was beyond the pale.

This revelation occurred when Todd asked his girlfriend, my friend Tracy, to tie his shoes.  I joked that that was an excellent domination technique that I would use on my girlfriend the next time I saw her.  I received a “Don’t go there!” glare for my obnoxiousness.  I thought that look had more to do with the “domination” theme of my joke, and I felt bad.  I felt bad because they knew my girlfriend, my girlfriend was Tracy’s best friend.  This bad feeling ended for me when I said I was joking, but the cloud continued to loom over us, until I realized that this “Don’t go there!” look had little to do with me, or my actions towards my girlfriend.  It was a cloud that appeared to gather so many other elements that I began to feel weird trapped in it, waiting for it to explode.  I thought that I had tripped some kind of wire that would reveal domination techniques, or some sort of sexual peccadillo that I didn’t care to explore with them, and that the silence suggested they did if I was ready to hear it.  I thought that I may have placed them in the uncomfortable position of having to reveal details of their relationship that I might have to fight Todd over, until Todd broke down and told me the story of how he never learned how to tie his shoes.

That revelation began when I tired of the tension that arose between the three of us, and I popped the cloud with a question:

“So, if you don’t know how to tie your shoes,” I said believing the shoes were symbolic of a greater story that I would regret opening, “Why would you buy tennis shoes that have shoe strings?”

The answer to this question “was a funny story”. The funny story involved a loving mother purchasing Velcro and slip on shoes for her son throughout the entirety of his youth.  It involved that rebellious, young man finding it necessary to break the shackles of a mother’s hold on him by purchasing shoestring tennis shoes with the first paycheck he had earned.  It involved the shoe store attendant tying the shoes for him, Todd walking around the store, saying “I’ll take them” with pride, and then arriving home for the night and realizing that once he untied those shoes for bed, he would never be able put the shoes on again without assistance.

“It was like buying a sweater with a stain on it,” he said, “and you don’t see the stain until you get home.”

I had so many questions that I didn’t want to ask such as, “How did you get out of the first grade without tying your shoes at least once?”  The answer to that question was another funny story that went back to the mother purchasing slip ons and Velcro.  I had tons of other questions, but I feared they may involve answers that led to revelations about an overprotective mother that may have bordered on neglectful.  I did not want to go down that road, Tracy’s “Don’t go there” look informed me, and I didn’t, and I kept most of my questions about Todd’s upbringing at bay for much of our friendship, until I was informed of Todd’s lifelong fear of cotton.

“Come on!” I said.  I was naïve as I said, and I had a lot of difficulty believing certain aspects about the Todds I knew, but I was now being asked to believe one of them was afraid of cotton?  It was the second “Come on!” hurdle that our friendship would have to traverse.  We had to work through the fundamentals of Todd’s fear.  Todd had no fear of towels, for example, and he wasn’t afraid of the 50% of my shirt that wasn’t polyester.  We had to get through this foolishness to determine that it was unmanufactured cotton and cotton balls that Todd feared.  It was the type of cotton that aspirin companies put atop their tablets for the purpose of preserving them that he feared.  It was the type of fear that couldn’t be explained.  It was a subject matter that called for the loyal girlfriend to step in and defend her man.

“Who has unexplainable fears?” Tracy asked me.  “Everyone does!” she answered.  “That’s what fear is … an irrational, emotional reaction.  Can you explain all of your irrational fears?”

“Yes!” I said.  “Yes, I believe I can!”

My irrational fear of heights, for example, involved the prospect of falling.  It was falling, more than being high up, that I feared.  I feared falling, because I thought of hitting the ground at a high velocity, and I believed that falling at a high velocity would end up hurting something that I enjoyed using when I hit the ground.  I thought this was a rational explanation.  I informed them that some fears could be called tools that the brain uses as a form of self-preservation.

“We’ve all fallen from monkey bars,” I said, “and we’ve all learned that that hurts, and we suspect that falling from greater heights will hurt more.”  I did agree with Tracy that most fear provokes irrational and emotional reactions, but I refused to accept her premise that my fear of falling and Todd’s fear of cotton should be viewed on equal ground.  “Falling hurts, cotton does not,” I concluded.

The silent reactions I received suggested that my point was made, and that I wouldn’t need to list off the personal experiences I had had with paraplegics that had assumed their condition based on falling; I didn’t need to recount the number of fatalities that had resulted from falling; and how those numbers would overwhelm the number of people that had died from a cotton ball, and I didn’t need to tell them that this is what entered my mind any time was atop a tall structure of some sort.  I didn’t need to say any of this, however, to win the argument.  My point was made.  I also didn’t want to call Todd out in front of his girlfriend.  I wanted to be a good friend, until I remembered that I had a quality, cotton ball in an aspirin bottle in my medicine chest.

I hoped that I hadn’t followed my usual routine of throwing the cotton ball out the minute I opened an aspiring bottle.  I hadn’t.  I was excited at the prospect of this moment.  I thought we were all going to have a moment the minute I touched that cotton ball.  I knew it would be an obnoxious moment, and I knew Todd’s feelings would be hurt by this moment, but when you’re twenty-years-old these considerations take a back seat to the desire to have a moment.

I was so anxious that when I grabbed the cotton ball, I spilled aspirin all over my bathroom counter, and I didn’t even bother pick them up.  I would do that later, I decided.   I raced towards Todd and Tracy with an: “Ooga Booga!” Ooga Booga were not the words I incorporated into my ritual of striking fear in others.  I reserve other exclamations for that purpose, but I felt Ooga Booga captured what I considered the perfect hybrid of comedy and horror.  I would later consider how brilliant that “Ooga Booga!” was.  I would later reminisce over the decision to enhance that “Ooga Booga!” with what I considered the perfect “Ooga Booga!” face to frame the moment, but all of the decisions I made at the time were impulsive.

“Don’t!  Dude!  Don’t dude!  For the love of God DON’T!”  Todd said leaning back against Tracy, clutching her in a position that approached fetal.

Todd was the first “Dude!” I ever met.  He was the first fella I met that could use the word as a noun, a verb, a transitory verb, an adjective, an introductory declaration, and as punctuation in an interrogatory sentence.  I would meet many “Dudes!” later, and I would call them “Dudes” in a derogatory fashion, but Todd was the first.

In the moments preceding the “Ooga Booga” moment, I had considered Todd’s fear of cotton to be the equivalent of the much-spoken about fear of clowns.  A number of people say they have a fear of clowns, and they qualify this with a: “I don’t know why.  They’re just creepy, and most people that are clowns are a little creepy.”  When the nuts are screwed into the bolts, however, you find that while most people may be “creeped out” by clowns, they don’t fear them as much as they want you to believe.  I’ve also encountered a number of people that say such things to be provocative and thus become the center of attention.

This “Ooga Booga!” moment revealed that Todd did fear cotton.  He was clutching his girlfriend, and he was in a near-fetal position, and when I threatened to put it on his skin I sensed that he might shriek.

The idea that this was still funny, regardless Todd’s reaction to it, was my dominant reaction, but that subsided a little when I thought that I may have opened some cavern in Todd’s soul that housed some imbed, childhood fears that if explored any further could land him on a psychiatrist’s couch recounting the “Ooga Booga!” moment for the next twenty-five years.  If this future event never occurred, we still had to deal with the present predicament I had created by putting Todd in a position where he was all but clawing at his girlfriend, trying to get away from me.  We still had to deal with the fact that I brought this party to a crashing halt, and everyone in attendance were staring at Todd.  I ruined the party.  I ruined Todd in the eyes of those attending the party.  I had my moment, the moment I sought when I remembered I had a quality, cotton ball in my medicine chest, but I did feel bad about it.

Even after that moment, and all of those that occurred before and after that moment, that revealed the eccentricities of this man named Todd, women loved him.  He had a certain degree of vulnerability about him that girls liked.  He also had eyes those eyes.  He had crystal blue eyes that could, I was informed, melt a girl.  Could one call them dreamy?  Why yes, his eyes made him a little dreamy. They could cause a girl to swoon.  He also had that hair.  I thought he had the same oiled and curled hair that his mother had, but it was blonde.  He was a natural blonde.  It was a little dirty, and somewhat unkempt, but he fit the mold of one that could get away with all of this.

He was also dumb, and some girls like dumb.  Now, no self-respecting, ambitious girl will admit to such a thing, but they love dumb guys.  “That’s ridiculous!” is the usual reaction I receive when I pose this notion to the women I’ve met in my post-Todd life, but I have found that if a guy has all of the ingredients listed above, and he has a way of making a woman feel smarter on top of all that, he’s just bound to find himself a permanent resident on “hotty” isle.

He’s good looking, vulnerable, and non-threatening?  Well, that just lifts him into that rarefied air of individuals that can work a room of women without even trying.  He can move from one woman to another without leaving any of them upset in the aftermath.  He can have one night stands, and have the two girls involved yelling at one another without even considering the role the Todd –that sits between them– may have had in the moment, because he is Todd.

There’s no form of research that concludes that naming a child Todd, Gil, or Ned, can affect that child’s life in anyway.  There is no sociological evidence to suggest that the Todds, the Neds, or even the Gusses of the world, live a life any different than anyone else, but if you’ve ever known one of these unfortunate (and I say cursed) individuals you know that there is a fundamental difference about them that they will spend most of their life trying to overcome.  Something about their existential existence has been affected by a life lived with an odd, one syllable sound attached to their identity.  They don’t all become square pegs in a round hole society composed of more pleasing sounds attached to them, but their slide to the outer layer is greased by the preconceived notions those of us have of such sounds.

The Mythology of You

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

We are complicated creatures, and if you are one prone to the poetic majesty of individual characteristics, you may find the blather involving the unique characteristics of the snowflake and the human applies here.

Some of us believe that 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 have a very narrow definition.  Some find this narrow definition comforting and genuine, but others find it depressing.

Those that find it depressing tend to be 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 their very eyes, they were devastated.  They did walk away from that devastation, they survived, but they thought they were diminished by it.  The important thing to note here is that they did survive, and that it would become incumbent on them, going forward, to define that new, crushed, and narrow character in the aftermath.

Protons and NutronsThis new, narrowed definition of the survivors, is made up of the actual people, places, and events that they have experienced.  It is not based on how we all wish we had reacted, but how we reacted.  It is not based on that person we always wanted to be, who we tell people we are, or how we perceive ourselves, but who we are.

Most of wish that we had done some things different.  We wish we had studied harder, loved more women, focused more on the matters we could have been more substantial in, had more friends, experienced a little bit more, and some now wish they had some sort of military service for the structure it may have 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, we realize that our lives can be broken down into character-defining moments, and we’re led to the belief that how we reacted in those moments define us now, for better or worse.

Most of us also ache over seminal moments, and some of us believe that the desire to do things different has shaped us. We believe that we have 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 might be able to sell it to others so often that we begin to believe it.

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 put the discussion to a visual display, 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 often 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 this mythology.  The lies we tell ourselves are not whoppers, for we would have as much trouble buying into those lies as anyone else does.  These lies we tell ourselves often 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 often positive electrons that we use to shape how others view us, and how we hope to 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 into 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??  Ninety percent of them may be, 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 may bolster perception, but is it possible that we’re 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 lay that tip on the table, to paraphrase Babe Ruth, it ain’t lying.  We done it.  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 often extravagant enough to make an impression.  An inadequate tip could do damage to the mythology they’ve worked so hard to create after all, and if the mythology is real, who’s to say the perception isn’t?  This is often the case if the celebrity is 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 may 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 cold-hearted to 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 strive for mental health, 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 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 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 choose to remember the fun we had, and some of the aspects that led to our current maturity in life.  Those aren’t the sole memories he have, of course.  If we dig way back, with professional assistance, we may 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 pretty, pretty, pretty 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 stumble upon a negative experience, we’ll find a way to doctor that memory in a manner to make us appear better than we may have been. We’ll also 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’m disgusting, he’s disgusting, she’s disgusting, wouldn’t you like to be disgusting too?

I used to think this national obsession with hygiene was just a well-designed, well placed joke that we were all in on with a wink and a nod, until I witnessed a friendship form between two men on the basis of their hygienic demands for excellence.  Theirs was not a normal standard that they required of their fellow man, but one that laid the foundation for their hygienic superiority.

I watched Seinfeld.  I loved Seinfeld.  I found his peculiar demands for hygienic excellence hilarious, until I saw these two grown men 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 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 finding a like-minded soul at long last.

jerry386-293449“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 a declared news website, but I know those that visit this site on a regular basis and they know little to nothing of 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 on a continual basis 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 less than macho 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 the optimal way to avoid germs is 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 contaminants.

If you’re cleaning up appliances, countertops, tables, et cetera, it’s almost mandatory that you use different cleaning agents.  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 know such hygienic standards of excellence.  She may not have considered 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 how can we blame her?  She didn’t know that it’s best to stay out of the kitchen altogether.  Her generation wasn’t privy to the kind of research that has found that it’s better to stay out of the house, not to mention going outside.  The danger of leaving the house is so obvious that it’s not even 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 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, in a sporadic manner, 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 hilarious with his obsessions.  We had no idea how influential this mindset would be.  People now claim, with pride, that they don’t just wash their hands, they use a paper towel to open the bathroom door.  “Oh, I know it!” their listener proclaims with pride.  “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 begin to tip a scale into believing that we’re superior to another human being because we have better hygienic practices couldn’t it be said that we’ve stretched 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 regarded as repellent.  The simple solution is to select another cart, but how obnoxious is that?  Why would we want to avoid one cart that has some evidence of another left behind for another that doesn’t have such obvious evidence?  It would be one thing, if that cart had a crumbled piece of soiled tissue paper in it, but if it’s nothing more than 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 hygienic person, that has obsessive characteristics, happens to see the person that left the crumpled ad from the store in the cart, and they found that person to be somewhat 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 gorgeous, they would be even less disgusted.  To take this idea to its logical conclusion, if the hygienic person, with obsessive tendencies, saw that it was an attractive celebrity that left the crumpled ad in their cart, that customer may feel privileged to use that cart regardless what that celebrity’s hygienic practices are.  They might even 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 be more apt 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 use automatic 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 day-to-day basis, because we’re around them every day.”

What doesn’t make as much sense to those that believe their disgust has philosophical purity, 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 day-to-day basis, but not in the intimate manner we would a family member, so the natural inclination is to place them below our family members, but we also place them below the weatherman when it comes to a scale of people that we would share a toothbrush with, 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 day-to-day contact with?  Answer: A weatherman is often better looking.  He is more clean cut and well-dressed, and our bosses are often more disliked.

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

The piece does have one point of inconsistency in that one part of the article states that “Those that 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.

grossed out!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 does not have a direct link 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 apt 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 lone 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 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: “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?”

Esoteric Man

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 Expectation of Purchasing Refined Tastes

“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?

Every Girl’s Crazy about a Faint Whiff of Urine

How much time, and 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 may have come up with 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 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 toned 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, glands, and 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 that cake our neck with perfumes and colognes are 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 body odors, and we don’t have impolite body 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 competitive.  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 puts us over the top in the race to attract people.  McCabe and Dr. Goldsmith believe that most of these products are not just a waste of money, they may be counterproductive.

Contrary to what the marketing arms of these companies tell you, the key to sexual attraction lies in the skin, in general, and to be more specific, in the skin’s apocrine sebaceous glands.  The skin’s apocrine sebaceous glands are often thought to produce the most abundant pheromones in the sweat glands and in tufts of body hair that are located everywhere on the surface of the body.  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 by synthetic means, 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 tends to be 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 have a greater sensitivity 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 that does not mean that it’s relation to scent is as direct as one might guess.

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 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 behind your ears before going out on the town, will produce no sexual attraction.  The messages that the other senses send to the brain regarding visible fecal matter would 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.

You Don’t Bring me Flowers Anymore!

“You’ll make it work in the end,” an adult baby said with a hand on his wife’s shoulder, while she fretted over their financial records.  “You always do.”

The wife took a compliment from the gesture, but the full import of the gesture failed to register with her.  She had no idea that her adult baby would not be participating in the sacrifice necessary to “Make it all work out in the end”, unless she was adamant with her instruction.

The adult baby wanted his woman to know that he had faith in her abilities to make it all work out, and that he’d stand by her as long her findings didn’t affect his preferred lifestyle in any way. The wife, thus far, did have an excellent track record of making it all work out in the end, and he wanted her to know this, but he viewed her efforts as a third party witnessing the wizardry of a woman balancing books regardless what he did to offset her gains.

WifeThe home is always sound, regardless the amount of spending he engages in; the food is always on the table, regardless the number of hours the wife is forced to work outside the home; and the kids are always well-tended to, regardless the degree of involvement he has had in their rearing.  Oh, she may harp, but she gets over it once she’s had her say.  She always does.  And to keep a happy home, you do have to let her have her say, you also have to say the woman is always right.  A nice “Yes dear!” here and there will do wonders to calm her.  It makes the clocks run on time, it balances the books, and it makes sure that the kids are always in school on time.

The adult baby has no powers of reflection, unless “his mama” is adamant with her instruction that he take a look around him.  She doesn’t invoke this instruction often, however, for the species of adult baby would be on the endangered list were it not for its enablers.

“I used to love getting flowers,” a woman named Sheila once confessed, “Until I found out how much I was going to have to pay for them.”

Craig is Sheila’s ex.  Craig used to bring Sheila flowers.  He brought her flowers when they dated, and he continued to bring her flowers long after they were married.  Craig loved Sheila, and he didn’t want to be just another man that brought home flowers to the woman he loved.  He brought flowers.  He decorated rooms.  He made a cinematic statements about the love a man could have for a woman, and he did so regardless of the effect it might have on their financial statements.

Craig would be the first to tell you, he knew nothing of finances.  “The wife takes care of all that,” is something he will say, “and she can be a real drill sergeant.  The woman can drain the romantic symbolism of flowers and turn them into economic principles.  She can be so anal-retentive.  She reminds you of Monica Geller from Friends.  That’s what we call her,” he’ll say with a laugh.

He’ll go on to complain about how she’s always harping.  “Money is her big topic.”  She talks about how he can’t control his spending habits.  How he signs up for credit cards and doesn’t tell her.  How he spends money, as if he has no regard for the bottom line.  How he acts like a child that has been introduced to the power of money for the first time.  “I make the money,” he says. “I work my tail off.  I’m a grown man.  Who does she think she is, trying to tell me how to live?”

As with most adult babies, Craig lives by his own set of rules and standards, and no one, not even his beloved wife, is going to tell him how to spend the money he earns.  He may have some problems with impulse control, but who doesn’t?  Spending money, and purchasing things, gives Craig a rush he can’t explain.  It gives him identity.

“You’re selfish,” Sheila informed him a day after finding evidence another one of his spending sprees, evidence he is usually much better at hiding.  “You’re the most selfish person I’ve ever met.”

“Only to you guys,” Craig said, referring to Sheila and their two daughters. 

He said this without emotion or reflection.  He said this to let her know that he was not a bad guy.  People love me, was the import of his assessment, and while I may be a little self-involved with you three, I’m not a bad guy.  I know better.  I help people.  Your opinion extends only as far as these four walls, so don’t try to tell me you know who I am.

We all say things to win arguments of course, but what we say defines us.  We all have images of ourselves that we portray to others, and they aren’t lies.  We believe them.  Every once in a while, though, we find that we have stepped on a landmine that exposes the fact that some of us are adult babies.

The term adult baby is not exclusive to males, but most adult babies are males.  The majority of the demographic consists of forty-something males that have been controlled by women for the whole of their lives.  They’ve had women tell them to share, eat their peas, and clean up their mess afterwards, and they’re tired of it.  They’ve had females set their clocks, do the accounting, and raise their children.  They’ve had women handle the inconsequential matters while they did what was necessary to provide.  They have been the ones that punched in for the day and punched out, for decades, without complaint, and now they’re being asked to do more?  Where does it end?

“I’m not asking you to do more,” the woman counters, “I’m asking you to do less.  I’m asking you to stop doing what you’re doing.  It’s making my job harder.”

Women have it so good, the adult baby says, when they are instructed to reflect.  They get to sit home and watch their shows while the man goes to work and caters to the whims of a boss.  The man is the king of the castle, and he gets to do whatever he wants as a result.  If he wants motorized vehicles, he gets it; if the man wants the latest and greatest leaf blower when his is working fine, he gets it; and if the man wants some electronic device that his male friends have, he gets it.  The woman is in charge of the accounting, and she balances the books.  “I don’t know how she does it,” the adult baby says, if he receives adamant instruction to reflect upon their financial status, “but she does make it work.”

When the first eighteen years of his life are over, the responsibility for his welfare switches to the good woman he married straight out of college.  The adult baby, forty something demographic married his high school sweetheart, a woman that reminded him of the ways in which his mother took care of him.

He was so crazy in college.  He “got drunk” in a manner that suggested he was trying to make up for lost time, when there was someone that told him to act responsible.  He also engaged in a number of sexual liaisons, until he met the good woman who could cook like his good old ma’.  He never lived alone.  He never knew the brunt of responsibility.  He never knew that freedom.  He never knew how to succeed on his own, and he never learned how to fail.

No one wants those crazy college years to end.  Even when we marry, and buy a house, and have kids, there is that constant craving for the crazy days of college when we were old enough to enjoy the complexities adulthood had to offer, but young enough to shrug off the consequences of doing so.  We were able to show those that mattered that we were no longer a child, but we were young enough to shrug off the ramifications that come with continuing to live like one.  We flexed the muscles of independent living in college, while getting our parents to pay the bills.  We were also in a narrow zone of life –between adulthood and childhood– that allows us the freedom to form an identity without the responsibility that forms it for us.

Everyone wants this time period to last forever, but few have the resources to make it so.  No one wants to grow up and become responsible in financial matters.  We’ve worked hard to end up in the position we’re in.  We’ve kowtowed to bosses, and we’ve held our tongue when our peers have said things with which we disagree.  We’ve built our own little empires in which we can now do whatever the hell we want.

Yet, some of us have reached this point, and we have learned to control our impulses and the temptations that drive them.  We’ve made our mistakes, we’ve been broke, and we’ve learned that childhood ends.  For some of us, this is a long, arduous process.  For others, it never happens.  Adult babies are never left to their own devices.  They never fail, and they are never exposed to the harsh reality financial failure can bring.  They are saved.  Their inadequacies are tolerated.  They are good boys, good sons, good men, good providers, and that half of the relationship that doesn’t have to account for their failings.

Their mothers were their lone judge of character for much of their life, but they weren’t a good judge, because they loved their boy for who he was.  They knew he had flaws, who didn’t, but they also knew he had a good heart, and she would fight anyone who said anything to the contrary.  They knew their boy was irresponsible with respect to financial matters, and that he wasn’t the best and most attentive student, and he didn’t have a very good work ethic, but he was kind to his mother, and that was the character they hoped to instill in their boy from the beginning.  The boy knew how to hit all of his mother’s bullet points in other words.  He knew how to make her happy, and even if it didn’t improve his overall character much, she thought that said a lot about him.

That mother then wanted her son to find a good woman, straight out of college.  She wanted him to find happiness, regardless of his failings.  She wanted her boy to have a house, a white picket fence, a dog, and to provide his mama with some grandchildren.  She wanted her boy to find that one, special woman who would give it all to him, and that placed a lot of pressure placed on that fiancée to be.

“He’s a good boy,” the mother instructed the fiancée.  “He needs someone to take care of him.”  The fiancée may have spotted some flaws early on, and she may have brought them up in the string of jokes that were being told about the good son, but when the fiancée added her bit, it ignited a low flame in the mother.  That joke was perceived to be a direct reflection on how the mother raised her son, and she took exception to that.  It drove a spike between the mother and the future daughter-in-law, until the daughter-in-law learned to keep her trap shut, if she wanted to get along with her husband’s family.

“Don’t tick ma off,” said the good son, sticking up for his beloved mother.  “She means well.”

“How do we continue though,” this good wife asked the good boy, that was now a man, she was forbidden to criticize.  “Your spending is out of control.” 

If this criticism is deemed to be well-founded, the good boy may control his spending in the short-term.  He’s not an idiot.  In the short-term, a term defined by the boy, he may refrain from purchasing big, luxurious items as the family budget hovers around ground zero, and he feels bad for any role he may have played in the sacrifices his family is forced to endure … in that short term, so he buys his wife flowers, and he doesn’t just buy his wife flowers.  He buys flowers.  He makes his apologetic statement cinematic.

“You can’t buy me flowers anymore!” his wife shrieks, as she places monetary value on his apology.  ”We’re broke!” 

He means well, and she feels bad for shrieking at him, and she used to love flowers, until she realized how much she was going to have to pay for them.

The question of whether or not the adult baby has fundamental flaws is refuted in the extreme.  In the same manner that a crazy person is not crazy all of the time, the adult baby does have lucid moments.  He has blips on the calendar that he can point to.  He has moments, such as those that occur when the wife instructs him, in an adamant manner, where he reflects on their current situation.  He has moments when he appears to be “all growed up” and responsible, but all parties concerned know that he will revert back to who he is if his mama doesn’t maintain her adamant instruction.  In those moments where she slips, he will recognize how much control has been taken away from him, because he’s never had control, because control has always been dictated to him by women, and a hard-working, rigorous man should never have complete control dictated to him by a woman.  They want to control him, everyone does it seems, until he finds a way to better define his independence: money.  Money is power, money is freedom, and what better way to express one’s individualism is there than through making purchases?  It may cause the wife to grieve over the books, it may cause his family to have to sacrifice a little, but at the end of the day she’ll make it all work out in the end.  “She always does.”

He Used to Have a Mohawk

“Mark is a good man,” the best man said, before raising his glass in a toast.  “But he used to have a Mohawk.”

The best man’s sentiment was echoed by the maid of honor:

“I like Mark.  I found out he used to have a Mohawk, and it used to be blue.  I couldn’t believe it.  He seems so nice.”

The theme of these toasts, and the conversations that followed, was: There may be something wrong with those that have Mohawks, but not Mark, he’s nice. Throughout the course of the day, we learned that Mark’s Mohawk was blue at times, and that it was spiked eight inches high at other times.  No matter what form it took, we were informed, Mark was always nice, and he would always talk to you just like any other feller.  Mark appeared to take this all in stride.  He either agreed with the sentiment of this theme, or he didn’t hear the underlying condescension. Whatever the case, Mark appeared to miss the associations, the looks, and the reactions that occurred in the days when he used to have a Mohawk.

I was at this ceremony, at the behest of my uncle.  My uncle was quite fond of the bride.  He did not know the man that used to have a Mohawk however.  As such, he did not know if it was an identity crisis that led Mark to cut his hair in such a fashion, or what caused him to get the haircut in the first place.  He also did not know the psychology that chased the man after relenting to chop it off and begin mingling with common folk again.

My uncle had only met the man a couple of times, but he assured me that the man that used to have a Mohawk was nice.  Based on the fact that my only conduit into Mark’s mind was as unfamiliar with him as I was, I can only draw on personal experience with like-minded souls, when I write that those that will get an attention-drawing tattoo, or a Mohawk, do so with the intent of drawing some attention to themselves.  Their goal, I can only assume, is to change the perception of being that person that sits in the corner of a party and leaves such a poor impression that no one recalls him even being there.

To distinguish themselves, these types may begin trying to establish some sort of association.  They may start by punching people, or displaying characteristics that lead those around them to believe they have a fiery temper.  “Don’t mess with Jed,” they want said, “He’s insane.”  I’ve even witnessed some go so far as to say such things about themselves with the hope of kick-starting such a reputation.  They don’t conclude this with “Tell your friends,” but it’s obvious to those on the receiving end that this is the end game.  If this doesn’t happen, the plan B of ornaments of self-expression begin to appear, that take the form of physical shouts of “I am here!” from their otherwise anonymous corners.

I’ve heard some with Mohawk haircuts speak of sitting in front of a mirror, for over an hour, to get that hair gelled up just right, to achieve a perception that only an eight-inch Mohawk can offer.  The unspoken goal is to get someone, somewhere to look at them.  Some may consider them strange, but at least they’re looking.  Some will ask questions, but at least they’re asking.  Some may even ostracize, but at least there’s some sort of concerted effort directed towards them when they do so.

“For God’s sakes, Helen, the boy’s got a blue Mohawk!” is something that a senior citizen may say to his wife, unfiltered by social graces.  The rest of us whisper it for fear that a Mohawk may feel further estranged, but in my personal experience, they love it all, as much as I think Mark did, in the days when he used to have a Mohawk.

“It turns out Mark has a great heart, and he would,” the best man would say to complete the circuit of the clichéd best man toast, “Give you the shirt off his back.”  At one point in his toast, the best man said that he “Was attracted to Mark, because Mark used to have a Mohawk.  And it wasn’t one of those flat, more acceptable Mohawks either.  This one was spiky, and eight-inches high.  It was even blue at one point. This was a Mohawk!”  

The best man laid a deft, joke teller’s emphasis on the words ‘was’ and ‘Mohawk’ for the purpose of punctuating the joke.  Laughter did make its way around the room.  Polite laughter.  There was nothing raucous about it, because there was nothing raucous, shocking, or rebellious about Mark anymore, sans Mohawk.

Men with sensible haircuts now felt so comfortable with Mark that they felt free to laugh at his Mohawk days without fear.  They feel like they are laughing with him now.  And he had to sit there and take it, nodding with silent vulnerability in his proverbial corner of the room.  His nod had an unspoken ‘yep!’ to it that suggested Mark either regretted losing the Mohawk, or for trying it out in the first place.  My money was on the former.

In the years that have occurred since this wedding, I’m betting that he still tells those people that ask him how he’s doing, “I’m an old, married man now, but I used to have a Mohawk”.

The ceremony that preceded these toasts was, indeed, unorthodox.  Yet, one look at Mark and his bride, Mary, should’ve informed the observer in attendance that they were, at the very least, in for something unorthodox, but most of the observers were unorthodox too.  The church we were in was unorthodox, and it appeared to have seen its best days thirty years ago, but unorthodox can be quaint, and quaint can be romantic, and colorful, and the best way for two people to express their unique, and unorthodox love for one another in a quaint, and memorable way.

If you were there, and you put forth any effort at all, you found that unorthodox nature, and you gained an appreciation for what it was, and you gained a grasp on the individualistic statement Mark and Mary were making with one another.  There was something unique and beautiful about the ceremony, and something that influenced you to think about the individualistic statements you may want to make in your own ceremony.  If you went through any of that, and I must admit I went through all of it, your appreciation ended when two singers stepped to the mike stands positioned at the side of the altar.

The songs these two teenage girls chose to sing weren’t Gershwin or Schubert.  The songs were as hip and nice as Mark and Mary wanted the congregation to believe they were.  The songs were informal, and the best way Mary had found to express her love for this man that used to have a Mohawk.  The songs were also terrible.

A song in a ceremony should be added to provide your wedding group a brief, abridged interlude to the overall theme that the bride and groom are trying to establish in their ceremony.  The best case scenario, learned by way of the contrast available in Mark and Mary’s ceremony, is to condense those songs to the meaningful lyrics, or the meaningful portion of the music, that you hope to capture.

Most architects of a ceremony would be well-advised to focus on song’s refrain to establish some familiarity with the audience, but these same architects would be well-advised to avoid including the entire song.

I’ve been there.  As an enthusiastic music fan, that regards some songs in the manner some view religion, I have some songs that I regard as staples of who I am.  I’ve fantasized about using them in my ceremonies, so that my friends and family members are provided a window into my soul. Common sense has prevailed upon me the logic that this might not be the time, or the place, to proselytize on the virtues of the undiscovered, aberrant songs I enjoy.

Mark and Mary had no one to offer them such objective perspectives, and we were all forced to listen to songs that these tone deaf, teenage girls sang in kitschy, wonderfully amateurish, and endearing, and embarrassing manner.  It didn’t work for this disinterested third party.  I can’t sing, and I do have some empathy for anyone attempting to do anything artistic in a public forum, but this display made me cringe.

“But, it was sung from the heart,” a sympathetic listener might have said, to give this rendition of whatever song they sang endearing qualities.  ‘Fine,’ I would reply, ‘keep it under two minutes.’

“But this was Mark and Mary’s ceremony,” I can hear others saying, “Even if it was unorthodox, it was unorthodox to your conformist orthodoxy, and who put you in the seat of professional critic.  Get over yourself man!”

The two girls sang their second song, ten minutes in.  It was as painful as the first.  It interrupted the flow of the ceremony.   It was agony for those of us that didn’t know Mark and Mary.  It took the moment Mark and Mary were supposed to cherish for eternity and altered it into an early segment of American Idol for all of us to try and avoid becoming frustrated, mean-spirited Simon Cowells.

Humor with a Haircut

There were risqué moments in the reception too.  The father-in-law turned an old, iron, fold out chair towards himself.  He scooted it across the room, so he would have a scandalous view of the bride when the groom removed the garter from her leg.  “You should be embarrassed,” the groom that used to have a Mohawk said to his father with good humor.  We all laughed in a polite manner.

 “I should be embarrassed?” the father says.  He’s aghast.  He’s winking.  “I thought Mary would have the decency to, at least, wear some under garments.” 

We all laughed in a polite manner.  We were all polite and bored.

During the garter portion of the ceremony, Mark removed the garter and shot-gunned it to the one person in the room that didn’t want it.  Hilarious.  Boring.  We all laughed in a polite manner.  Mark did this after having everyone line up for the flinging of the garter.  He laughed after breaking the tradition of sending it to those lined up for it.  His laugh was a little too obnoxious, to give the moment a sense of obnoxiousness it lacked.

It was one of those jokes that feels great, and obnoxious, in those impulsive moments where we’re dying to do something different, but they don’t often play out that way.  I assume it worked well in the retelling however.  “Remember when I flung the garter to Rick?” Mohawk man would say afterwards to rewrite everyone’s memory of the moment, “I only did it, because I knew he didn’t want it.”  Not even the bride could work up a decent smile at the time, and the contingent of prospective garter recipients went back to their seats without smiles.

While immersed in the crickets chirping response to his joke, I wondered if our reactions to these jokes would’ve been different had Mark still had the Mohawk.  If a man with a Mohawk rebels against pedantic rituals in a pleasing manner, are those with sensible haircuts so grateful that he didn’t go so over-the-top with his rebellion that we find his pedantic displays of rebellion pleasing to the point of laughter?  Whatever the case, this current version of Mark, with a sensible haircut, couldn’t make such a moment funny.  He was a fish flopping out on the dance floor for all to watch in silence, while he yearned for the reactions he used to receive when he used to have a Mohawk.

Bereft of Brevity

The groom cried during the wedding ceremony.  He was so shook up that he couldn’t maintain his composure while reciting his vows.  The evidence that he wanted to cherish this moment was so palpable that all but the cold-hearted were moved by it.  It suggested that Mark may have been digesting the idea that it might be possible to move past all that he had been through, and everything that had led him to getting a Mohawk in the first place, and all that happened as a result, if he did this moment just right.

How many chances in life does one have at such moments, and what do we do when they arrive?  This moment was stolen from Mark, in a symbolic manner, by two four minute songs that the bride selected for this ceremony, to ostensibly make the moment even more seminal than it may have been otherwise.

The bride, the groom, and the priest had been forced to stand up there like jack asses, staring at one another while those two songs dragged out to four minutes each.  Four minutes may not seem long, unless you’re the one stuck up on a stage, trying to make more of this moment than it might otherwise have.  The effort and emotion Mark put into this moment suggested to me that he may even exerted such effort if he still had his Mohawk.

Less is more when you’re looking for a moment, I realized, watching all of the moments fail to accumulate into something seminal.  A seminal moment occurs when you’re engaged in a moment, and no amount of choreographing will move it there.  You can try, and you shouldn’t be so tied to the “less is more” principle that you do nothing, but as you continue to add moments in the hope of achieving the seminal, you begin to encroach upon a tipping point.

That tipping point may never become apparent to you, but if it ever is, it will probably arrive soon after the moment it’s too late to change, and the only people that will learn anything from it will be those that witness the fact that brevity allows all participants to define the beauty for you, and with you, through the contrast of your efforts.

When our moment is taken away from us and defined by others, we try to take it back.  Cheesy, choreographed lyrics about tenderness, togetherness, love, and always being there for your partner, appear beautiful and purposeful on paper.  In reality, they’re show stopping, moment-stealing, and over-wrought ideas that you regret later, even if you refuse to admit it.  You’re left trying to disassemble and reassemble your moment in any way you can, until you’re left with nothing but tears of frustration at your inability to relive those seminal, life-affirming moments when you used to have a Mohawk.

Feedback: The knee-jerk reaction to this article is that I’m making fun of those that used to have a Mohawk, but to those people I suggest that we all used to have a Mohawk.  Whether it be an actual Mohawk, that frayed jean jacket that felt like that perfect projection at the time, or the Ocean Pacific T-shirt that said I belong, or I don’t belong “Look at me!”  Have you had an image that you’ve grown out of, and pined for in those quiet moments when no one is looking at you anymore?  Do you ever think about those days when you were so insecure that you found security in something that led you to feeling included, or excluded from them in a manner you preferred?  What was it, what did it gain you, and do you still have mixed emotions about it?    

Nobody Cares About You

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 to him.

AAAAAAAAWhen we tell people about those crucial, crisis moments of our lives, most listeners will side with us, regardless how they feel about it in private.  Not this old man.  It was annoying.  I reached a point where I wanted him to give me one thing that I was correct about something and that fact was unequivocal.  He did tell me I was correct in certain circumstances, but he added variables to that which I provided him, and most of these variables contained information that I had yet to consider.  I never left his class, or his lunch table, feeling that that I was correct, in an unequivocal sense, about anything.  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 one 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 this space of time until it has convinced that one person that it’s as cute as everybody else thinks it is.

Some people have complimented me for my objectivity, and they’ve said that my powers of observation exceed most of those they encounter, so why do I continue to seek the counsel of the one person who never will acknowledge me in a complimentary manner?  Am I as insecure as the attention craving dog with an identity crisis that needs everyone to agree on its attributes?  Did I need him to tell me, “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 considered living with an optimistic mindset was the best 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 dissuade them from the overriding belief that most people are decent.

“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 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, squishy sandwich.  “Have you ever considered the possibility that most people don’t give a crap about you?”

It has been over twenty years since that professor dropped that line on me, but it’s had such a profound impression on me that I still can’t shake.  It’s as if he said it to me yesterday.

Most of us do 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 good people, well-dressed, well-groomed, well-read, street smart, and conscientious?

Depending on the nature of your interactions, most people don’t care that your optimistic outlook on life offers them a chance.  Most people won’t approach you based on your whether your perspective is positive or negative. Most people don’t give a crap about 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 that doesn’t mean they give a crap about what you think of them when your interaction is complete.

Enter the salesman

Anyone that has worked a stressful, incentive-based sales job knows that a majority of the population is now more 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.

Salesmen are provided a massive training manual that contains a reactions section, given to us by the sales training team.  As with everything in sales, the language in these training manuals is not as overt as the illustration I provide here, but anyone that has been on a sales training team knows that the training, and the manuals, are well represented.

If a salesperson receives a simple “No thank you” from a potential client, 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 thought up 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 calls a sales person 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, if you are not a potential client, and you have no intention of becoming one, 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 also in a majority that thinks you can play this game better than them, even though this is the area that they’ve been trained in.  This is their home turf, and they know how to play this game better than you.  They have trained and rehearsed responses that can all 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 want to find that perfect way to separate yourself from the majority of those that think they’re smarter than a sales person, drop the ego and hang up the phone.

In every sales job I’ve had in telemarketing firms, 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 various quotas that include contacts per hour, 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.  Some companies require a salesperson to have forty contacts per day.  This can amount to about thirty snappy responses a day, five days a week, and about 600 a month.  I have only run across one or two salespeople, in all my years of dealing with people over the phone, that catalog witty responses, and they are often not the ones you would like to impress.  By hanging up the phone, 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 greater world knowledge, and they are 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 salesperson continues to be intimidated by the comprehensive knowledge that you display, they will be replaced by one that isn’t.

For those slime balls that strive to excel in their craft, sales can be like an inescapable penitentiary to a convict.  Inmates don’t give a crap if good men have spent their lives designing and fortifying a fortress to make it impossible to escape.  Most inmates aren’t the type to appreciate craftsmanship, unless they’re searching for weaknesses in the structure.  The very idea that it is considered inescapable 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.

Qualified salespeople approach sales in the same manner, in that they don’t give a crap if you think they’re good or bad people.  They spend their lunch hour, their after work discussions, and their sleepless nights thinking about the perfect way to flip someone like you.

I witnessed one tenured salesman lose it.  “How dare you say that?” he said into the microphone attachment of his headset.  “Sir, that’s uncalled for,” he said at another point in his phone call with an irate customer.  “I understand sir, but I don’t think that your personal insults are necessary.”  In my time in phone sales, I’ve been a witness to people losing it.  I’ve witnessed some throw their headphones and walk out in tears.

I thought this guy was on the verge of tears, at the very least.  I wasn’t sure if he was suited for the job.  I flirted with the idea that he may have just been burned out.  I also wondered if I was suited for the job, if it could cause this guy, this level-headed guy, to fall prey to hysterics.   When his call ended, and I asked about his condition, it was more self-serving than a concern I had for his well-being.

You all right?” I asked. 

“What?” he asked.  “Oh,” and here he made a noise with his mouth, followed by a wave of his hand, to suggest that the phone call hadn’t affected him in any way.  “Just making the sale,” he said filling out a ticket that we all had to complete when we completed a sale. 

“You all right?” became an ongoing joke, any time an agent engaged in theatrics to complete a sale.  “I’m fine,” the responding jokester would say fluttering a completed ticket in the concerned, fellow jokester’s face.  “Just fine.”       

My time as a phone sales agent taught me as much about sales, in general, as it did human psychology.  It taught me that when you enter their lot, as a prospective client, with all of your witty responses and refusals, that if these sales people are any good at what they do, they understand more about your psychology than you do.  Like an inmate in a penitentiary, the sales person dreams of the day when they able spot that one crack in that inescapable fortress you’ve built for them.  To those, more tenured sales people –that exploit a customer’s weaknesses so often, and in such a wide variety of ways– it is no longer an accomplishment for them to turn everything 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 hand 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 be fond of you, and they may give you the obligatory response that you sought, but that’s to feed your ego and try and get another $20.00 out of you on another day.  When they purchase their goods, they won’t smile when they think of your generosity.  They won’t even think of you, because they don’t give a crap about you.

They also won’t give a crap that you’re a good person though that trusts them to do something fruitful 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.

That guy must’ve been feeling real guilty about something,” they may say when they are gathered with peers. 

You don’t care if they say that.  That’s not why you gave them some of your hard-earned money.  You had no agenda.  You did it because you’re a generous person.  Bottom line.  If that’s the case, give them the money.  Do not do it with the belief that the recipient of your largesse will think that you are a better person for doing it.  They won’t.  They will not think you’re a bad person for giving them the money, of course, and they may not even consider you were a chump for doing it, but my guess is that they accept your money with all of the consideration, and emotion, of a courteous ticket taker at a movie theater.

Enter the fashion aficionado

Nobody gives a crap what you wear either.  This part may be the hardest part for some to believe.  They’ve received compliments for the clothes they wear.  They’ve worn clothes based on the fact that they’ve received compliments for them.  What do you mean no one’s paying attention?  Clothes make the man.

Unless you’re the type that reminds people that you will wear nothing but the finest clothes known to man, a greater percentage of the people you run across in a day won’t know anything about your wardrobe choices.  They aren’t paying near the amount of attention that you think they are.

In a psychological study, cited in Douglas McRaney’s book “You are Not so Smart”, subjects were instructed to wear a flamboyant Barry Manilow T-shirt.  Some of the subjects were so embarrassed by the prospect of doing this that they couldn’t bring themselves to do it.  They didn’t think their pride could withstand the hit.  They believed that people would forever remember them as the guy that wore the Manilow T-shirt that one day.  Those subjects that would wear the shirt, were instructed to interrupt a class full of students to ask the professor a question.  The result: 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 that you apologize for your mess up.  As Douglas McRaney suggests, most people don’t pay enough attention to a speech to know that an error was made, until a speaker apologizes for an error.  Most people just want you to get on with it, so they can go home to watch their shows.

Have you ever committed that show stopping error, an error that you assumed everyone in the auditorium noticed?  Have you ever thought that you couldn’t go on, because you just lost all credibility?  Have you ever looked out into the audience?  It’s been my experience that those that are paying attention, are looking at the speaker in a manner that says, “Just get on with it!”  They don’t care that we mispronounced “nuclear”, or “eckspecially”, those faces in the audience say, that you may have mixed up your tenses, or lost your place.  They just want you to get to the point.

The very idea that this speech would be perfect was your dream scenario.  You practiced in front of friends, you rewrote it a number of times to make sure your delivery would be seamless, and you worked your tail off to get it perfect.  You fell a little short, that’s established now, now get on with it.

If your speech was interesting enough to capture the attention of, at least, some of your audience, you’ll find that they’re far more interested in seeing how you wrap all this up than they are in the mistake you made, or how you plan to recover.

If you’re able to get past your self-indulgent desire that this could’ve been the greatest speech given since they laid Winston Churchill to rest, you’ll find that few, if any, remember that faux pas.

Nobody gives a crap 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.”  An even more common, and brutal honest response might 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 workday to end, so they can get on with the lives that you don’t give a crap about.


Fear Bradycardia and the Normalcy Bias

“Didn’t you hear the old, Native American woman say there’s a monster in the lake?!” one of the great looking people on shore screams.  Dougie ignores them, apparently unaware of 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!” the great looking people on shore continue to shriek.  “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 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 that 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 moment 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.

When I later learned that actors have to stay on their mark, 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.

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.  It is called fear bradycardia.  McRaney argues that while fear bradycardia may fall in the “choking” category, choking is a term that should be reserved for routine circumstances in which a person fails to act.  Fear bradycardia is an involuntary, automatic instinct that is likely to occur in moments that contain unprecedented aspects of chaos and horror for the unprepared.

Put succinctly, 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 be forced 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, more 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. These first responders said that the calm exit saved lives.  They suggested that the nature of this exit should be reported on, so future survivors would learn of the example these Trade Center evacuees set.

Other first responders agreed with the general sentiment, but they added that the unspoken sense of order was so calm that it bordered on eerie.  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 took 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, reading that.  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 the central question of McRaney’s thesis is do we really know?

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 ideas of how we will react may be lies we’ve told ourselves so often that we’ll only find the actual truth 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.

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.

One such incident that illustrated this, by contrast, was the “underwear bomber” incident.  The successful thwarting of this planned terrorist attack was due, in part, to luck, but the expedient and resolute manner in which the passengers reacted to the incident could only be said to be an informed reaction.  Thanks to the terrorist incident that occurred on 9/11/01, in other words, they had precedent.  They were informed of what could happen if they did nothing, for they lived, as we all live, in a post-9/11 world where such incidents have been introduced as something that could happen.

Save for those passengers on flight ninety-three, that managed to overtake the pilots piloting the plane to crash 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 were not prepared for the violent worst-case scenario the terrorists’ presence indicated.

The terrorists capitalized on this, whether knowingly or not, by informing the passengers that this was a simple hijacking, and once the terrorists got their money, it would all be over.  Hindsight may lead us to believe that the passengers were naïve to believe this, but why wouldn’t they?  One could also guess that the passengers also believed this, because they wanted to believe this.  The alternative may have been too horrific for them to contemplate.

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.

Most of those on board flight ninety-three weren’t necessarily better equipped to handle a terrorist incident occurring on their plane, they were just better informed.  The terrorists on board that flight made a strategic error of not understanding psychology well enough.  They allowed the passengers to call their loved ones.  Those loved ones redefined the norms of the passengers on ninety-three, by telling them what the loved ones were witnessing on TV.  Those passengers then informed other passengers, until all parties concerned were forced out of their reflexive incredulity, and that prompted them to act in the manner they did.

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, and they used this information to prompt others to act.

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.”  Improperly informing one’s self then leads to speculation and inevitably to the comparing and contrasting it other incidents of which we are more familiar.

Men, in particular, have an almost imbedded desire to rationalize fear away.  Fear, by its very nature is irrational, and most men feel it incumbent upon them to keep fear a rationalization away.  How many times have you heard a man say, “It’s bad, but it’s not as bad as an incident I’ve experienced previously”?

The culprit they assign to unwarranted fear is hype.  The type of hype, they will suggest, that is usually found in the media and promoted by politicians.  The media wants viewers, politicians want voters, so they pound horrific details home to keep you afraid and focused on them and their efforts to investigate and rectify.  All of this is undoubtedly true, but it’s also debatably true that the terrorist incident that occurred on 9/11/01 was the most horrific to happen in our country.

This largely political discussion makes its way into our discussion, because it illustrates a mindset.  Those that rationalize horror in this manner tend to carry it with them in their every day, until they are faced with a horror they’ve rationalized for most of their life.  At that point, they will fall back on what they know to normalize their incident in such a way as to help them deal with it in terms with which they are more familiar, until it becomes apparent that this incident is far worse than anything their rational mind could possibly imagine.

To those that suggest that there is politics at play here, and that we should all start believing the hype of politicians, and media players, is a rationalization in and of itself.  We fully recognize that some media outlets, and politicians, have made their bones on promoting fear, but there are times when a little fear –an emotion that can initiate a need for awareness– could save your life.

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 our lives ever depend on our reactions that we 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.

The Exit Strategy of Sitcoms

Finding the perfect formula for humor can be difficult.  Most of us screw jokes up so often that it can be embarrassing.  Some of us mess the stresses up when it comes to punctuating a punch line in a proper manner.  Some of us have horrible joke-telling rhythm.  Some of us provide our audience the exact same material as the best comic in the world, but for some reason we just don’t hit the mark in the exact same manner they do.  What happens?  Why didn’t they fall over laughing the way they did when that comedian told the joke?

imagesThe first thing we all need to do is relax for just a second and realize that we’re not as funny as Jerry Seinfeld, and we never will be, and no one else is either.  The next thing to focus on is that Jerry Seinfeld is not as funny as Jerry Seinfeld.  We’ve all seen interviews with the man, and we have seen that he is a humorous man, but he’s not as funny in everyday life, as he is on stage, or on TV.  He works his tail off to perfect these routines, and those skits, and he fails more often than he succeeds.  The difference is, you only see the successful portions of his ability to make people laugh.  That standup routine you just witnessed is a result of constant practice, and the honing and refining of his material.  He places emphasis on a punchline, finds out if that works or not, and tries it another way when it doesn’t.  This is what he does for a living, and he has stated that most of his concerts are a testing ground for that pursuit of the perfect tone, emphasis, and rhythm for telling the perfect joke.  Your frustration regarding your inability to execute your joke was based on the idea that you couldn’t execute it in the manner of an expert comedian after spending one impulsive minute (sometimes less) thinking about it.

One of the easiest ways we’ve found to evoke laughter among our friends at the water cooler is to mimic the patterns, and rhythms, of these comedians and their situation comedies (sitcoms).  People already know those patterns, they’re tried and tested, as are the rhythmic structures of their tones, and their exit strategies.  People are more comfortable with these patterns and rhythms, so it’s just easier, and less taxing, to copy them.  We all do it in one form or another.  Some of us wish we didn’t have to resort to that, but we can’t help it.  We want the laugh.

A friend of mine believed the finer points of joke telling came down to his exit.  I don’t know if he sat around and thought about it, or if he picked it up over the years, but he appeared to believe that the perfect exit would cover for any deficiencies he may have otherwise had in joke-telling.  He was a nervous guy.  He doesn’t speak well in public, and he and I never did break down the barrier between acquaintance and friendship to a point where he would’ve been at ease telling me a joke.  Long story short, he was nervous around me.

Through the years we worked together, I had somehow attained some sort of upper-echelon status in his joke telling world.  If he ever came across a fantastic joke, in other words, he felt compelled to bring it to me.  Regardless how nervous I made him, he had to tell me the joke, but he couldn’t look at me when he did it.

Before attempting his exit, the guy would lean down, and put his hands on the desk before him.  This was, I’m guessing, his joke-telling stance.  I can’t remember any of the actual jokes he told me.  Most of them weren’t as great as he thought they were, but they weren’t that bad either.  The actual jokes don’t matter though.  What mattered to me were his exits.  He had this whole routine down.  He would lean down, tell the joke, and deliver the punch line.  In the immediate aftermath of the punch line, he would pull his hands away from the desk in a swift manner and exit in an erratic fashion.  This erratic exit was supposed to punctuate the joke.  It was supposed to add to the comedic rhythm.  “Get in, get out” was his strategy.  Don’t stick around for the laughter.  If you execute the perfect exit, the laughter will follow as a matter of course.  It will arise in appreciation for the exit, as punctuation for the rhythm the audience feels compelled to conclude with you.  “Get in, GET OUT!”

It’s a compulsion that diehard TV watchers have felt compelled to add to the tail end of sitcom jokes for so many decades that it’s almost instinctual at this point.  The one “don’t try this at home” lesson that my friend illustrated, through his attempt to execute the comedic exit was that he had nowhere to go.  There is no “exit stage left” in real life.  In real life, you are required to have a predetermined destination when you exit.  There is no curtain concealing you backstage.  In real life, even trained TV watchers may watch you leave, and some of the times they see you trapped in the reality of having nowhere to go.

There have been times when my friend has attempted an exit stage left, after executing the perfect punchline tone and pitch, and ended up in another row of desks with nothing to do there.  It’s embarrassing.  The sitcoms don’t cover this, for their characters always have a predetermined destination.  My friend, of course, isn’t offered this luxury, and anyone watching him can see that he hasn’t planned his exit well.

The pained question I see on his face, when I ask him to return is, “Why do you need jokes explained to you.  Most jokes don’t survive explanations.”  True, but some do.  Whether it’s the flaw in the manner in which the joke was told, or the inability of the listener to follow it well, some jokes require further explanation.  Call all of those that require explanation stupid if you want, but if you’re going to come to us with a joke, be prepared to stick around for some of the questions.

On those occasions where I was forced to call my friend back, we would both look at each other with pained expressions.  “I’m sorry,” my expression would say, “I just don’t get it.”  Some of the times, he would come back and explain his joke to me, and we would be so uncomfortable that I felt compelled to laugh harder than I otherwise would have as an act of contrition for forcing him to provide follow up.  I had ruined his exit, and we both knew it, so I felt the need to cover for this sense of violation.

On other occasions, he would exit to a location so far away that it would be inconceivable for me to call him back.  I would still call him back, but he often pretends that he can no longer hear me.  We would then share an uncomfortable look when he established the fact that he was not returning.  You’re not ruining what I consider the perfect exit, his gait stated, to explain things to you in the manner I have far too many times before.  You’re just going to have to figure this one out yourself.

Groundhogs, Led Zeppelin, and our Existential Existence

We define ourselves through music.  It’s who we are, and we believe that it provides our audience a concise definition.  Our tastes in all art forms define us, of course, but the appreciation of music could be said to be more universal than all of the other art forms, and thus a common denominator of what we are versus other fans of music.  The question that springs from this is: are we in charge of who we are, if music is such a great barometer?  In high school, our favorite music artists changed by the day, dictated to us by the prevailing winds of “cool”. We may believe that at some point in our lives, we leave that mercurial teenage mindset behind us as our high school years become smaller and smaller in our rear view mirror, but some social scholars have stated that we never leave high school.

groundhog-2What this means, to some, is that it is almost impossible to reach such a level of confidence regarding our identity.  It is possible to “know thyself” to elevated degrees as we age, but we are forever susceptible to getting this definition of slapped around by the prevailing winds of cool and uncool.  This leads us to another question: Do we ever reach a point where this dimension of our identity is absolute and true?  We would all prefer to believe we’ve made individual choices regarding the music will listen to on a regular basis, but are those preferences ours, or have they been shaped by group thought, rebellion to group thought, and/or a rebellion to the rebellious group’s thoughts?

Research scientists often study animals to get to the root cause of why humans do what they do. The modus operandi of doing so is based on their desire to locate the primal nature of actions and reactions.  Humans are often more difficult to test in such groups, because humans tend to project images of who they prefer to be, rather than who they are.  Animals test much better because they remain closer to the primal state, and they may tell us more about our psychological base than a test of hundreds of humans in a test group might.

Animals do not have the mental capacity to sit around and contemplate greater questions about their identity, as most of the concepts involved are too foreign and complex for them, but how simple, and primal are their brains?

There have been occasions, on nature shows, where we’ve witnessed groundhogs watching one of their own being eaten, and we’ve assumed that this desire was born of primal simplicity.  Could their desire to watch be more complex than we’ve ever imagined?  Is this desire to watch similar to our complex desire to rubberneck an accident on the interstate, or is that a primal simplicity on our part?

We’ve all heard groundhogs screech and chatter when one of their brethren are being eaten, and we’ve always assumed that the screeches are a mechanism they use as one last, ditch effort to try and save their brethren.  We’ve also assumed that they are attempting to warn other groundhogs in the vicinity, but could these screeches be similar to those that we engage in during horror flicks when we watch one of our fellow human beings being slaughtered in a slasher flick?  Are they so fascinated by the greatest horror they can imagine that they cannot look away?  Do they speak about the images they saw later, in the manner we do when walking out of a theater, and do they sit around and talk about how they miss their former family members in the aftermath of it all?

When humans die, we attempt to minimize the individual so we can all live better in the aftermath.  “Yeah, but he was old,” is something we might say to minimize the horror of death.  Or, he smoked, or he had been running himself ragged for so long that it was bound to happen sooner rather than later.  One has to wonder if groundhogs have similar comments for their deceased.  We have to wonder if they feel the need to achieve some sort of distance from the deceased to help them deal with it better.   Do they say, “Yeah, well Alfonso was slow!  He didn’t work out enough, and all he ever did was build and rebuild his home. I knew he was going to die, and frankly I say good riddance.”

Do groundhogs like and dislike other groundhogs based on personality traits?  If they do, how far do they take it?  Do they ostracize other groundhogs who have strange growths on their head, or are they more accepting than we are?  Do they castigate another groundhog based on that groundhog’s work ethic, his kids’ obnoxious behavior, and would one groundhog ever exclude another groundhog based on the fact that he gave them a titty twister?

I used to love to give titty twisters to other fellas.  Don’t ask me why.  I thought it was funny.  There were no sexual motivations, and I didn’t consider titty twisters a proclamation of dominance over a titty twistee.  I just thought it would be a funny thing to do that to that guy that was just standing there being far too normal.  I liked to shake people out of having too normal a day.  It’s who I was, and who I will always be.  I don’t force people out of the norm with physical actions in that manner anymore.  I’m more subtle now.  When I did it to this one guy, however, he punched me in the chest for it.  I twisted his titty.  Things were too normal for me. The people around me were too normal, their conversations were too normal, and I thought they all needed someone to shake it up.

I would’ve been doubled over with laughter at such a reaction, on a normal day, for I loved unexpected reactions. This guy’s reaction carried a mean face with it though.  I thought we were friends.  His mean face told me that the punch was meant to reject everything I hold dear, and our friendship never recovered.  I’m sure groundhogs reject other groundhogs’ for over-the-top attempts at humor, but do they hold grudges?  This guy told people he hated me after that.

Does a groundhog ever do anything to shake up the norm, or is his existence so primal that he’s happy to be alive for another day?  Does that attribute say more or less about the human being that we take life for granted to such a degree that we’re no longer happy to just be alive?  Is this desire to shake our lives out of the norm a complex desire, or is it a simplistic, biological need we have to keep our complex brains firing at a rapid pace?

If a groundhog decided to perform a sexual act in a different position, for example, would this decision be documented as simple or complex?  What if test results showed that the groundhog performed his act in a listless manner for a couple days before trying that new position?  What if the groundhog began performing his act on other groundhogs when his selected mate wasn’t around?  Would this be seen as complex or simplistic?  If we could see inside the groundhog’s brain, and we saw him fantasize about being shackled to a wall by an army of alien invaders with the aliens suckling on his reproductive organ for the semen nutrient these aliens needed to survive, would we consider this a complex fantasy for a groundhog or a simplistic, base desire?

This titty twistee, former friend was a heavy metal dude, and I was a heavy metal dude.  I thought this should be enough for some sort of lifelong association.  I was wrong.  Most of the people I grew up around were heavy metal dudes.  We called our kind hessians.  I wanted to be a hessian so bad I was willing to do anything to make that happen, but I had a tough time getting in.  I didn’t like Rush or Iron Maiden, but I did like Kiss.  Kiss wasn’t enough to get into most of the circles of which I sought entry.  Kiss was too popular by the time I became a teen.  They were too mainstream to be cool.  I had to like an outlier group, and if it wasn’t going to be Rush or Iron Maiden, then I was offered Slayer or Megadeth.  Sorry, I said. I wanted to be a hessian, but I couldn’t appreciate any of these groups.  They had cool monsters on their albums and all, but their music was beyond me.  I wore the mandatory jean jacket, and I had the mullet, but for some reason I was on the outside looking in for most of my young life.  It may have had something to do with the fact that I didn’t say the word ‘dude’ often enough, but I didn’t give a durn about nothing, and I thought authority figures were laughable.  I thought that should be enough.

One thing I learned early on, through the public square humiliation process, was that calling my grandma “Nana” would be out if I wanted to be a hessian.  I didn’t have to hate my Nana, that trait was reserved for punkers, but I didn’t have to like her so much either.  A hessian greets their Nana in a nonplussed manner.  He may want to consider shaking her hand, and greeting her with a hello ma’am, but he should then go on about his business as if he’s not so concerned with her existence.  A hessian does not run across a room and hug his Nana.  That’s something for people who listen to Genesis and the B-52’s.

Genesis lovers valued stupidity over analytical pragmatism, so we hated them, and we gained a lot more mileage hating something than we did expressing any kind of love for anything. Hatred gives you character and complexity.  “You don’t like Phil Collins?” No, I think he’s gay.  Loving something gets you scorn.  Loving something gives other hessians something to hate you for, whether it’s loving Kiss, Happy Days, or your Nana.  Loving something gives hessians a weakness to poke and prod, until you’re too embarrassed to love anything, unless it’s Metallica.  You can say you love Metallica and still be a hessian, but that’s it.

If you’re one of those that doesn’t know Metallica, you may want to run out to the store tomorrow and buy Master of PuppetsRide the Lightning, or And Justice for All… If you don’t like these three albums, after repeated listens, you’re a poser.  You may as well take the jean jacket off, cut your hair, and start calling your grandma Nana, because you’ll never gain entrance into this community.

Hessians can smile, and they can laugh, but only at the expense of another.  A hessian can like Kiss and Van Halen, but as I said that’s not enough, and they cannot (I repeat cannot) like Poison, Cinderella, or Faster Pussycat.  Those that love these bands were the source of ridicule, and hessians around the world were given license to smile and laugh at their simplicity.  I can only assume that Facebook has made life for teens in America easier by comparison.  You can block the people that question the constructs you have about your personality on Facebook.

This complex world became a lot easier for me when I became a Zeppelin guy though.  People wanted to befriend Zeppelin guys.  They wanted to talk with us, be us, and accept us into their community.  I could hang out with Zeppelin guys, I could talk with them about the band’s folklore, and I could even create other Zeppelin guys when I wanted another friend.  I could just play Zoso, or II, and create a friend with all of the shared associations and memories that came along with that.  After becoming a Zeppelin guy, and creating other Zeppelin guys, I decided I needed to progress from being a Zoso and Zeppelin II guy to a Physical Graffiti and Zeppelin III guy.  I learned every lyric, and every beat, to those Zeppelin albums, and to some Zeppelin guys I progressed from being a Zeppelin guy to the Zeppelin guy.  I was assigned complicated and mysterious Zeppelin guy characteristics for loving those two albums.

“Yeah, II and Zoso are great,” I would say to beginners, “but wait until you get to the point of loving III and Fizzy Graph.” (Fizzy graph is what the Zeppelin guys called Physical Graffiti.)

It was a glorious world to step into.  It was a world of opportunity, a world where girls existed, and a world where you could taste forbidden fruits, and still be a fella.  It was a world where hessians, punkers, and even some Genesis guys could stand side by side in a mutual admiration society.  It was a world where musicians and music lovers of all stripes could talk and laugh and listen to the greatest music ever produced, for as all Zeppelin guys know, all music stems from Zeppelin.

Zeppelin guys still had to avoid giving a durn about most things, however, it wasn’t a cloak against being ostracized. A Zeppelin guy still had to hate Beverly Hills 90210, Michael Jackson and Tom Cruise movies, and Zeppelin guys were still not able to say Nana in public.

You also had to protect your Zeppelin guy status, then the Zeppelin guy status if you were lucky enough to achieve it. You still had to guard yourself against complacency in the Zep guy world, or you could lose your status.  It was all right to like the album In Through the Out Door, for example, but you could not love it.  There were far too many synthesizers on that album.  John Paul Jones had far too much influence on that album.  It lacked the raw, Page/Plant magic of the first six albums, and if you want to achieve the Zeppelin guy status you had to know that.

We all realize that the brain of a groundhog is less complex than that of the human’s, but we all know that even the most simplistic, primal minds react to music.  If a groundhog listens to the same music, over time, will they develop an affinity for certain kinds of music?  Will certain groups of groundhogs break out of the pack and develop discerning tastes?  Will these groups begin to develop an affinity for Zeppelin over Genesis, and will they begin to ostracize Genesis lovers for the mileage it gains them in their group?  And would they reach a point, in their progression, where it was no longer about the music for them but the iconography and complexities they developed in their particular group in the groundhog community for the music they chose to love?  Would their love for the music strengthen over time, and if it did would it reach a point where it could be characterized as complex?  Or, would it forever be deemed a simple desire to belong to that “cool” group of groundhogs that listened to that form of music, and would the groundhogs ever begin to see the distinction for what it was?

Feedback: How about you?  Do you still listen to the music you loved as a teen?  Are your musical preferences trapped in that era?  Did you choose to be a Led Zeppelin fan, in those initial stages, because it was great music, or was there some sort of identity you hoped to gain from the mystique that cool kid had by preferring them?  If music forms the identity we prefer to project, were we in charge of that identity in the beginning, that we’re still projecting to the point that we have disdain for those that have broken free the shackles, now that we feel free to admit that Genesis wasn’t all that bad?  What about Michael Jackson, or Cindy Lauper?  And if we remain trapped in that era, by way of our musical preferences, are we still in high school?  

Are you Superior?

How do you define your superiority?  Do you?  Some of us define our superiority based on sheer physical strength and athletic ability.  Others believe that their greatest opportunity for superiority lies in their intelligence.  It’s often difficult, and fruitless, to stare into a mirror and gain true, objective definition, so we use comparative analysis –through our daily interactions– to try to gain information about ourselves and our true identity.  If you are one that attempts to define your character through interactions, you know that it it often required that you do so on the backs of others.

Mr. BungleRun into a person on the street, at work, or in any walk of life, and some will begin dressing you down.  Why do they do it?  Most of them don’t know why, and those that do have something of an idea, may not attribute it to a search for superiority, but they do know that they’re searching for something that will give them a lift.  These searches may occur in the first few moments we begin speaking to them, and it often begins with our physical appearance.  Are we well groomed?  Do we brush our teeth?  Are all of our nose and ear hairs trimmed?  Do we have a hairdo that is accepted in the greater society?  Are we wearing clothes that they accept as fashionable, or are we wearing the finest duds known to man?  Have you ever heard the phrase, the suit makes the man?  Some would tell you it’s all about the shoes.  Others would tell you that if you can create a pleasing dimple in your tie, by denting that tie with your thumb in the tying process, you can create a lasting first impression.  Most people won’t speak in terms of superiority or inferiority in polite company, but what is a lasting impression?  What is a first impression?  What are impressions in general, but attempts to, at the very least, define one’s self as an equal with their counterparts?

Is it all about the clothes?  Is it apparent in the way we stand, the way we sit, the manner in which we hold our head when we talk, or whether or not we can look our counterpart in the eye?  Do we have a tongue stud?  Are we a tattooed individual, or a non-tattooed individual, and who is superior in that dynamic?  It’s all relative.

The first impression can be a difficult one to overcome, but some believe that it is often what we say after the first impression that holds more weight, for if we have a fatal flaw –noticeable in the first impression– we’re more apt to garner sympathy or empathy through an underdog status with what we say in the follow up impression we provide them.

To further this theory, some believe that if we notify our counterpart of our weakness –say in the form of a self-deprecating joke– it will redown to the benefit of a stronger follow up impression.  The theory behind that theory is that doing so will end their search for our weakness, and it will allow them to feel superior and thus more comfortable with us, which we hope will result in them liking us.  Comedian Louie Anderson turned this into an art form.  Moments after setting foot on stage, Louie will inform his audience that he’s fat in the form of a well-rehearsed joke.  The first impression we have of Louie is that he’s fat, but when he follows that first impression up with a quality, self-deprecating joke it disarms us –or takes away whatever feelings of superiority we had and gives it back to us with his definition of it– and that re-definition of our superiority allows him to go ahead and dominate us in all the ways a speaker needs to dominate a crowd, because we’re no longer distracted by our physical superiority.

The problem with such a successful, follow up presentation rears its ugly head when we begin to overdo it.  When it works in the second stage of impression, and we attempt to move into the third and fourth stages of impression with our counterpart, our insecurity suggests to us that our counterparts may not be as entertained by us as they were in the second, self-deprecating stage of impression, so we begin to rely on the follow up, second impression as a qualifying crutch … “of course I’m nothing but a fat body, so what do I know” we say when they didn’t laugh at what we said.  When that proves successful, and our counterparts begin laughing again, we begin relying on those qualifiers so often that we begin to become the weakness in their eyes.  They can’t help believing this is who we are, it’s the repetitive impression we’ve given them so often that that’s what they think of us.  One way to find out if you have fallen prey to this progression is to remove that qualifier that you may add to the tail end of your jokes and stories as a habit.  In the space that follows, they may add:

“That’s true, but aren’t you fat?”

Some of the times, these additions are made to complete the rhythm of a joke, or story, but most of the times it’s done to insert some element of superiority or inferiority.  Thanks to certain situation comedies, and the effect they’ve had on the zeitgeist, some jokes, stories, and thoughts feel incomplete without some element of superiority or inferiority attached to it.  I used to be a qualifier, until I realized that too many people were exploiting my qualifiers for their own sense of superiority.  It was so bad, at one point, that I couldn’t say anything halfway intelligent without someone adding the equivalent of “Ross, you’re zipper is down” at the tail end of it.

It’s my contention that most of us are in a constant search of indicators of superiority or inferiority. If our counterpart is religious, we may feel superior to them based on the fact that we’re not.  If we are religious, we may want to know what religion they are, and we may base our feelings of superiority on that.

“They’re all going to hell,” a friend of mine commented when we passed a group of Muslims.  When I asked why she thought this, she said: “They don’t accept the Lord, Jesus Christ as their personal savior.”  I heard that statement many times, but I hadn’t heard anyone use it as a weapon of superiority before.  I realized some time later that this was all this woman had.  She hated her job, her kids hated her, and she was far from attractive, or in good shape.  She needed this nugget of superiority to help her get through the day, and to assist her in believing that she was, at least, superior to someone in some manner.

On the flip side of the coin, a Muslim friend of mine seemed forever curious about my (American) way of life.  She was always asking me questions about the motivations I had for doing what I did.  It was only later that it dawned on me that she was searching for points of superiority.  She saw the Muslim religion as a clean religion from which she gained a feeling of purity.  There is nothing wrong with that, of course, until she used that as a weapon of superiority against me.

Another friend of mine (we’ll call him Steve) informed me that a mutual friend of ours (we’ll call him David) was not intelligent, and because of that the two of them did not have substantial or engaging conversations.  I informed Steve that this may be due to the fact that David was much younger than us.  Steve agreed with that to an extent, but he stated that he thought it had more to do with the fact that David did not have a college degree.  Steve informed me that he considered me intelligent and that I provided well-rounded conversation topics, based on my well-rounded intelligence … even though I didn’t have a college degree.  I smiled.  I don’t know why I smiled, but that delusional blanket he wrapped me in was quite warm and comfortable.  I felt like an absolute fool later, and I thought of confronting him with this, but I’ve always felt guilty about revealing others aloud.  It’s never gained me anything more than the feeling of superiority.  It tends to leave the other person feeling bad about their identity, it has hurt their feelings, and it has cost me friendships.  That guilt thing would not permit me to lift that warm and comfortable blanket from us to reveal us for who we are.  The laughable thing about Steve’s comment was that his greater goal was not to compliment me, or insult David, but to define his feelings of superiority through comparative analysis.

It was only upon reflection that I realized that my college graduate friend, Steve, had been left out of the many discussions that David and I had regarding the politics, pop culture, and the general news of the day.  Steve was also not the type to learn of a story and form an instant opinion on it, and he often found it difficult to enter into our discussions.  He had also been ignoring such issues for so long that he didn’t have a base of knowledge that could extend itself beyond the particular news article he had read.  Steve was also a type to learn of an expert opinion of a subject and go with that.  He didn’t practice the art of dissent from majority opinion as often as David and I had.

As a result, Steve did start reading the news more often, and he did try to start formulating opinions on the news of the day to gain entrance into our discussions.  The opinions he did offer tended to be of a more clichéd variety that sounded as if they came from a Tele-prompter of a late night talk show, or a Saturday Night Live episode.  They were not of an individualistic, provocative variety.  As a result, his opinions were often dismissed on that basis.  Nothing that David and I ever discussed was noteworthy, or over-the-top intellectual, but we formed a mutual appreciation for the other’s knowledge, even though most of our discussions were antagonistic.  It was that appreciation, and I assume, Steve’s inability to find a place in it, that led him to feel the need to remind us that he had an intellectual superiority that we forgot about.

The search for where we stand in this chasm of superiority and inferiority can be a difficult one to traverse, so we often attempt to answer them on the backs of others.  It’s a shortcut to examination and self-reflection.  Some feel superior to another, based on that other’s religion, their politics, their race, or in the case of Steve, their education level.  There may even be some that gain their feelings of superiority based on whether one brushes their teeth top to bottom as opposed to side to side.  There may even be others that base their comparative analyses on the manner in which a person shaves their pubic hair.  If one person leaves a strip and another person shaves Brazilian who is superior, and who is inferior, and where does the person that lets it all grow wild stand in that dynamic?  We all have something, and everything is relative.

As for Steve, I was sure he had a psychological profile built on me.  I was sure he had all of his feelings of superiority stacked in a row, based on the characteristics he had witnessed over the years.  The tenuousness of that profile was made apparent to me through the various reminders he would give me that he was, in many ways, superior to me.

This modern battle for psychological definition often calls for a type of guerilla warfare tactic.  The modern battle calls for subtlety and nuance.  The age of standing toe to toe may have occurred in the days of duels, and The Civil War, but most field generals of the mind would never risk their troops in the type of toe to toe battles that used to be considered the gentleman’s way to fight.  No one, of the modern age, would ever ask their counterpart if they think they’re superior, in other words, for that may involve some sort of equivocation that detailed the strengths and weaknesses of both parties in which no one was a winner and no one a loser.  No, the battle between two modern day, psychological combatants, more often than not, involves a long standing battle of guerilla warfare-style pot shots.

I broke down one day and decided to violate all of these modern rules of psychological warfare with Steve.  “Do you think that you’re superior to me?”  Being a good friend, and a modern psychological warrior well-schooled in the PC/HR tactics of guerilla warfare, he gave me an equivocation steeped in relative constructs.  Being the obnoxious man I was, I asked him to break it down.  “Would your competitive feelings change if you saw me start walking down a hall with more confidence?  Would this shatter your beliefs to such a degree that you asked me what had changed with me?  Would you ask me if I received a promotion, won the lottery, or got laid the night before?  Would you become so obsessed in your search for an answer regarding my new walk that you wouldn’t be able to sleep at night?  What if I decided to start walking down hallways without moving my arms at all?  Would you consider that walk kind of freakish, a little funny, and would I then be considered an inferior or a superior in your eyes?  Or,” I asked, “Would you then consider me an equal?”

The Leans

This is it,” a former co-worker said approaching my desk.  He was too near when he said that, he startled me.  He was a close talker, but he narrowed his customary gap in this particular instance.  “My final farewell to you, my friend,” he added.  “I’m leaving the company.  I’m on my way out the door now.”

“Oh shoot,” I said to the man that was a close associate.  The term friends would a bit extreme to describe our relationship, but we always talked about the stupid stuff that people that like each other, from a distance, talk about.

This “Final Farewell” had been in its gestation period for about two weeks, two weeks prior to this moment.  I went to his going away party, and we had discussions about his future, and we engaged in some final farewells.  I thought that those final farewells, and all the ones prior to it, were the final farewells, but his presence at my desk told me that that was premature.  I told him it wouldn’t be the same here without him, as I had in all of the previous final farewells, but I felt compelled to add original material to this one.  So, I added some sentimental junk that I didn’t mean.  I was being nice, and I was trying to make him feel important in my life.  In truth, I liked the guy, but he sort of bothered me, in insignificant ways, at the same time.

I asked him if he was excited about his future prospects, and I told him that I was jealous that he was doing something so important with his life.  I wasn’t all that jealous, and I didn’t think he was doing anything important, or anything that I would want to do, but it seemed like an original addition to this version of our final farewell.

I told him that I thought he was a swell fella, and a nice guy, and I meant that.

I asked him if he was a little scared about the prospect of leaving the comfy confines our company offered to venture out into the mean, cruel world where the prospect of failure was greater.  He said yes to all of the above.  Then he launched.

He spelled it out for me, in explicit detail, this new venture of his life.  He did so with magnificence and aplomb.  He was also magnanimous.  He spoke about how he thought that I was delightful, and the type that would succeed, and that if I stuck to it, all my dreams would come true.  It was sappy and weird.  I hid my revulsion for his word choices.  He tried to be multisyllabic, and he used as many –ly words as he had in his vocabulary.  He tried to instill a sense of timeless profundity to this version of his “Final Farewell”.  If it were a speech, it would have caused emotion.  The audience would have been applauding at the end, some may have cried, and others may have even stood to applaud.  It was one of those over-the-top farewells that elicits near-compulsory emotion.  He lit up in moments where ‘dreams can come true’ lines poured out of him.  When the line “If it can happen for me, it can happen for anyone” brought him to crescendo, I may have placed two fingers on a handkerchief if I had one within reach.

It was so over-the-top brilliant, coupled with subtle attempts at self-deprecating humor, that I wondered if he hadn’t plagiarized some of his material from the “Going to War” letters that Ken Burns had collected and displayed from soldiers for his The Civil War documentary.  If it wasn’t, I felt safe in my assumption that this had been practiced and rehearsed that day, before a mirror.  Whatever the case was, I felt compelled to inform him that I thought this version of the final farewell was an “Experience for anyone lucky enough to hear it,” and “Your best, final farewell since final farewell number four,” and a “Tour de Force!”

We were fellow office workers, and we were associates, as I said.  We got along on those levels, so receiving the invitation to his going away party wasn’t a great shock to me.  When I arrived at that party, we said our hellos, and he gave me a final farewell, but we didn’t talk much beyond that.  I wasn’t wounded by the lack of attention he offered me.  The guy gave me as much attention, at that party, as I felt our association had warranted.

This Casablanca-style parting was just way beyond protocol as far as I was concerned though.  I wished him well and all that, and he again went into the same speech he have given me at the party, about how he thought I was one of the good ones, and how I was going to make it, and how I needed to keep him updated on my life, and how he had some natural trepidations about stepping into a new frontier, but how he was just as excited by the prospects of it.

By the time he began to step away, he was all but yelling good wishes to me.  My mouth wasn’t open, but I was a little taken aback by the display.  Then it happened …

He entered into a serious case of the leans with my desk neighbor.  He was exiting the aisle my cubicle was in, and my desk neighbor was entering into it.  He dodged left, she dodged left; he dodged right, she dodged right, and they were ensconced in that awkward dodging about to get past the other person that resulted in four separate and distinct leans.

Had my friend been extracting himself from a casual conversation, thus exiting the aisle in a fashion more routine, I do believe much of what followed could have been avoided.  I think my friend may have moved to the left; while my desk neighbor moved to the left; followed by their moves to the right, and then back again, a maximum of two times.  He was a gentleman by all accounts, and my desk neighbor was a female, so his nature suggested that he would’ve stepped aside after two leans, if it had been a more routine departure.  I also think he would’ve done his best to avoid the spectacle that ended up occurring between these two, if he had felt no need to execute a departure to be marked in the annals of time for all of those “that were there” to witness his ride into the sunset.  I’m not sure if his imagined version of “The Final Farewell” included tears, or women waving handkerchiefs, but my best guess is that he wanted someone, somewhere to say:

“You know what, there goes one hell of a good feller,” in the manner that a side character will characterize the attributes of the main character in a movie scene, he deemed equivalent to “The Final Farewell”.  Whatever images this man had in his head, before approaching my desk, I doubt he prepared for any emergency procedures that might come his way.

I don’t keep a ledger on such things, but I do think that the former worker v. desk neighbor case may have been the most intense I’ve ever seen.  I’ve been a witness to a number of severe cases in my day, and I’ve ever been a party to a few, but I do believe that this was the worst case I’ve ever witnessed.

I’ve witnessed two separate leans on so many occasions it’s not worth cataloging, and I’ve witnessed more than my fair share of three.  And the one thing we do know about cases like these is that no one escapes unscathed, for as the cliché illustrates “it takes two to tango.”  The only person I’ve ever witnessed maintain a modicum of self-respect following such an episode involved a nondescript, middle-aged, paunchy restaurant hostess named Susan.

Shall we dance?” is what she said.

She said it in the second of what would be three leans, in the midst of her humiliation, and those paying special attention to her could see a glint in her eye when she delivered the line.  The glint was faint, and a little insecure, but it told me that Susan believed she had found something to shield her from the public scorn and ridicule that is sure to follow such an episode.  It was as if, soon after hearing this line, whenever she heard it, that she almost hoped to encounter a moment wherein she could use it.

If that was the case, all but the most focused observer missed it, for she issued the line with a degree of unassuming humility heretofore unheard of by those in her station of life, and she appeared embarrassed by the effect it received.

The effect wasn’t immediate, as “Shall we dance?” echoed throughout the now silent chamber we stood in.  It wasn’t until the first person laughed polite and soft, that permission to laugh was granted.

Susan would later claim that she knew nothing of the import of her salvo, and the idea that anyone would lay the claim that it had some ingenuity to it, embarrassed her.  Those that were there, that day, would use it as an antidote to this embarrassing situation.  They may not have carried it off as well as Susan, but use it they would.

Had my former co-worker, friend learned of this antidote prior to his own episode, he may have been spared the humiliation his case caused.  I doubted it at the time, and I still do, for I considered Susan’s humorous quip an antidote to two, and in her case three, separate and distinct leans, but I wasn’t sure that it would counter four.

Four separate and distinct leans was so unprecedented, to my mind, that I doubt there is an antidote.  Couple that with the fact that this unprecedented case was preceded by a dramatic, Gone with the Wind-style exit that my friend hoped to execute, and I doubt that any clever quip would’ve allowed him to save face.  His only recourse was to walk away and just hope that any that witnessed it would forget it ever happened.

We all want to be remembered, and perhaps that’s all my former co-worker was doing, delivering final farewells to so many people he may have said goodbye to the same people more than twice.  I don’t know how much preparation my former co-worker put into his final farewells, but I’m sure he did it so that he could let each of us know how important we were to him, and to have the sentiment returned.  This is not to suggest that my former co-worker’s actions were, in the grander sense, self-serving, but everyone wants to be remembered.  And had he escaped unencumbered by my desk neighbor, his final farewell may have had the lasting effect he hoped for, but the lasting memory I now have of him consists of him shucking and jiving with my desk neighbor trying to get past her for a dramatic ride off into the sunset.

The ‘You Don’t Have a Shot in Hell’ Ray

A co-worker of mine shot me a “you don’t have a shot in hell” ray the other day at the gym.  I did not deserve this.  I waved at her.  That’s all.  I pulled my earbuds out as she approached the elliptical machine I was on.  I was prepared to have a polite, engaging conversation with her.  I didn’t expect the “you don’t have a shot in hell” glare I received when she made it half of the way to me.  I was a good friend.

We used to talk to me about the issues that bothered her, and I listened, and I was an active listener.  Some of her conversation topics may have bored me, but I made sure she never knew it.  We used to talk about some of the guys she was hoping to date.  I was jealous.  I wanted her to speak about me in this manner, but I never pushed it.  I was a good friend.  We worked in the same department for three years.  We even sat by each other for about three months.  We talked all the time.  I say hello to her one day at a gym, and boom she shoots me a “you don’t have a shot in hell” ray that crippled me in a psychological manner.   I was a good friend!

beautyShe did return the wave.  She fulfilled her portion of polite protocol, but it was guarded.  It was an annoyed wave, and I’m not being sensitive when I write this.  The most casual observer could have read her body language and determined that she didn’t even want to give me that, but she was polite, and then she followed that up by shooting that ray at me.  Why?  I was such a good friend that it seemed unfair.

I saw her at work the next day, and she gave me an over enthusiastic hello.  She did everything but hug me.  She knew what she did.  She felt guilty.  She knew I was a good friend.

Setting her internal phaser on “you don’t have a shot in hell” may have been reflexive, but I’m me.  I’m the buddy.  I’m the one who listened to her honest confessions without looking at her breasts.  I looked at her breasts. We all did.  They were two, compact missiles set to stun any onlooker, but I wasn’t looking at them when she went into her deep, meaningful moments.  I was a good gawdamned friend!

I’m the one who joked with her, listened to her complaints about the job and our co-workers without an eye to a future dating world, and she treats me like a hungry dawg whimpering for table scraps?  I hate to sound like a seventh grade girl, but I’m done with her.  I won’t go beyond the polite protocol with her from this point forward.  How dare this girl, with incredible breasts, give me anything less than a polite ‘how do you do?’  I was one incredible friend.

The thing is she is a nice girl, and she may have just been having a bad day.  She may have been hit on a couple times before she saw me, but I’ve just reached a point in my life where I’ve decided to make an example of her.  It’s my hope that my decision to defriend her will teach her, and the rest of her fantastic looking girlfriends, with fantastic breasts and apple-shaped bottoms, a little lesson in decorum when she posts this moment on her exclusive “great looking girls” website.  I want her to tell them all that you don’t give good friends the “you don’t have a shot in hell” ray no matter what your circumstances are at that time.

I realize that she may have seen the enthusiasm with which I waved to her, and mistook it for my desire to do unspeakable things to her, and her adjective-defying breasts, her apple-shaped bottom, and curves that would have the Pope giving her second look, but this was not the case with her former friend and confidant.  I’m sure that she’s been hit on so often that her defense mechanisms are honed, but I was such a good friend.  Perhaps, she has had even had good friends hit on her, and she’s had those friendships dissolve as a result, so it’s best to have the “you don’t have a shot in hell” ray set whenever you leave your home.  Well, I don’t play by those rules, and I won’t abide by them in the aftermath.  So, be good anonymous girl and have a good life. You won’t have this friend to kick around anymore.  You just lost one fantastic friend missy!

Rilalities IX

Literature: I’m always surprised when I find a collection of a fictional author’s book of letters essays, memoirs, and other pieces of non-fiction, and I find that so few of them pieces have merit.  The authors I’m speaking of are the titans of the fiction world that have written masterpieces.  I acknowledge that these authors may have saved their best material for their fiction, but my inclination is that their brain droppings (sorry George Carlin) might have some juicy nuggets in it. Brain droppings, as I define it, are those casual asides that the author couldn’t find a place for in their masterpieces, or any of the other works of fiction that I had a voracious appetite for at one point in my life.  I have not purchased any of these collections with the idea that they would be as brilliant, front to back, as the masterpieces, but I’m often surprised at how worthless they turn out to be.

fiction-and-nonfictionPolitics: There is some debate as to whether Hillary Clinton is a socialist.  Those that strain to be objective on the matter, state that she cannot be a socialist: She’s rich. As one that is fond of poignant humor, I thought this was a creative method of declaring that if she is a hypocrite.  It became obvious that this assertion had nothing to do with creativity, when this on-air personality defended his position by stating that she worked the Capitalist system for what it was to her own benefit, and that she had to have some appreciation of it as a result. Whether or not Hillary is a socialist is not important to this discussion, or at least it pales in comparison to the idea that an individual can do everything they can to amass personal wealth while condemning others for doing the same.  If she wins in November, she could also do everything she can to prevent and inhibit wealth production for others while continuing to do whatever she can to amass her own, and if someone asked her if such actions could prove hypocritical, she could say no, and she wouldn’t be lying by her own definition.

Sports: When I hear sport’s analysts breakdown the comments made by an athlete, I often wonder how much of their analysis is an actual breakdown of the athlete’s comments, and how much of it involves the author’s personal interpretation?

Entertainment: If you see a high-profile, entertainment talk show host being interviewed, you can count on a political issue coming up.  When it does, the talk show host says, “I receive audience complaints for what I do, from both conservatives and liberals.”  Some of them add, “Which basically means I’m doing my job.”  The more savvy ones allow the interviewer to add the latter.  The interviewer and talk show host then move on other subjects, and this leaves the impression that the complaints the host receives are around 50/50.  I realize that such interviews are inconsequential in the grand scheme of things, but if I were the interviewer I would consider it my duty to point out that most of these talk show hosts are divisive in some manner.  Or if I was feeling hospitable, I would say that the American public has become so divided that even silly, entertainment talk show hosts can cause an audience to view them in a subjective manner. Regardless how I phrased it, I would force them to admit that an overwhelming majority of the complaints they receive come from one side.  For if you receive 10,000 complaints from one side, regardless what side it is, you shouldn’t be able to make a blanket, and unchallenged, assessment of those complaints, if you only receive 100 from the other.  I’m not saying that the host should be required to report exact figures, but something along the lines of: “Well, obviously, the brunt of complaints is from one side, I mean (laughter) we all know who I am, and what I believe, but I do receive complaints from my side too that suggest that I’m not partisan enough for them.”

Social:  “Just because you’re predisposed, you can’t be objective most of the time.” There’s no way we’re wrong.  The third party players say that we are.  They say that we make the mistake of assigning our motives and attributes to those around us. We’re forced to concede that this is true, but we don’t think it applies to us.  Have you ever considered the possibility that it might?  Of course, we say, we view ourselves as the personification of objectivity.  We rarely make a decision, until we’ve approached it from every possible angle imaginable.  Honest people, offering honest assessments, tell us we’re wrong.  It’s preposterous.  It’s absolutely preposterous, and it’s something that we often fail to  consider completely.  It’s indescribable when it happens to us, and we wonder how often those that know so much more than we do, realize that they have a lot to learn?

Why Adults Hate Their Parents

‘I am so glad I don’t have to go through all that anymore,’ I think when I hear someone say they hate their parents, often their father.  All that insecurity and projection was just so painful at times, in my younger days.  When I hear someone say that their parents are bumbling fools, idiots, or backwater hicks from the 1950’s, I remember thinking and saying such things, and there is a slight twinge of regret.  As many people have said of regrets, however, I wouldn’t change a thing. I am the man I am today based on the struggles, internal and otherwise, I went through in my youth.  The one question I would ask of those adults that cling to this ‘my parents are absolute morons’ life raft is: “Why is it so important to you that they be wrong?”

“I’m smarter than my dad,” writes a twenty-something blogger.  “I really wish I wasn’t.  It’s like finding out Santa isn’t real.” 

This isn’t an exact quote, but it is a summary of her snark.  The blogger goes onto discuss how her intelligence, and cultural sensitivity, are a cross that she must now bear in her discussions with her parents.  She never states that she hates her parents.  She, in fact, states that she loves them a great deal, but her love is characterized by a sense of pity, bordering on condescension, that appears to be endemic in twenty-somethings.

130205_LIFE_Powell_AbusiveParents.jpg.CROP.article568-largeSome people hate their parents in their teens, and well into their twenties.  The teen years involve natural, adolescent rebellion, but as we age this rebellion matures, until it manifests into either full-fledged hatred, or a condescending pity that recognizes their backwater modes of thought for what they are.  This matured rebellion is also based on the fact our parents still have some authority over us, and that reminds us of those days when our parents had total authority over us, and how they “abused it to proselytize their closed-minded beliefs on us.”

When we finally reach that point where they’re no longer helping us pay for tuition, a car, or rent, and we’re able to flex some independent muscles, we spend the next couple of years fortifying this notion that they were wrong, all wrong, all along.

By the time we progress to our thirties, circumstances reveal to us the logic and wisdom our parents attempted to pass down to us, and that it does apply in some circumstances.  (Some will never admit this.  Some get stuck in a peak of rebellion.)  Their advice may not have applied in all circumstances, but it may have applied in enough of them to force us to remove the ‘bumbling fool’ label.  By the time we reach our forties, we begin to think that they’re idiots all over again.

I wrote the last line to complete the joke I heard elsewhere.  It’s a funny line, because there is some truth to it, but in my experience that truth is somewhere in the middle, a hybrid of the forty-something recognition of their failings, their solid points, and the respect we have for them now that we’re so independent of their authority that we now view them as fellow adults that were trying to lead their children down a path they thought was most conducive for success in life.

This specific timeline may not apply to everyone, as we all go through these stages on our own time, and the word ‘hate’ may be too stark a term for the adults still experiencing some animosity towards their parents, but anyone that has been through the roller coaster ride knows that it is one hell of an emotional ride.

The key word in the timeline, for me, is ‘circumstances’.  For a majority of my young, uninformed rebellion was based on theory, and circumstances revealed to me that some of the “archaic and antiquated” advice my dad offered me had some merit.

These circumstances may include having children and protecting the sanctity of their childhood, in the same manner our parents attempted to protect ours.  It may include circumstances we experience in the work place, and all the ways in which we have learned to get along with our co-workers and appease our boss, and it may include more general experiences that our parents warned us about, that we found to be so prescient that the bumbling fools could’ve never known how right they were.

It’s not debatable to me that I was right about some of the things I planted a flag in, but I came to understand that my dad had lived a rich, full life by the time he became my mentor, and some of my impulsive, theoretical thoughts about the world were, in fact, wrong.  (Even after gaining some objectivity on this relationship, it still pains me to write that line.)

Having my own job, my own money, and my own car did a great deal to provide me the independence I desired, but I wanted more.  Having my own home, and friends, and a life completely independent of my dad’s influence gained me even more, but it wasn’t enough.

I wanted to free of those figurative shackles that being my dad’s child suggested.  Every piece of contradictory information I received about history, the culture, and the world was exciting, and new, and mine, because it stood in stark contrast to everything my dad taught.  The information I received, that confirmed my dad’s wisdom, bored me so much I dismissed it.  The new age information I received coincided with everything I wanted to believe about the “new” world my dad knew nothing about, and it confirmed my personal biases.

I didn’t ask myself the question that I posed to the blogger when I was a twenty-something, about why I needed this to be so.  I probably would not have had much of an answer, even if I searched for it.  I probably would have said something along the lines of “Why is it so important to him that he clings to that age-old, traditional mode of thought?”

This redirect would not have been an attempt at deception or evasiveness, I just did not have the self-awareness necessary to answer such a question.  Plus, when you’re a twenty-something, new age thinker, people rarely call upon to establish your bona fides. You are the rebel, and you are deemed to be righteous in your pursuits by both parties involved.  And the old guard is, by ritual, the party that is on trial, and they often feel more compelled to answer questions, and the beautiful thing about this setup is that it allows the rebels to avoid answering questions, even of themselves.

My twenty-something definition of intelligence relied on emotion, theory, and very little in the way of facts.  I thought they were facts, however, and I had the evidence to back them up.  I thought I was intelligent, more intelligent, but what is intelligence?  It depends on who you ask.

In Abraham Lincoln’s day, being intelligent was defined by one’s ability to reference Shakespeare and The Bible in any given situation, to another generation it was the ability to quote Friends and Seinfeld, and knowing the IMBD list of Bruce Willis appearances, and to the next generation it was something about Kim Kardashian and Lady Gaga.  (I concede that the latter may be an epic fail on my part.)

My dad knew nothing of Seinfeld, or Bruce Willis, so he knew nothing as far as I was concerned.  He knew nothing of computers, or devices, and he had just been introduced to gold records (CDs!  LOL!!  Gold records!!!) shortly before his death.  This lack of knowledge about pop culture and innovation transcended all matters, as far as I was concerned.  I believed my dad was a traditionalist trapped in 1950’s traditionalist modes of thought, and that he could’ve never survived in our current, more sensitive culture.  He was backwater, hick, and whatever other names you could develop to describe a man trapped in a time warp of 1960’s, maybe 70’s, but definitely not 90’s and 00’s, much less the twenty teens.

In the Workplace  

Much to my shock, I began quoting my dad when I was fully ensconced in the workplace, in my thirties:

“Everyone has a boss,” and “You can learn everything there is to know about the world from books, but the two words most conducive to success in life are going to be either: ‘Yes sir!’ and ‘No sir’.” 

Although, I loathed these words for much of my young life, as they implied that even after escaping my dad’s management of my life –a level of authority that turned out to be far more macro than I ever considered possible– a portion of my life would always be managed.  I would learn the difference between his level of macro, and my boss’s definition of macro (Hint: micro) when I was out on my own, and out from under his “totalitarian” thumb.  I would also learn that the relative nature of my day would still be dictated by others’ moods, in the same way my life had been by my dad’s, only tenfold.

His advice, however, was based on his experience in the workplace, an era that required reverence of a boss.  Thanks to the new age ideas of boards and panels conducting arbitration cases for those that have been fired, the various wrongful termination lawsuits, and the threat thereof that gave life to the Human Resources department, the reverence requirement was no longer as mandatory in my era.

I would also learn that my new found freedom would contain a whole slew of asterisks that included the fact that no matter how much free time I had, most of my life would be spent in a workplace, under the watchful eye of authority, compromising my definition of freedom every step of the way.

I’ve also, throughout the course of my life, met those that “never went through any of this.”  If you find this as impossible to believe as I did, all I can tell you is I’ve met them. They say rational things like, “I never thought my parents were perfect, but I know that they always tried to steer me into what they believed to be the right course.”

After picking myself off the floor from laughter, believing this was a bit, I realized they were serious. The fact that their upbringing was so much healthier than mine, caused me to envy them in some ways, but after chewing on that for some years I realized that all of the tumult I experienced, self-inflicted and otherwise, defined my character and my current individual definition of independence.

We our our parent’s children, and at times we feel trapped by this. As a result, we focus on the differences.  We may mention the similarities, but we do the latter in a manner that’s understood.  Even when we reach that point in life, somewhere in our thirties and forties, when we begin to embrace some elements of that trap, we cling to the idea that we’re so different.  The answers as to why these dichotomies exist within us, are as confusing to us as the fact that they are a fait accompli.

When immersed in the tumult of the younger brain, trying to make some sense of our world, we may fantasize, at times, about what it would be like to have our friend’s more normal parents.  We may have even fantasize about what it might be like to have been an orphan, and free of patriarchal influence.  We consider how liberating that could be in some ways, until we recognize how confusing it must it would also be.  People without parents don’t have a framework, or a familiar foundation from which to rebel, and when we consider this, we realize that our whole identity is wrapped up in that push and pull of acquiescence and rebellion to our parents.

While there is some acknowledgement of the ‘the more things change, the more they stay the same’ dictum when we receive advice from our parents, our rebellion operates under the “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times” principle when we process that advice.  When we reach an age where it dawns on us that knowledge of innovations and pop culture are as superfluous as they are, a substantial plank of our rebellion is removed, until politics takes it’s place.  We then sit down at their dinner table to resolve the political and geopolitical of the day, for our nation, in a manner we deem substantial.  At that point, we get all fired up and deliver nuke after nuke, until we realize that our parents will not be persuaded, and that the whole effort was steeped in our own juvenile, sometimes snarky need to prove them wrong.  While a more substantial plane than pop culture, political discussions can be just as silly as it was for our parents when they discussed such issues at their parents’ dinner table, and they considered their parents to be bumbling idiots that offered nothing new to the discussion and stubbornly resisted to winds of culture change.  The one import that they may have taken from their discussions with their parents, as we will with ours, over time, is that the more things change, the more they stay the same, and human nature doesn’t change as much as we may believe it does with innovations, cultural advancements, and social awareness.  A kiss is still a kiss, a boss is still a boss, and the fundamental things still apply, as time goes by.

Art is Dog, Dog is Art

Art is a dog.  Dog is art.  

There’s nothing that can make one feel like a stranger in a strange land more than witnessing a fellow human release a rooster in his backyard.  The man spotted me after opening the backdoor to allow the rooster’s exit.  I wanted to hide to prevent this man from being embarrassed.  I didn’t want to feel the need to comment.  I didn’t want to share that uncomfortable smile with him that occurs shortly after one acts in an inexplicable manner.  I had nothing to worry about. The polite smile he offered me, followed by a warm, small town wave, suggested that this was routine for the man.  I waved back and continued walking my dog.  I continued to watch the rooster after the man retreated inside.  The rooster did not relieve itself, but it did rush the fence when it saw how close my dog and I came to its territory.  It eyed my dog.  It felt like an evil eye.  It did not cockle doodle doo us, but its actions suggested that that was the next logical course of action.

For those that love to tell a great story, getting locked up in full story mode can be painful.  It’s the equivalent of driving down the street at eighty miles an hour and slamming on the brakes.  My favorite stories are the “strange but true” stories that don’t require creativity or a storyteller’s inflection. Stories like “the rooster that thought it was a dog” are my favorite, not because they’re hilarious, but because they’re so true that they leave the listener with that “what do you want me to do with this?” reaction.

The moment was odd and uncomfortable for me in real time, and I didn’t think it had much value, until I began telling it so often that it became my story.  I told it again, a year later, when I returned to that locale.

“That’s my brother Harley’s rooster,” a man said.

I had a finger in the air, and a smile on my face, as I prepared to launch into my critically acclaimed punchline.  This man’s intimate familiarity with the rooster’s owner, brought me to a screeching halt.  I froze.  I was so locked up that for the next couple of guilt-ridden moments I wondered if there was an antonym for verbal diarrhea.  I thought of verbal constipation, but I wasn’t sure that that captured it.

“Harley had two dogs,” this man added.  “They died.  The rooster is the only thing he has left.”  

There was compassion in those words, and I assumed that it was directed at the brother’s plight.  The more I thought about, the more I began to believe that his compassion may have been directed at me, and my mean case of constipation.  Or, I considered, he may have noticed how much I enjoyed telling this story before his interruption, and he recognized that he had taken one hell of a good story away from me.

Whatever the case was, the man had provided me one answer.  The rooster grew up around dogs. The rooster thought it was a dog.  I walked away, unable to think of anything else to say.

The Art of the Nod 

sleep-talk2A speaker began speaking about himself.  He began informing us of his talents, what he planned to do with them, and all of his subsequent dreams and expectations.  It started off interesting, but he spoke for too long.  I did manage to maintain a polite intrigue for the speaker, and this caused me to become the center of his attention.  When that happened, maintaining interest became more of a chore.

My friend, a third party in this conversation, was not as successful in her efforts.  She nodded off. I was, presumably, the only one that saw her nod off.  I was also the only one that witnessed her artistic recovery.

When she nodded off, her head went down. The instinctual part of not wanting to appear so bored that she fell asleep took over, and she jerked her head up. The art of this moment occurred soon thereafter when her head jerked up out of sleep, and she nodded it down again.  The second nod down was a voluntary action on her part to suggest that this series of actions was nothing more than a voluntary nod.

“Yep!” she said with conviction to further affect a hearty nod. 

She had no idea what was said.  She had no idea what she was agreeing to, but she got away with it.  I looked out at the faces of the others in the room.  No one else saw it. I was impressed.  I looked back her, and she had not only maintained her agreement, she strengthened it, until she was garnering more attention from the speaker than I was.

In the halls of social protocol, this is considered art.

I all but applauded her for this action when I asked her about it later.  I informed her that art such as that cannot be achieved once.  I told her that I believed such an act required practice.  I wanted to know if she had ever done this to me.  She said she hadn’t.  She said I’d never been that boring.  I was grateful for that comment, but I had to know how often she had done that.  She said as far as she was concerned it was the first time.  She had no other explanation for it, other than the fact that she was trying to avoid appearing rude.  She tired of my questions after a while, and she stated that the moment embarrassed her, and she asked that we move onto other subjects.

Old People

hqdefaultOld people?  Old people??  Let me tell you something about old people.  We set the parameter.  If it weren’t for old people, your nuance would have no contrast.  All that rebellion you cherish, that avant garde comedy, would just be blather.  Old people.  Have you ever seen Caddyshack?  Did you find it humorous?  Uh huh.  Ask anyone that knows anything about comedy, and they’ll tell you that that movie would not have been half as funny as it was, were it not for the old person in that production, Ted Knight, providing contrast. Without contrast in comedy, you’re left with chaos.  You have a bunch of buffoons standing around saying off the wall things to one another. Contrast provides the pivot point for the story, and that old man in Caddyshack, that fuddy duddy as you call him, set the standard for the role that straight men would play in comedy for the next four decades.  The straight men set the parameters for all the other players to bounce off.  And that’s what we old, boring types do.  We set the parameters for the rest of you to be funny, cool, hip and sexy.  Try writing a cool, hip, funny scene without a Dean Wormer, and we’ll see how far you get.

Like Boxing for Writers

maxresdefaultAs for all you writers that write as opposed to tell stories. That hay maker you’re throwing is in your rhythm, and we can see it coming from a mile away.  When you’re laughing harder than us, it’s a flurry of blows intended to impress the judges. There’s no power behind it.  You’re not supposed to be in on the joke.  It’s the equivalent to telling us what punch you’re going to throw next.  We see your effort dangling, and it’s so obvious that you’ve laid out a nice example for all of us regarding what not to do when we’re going for humor. You’re the steak without the sizzle, the butterfly that floats merrily through our head without the fear, and the need to fear, a bee sting.  You’re the Pernell Whitaker, Sugar Ray Leonard, and Floyd Maywhether of the writing world that gets points from the judges but bores those of us that don’t understand the art of boxing. We want something exciting to happen, you can call it blood lust if you want, but if we wanted to witness the majestic art of dance, we would’ve attended the ballet.


Find Your Own Truth

“Find your own truth,” was the advice author Ray Bradbury gave to an aspiring, young writer on a radio call in show.

Most people loathe vague advice.  We want easy answers, but we also know that you get what you pay for in that regard.  When we listen to a radio show guesting a master craftsman, however, we want some nugget that will explain to us how he happened to carve out a niche in the overpopulated world of his craft.  We want tidbits, words of wisdom about design, and/or habits that we can imitate and emulate, until we reach a point where we don’t have to feel so alone in our structure.  Vague advice, and vague platitudes, feel like a waste of our time.  Especially when that advice appears to come so close to a personal core and stops.

Ray-Bradbury-Quotes-2Bradbury went onto define this relative vision of “the truth” as he saw it, but it didn’t step much beyond that precipice.  I had already tuned him out by the time he began speaking of more trivial matters, and I eventually turned the channel.  I may have missed some great advice, but I was frustrated.

If you’re anything like me, you go back to doing what you do after hearing advice, but the quality of deep, profound advice starts popping up in the course of what you do.  It begins to apply so often that, you begin chewing on it, and digesting it.  Others may continue to find this vague advice about a truth to be nothing more than waste matter –to bring this analogy to its biological conclusion– but it begins to infiltrate everything you do.  You begin spotting truths that should’ve been so obvious before, and you begin to see that what you thought was your truth –because it is for everyone else– is not as true for you as you once thought.

Vague advice may have no import to those that don’t bump up against the precipice, and for them a platitude like “Find your own truth” may have an of course suffix attached to it.  “Of course you need to find your own truth when approaching an artistic project,” they may say.  “Isn’t that the very definition of art?”  It is, but go ahead and ask an artist if the project they are currently working on is closer to their truth than all of the past ones they attempted.  Then, once they’ve completed that project, go ahead and ask them if they’re any closer to their truth.  You’re likely to receive a revelation of their frustration in one form or another, as most art involves the pursuit of a truth coupled with an inability to capture it to the artist’s satisfaction.  Yet, it could be said that the pursuit of artistic truth, and the frustration of never achieving it, may provide more fuel to the artist than an actual, final, arrived upon truth ever could.

Finding your truth, as I see it, involves learning the rules of your craft, locating the parameters of your ability, finding your formula within, and whittling.  Any individual that has ever attempted to create art has started with a master’s template in mind.  The aspiring, young artist tries to imitate and emulate that master design, and they wonder what that master of the design might do in moments of artistic turmoil.  Can I do this, should I do that, what would they do, and is my truth nestled somewhere inside awaiting further exploration?  At a furthered point in the process, the artist is hit by other truths, truths that contradict the original master’s design, and this begins to happen so often that everything the artist believed to be a truth, at one point, becomes an absolute falsehood, and this is where the whittling comes in.

In a manner similar to the whittling away at a stick to create form, the storyteller is always whittling.  He’s whittling when he writes.  He’s whittling when he reads.  He’s whittling in a movie theater, spotting subplots, and subtext, no one else sees.  He’s whittling away at the story to what he believes is the core of the story that the author of the piece may not even see.  Is he correct?  It doesn’t matter, because he doesn’t believe that the author’s representation of the truth is a truth.

Once the artist has learned all the rules, defined the parameters, and found his own formula through the study of the master’s template, and all the templates that contradict that master template, it is time for him to branch out and find his own truth.

The Narrative Essay

Even while scouring the RIYL (read if you like) links provided at the bottom of the webpages of books I’ve enjoyed, I knew that the narrative essay existed.  Just like I’ve always known that the strawberry existed, I knew about the form some call memoir, and others call creative non-fiction, but have you ever tasted a strawberry that caused you to flirt with the notion of eating nothing but strawberries for the rest of your life?  If you have, it probably had less to do with the strawberry and more to do with the diet you had prior to eating that strawberry.  You may have carelessly ignored the nutrients that this gorgeous, little heart-shaped berry has in abundance for some time. You may have been depleted in vitamin C, for example, in ways that were not apparent to you, until you took that first bite.

That first bite caused you inexplicable feelings of euphoria that you didn’t understand, until you read about chemicals of the brain, and the manner in which the brain rewards the person for fulfilling a biological need.  The only thing you knew at the time was that that strawberry tasted so glorious that you stood at the strawberry section of the buffet line gorging on strawberries while everyone waited for you to move along.

I am sure, at this point, that the reader would love to learn the title of that one gorgeous, little narrative essay that caused my feelings of creative euphoria, but in the same manner eating one strawberry cannot quench a depletion, one narrative essay did not provide me a eureka-style epiphany that led me to an understanding of all of the creative avenues that could be explored in this format, and that my idea-depleted mind ached for in the traditional parameters, with time-tested formulas, notions I had of the world of storytelling.  I just knew that I needed more, and I read all the narrative essays I could find in the same manner I decided to explore the maximum benefits the strawberry could provide, until a checker proclaimed that she had never witnessed one man purchasing as many strawberries as I had at one time.  She even called a fellow employee over to witness the spectacle I had laid out on her conveyor belt.  The unspoken critique being that no wife would permit a man to purchase this many strawberries at once, so I must be single and self-indulgent.

An unprecedented amount of strawberries didn’t provide me an unprecedented amount of euphoria, of course, as the brain appears to only provide near-euphoric chemical rewards for satisfying a severe depletion, but the chemical rewards my brain has given me for finding my own truth in the narrative essay format have proven almost endless.  As have the rewards I’ve experienced reading others reach their creative peaks.  As I’ve written, I knew narrative essays existed, but I considered most of them to be dry, personal essays that attempted to describe the cute, funny things that happened to them on their way to forty.  I never thought of them as a vehicle for the exploration of unique creativity, until I found those authors that had.

It is difficult to describe an epiphany to a person that’s never had one. Even to those that have had one, I would say that the variables within an epiphany are so unique that they can be difficult to describe to a listener that has an “of course” face on.  You could tell them that, more often than not, an epiphany does not involve the single, most unique thought ever considered, but a common place “of course” thought that the recipient has to arrive at of their own accord.  When that doesn’t make a dent in the “of course” face, you’re left to concede that epiphanies are personal.

For me, the narrative essay was an avenue to the truth that my mind craved, and I may have never have ventured down this path had Ray Bradbury’s vague four words failed to penetrate.  For those that stubbornly maintain their “of course” faces in the shadow of the maxim the late, great Ray Bradbury inscribed in the minds of all those that heard it, I give you yet another vague piece of advice that the late-great Rodney Dangerfield offered to an aspiring, young comedian:

You’ll figure it out.”

If you hear a vague piece of advice that appears to be such an obvious statement that you don’t understand how it can be applied to what it is that you do, no matter how much you do it, or think about it, or add to it, or whittle away at it to find a core worthy of exploration, I add, you’ll either figure it out, or you won’t.


The Other Side of Talent

“He has a talent,” one person said of another.  “I don’t know what it is,” she furthered, “but he has a real knack for taking photos.”  The subject of that compliment beamed in the afterglow.  The compliment was vague, but she used the ‘T’ word, and very few can avoid the gush that follows a ‘T’ word being thrown at them.

It was a nice photo (not the one pictured here), but the ‘T’ word?  The compliment suggested that this photo was but one of a long line of photos that you had to see to believe, but it was still just a photo.

07A355CB-376D-49E9-B923-287E6BF91C11C853959B-E628-475D-8660-C7389026F9A9Most of us reserve our use of the ‘T’ word for athletic and artistic accomplishments, but we know that it can be used in broader terms.  We know, for example, that an engineer can display a wide array of talents for his craft that others may not have, but we often say that that person is good at what he does, a master craftsman, or expertly skilled, but the use of the word talent is not often used in conjunction with most skills.

Some could say that a grown man’s ability to outdo children in the game of hopscotch is a display of talent, but most fellow adults watching this man hop from square to square might think that he should consider finding a more constructive use of his abilities, if he wants to be considered talented.

Merriam-Webster defines talent as “a special ability that allows someone to do something well.”

Philosopher Ayn Rand steadfastly refused to recognize photography as art, but she did concede that it requires a skill, a technical skill, as opposed to a creative one.

We all know that definitions, such as these, can be broad, but most of us have personal definitions that fall on stricter lines. If the definition of talent is as broad as Merriam-Webster described, and photography is a technical skill, then we are forced to concede that taking a quality photograph does require some talent.  One could also say that a talented photographer uses discretion and selectivity when he selects his shot, but could this ability to capture a moment be more of a right place, right time decision making process that this man has than even the broadest definition of talent?

If one takes a thousand photographs, for example, and only one of them is of an exceptional quality, is that a display of the photographer’s skill?  Yes it is, in a broad sense of the term. If that’s the case, it could also be said that if a man takes a thousand free throws, and he makes one, he has a talent for shooting free throws, if that one free throw is so perfect that it barely touches the net.

If a photographer purchases a top of the line camera, and he uses the best photo-enhancing software available to produce evidence of his prowess, and he lays that photo down on a table next to the photo another taken with a disposable Walmart camera, and no enhancements, does his superior photo reveal God-given talents on his part, or does it contribute to the lie that a skilled, talented photographer is artistic in any manner?

The Truly Talented

1741685_origWe’ve all witnessed the effect truly talented people can have on a room, and this effect often makes us a little sick.   “He’s just a human being for God’s sakes!” is one of the snarky, coping mechanisms we’ve developed for dealing with “the gush” to adore the talented.

The adoration of talent varies with the skill required to accomplish the feat, of course, but if you’ve ever met truly gifted people, you know that most of them are not interested in being better today than they were yesterday.  Most of them enjoy the potential they have to be better than they do the work involved in becoming better.  “We’re talking about practice!”

Those that do become obsessed with being better, and enjoy the benefits the rigors of practice can produce, often end up having their names etched into something by the time they’re finished.  For these people, their talent is but a starting point and a gift that they end up honing to perfection, but even for these people talent can become a curse and a burden, and it can lead to them to being accepted, loved, worshiped, scrutinized, ostracized, hated, and ridiculed.  It can also lead them to being haunted by the occasional limits of their talent.

This other side of talent was portrayed in an edition of 30 for 30 called Of Miracles and Men.  It depicted the other side of the Miracle on Ice story that we all know of a ragtag group of American amateurs defeating the most talented Russian hockey team ever assembled.  Some would argue that this Russian team may have been the greatest assemblage of hockey players ever to tie skates on their feet.  This team had already won four Olympic gold medals in hockey by the time they met this American team, and some of them would go onto win a fifth.  To hear this group of talented men speak of their careers, the 1980 loss to a group of American amateurs, in a medal round, sits in their system like a kidney stone that will never pass.  This Russian team beat an assemblage of Canada’s best, they beat a team of America’s best and Canada’s best, and that latter team included probably the greatest hockey player that ever lived Wayne Gretzky.  They also beat the 1980 American team in a match that preceded the 1980 medal round upset, and those matches were not even close.  This team was so dominant that they could not be beat, until they were.

Some would think that such an historic upset might serve to highlight the Russian team’s greatness, if one could say that one defeat in the midst of a record of total annihilation, is a blip in the overall dominance this team displayed over the hockey world for two decades.  Listening to these men speak, however, the listener gets taste for the other side of talent when the only story anyone wants to hear from them involves the one time they didn’t succeed, and how that has haunted their lives since.

The point one could take from this show is that these men spent an excruciating amount of hours of their young lives in cold, dank gyms honing their God-given gifts, trying to improve on the smallest details of the game, only to fall to a bunch of ragtag Americans that may not have spent one-fifths the amount of time honing their gifts.  Even with five gold medals (including the 1984 Olympics), the only thing we want to talk to them about is that one match they failed to win thirty-five years ago.

If you’re acknowledged to be the most talented person anyone you know has ever met, and the only thing anyone wants to discuss is the one time you failed, why would you want to raise their expectations?  Why would you want to endure the marathon practice sessions that focused on the minutiae your coach informed was going to be vital when you encountered the wall of your God-given abilities?  Why would you want to invest more of your life getting better at something other people hate you for being so good at?  We’re talking about desire here.

We’re talking about the desire to be better today, than you were yesterday.  “We’re talking about practice!”  We’re talking about preparing for that day, that every talented person experiences, when they meet their personal wall.

The wall, for those that have never read about it, involves going up against other people that were the most talented people anyone they know had ever met.  It involves seeing what the gifted person is made of when they encounter the other person that is so gifted with talent, that talent is afterthought.

To read the former NFL quarterback Kurt Warner’s examination of the natural talents that fail to succeed on the NFL level, it’s about having a coach, or mentor, early on that recognizes the person’s talent level, and challenges them in a brutal, heartless manner, to reach within themselves to find various other methods of succeeding beyond the talent level they’ve always known.  This heartless mentor also helps the talented person in question determine if they have the desire to succeed on a level they may not have even considered to that point.

The Less Than Talented

“My talent has always been, and will always be, and it should be written with a capital ‘P’!” –Your potential

What if your talent has never taken you the places you thought it would, but you’ve always known you had the potential you had to succeed?  What if your talent lays somewhere between being as talented as anyone that you’ve ever met, and perhaps more, but that untapped potential to be more has always been at a frustrating distance?

We spoke of ‘the wall’ that every recognized talent experiences, but there is another wall that can be more formidable: the wall of self-imposed expectations.  This wall can be encountered in moments considered inconsequential to other participants, and observers, but to the person that has lived with the idea that they’ve always had the potential to succeed, it is but another example of their ineptitude. Most of them do not know that this is the source of the displays of their frustration, or if they do, they won’t acknowledge it.

As the Kurt Warner story informs us, the primary difference between those that will succeed and those that won’t occurs soon after an example of their ineptitude occurs.  Moments of adversity can be large and small, but they all reveal who we are, and who we are going to be.

A young Kurt Warner may have dealt with moments of adversity throughout his largely undocumented young life, but we can guess that none of them would compare to the adversity that the adult Kurt Warner would experience in his adult life.  The most talented person in his area received so few scholarship offers that he ended up playing quarterback for the University of Northern Iowa.  He was not drafted in the NFL draft following that college career, and he was cut from the only NFL team that gave him a try-out before the season started.  He ended up stocking shelves for a supermarket chain.  He then played quarterback in the Arena Football League, and this was followed by a stint in NFL Europe, before an injury to a starter allowed him to lead a NFL team to a Super Bowl victory.  He was MVP of that Super Bowl, and MVP for the season.  He was cut from that team seasons later, and went onto play for another NFL team for a couple of unproductive seasons, and he ended up with another team that he, again, guided to the Super Bowl.  After Kurt Warner’s career was concluded, he was considered to be the best undrafted player to ever play the game.

Kurt Warner’s story of not living up to his self-imposed expectations, and what he did after failing to succeed on many levels, should be held out as an example to talented people, but for most of those that are more talented than anyone they’ve ever met, talent and work have always been a zero-sum game: The more talent one has, the less work they should have to do.

Warner basically states most coaches and mentors coach to the talent, and they let the talent do what they do well in a manner that the coach hopes will reflect the coach’s ability to harness talent.  They coach for the next game.  They coach to keep the talent happy.

If we’re talking about practice, however, one of a coach’s duties should be to put talented people in uncomfortable positions to reveal to them what they must do when talent alone may not be enough get them out of scrapes.

It also allows those talented people –that have always used their talent as a picket sign to avoid the rigors of practice– to learn how to finesse their abilities and hone their desire.

As anyone that has displayed an ability to do anything knows, there is always a ceiling, and when one hits their head on that ceiling it can be quite humiliating.  Some of the times, it’s more rewarding to hide in a cloud of potential.  Those of us that are considered lesser-thans don’t understand what it must feel like to be considered a true talent, and we never will, and that can provide the talented a comfortable space between the reality of their talent and the potential we believe they might have.

If you’ve ever witnessed a display of YouTube-worthy temper tantrum in a bowling alley, on a miniature golf course, or at a softball field, and you’ve wondered why a person would attempt to gouge their own eye out for missing a two-foot putt, I can tell you –as a former wild temper tantrum thrower– that there’s something more to it than the fact that the ball won’t go where we want it to.  We thought we spotted something at a very young age, we thought we were going to be a somebody, a contender, and the obnoxious five-pin that will not fall no matter what we do is not just a configuration of rock maple wood to us, it is the eye of fate staring at us, mocking us for what we’ve become.

These eye-catching temper tantrums are borne of an inability to deal with even the most inconsequential moments of adversity, because we never had a heartless mentor in our lives that cared enough not to care that we were tired, that our feelings were hurt by something they said, or that we wanted to quit the game because “it’s just not fun anymore”.  And one could read this post, and think it’s all about sports, until you witness a guy that has no capacity for dealing with the obnoxious five-pins of life, and in the moment that captures his frustration in life for all to see, he does something to the ball return that parents attempt to shield their children from.  For an overwhelming majority of those that would have their names etched into something by the time their career is over, their mentors would spend countless hours teaching them how to deal with such adversity, how to overcome walls –self-imposed and otherwise– and how to become successful people, and yes, talented photographers, I guess.

Figurers Figuring and Getting Fact

“Figures don’t lie, but liars figure.” —Mark Twain

“The whole American economy is built on a series of lies,” cynical types say when the conversation switches to matters they know nothing about.  They may have heard something from someone they trust, and some of what they heard may have had some half-truths in it and some figures that provided enough anecdotal evidence to make a claim.  More often than not, these claims are made to appeal the confirmation bias of the audience, and they have little basis in fact.

The reason such claims appeal to to the cynics is that they’ve never had skin in the game, and they’ve always been a little bitter about that.  Rather than come right out and tell you that, they suggest that there is a very specific reason why they won’t play the sucker game that you do, and it all boils down to the fact “The fact I tell you!” that the whole game is rigged.

bailoutAs usual with such hysterical rants, there is a grain of truth to what they say, for if they didn’t have some attachment to the truth, they might be too embarrassed to launch in the manner they do.  The truth is that the assessments made about the American economy are built on a series of figures, and those figures are not lies, but nestled within that truth are some partial truths, cloudy figures, and accounting gimmicks that suggest a relative truth to keep measurements, such as the all-important consumer confidence index, high.

Economists, with no skin in the game, will tell you that a true assessment of the economy can no longer be found in some of the official facts and figures that are considered standard measurements of an economy.  Some figures, like the Dow Jones Industrial rate, and the unemployment rate, can be spruced, fluffed, and spanked into a satisfactory report that leads information gatherers to report that all is well.  If that is the case, are the reports on the American economy nothing more than a series of little, white lies from the various sectors of our economy that figurers figure to keep us quiet and happy?

Some apolitical economists that pour through data to make their determinations on the health of the economy, now look to one indicator to determine the state of the economy: the real wage index.

The real wage index, put simply, measures the average consumer’s wage against their purchasing power and the resultant effects of inflation.  The more complicated algorithm used to determine real wages can be found here and here.

Political economists, with skin in the game, will provide a number of indicators that suggest that economy is booming.  They will often do so by keying in on two indicators, the unemployment rate and the Dow Jones Industrial Average.  These indicators have been regarded as standard indicators for so long that those of us that know little-to-nothing about economics have accepted these reports as a time-honored method of revealing the health of the economy.  The dirty little secret is that these figures, and others, are malleable and subject to interpretation.

When political reporters and political economists list the unemployment rate, they provide the American public the U3 rate.  The U3 rate is the rate you know, as it has been declared the official unemployment rate for longer than most of us have been alive.  As the Macrotrends website displays, in charts, actual unemployment figures are a bit more complicated than that, and even though the two other employment rates are not as widely reported, and not considered as official, they are just as illustrative of the state of the economy.  One of the reasons that the other two rates haven’t been widely reported over the years might stem from the fact that they tend to fall in line with one another, and the chasm between the two is often not very wide.  Over the last nine years, however, this gap has widened to a degree that the other two rates should now be reported in conjunction with the U3 rate.  One of the other rates is the U5 rate that includes “discouraged workers and all other marginally attached workers” in its calculation.  The U6 rate “adds on those workers who are part-time purely for economic reasons.” The Illinois Policy website also states that the U6 rate includes “unemployed people who haven’t looked for work in the past four months but have sought employment in the past year.” The current U3 rate for the nation is listed at 5.1%, the U5 rate is 6.2%, and the U6 rate is currently listed as 9.8% for the month of October 2015, according to Macrotrends.

In a similar manner, the scaled average of the Dow Jones Index can provide a sense of false security that keeps the consumer confidence index high and leads to greater consumer spending, more investing, and it can also lead to consumers voting for the party in power, a party that the consumer believes created the climate for the booming economy.

As of this date, November 19, 2015, the Dow Jones is currently listed at around 17,500.  It’s been as high as 18,200, and it’s been as low as 6,600 in the last fifteen years.  It’s not recession proof, in other words, and it can still be used as an indicator of an overall economy.  There are, however, so many legal accounting gimmicks, reporting practices, and maneuvers that individual companies can use to inflate their numbers, to attract future investors, that many apolitical macro-economists avoid using the Dow Jones as a benchmark in their final determinations on the state of the economy.

The Dow Jones is nothing more than a stock market index of thirty large stocks over varying industries that those in charge of the Dow Jones index declare to be representative of market conditions.  As such, the Dow Jones is simply a scaled average of investor activity.  Or, as Investopedia defines an index “an assessment of those people that invest and their general attitude toward companies of all different sizes and from varying industries.”

The quintessential method some learned investors, and some novices, use to purchase shares from a company is to study the profit figures that a company is required to report on a quarterly basis, otherwise known as the quarterly earnings report.  Even most learned investors don’t have the knowledge, or the time, to examine the fine print of a quarterly report, so they look for the headline, the Earnings Per Share (EPS) figure, and they compare it to where the various stock analysts assumed (guessed!) those figures should be.

A company’s EPS number is derived from taking a company’s profits, or earnings, or operating cash flow, and dividing it by the number of shares available to the public.

buybacks_diagramSome would say that although EPS is listed as the standard form of measurement by the investment community, it has been manipulated so often that Investopedia states that the practice of manipulating the EPS number might be the world’s second oldest profession.  As a result of this, they suggest focusing on the company’s operating cash flow portion of the EPS equation.  One of the reasons for this is that some companies have manipulated the other side of the EPS equation by “buying back” a number of available shares on the open market to lessen the total number of shares available in the EPS equation, thus driving the EPS number up.

The reason that this is important, even to those that have no plans to invest in the market, and care little about it, except what it may detail for the American economy, is that as more investors clamor for a stock on the false premise of a high EPS number, the higher the Dow Jones goes, and the better the world thinks the U.S. economy is.  One could say that it is the equivalent of a completely legal, accounting shell game.

If a company has the profit necessary to purchase more shares in their company, shouldn’t that be a statement of confidence that they have in their company?  Yes, but the counter-point from a novice investor might be why doesn’t the company put more of that profit into their research and development, better employees, etc.?  Such an investment in the company, it would seem to the average investor, would be a more long-term investment in the company, and a buyback would satisfy investor concerns for one quarter.  The answer is that both investments are a statement of confidence, but there is a specific reason why a company would opt to buyback more shares rather than invest in other ways.

The difference, according to a Wall Street Journal quote from a managing director at investment firm Mellon Capital Management Corp., named Warren Chiang, is that:

“Executives are compensated [based] on EPS.  EPS growth is the primary reason they do buybacks.”

Gregory Milano, chief executive of business consulting firm Fortuna Advisors LLC, said that companies that avoid buybacks usually outperform those that embrace them over the long term.

“It’s kind of like a kid in school. A lot of kids are motivated by getting the best grades they can; other kids are focused on learning as much as they can,” he said. “While the child with better marks might have a leg up entering the workforce, the kid who understands (the subject matter) better has a better career.”

A buyback may be a useful tool for a company experiencing a temporary bad quarter to pursue, as it creates the illusion that the profit (or earnings) for that quarter is higher versus the number of shares available in the EPS formula, but the question those of us that are just now learning the specifics of this tool are wondering is how much of this type of stock price manipulation is already baked into the current price per share, can this practice continue ad infinitum, as long as there are some shares available, and some profit available with which to purchase it?  How much of the price per share currently listed is based on artificial manipulations, and how will this practice affect the price going forward, if at all?

“A segment of investors, both retail and institutional, believe that buybacks are financial engineering, where the purpose is largely to create wealth in the form of stock-based compensation for management,” says a Ben Silverman, vice president of research at InsiderScore, an institutional research firm that tracks buybacks and legal insider trading.

Ben Silverman is also quoted in the Wall Street Journal article as saying:

“We think in some cases that buybacks are a tool used by managers and boards that don’t know what else to do with the cash.  They’re either not creative or not growth-oriented. There’s always something to invest in, no matter what kind of company you are.”

As more and more large companies begin to pursue such smoke and mirror practices –some articles have it that one in four companies are now engaging in buybacks as a regular practice at this point– it increases the overall profit of a sector, and the market, until consumer confidence begins to increase, and the illusion that an economy is vibrant becomes such an agreed upon assessment that board members, CEOs, and state and federal politicians get re-elected, but the question that some of us now wonder is, is it possible that our cynical friends, and their trusted sources, are closer to the truth than they even know, and will all this legal deception one day lead to a sort of buyback crash?

It’s possible that this may never occur, as these companies are using profits in these buyback purchases, just not as much profit as those that look at EPS numbers for their answers are led to believe.  It’s also possible that some of the highest flyers in the market have, as Ben Silverman suggests, managers and boards that don’t know what to do with all their profit.

My cynical friends may have fallen backwards into a truth, but that doesn’t suggest that the whole American economy is built on a lie.  The American economy is built on facts, and facts don’t lie, but as a prominent statistician, named Carroll D. Wright, once said of the figures that form those facts:

“The old saying is that “figures will not lie,” but a new saying is “liars will figure.” It is our duty, as practical statisticians, to prevent the liar from figuring; in other words, to prevent him from perverting the truth, in the interest of some theory he wishes to establish.”

The current consumer confident index would inform Mr. Wright, and mr. cynical with his trusted sources, that their fears have proven unfounded.  The figuring figurers have found a way to have their cake and eat it too.  Had Mr. Wright heard the line from Seinfeld “A lie in not a lie, as long as you believe it” he may have re-figured his thoughts to suggest that record growth in the stock market and low unemployment rates are possible under any theory, as long as the perversions of truth are collective. And even if the particulars of the economic theory “He” wishes to establish results in some perversions of truth that prevent cynical types from ever getting ahead, we can put economic mechanisms in place, such as prolonged low interest rates, Quantitative Easing measures, corporate buybacks, and something called Dodd-Frank to foster a sense of confidence that economic collapse is no longer possible in the world today.

Hey You, Get Off My Microbial Cloud!

Have you ever wondered how exciting it might be just to try to murder someone?  Have you ever flirted with the idea of testing your skills, and your attention to detail, against the most brilliant minds in criminal justice by taking another life?  Just to see if you could get away with it.  Just to say you did it?  If scientists at the University of Oregon, and microbiologists at Argonne National Laboratory, are to be believed, you may want to stop procrastinating already, and just do it, because getting away with murder could become a lot more complex in the next five-to-ten years.

Humans-Possess-Unique-Microbia“He got away with murder!” we now say when someone walks away from a transgression unscathed. Getting away with murder is a phrase Americans use to illustrate a point, and this practice becomes all the more apparent when foreigners –those with a desire to understand American culture anyway– hear us use this phrase in a cavalier manner.  They don’t understand how anyone could equate getting away with using a TPC form to complete a CPT request, could be equated to getting away with killing another person.  They know that you’re not supposed to use this form, and they know the dire consequences that await those that do, and they understand “he” didn’t experience those consequences after doing it, but equating it to murder?  They don’t understand.

The cavalier use of such phrases may speak to the inability of most to express themselves, or the need to exaggerate everything for the purpose of illustrating how strong we feel about a matter.  Whatever the case is, we use the phrase getting away with murder, because it has long been deemed one of the most difficult things to do.  Even in the days of Sherlock Holmes, when law enforcement officials had little more than their wit, elevated observation skills, the ability to read people, and all of the experience and training that honed those natural attributes, getting away with murder was deemed so difficult that few, if any, could escape a thorough investigation unscathed.

With the first conviction in 1987, by way of DNA evidence, the degree to which science was used in crime scene investigation grew by leaps and bounds.  Some have said that jump was a generation-defining leap.  Since that point the FBI has compiled DNA records on more than five million convicted offenders, and some 240 convictions have been overturned as a result of DNA evidence.  In most cases, law enforcement officials are now able to use science to narrow the field of suspects of an investigation with the assistance of DNA evidence, they are able to use it to apprehend suspects, and to build a strong enough case for conviction, as DNA evidence is now recognized by courts and juries alike as a form of tangible evidence.  If Christopher Cobble’s article for Findlaw Blotter is to be believed, we’re about to take another huge leap forward with something called a microbial cloud.

Research scientists, and microbiologists, state that they have found that a cloud of bacteria surrounds every living being.  This cloud is something they call a “microbial miasma”.  It is similar, in nature, to the cloud of filth that surrounds the character Pig-Pen of the Peanuts comic strip.  The cloud that surrounds us every minute of every day is a sort of haze of our microbiome that we emit, comprised of viruses, fungi, yeast, cells, cell parts filth, every piece of bacteria that lives on or around the skin, every piece of skin you shed, and every little, otherwise discreet fart that happened to come from you.

Have you ever encountered a person that had a body odor so strong that you swore you could taste it?  Have you ever said something along the lines of, “I know this sounds foolish, but I swear his smell is still crawling on me!”  The findings of these microbiologists, and research scientists, suggest that this thought may not have been as foolish as once thought.

The BBC summarizes these findings by writing, “When you approach another person’s microbial cloud, their bacteria “rains” down on your skin and is breathed into your lungs.”

Those of us that have a lifelong aversion to close talkers have found it difficult to express our discomfort, for it’s not considered rude to break that two-step invisible bubble we all have.  It’s a custom of Americans, and some may even call it a social protocol, but most that refuse to abide by it are not considered rude.  As a result of this confusion, it’s always been difficult for some of us to ask for more space in this regard.  This idea of a microbial cloud might be our saving grace.

“Could you back up a step?” we can now say.  “You’re getting your microbial cloud all up in me.”

Reading the various studies of this new information on the net, leads this reader to believe that such hip jargon may not be too far off the mark, for even the customary distance of two-steps may involve the speaker’s microbial miasma going up your nose, in your ears and mouth, and through your immune system, and those that have an aversion to close talkers can now state with confidence that a close talker might exacerbate normal bacterial intrusion levels.

This research also gives credence, unfortunately, to the idea germophobes have feared for a generation that they will contract airborne diseases through the simple act of talking to people.

These researchers suggest that the bacteria located in a microbial clouds are not just indigenous to every living thing, they’re also individualistic in their own right.  They have their own DNA.

“Researchers ran two trials with participants sitting in sterilized rooms and working on computers while air filters and trays on the ground detected and collected bacterial particles. According to Wired, “[T]he two trials showed that, at least in these 11 people, microbial clouds varied significantly from person to person.  They also found that different people shed microbes at different rates.” This means we all have our own, personalized bio-dome following us around, and science can now ID it.”

“We expected that we would be able to detect the human microbiome in the air around a person,” a James Meadow of the University of Oregon, said in a news release from the journal PeerJ,  “but we were surprised to find that we could identify most of the occupants just by sampling their microbial cloud.”

Those of us that adored the brilliant 70’s television show Columbo, now watch it with a slight cringe and a quaint smile, as we watch the trench coat investigator solve “perfect crimes” by paying an inordinate amount of attention to the details that the average person would’ve missed.  “Getting away with murder” back then involved a perpetrator wearing a pair of gloves, paying careful attention to their footprints, and wiping down door handles, lamp switches and telephones to cover any trace of evidence they may have left behind.  We also watch the show’s perpetrators attend to the various circumstantial details that might account for the murderer’s whereabouts at the time of the murder, and the warmth of the body that might confuse the coroner’s time of death, and all of the other details that were difficult, but not impossible, to cover up.  Those of us in the age of DNA, now watch Columbo with that quaint smile, knowing that if the trench coach investigator had access to the modern technology we have today, most of the “perfect crimes” it appeared that Columbo was the one man to solve, could now be solved by a forensics intern.

The generational differences may not be that stark, and some law enforcement officials will argue that science will never replace the basic work the time honored traditions of knocking on doors, interviewing witnesses, and all of the tactics that a Columbo used to solve crimes.  The science, as I am sure every law enforcement official would admit, is a nice supplement to help close a case and gain a conviction.  I am sure they would also admit that the advent of DNA into criminal investigations, and the depiction of it on shows like C.S.I., might discourage some from indulging in their sick and twisted fantasies with the belief that it’s harder to get away with than ever.

Getting away with murder has never been easy, but with the advent of DNA, and the understanding of it on a level that it could assist law enforcement, as depicted in numerous shows, such as C.S.I., leads those with a lust for blood to dress themselves, and the location of their crime in plastic, in the manner the Dexter would in that Showtime series.  How will future assailants account for their microbial cloud?  Will Dexter and C.S.I. be viewed, one day, with the same cringes and quaint smiles we now view Columbo?

Jack Gilbert, a microbiologist at Argonne National Laboratory, has been working with crime scene investigators on how to use microbial residue to track down criminals.  Mr. Gilbert believes that microbial clouds, like DNA, may be used to assist law enforcement officials in the future.

“Mr. Gilbert notes that our microbial clouds are not only particular to us, they are particular to where we’ve been, as we add microbes from the surrounding air, soil, and water to our personal Petri dishes. Therefore, an individual’s unique microbial signature could either confirm their alibi or place them at the scene of a crime.

“Solving crime with bacterial vapors remains in its infancy,” writes Christopher Coble.  “As with DNA evidence, collection is one thing, but having a large enough database to compare results to it is quite another. But as the technology evolves, it’s yet another reminder to be careful about what you store in the cloud.”

If this research evolves to the point that Mr. Gilbert believes it may, criminal investigations may go beyond the as of yet simple study of skin, and the complex collection of DNA, to the study of the DNA of the bacteria that lives on and around the skin.  Bacteria, after all, are living organisms with their own DNA signatures.

What will happen in investigations of the future, according to Cosmos Magazine, is that the forensic scientists will get a hold of the bacteria in question and study it using high resolution DNA.  In the course of their study of this organism, they will seek out the bacteria’s 16S gene that they say provides their reading a DNA signature equivalent to a grocery store barcode.  All bacteria have this gene, but it varies by slight differences between species.

Dexter’s plastic wrap outfit, in essence, would not prevent future forensic specialists from narrowing the field down to him, if they were able to get a hold of the germane bacteria involved, scan it, perform a census on it against the different bacteria communities available, compare it to the 16S genes in their database, and compare it to victim’s bacteria on the alleged assailant or vice versa.  If that failed, the forensic team could take soil samples from the area and compare the bacteria in that soil with the bacteria at the bottom of Dexter’s shoes, for example, to build a case against him.

As Mr. Gilbert says of light switches and door handles, Dexter could be meticulous in his effort to wipe down every inch of the sole of his shoes, so that no milligram of dirt existed on that shoe, but the microbial signature, contained in the 16S genes of bacteria of that sole would be “virtually impossible” to wipe away.  Mr. Gilbert even contends that anti-bacterial sanitizers would not be wipe this away entirely.

But Dexter put plastic around his shoes, you say.  Did he put it on before he left the car?  When he opened the car door, did any of the microbial dust, indigenous to the area, make its way into his car?  If he didn’t put them on in the car, did he wait until moments before entering the abandoned rail car?  Did he step on any incriminating microbial dust en route to the abandoned railcar?  If you watch an episode of Dexter, you’ll notice that his eyes are not covered, and that leaves him susceptible to getting some of the victim’s microbial miasma is his eyes.  If investigators are able to get to him quick enough and put him into a sealed chamber, to test his air samples, they might be able to find some 16S genes from the victim.

The point is that if you remained calm in the face of the intense interrogations of the Porfiry Petrovichs, the Father Browns, the Sherlock Holmes, and the Columbos of their day, and you were able to weather their psychological games of misdirection and distraction, your ability to get away with murder increased.  It was still so difficult that it became a euphemism for getting away with the impossible, but it was still possible.

The day may never come where the idea of getting away with murder is so impossible that it’s not even worth trying, but there may come a day when a forensic specialist locates some Propionibacterium and Corynebacterium on a clover leaf, in the soil, and around a duck pond where it was alleged that you got your thrill on by killing your neighbor that had belly fat hanging so low below his shirt that you couldn’t stand looking at it anymore.  There may come a day when a forensic team is able to determine that that bacteria had a 16S gene, bar code that is specific to you, and there may come a day when they are able to convince a jury of your peers that this alone is enough to have you executed for your crime.

That day is not here yet, however, so it’s not too late for you to use all the knowledge you’ve gained from binge watching C.S.I., in the plastic wrapped basement you’ve told everyone is for your daughter’s third birthday.  If these reports are to be believed, however, and the science achieves all that these microbiologists, and research scientists, are projecting, you may want to stop procrastinating, because the forensic science involved in criminal investigations may get so intense that it may become almost impossible for even the most brilliant and meticulous to get away with murder, and the phrase getting away with murder could take on a whole new meaning in five-to-ten years.