As a lifelong fan, and student of comedy, my definition of humor was forever changed by the unfunny idiocy of the late, great Andy Kaufman.  Those “in the know” have now certified Kaufman a comedic genius, but back before Andy Kaufman was Andy Kaufman –indulging in his unfunny, subversive, and game-changing comedy— “those in know” had no idea.  Those in the know surely told Kaufman, “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.”

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

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

Being funny-weird usually involved going so far over-the-top with your weirdness that people felt comfortable with the notion that you were being weird.  It involved making some culturally accepted weird facial expressions that cued the “less sophisticated audiences in Omaha” into the idea 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” probably warned him of the potholes that lay ahead of him if he didn’t find some way to let the audience in on the joke.  Kaufman obviously didn’t listen.  For whatever reason, call it confidence, perseverance, or the lack of talent required to be funny in a conventional sense, but Kaufman maintained his unconventional, unfunny, and idiotic characters and bits, until he was eventually declared by those “in the know” to be one of the funniest men that ever lived.

Most people didn’t get it at the time.  I didn’t get it, but my excuse is I was young, and I needed the assistance of repetition to understand the genius of being idiotic, until I was trying to find my way, on my own path, to true idiocy.

Andy Kaufman may not have been the first idiot on the map, but for those of us that witnessed his idiotic displays, they opened up a whole new world.  We didn’t know that we could be so idiotic, until someone came along and broke that door down and showed us all his 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 that he created.  These 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 moves where a bunch of idiotic stuff happened, but what even most “in the know” did not know was that everything he did was carefully, and meticulously, 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 them –like the knuckleballer— you’re going to have to devote yourself wholly to the pitch.  People will hit the occasional home run off you, and you may occasionally knock a mascot out 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 purposely 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 for those of us that want to achieve a point of idiocy that leads others to believe we are idiotic, we know that our audience has to believe that we believe.

If you’re less confident with your modus operandi, and you’re still searching for answers, you may come up with some high-minded responses, or you may find that you enjoy it through its superiority-through-inferiority psychological base, but the only thing you know for sure is that you like it.  And you will know this no matter how many poison-tipped arrows come your way.

I had an acquaintance that learned of my devotion to this lifestyle firsthand, when she overheard me inadvertently contrast it in a conversation with a third-party.  What she heard in that conversation was a brief display of intellect prowess that apparently crushed whatever 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, 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.”

The point is that if you devote yourself to this lifestyle, 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 idiotic.

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 logically follow from the previous argument or statement.  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, is now becoming 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 live 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 immediately dismiss you as a person that “Says weird things”.  If you are able to maintain your façade through all of the ways that people will dismiss you –and they will vary, and some of them may hurt a little— you may reach a point where some of the people you know will deem you to be a total idiot.

“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, over time, that may be better than those other two if you strategically place it in your conversations often enough.  All non sequiturs should be delivered in a carefully, measured tone that leads the listener to believe that you believe in what you’re saying, and that you’re perhaps a little damaged, but none of them require the practice and diligence that “What did he say?” requires.

This response is not a joke to you.  You genuinely believe that when someone introduces a story that involves a decidedly female name –like Martha, Barbara, or Beatrice— that they are speaking of a male.  “What did he say about that?” you ask in the manner the situation dictates.

If your audience has reason to believe that you’re a total idiot, they will attempt to determine if you are genuinely confused at this point.  If you successfully complete this portion of the conversation, they will say, “I said it was a 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, or let them in on the joke in anyway, at this crucial point in your situational humor.  This is the punchline for you, and you are required to keep a straight face and deliver the next line in the most convincing manner possible:

I heard you,” you will respond.  “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 them in on the joke, and while they may call you an idiot for playing such a game on them it’s not the incarnation that you’re looking for, and you’ll find this characterization premature, and far less rewarding.  Emphasizing ‘he’, to go back to our analogy, will reveal the stitch in your knuckleball, and it will likely result in an eye roll, or some other form of dismissal that allows them to avoid stepping further into the trap you’ve laid out for them.

It’s a girl,” they’ll say, if you emphasize your response correct.  “Martha is a girl.”

To lay the depth charge of this joke, you will then want that particular conversation to conclude naturally.  A deadpan “Oh, ok!” should accomplish this.  You may even want to add a subtle amount of confusion in your reaction, or a subtle dash of embarrassment.

This line of responses will not bear fruit immediately, and you may want to skip the next story involving a decidedly female name, like Barbara, to avoid them seeing the stitches of your situational humor, but when they eventually tell you a third story about a person name Beatrice, you will say, “What’s he doing now?”  The payoff will arrive almost immediately after that, and it will occur on their face, as they begin realize that your response to the Martha story was not a one off, and that you’re not as dumb as they thought.  You’re just an idiot.

“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 totally 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.

Issue a Seemingly Inappropriate Song Lyric in an Appropriate Moment

It’s a cultural trope we’ve probably picked up from the movies, that when situations dictate, the perfect 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 somewhat significant and poignant song lyrics to match a number of different situations.

This 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,” to capture his feelings of utter hopelessness and despair in one particular episode of his life.

In every person’s life they reach a point of despair, or hopelessness, that they share with another.  In every shared moment of despair, the two parties will inevitably reach a lull in that moment that is calling for some sort of analysis to perfectly capture the moment.  In previous generations, people sought Shakespeare and The Bible.  Modern consumers seek song lyrics and chunks of TV dialogue.  My personal favorites are the song lyrics of an 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 Motorhead’s lyrics “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 know the cultural trope of using song lyrics to capture a moment— they may initially believe that you have a firmer grasp on the situation than they do, until they hear you use them again in a similar 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 eventually begin to believe you are an idiot.  The point, in evidence with the APP lyrics in particular, is that those lyrics are so serious, so over-the-top, self-indulgent serious, that they are ripe for ridicule.  The point is that this ridicule is so poignant that it not only mocks the hopelessly dire situation you in, but the general practice of using serious lyrics to capture a moment.

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

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 ingenious moments in life.

If we simply wanted to be funny, we would’ve looked to the trail Bill Cosby laid, if we wanted to be weird-funny, we would’ve adopted the weird-funny voice that Steve Martin used in the movie The Jerk.  We knew we weren’t as funny as those two, and it didn’t really 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 didn’t want to be our friends, or have anything to do with us, until they confronted, once again, with the question of why we would want to do it.  And we may not have been able to answer that question, but we knew we liked it.

The Disclaimer: This particular line of responses should not be used by anyone that wants others to consider them funny.  If this is your goal, you will want to learn how to incorporate your responses into conversations by paying close attention to the beats and rhythms you use when delivering.  Good humor, like good music, should have pleasing beats and rhythms that people can identify with, and if you do it right, you’ll be rewarded with laughter.

If, however, your goal is to be an unfunny idiot that gets no laughter for your efforts, you will want to know the rules regarding the beats and rhythms of humor even better than the funny person.  As any truly gifted idiot will tell, it is far more difficult to effectively distort and destroy people’s perception of what is generally considered humorous than it is to abide by them.  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 generally believed to be the beats and rhythms of humor, you may have a sympathetic soul attempt to consult you about the beats and rhythm of your deliver.  For the most part, the only rewards you will ever receive are the damage to your reputation as a funny person, others dismissing you as a strange and weird person, and the fact that most women won’t date you, because most women like a nice guy that’s funny.

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

A Case of Mistaken Identity

The office party

The office party

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Reaction

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“He’s having a seizure.”

The Mess

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Obnoxious Emailer

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Identifiable Characteristics inherent in the Penis

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

Putting Down the Dog

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

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

The next time I’m in an office elevator with some nosy, busybody that has to know my date of birth, I’m just going to lie.  Scorpio men have simply grown tired of the non-verbal shrieks we receive, the attempts you people make to hide your children, and purses, and the not-so-subtle attempts you make to get away from us after learning where the Sun was positioned at our time of birth. 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 care about us too, but those of you in the twelve other sectors of the ecliptic have created a climate where the only way we 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 honestly don’t want to hurt you,” I do say, at times, when I see how badly they 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 get to 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 preferable.  Is that really what you all want?  I’ve thought about fighting it, and telling you about all the peace-loving Scorpio men that litter history, but it’s an unwinnable war.

Some of you, and you know who you are, have decided that it’s perfectly acceptable, in this age of supposed enlightenment and acceptance, to call me 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, that does not mean that you should be able to throw the whole basket 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, and you suggest that we “Can be total trips sometimes.”  Then to have that air of superiority about them 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 those moments immediately following the revelation of our birth date, on that particular elevator.  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.

You obviously don’t care about any of that.  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 simply 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 simply reached a point where it’s just easier for us to conceal that aspect of our identity that was, at one time, so sacred to us. 

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

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

"Lars and The Real Girl"

“Lars and The Real Girl”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"We'll always have Paris."

“We’ll always have Paris.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

That Sunday newspaper also quoted psychologist Herve Benhamou saying:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

“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.

“You have to create some dung to fertilize the flower,” Martin Sheen said when he was asked how he could only be proud of three movies in a career that listed 69 titles.

The fact that this was my favorite quote, for years, should’ve told me something about the dreams I had of becoming a writer.  I believed that I had a capital ‘P’ emblazoned on my chest, until I realized that everyone else did too, and I hadn’t done enough to separate myself from the pack.  The thing with the ‘P’ word that those in the card carrying ‘P’ world don’t know is that there is another ‘p’ word in the vocabulary of those that watch you.  This is an evil ‘p’ word to those in the card carrying ‘P’ world.  That ‘p’ word is performance.

HaloSome may have their ‘P’ word swinging before their face, in the manner a farmer puts a carrot on a stick before their horse.  They also may wear it in every smile they give you, and those smiles tell you they are meant for something more, but they just don’t know what yet.  When you run across a true ‘P’ word, you know it when you see it, and it diminishes your capital ‘P’ a little by comparison.  You are not usually the jealous type, you’re a happy person with a great life, but if you’ve talked with a true ‘P’ that carries it on all of their smiles, you realize that you would do anything to have just one of them.

When they speak of events that have occurred in their life, and they speak about them in a casual manner, you know that this career that you currently share with them is just a way station for them, and you are genuinely jealous for a moment.

Others wear this letter ‘P’ as a costume, in conversations, to cover for the fact that they haven’t achieved as much as they once thought possible.  You know them when you see them too. All of these people teach you that the various definitions of the ‘P’ word.  You see the beautiful, and limitless definitions, but you also see the evil ones.  You see that these definitions are defined by how the user uses it, and if they use it.

I thought I had a capital ‘P’ branded into my chest at one point.  I didn’t.  I thought I did though, and that thought prompted me to work my tail off to convince myself, and others, that it was truer than true.  The idea that I pursued something, for which I had so little talent, amazes me now in retrospect, when I look back on the actual performances that convinced me that there was, at least, a lower case ‘P’ somewhere in my head.

If you manage the ‘P’ word correctly, you should never say it.  You should never have to say it.  It should be the conclusion that your audience reaches after getting to know you.  Those that wear the letter ‘P’ on their chest, as a costume, know this also.  They know that most in their audience are so loaded with insecurities that those insecurities can be translated into a variety of ‘P’ words, and ‘P’ word synonyms, if you do it right.  In order to do it right, however, you have to avoid performing in front of them.  Give them silence, and let them fill in the rest.

“I can’t hang out with those two anymore,” a friend of mine told me one day after an outing with co-workers.  I initially thought he was being a cool guy.  A cool guy tells you that a fun and exciting night was boring; a cool guy tells you that a great movie, or album, sucked; and a cool guy stops all the plastic people, with all of their plastic proceedings, and drops a quick quip like: “The world sucks!”  Cool guys can also reveal you by saying that those two people that you had such a great time with were nerds.  I attempted to dispel what I thought were my friend’s cool guy condemnations by saying that those two were fun and entertaining, and that fun and entertaining people don’t usually hang out with two drips like us.  He said that wasn’t it.  He said his concern was work-related.

I attempted to dispel this notion by saying that our company didn’t discourage senior agents hanging out with employees, only managers.  My friend believed he was born with a capital ‘P’ on his chest, and I thought this was another moment where his delusions of grandeur had gotten away from him.  “It’s not that,” he concluded.  “It’s that, they know what I think now.” Here I thought that all the symptoms I was witnessing added up to the fact that my friend had come down with a simple case of delusions, but as it turned out he was suffering from a complex case of grand delusion.

What his last sentence told me was that he knew his thoughts were never as complex, or as complicated as he wanted them to be, but those two didn’t have to know that.  He was despondent.  They knew.  He told them what he thought.  All those weeks and months he spent quietly sitting in the background cultivating, harvesting, and weaving the idea of his brilliance into gold by allowing these people to fill in the blanks for him were gone, shattered, in one night.

He feared that the grand delusions he had perpetrated in their world, had just been popped, and he feared that when Monday rolled around, they would know that he was just one of them, in the present, with a future that probably wouldn’t be that much different than theirs.  On Monday, they would see him quietly typing away at his keyboard, in an office, and that visual would take on an entirely different meaning than it had on the Friday before the weekend outing.  

The other employees around him took their jobs less seriously. They always got their work done, but they played, and talked, and joked.  He didn’t.  He even went so far as to shush employees when management walked by.  He had always been a quiet guy with few friends, and in the real world this defined him as an awkward person that had a difficult time mixing with other people.  In the office world, these characteristics can lead to an employee gaining a mystique of being a model employee with a serious future.  That night, spent with our two co-workers, revealed him as more of a quiet, socially awkward guy that feared authority.  It made everything he had done to procure those grand delusions in their head feel pointless.

He feared that they would now believe he was what they saw, nothing more.  The idea that he didn’t mix well with others, was once a silence thing, but silence begets the ‘P’ word if you do it often enough and allow others to fill that silence in with their own exciting and intoxicating ideas.  Why does he behave so well?  Why doesn’t he mix well with others?  I’ll tell you why, that boy’s got the ‘P’ word in spades.  They fill that silence with words that you wouldn’t believe, until you accidentally fill it in for them one night, while drinking, and there’s no turning back after that, or so he feared.

There were times when he spoke his mind during that night, and our two co-workers realized he didn’t know everything.  He wasn’t as wise as they feared in their silent, insecure comparisons.  There were other issues he wouldn’t discuss with them that he found too revealing, because he said he couldn’t discuss it with them.  In the latter, he attempted to convey the notion that he had proprietary information that he could not divulge, due to his position in the company.  When we reminded him that he was not management, and he could reveal whatever he thought on the matter without fear of recrimination, he went silent.  It was revealed that he simply didn’t know what we were talking about.  We accidentally took away his shield of silence.  He thought these co-workers had given him a capital ‘P’ followed by an exclamation point, and he feared that that ‘P’ had replaced by an ‘R’ word, reality, that would shatter all the myths he had worked so hard to create.

My friend wanted to be like a politician that stood for nothing, but allowed his constituency to fill in the blanks that he left for them, until they characterized him not just with all sorts of ‘P’ words dancing in their head, but ‘P’ words that had all sorts of punctuation marks following them.

The thing with the ‘P’ word is that it can be beautiful.  It can drive you to become better tomorrow than you are today, if you’re willing to engage in the naughty ‘p’ word of the ‘P’ world vocabulary, performance.  The reason that most card carrying ‘P’ words regard performance as a naughty word is that performing can lead to another ‘R’ word, revelation.  It can tell you, and others, if you truly have the ‘P’ word or not.  It can tell you, and others, if you’re truly special, gifted, and meant for more, or if you’re just a regular guy, collecting a regular paycheck, with as many limits on your ‘P’ word as everyone else.

I identified with my friend.  I thought I had a capital ‘P’ behind my name that was followed by a big, old gleaming exclamation point.  I thought God whispered things in my ear, and I wrote down everything I heard.  I wrote short stories.  I wrote novels.  I wrote anything and everything I could fit in one mind.  I thought it was my job in life to see this calling to its end.   I thought I was a few steps below Stephen King and Dean R. Koontz, and Robert McCammon.  I thought I just had to perform my way through that hole.

I’ve read through all those whispers recently, and I realize that if they happened today, I would turn to my wife and say, “I just had a thought.”  I would then say those two sentences, and be done with it.  Back then, a part of me thought that the whispers were telling me to be a writer, and I listened to these whispers, until I had enough material that it should’ve come true, and then I wrote some more, until I reached a point where I may have fertilized that ground so well that all the cultivating, harvesting and turning of those lies may have accidentally produced a truth.

“What’s your favorite color baby?  Living Colour” –Living Colour

Do we choose what our favorite color is going to be, or does it choose us?  Is every person color conscious on some level—some more than others—or is the effect of color in one’s life overanalyzed by those that think too much?  How much does color affect our shopping habits on those most important purchases we make in life?  If color is important to some of us, why do we choose one color over another, even in the most trivial moments of life?  Does it say something about our personality, where we’re from, or what we do for a living?  Or, could it be that on some existential level, our favorite color has chosen us?

eyeIf we find that perfect house, and it’s gray, and we’re not a gray guy, how likely are we to say, “It’s great, but it’s just not me.” If we’re not what one would consider a color conscious person, we may not be able to put your finger on it, but we know it doesn’t seem right to us.  We may then go through a litany of excuses as to why that house wasn’t for us, but the question is if that house were the perfect color, would we have felt the need to search for those excuses in the first place?  If we’re extremely color conscious, and we’ve braved this world before, we may tell our wife that it’s the color that bothers us most. To this, they’ll likely say, “We can always paint it, or re-panel it.”  We knew that was coming, and we probably already sorted through that, but some part of us knows that we wouldn’t be able to get passed the fact that it is a gray house.

“If you think every person is color conscious on some level,” a person that swears that they’re not color conscious at all will say, “then consider me an anomaly.  Color just isn’t that important to me.”  Everyone considers themselves anomalies to general rules of psychology, and some are, but some of them have probably never considered the role that color has played in their life on an unconscious level.

Do you love lilacs?  Is there some subconscious memory you have of lilacs that causes you to favor that flower, or do you just like the way they smell?  Is your favorite color purple?  How many purple cars are there on the motorways?  If we search through the websites of the major auto manufacturers, we find that purple is not an immediate option, yet if we travel to northern Kansas—home of the Kansas State Wildcats—we’ll find an inordinate amount of people that drive purple cars.  If we travel to Green Bay, Wisconsin, or Eugene, Oregon, we’ll probably find more green and yellow cars there than in any other part of the nation, and we’ll find roughly the same amount of people that will tell us that they did not choose the color of their car based on the local sports team’s colors.  The color of these vital products are just too important to some people to suggest that they made such important choices based on the color of their local, or favorite, team.

Yellow and purple may be exaggerations to prove the point, as most people would not purchase yellow and purple cars without some acknowledgement of team affiliation, but the general point remains that most people have deep seeded affiliations with colors.

Many of us have team affiliations for a variety of reasons.  Some of us have an appreciation of local college football teams, and subsequently their colors, that date back generations.  We cheered on the Nebraska Cornhuskers with our family, and friends, for so long that it’s ingrained, and the colors red, white, and black have an appeal to us that is so undefined, so subconscious, that when someone informs us that we selected a red car based on the fact that it touched this inner core, we get defensive.  “I just liked the color red for that particular model of car.  I thought it looked slick… or pretty… or shiny.  I’m a Cornhusker fan, but I’m not so fanatical that I would select a red car for that reason.  I don’t do fanatical things like that.  I just like the color red.”  The central question is not specific to that particular purchase of that particular automobile, but all the subconscious, and conscious, decisions that we made along the way that led us to believe that the color red was slicker, prettier, or shinier in general?  Was there something about the color red that reminded us of lazy Saturday afternoons cheering on the Huskers with friends and family, on some subconscious level, or did we just think it’s prettier?

When we purchase a shirt from a store shelf, we’re looking to make a statement.  We all know that a shirt will say a lot about us, before we’ve even said a word.  We know that that perfect shirt will send a message out to our world that we are a person to be taken seriously, at least for one day.  Some shirts may say too much, and some may not say enough, but is this message all about color, does it involve a brand name, or does our decision making revolve more around design?  If it’s color, why does grey appeal to us, but brown does not?  Is that decision based on our skin tone, and hair color, or do some colors have greater appeal to us based on aspects of your life that we’re not even aware of?

We do know that after looking at our face, our hair, and our teeth—to see if we’re well-groomed—most people will look at our shirt, and then our shoes, to find out what we’re all about.  A shirt, in this sense, frames everything we did that morning to prepare our presentation for the world on that day.  What if we don’t want to prepare yourself fully every single morning?  What if the process simply exhausts us on some level, on some days, that we rarely think about?  What if you’re one that’s been so disappointed in life, that you feel that completely grooming yourself only leads to greater disappointment?  What color would make that statement, or that anti-statement, for you, on that day, in that perfect way?  That perfect shirt, that frames the color of your hair and face perfectly, can lead someone to believe that some of your limited grooming was intentional.

When we sit before a mirror, with that perfect colored shirt on, have we ever gone back and thought that we needed more grooming based on that shirt of the day?  Has a shirt ever caused you to think that you over groomed?  Is there a perfect confluence of grooming, and color, and shirt, or is this too much concentration on the minutiae?  We may have a general feel for our congruence, but what are the particulars?  Is this conscious thinking, subconscious thinking, or an unrealized convergence of the two, and are the people that think this way aberrations, that should be subjected to ridicule for rectification, or are they on a level of color consciousness that most of us only consider subconsciously?

Some may call it a Forer Effect*{1}, to define a person by color, but the Healthy Living website gives detailed descriptions regarding why you select favorite colors, and what those decisions say about you.  If you’re a red, according to this site, you’re an impulsive person.  A darker shade of red, a maroon for example, suggests a more disciplined red person, and pink suggests a gentler red person.  Turquoise is fastidious, and grays may be attempting to suppress their personalities.  They also say that oranges and yellows can’t help but feel happier, and blues can’t help but feel more relaxed. If you believe in what some call the Forer Effect, but the book The Healing Power of Color by Betty Wood, as synopsized in this Healthy Living article,{2} says about color, then you believe that color says it all about a person.

If it’s true that our selection of a favorite color says a lot about who we are, and if color affects how people think of us, what does it say about those numerous homeowners that choose to buy, or later decorate their homes in beige, or some offshoot of beige?  Various interior design sites list beige, and the various offshoots of beige, as one of the most popular colors used in the interior of homes.  The most obvious, and conscious, reason to select beige is that it’s a neutral color, or as Feng Shui decorators would call it a Yang color, that can offset surrounding Yin accoutrements in “earthy colors that suggests neatness, and conceals emotion”.  Others have suggested that beige appeals to women on a subconscious level, because a beige discharge can be an early sign of pregnancy, and that decorating their home in that color is a constant reminder of the intensely exciting moment in their life when they first learned they would be a mother.  Some others have suggested that the decision to paint our homes beige may be a subconscious decision we made to put us in spiritual convergence with the 20,000 surrounding galaxies, casting their light on us, until we appear beige to them, or as scientists at John Hopkins University call this our “cosmic latte” coloring.  Most of us will state that we didn’t know that fact, and that beige just appealed to us for all of the superficial reasons listed above.  The central question to ask those that deny conscious and unconscious color selections is when we make these vital decisions, on the vital products we own, is are these decisions made flippantly, or impulsively, or are we inadvertently searching much deeper for the answer that no other color will do?

Cosmic latteDoes color selection have something to do with our personality, or does it have more to do with our aesthetic sense, and what does our aesthetic sense say about our personality?  Is it a superficial question to which the answer is: “I just thought it looked nice?”  When we select the color of our home, or the car we drive, or the shirt we wear for the day, do we select the color beige based on the fact that we simply don’t want to stand out?  Are we making an anti-statement against all of the colorful statements being made in our neighborhood, with the hope that our anti-statement will allow us to stand out against our otherwise colorful neighborhood?  Or is our selection of this cosmic latte coloring an unconscious attempt to protect ourselves against those surrounding galaxies, in the same manner the Jews of Moses’s day put lamb’s blood over their door posts to protect their firstborn against the angel of death?  Some of our decisions are conscious, some are unconscious.

*Forer Effect–An effect that leads some individuals to give high accuracy ratings to descriptions of their personality that supposedly are tailored specifically for them, but are in fact vague and general enough to apply to a wide range of people.



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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






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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I remember how it started.  I can’t remember yesterday.  I only remember what they told me.  I remember when they told me that Ernie and Bert were gay.  I remember how shocking that was, how insurgent, and how funny.  I don’t remember the first person to do it, but I remember knowing that we were all on the cusp of something new, something deliciously insidious, something transcendent.  I remember believing that we were establishing an insurgent generation that revolted against civil authority, through pop culture, in a manner that was not belligerent.  I remember thinking that I wanted to be at the forefront of that generation, among my peers, that didn’t just break down societal barriers, but left a wasteland in its wake.  I remember being unconcerned with collateral damage.  Children be damned, I thought.  I wanted to be one of those that shook this whole two-liter bottle up, and that Ernie and Bert would be a good place to start.  I remember wanting to convince the world, through repetition, that Mr. Snuffleupagus was stoned on the set of Sesame Street.  I remember wanting to inform anyone that would listen that the Bradys were all stoned and committing incest, and anything else we could think up to poke holes in that wholesomeness that we miserable kids from broken homes found so deplorable.  We were suffering on the other side of the tube in our reality, and we found it absolutely disgusting that 60’s and 70’s TV should portray an idyllic image of a family that we couldn’t possibly compete with.  I remember wanting to join these fights, until Hollywood vindicated all of us with a pot smoking, lesbian enriched Brady Bunch movie that dealt with the realities we were all supposedly dealing with.

Bukow“I’m serious.  I can’t stand Big Bird.  He’s an (expletive)!”  I couldn’t tell if the person saying this was being serious or not, but that’s what made it deliciously insidious to me.  If it wasn’t serious, it was funny in a serious, seditious manner.  If it was serious, it was funny in an unserious manner. Whatever the case was, this artful joke teller left it as a standalone.  They did not offer any of the qualifiers that most insurgents offered when they characterized a child’s beloved creature with an adult expletive, in the gestation period of this movement, to make it more acceptable.  Refraining from qualifiers, signaled to the rest of us that the age of qualifiers was over, and the full insurgent movement was under way.

I know that Charles Bukowski wasn’t the first to speak out against authority figures.  I know that this mindset probably dated back to the Greeks, and the Romans, and beyond, but to my knowledge no one had ever attacked the soft underbelly of authority, through pop culture staples of children’s entertainment before Bukowski.  If Bukowski didn’t start this insurgent movement against pop culture, on a nation-wide scale, he did among my insurgent brethren.  They raised their fist high with a scream, when we learned that the writer had the temerity to come out against the cultural icon that many believe started cutesy America: Mickey Mouse.

“Mickey Mouse is a three-fingered son of a bitch with no soul.”   

“For us to get back to real America,” a friend of mine said, presumably paraphrasing Bukowski, “We have to destroy Mickey Mouse.  Mickey Mouse destroyed the soul of America.”  This statement was so deliciously provocative.  It was insurgent.  It was a plane of thought crashing into what I considered the foundation of America.  By saying what he said, those that I socialized with said my friend gained panache, and chicks dug panache.  Someone else said that he was an angry young man, and chicks dug angry.  We dug angry.  It was so Rage Against the Machine what he said.  Knowing nothing of Bukowski or any other insurgent thoughts, at the time, we thought this guy had anger without causation, and we thought that was the essence of cool.

“What are rebelling against?” a female actor asked Marlon Brando in the movie The Wild Ones

“Whaddya got?” Brando replied.  Yeah, that’s the stuff!  Suck it Mickey! 

If you have read Charles Bukowski, you already know that this horrible thing called Cute America started with an institution called Disney, which started with the institution created by a cartoon character called Mickey Mouse.  “It all started with institutions for those that need to be institutionalized,” was the refrain of retro-hip haters.  “Those that seek Mickey Mouse, as their form of entertainment, are all in their own soulless and philosophy free form of hell,” they said.  A life of Mickey will lead to an uncomplicated life of laughter, frivolity, and fun, and soullessness.  It will lead to a generation of Mickey fans, children and otherwise, to live without knowledge of the stark realities of poverty, drugs, disease, prostitution and porn.  It will lead to a cute America that needs to be abolished, brick by brick.

“Mickey Mouse?” the comically aghast would ask.  “What could you possibly have against Mickey Mouse.”

“Nothing,” cool, hep cats would reply, “Except that he is a three-fingered son of a bitch with no soul.”

We fellas would watch such cool, hep cats walk away from such conversations, with their insurgent words trailing them, and we would see laughter, open-mouthed awe, and the elongated stares such statements caused chicks, and we knew we had to get some of that.

It appeared to be a formula that could land ladies when delivered in a subtle, suave line dance, and it appeared to really work, until those retro-funny-nerd types stepped in with their “Elmo rocks!” and “Grover was a dude!” statements.  They would walk in the building with Sesame Street T-Shirts on that didn’t say insurgent things.  Instead, the shirts said things like: “Big Bird is my homeboy!” and “I was raised on The Street” and they got laughs, and girls wanted to ask them about their T-shirt, and they got a ticket to ride, and we were all confused seeing as how we just caught onto the insurgent humor formula.  “We had a formula here,” we wanted to say to the retro-funny-nerd types, “and you’re messing up the dynamic of what we just started to understand.”

Most of our insurgent statements were intended to be funny, of course, quasi-funny, retro-hip funny, angst-ridden funny, and abolish the establishment/Rage Against the Machine funny.  It was intended to be funny in a way that the best points are made to be funny, in that it got a greater point across, and that we weren’t just being funny, we had larger points.  I don’t know if every contra insurgent rebel was like me, and they just wanted to reach a higher plane of funny, but I did run across a few —and there are always a few— that took this insurgent movement way too seriously, and they didn’t seek the humorous underpinnings.  I don’t know if Bukowski was one of them, or if he simply used it to rise to the throne of the insurgent rebels in a capitalistic venture, but the stand up comedians took Bukowski’s based to the stratosphere.  I don’t know if Bukowski found this a little unsettling, or if he meant it as a launching point.  I’m sure when the insurgency permeated the culture to such a degree that little old ladies started saying “Barney sucks!” at Applebee’s restaurants, Bukowski was either overwhelmed with pride or embarrassed that his insurgency had, itself, become such a pop culture institution.  Whatever the case was with Bukowski, his acolytes took his message much more seriously than the rest of us.

When the insurgent institution began to wane in much of America, the Bukowski acolytes held true.  “Barney still sucks!” they would say in Steven Wright tones and deadpan expressions, and they would say it so often that you eventually started to believe that this wasn’t shtick to them.  It wasn’t a bit.  They were true believers, and it was either the retro-funny-nerd types, or the little old ladies at Applebee’s repeating this mantra, that exposed these true believers as silly, and overly serious, and self-righteous to a point where we layman began to back away from our attempts to achieve orthodoxy.

You do realize that Barney the Dinosaur wasn’t written to entertain middle-aged men right?” you wanted to ask these ultra-serious types, waiting for the subtle, Steven Wright smile to eventually break free.

“I don’t care,” they say.  “He’s created a soulless America that seeks the cute mindset with the horrible songs he sings.  He has no soul.”  Then, to further their agenda, they turn to their children to get them to mimic the hatred:  “What do we think of Barney the Dinosaur Miss Mary?” 

“He sucks!” the small child replies.  “He should have a hypodermic needle hanging from his arm, a Mohawk, and the world would be a much better place if his father had been taught how to use a condom properly.”  Everybody laughs, and “awws” at the cute sophistication of Miss Mary.

It’s then that you realize that the true believer, insurgent has a bona fide opinion on the matter that he thinks is consequential.  He is angry that any individual, of any age, seeks the soft entertainment that a Mickey, or a Barney, can provide.

They cannot abide by the fact that their children may occasionally giggle at the humorous actions of a person in a Barney outfit.  On the off chance that it happens, that their child forgets and thoughtlessly laughs at the man in the costume, one has to wonder if these types look around their newspaper to say,  “What do we say about Barney?” to put their children back in check.

“He sucks,” they say with downcast eyes and their smiles fading.

“That’s right,” the true believer says going back to their paper.  They want their children more prepared for the stark reality of the world.  They probably indoctrinate their children into the world of John Waters movies and Martin Scorsese movies, to contradict all that Mickey and Barney, so their children can understand violence and sexual identities better, and so that they are more conscious of differences in people, so that they won’t stare, or eventually ostracize, and hate.  One has to wonder if one of their kids goes through a laughing spell at something Elmo did, if those parents don’t sit those children down and remind them of all of the misery in the world.  One has to wonder if those children cry as a result, and that that parent feels a sense of satisfaction that their children are now better prepared for the misery that waits for them on the other side of their lives.  One has to wonder if these children are made more miserable by these miserable parents, and if there was anything anyone could do to prepare them for that?

Bukowski’s goal was to be the anti-Disney. Anti-Disney was, to Bukowski’s mind, stark reality.  By implication, one could say that if Bukowski were in charge of America, he would have all of her kids awash in alcohol, sex, and violence. He would want America’s children to know the country he knew, and wrote about?  He would want them to know a world of abusive fathers, and that alcohol was the only pure form of escapist entertainment that had any soul.  “And the track,” Bukowski acolytes would remind, “don’t forget about Bukowski’s daily trips to the track.”  Surely, he would want America’s children to know that world of make-believe where horses can make all of your dreams come true, and if any child doubts that they can take a look at the cast members that live at the track.

Screw childhood, Bukowski appears to be saying. Screw wholesome Americans, born and bred on Disney, that believe that childhood should last as long as possible. It’s not realistic.  Childhood is the very essence of cutesy America.  It’s farcical, and it has no soul.

To support our counter argument, we must cede to the fact that Disney has damaged some adults, and these adults have some unusual, and relatively unhealthy, propensities for fantasy, but what Bukowski, and his acolytes, don’t account for when they make provocative, insurgent statements against Disney is that if Disney had never existed, there would be a need to create it.  If Barney the Dinosaur, or Sesame Street never existed there would be a need for them.  Whether that need is institutional in America, financial, capitalistic, emotional, or fundamental, there was something that all of these entertainment vehicles tapped into, and they have made a generation a little happier as a result.  AY! There’s the rub, the nut-core of it all, happy.  Bukowski types hate happy, and if they were in control America would be a Happy-Free zone.

Bukowski had a dream, a dream in which all children could one day live in a nation where they would judged not by the smiles on their faces, but by the spiritual, or spirited, lights of their soul, and he had a dream in which all Americans, black and white, could one day join hands in a happy-free, cute-free America.

Bukowski had to know that the problem of happiness in America did not begin and end with Disney. He had to know that if he went on a Disney-free timeline, say in a time machine, something else would’ve inevitably fallen into that gap. He had to know that Disney was but a symbol for everything happy.  Most would say that America is a better, happier place for having Disney in it, but the true believer, the Bukowski acolyte insurgent types, believe it made America much worse, because fewer people drank, fewer people went to the track on a daily basis, and fewer people had miserable childhoods, at least for the one day they spent at Disneyland.

If Disney represents cutesy America, as Bukowski states, then Bukowski could rightly be said to represent miserable America.  If Disney brought uncomplicated happiness to America’s shore, and laughter, and joy, what did Bukowski bring?  Anyone that has read Bukowski knows that he had an abusive, alcoholic father, and he had a clinical case of acne in his youth that led him to a degree of misery that he used to carve himself a niche in the market that brought him fame and fortune.  We know that while Bukowski may not have been the first to tap into this market, he may have done it better than most, for few people have been as consistently and fundamentally unhappy as Bukowski, and very few could express their hatred for happy Americans as adeptly as Bukowski.  Some believe that Bukowski created the anti-Disney industry that eventually led to a hierarchal web of minions displaying visceral hatred for The Brady Bunch, Leave it to Beaver, Disney, and anything that is wholesome.  These wholesome ideals, portrayed on screen, represented something that irritated these types so much that it revealed something about them that they didn’t want you to see.  Their anger hung out from beneath their skirt for all the world to see, and it did nothing for them to learn that in many quarters of America it’s become popular and chic to hate happy and wholesome America, because it’s too cutesy.  It does nothing for them to know they’ve won, in certain quarters, because it was never their goal to win, or eventually achieve happiness as a result.  No, this whole thing was all about spreading the misery, so that they wouldn’t feel so much of it sitting on the other side of the tube seething in the juices of their reality.

Are you happy?  I mean really 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 brotha.

I used to believe I was close to happy.  I used to believe that I was on the very cusp of happiness, and that if my Dad would just loosen the purse strings a little to purchase this one, solitary item 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 genuinely 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 my 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…tell me….to “Shut up!”  (Cue the B roll with some creepy B actor with bushy eybrows that point inward playing my Dad in this segment.)  A part of me thinks 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 gave me 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—to have everything I 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 eventually work my through whatever psychosis my Dad chose to inflict on me, and I would probably be in the exact same place I’m in now.

Was I temporarily unhappy when my Dad would tell me 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.  “That kid’s got the goods,” they might have said.

My Dad did buy me some things, but did these moments make me happy?  I’m sure they did, but throughout my reflective examinations, I have found those moments to be conspicuously absent.  I’m sure I received some sort of validation from those relatively 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 fundamentally unhappy that my 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 everyone else had.  I wanted to be a “have” in a world where I felt like a “have not”, and I knew that only those “that have” are happier.  I was also talking about fulfillment, whether I knew it or not.  I was talking about finally becoming a player in a world of people playing with these products.

Are we fundamentally happy people?  Or, are we so fundamentally unhappy that we need things, and constant change, for greater definition and redefinition to eventually achieve that ideal state of being that we believe is forever beyond our reach?  Or, are we so bored with life that we need something to constantly lift us out of the tediousness of today, regardless what happened yesterday?  If we’re fundamentally unhappy, which is defined relatively, 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 ultimately happy in the aftermath, or are we in a constant need of change?

happyA friend of mine resorted to drastic change.  She needed it, she pursued it, and 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 speak about the B.C. (before change) life that we shared.  That discussion seemed irrelevant 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 she was visibly bored by my attempts to relive our past.  The only thing she wanted to discuss, involving our past, was how I thought all of the various characters of our past would react 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 answer would inevitably be yes.  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.  Did it mean she would no longer need change?  Had she achieved her ideal state?  I’m quite sure that the next time I run into her, she’ll have a number of drastic changes to show me now that she’s married a man that can afford it.

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 that.  Nothing happened.  I needed change.”  Ok, 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 perpetually pursuing these total transformations?

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

Are we ever really happy, or is happiness truly a state of mind that we will only internally activate when a series of events occur in a very specific way that only we can 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…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.

 Who are you, and how close are you to becoming a monster?  Are you a rational, quiet individual that wouldn’t harm a fly?  If you are, and most think they are, why are you so fascinated with the talk of monsters?

If you’re one of those that shout “Just kill the guy!” at a movie screen when some fella comes along and “fronts” your main character, how close are you to handling such matters in that manner?  “Don’t take that stuff!” we shout. “Kill him!” While we must take into account that this is just a movie in our scenario, and you’re just an audience member when you do this, we must also consider how many of us go to those movies that “do” what we would love to do in the confrontations of our life?  How close are we to those with a penchant for violence, and why do we enjoy these movies so much?

joker-the-joker-28092805-1920-1080How many of us would get a perverse thrill from having murder in our personal arsenal?  Or, if that’s too irrational for you, how many of us would love to have the fear of our potential for violence on the minds of those that confront us?  It’s seen as “respect” in many of the top, action movies of the day to have another back down before saying a word, because that side character knows your favorite character’s penchant for violence.  How many of us have laughed at the idea that this side character backs down, because he knows not to mess with the crazy, main character?  How many of us would love to have that definition of respect incorporated into our daily interactions?  We may never act in a violent manner, but we would love to have that persona.  How many of us get a perverse, vicarious thrill from watching our favorite characters resolve their problems in violent ways that we can’t in our civil society, and how close are we really to enacting that persona?

The-WolfmanWhat is a monster, and what’s the difference between them and those that would never purposely harm another individual?  The reason we developed fictional monsters in the first place, writes author John Douglas in his book Mindhunter, was to give us some distance from this question.  We’re human, they’re human, and what’s the difference between us and, say, a good looking, well-educated, and seemingly benign person like a Ted Bundy?  They’re monsters, said those 19th century people that understood the complexities and vagaries of the human mind far less than we do.  They may seem unassuming now, but if a full moon rises, they change into a monster of inexplicable horror.  They’re not like us after all.  PHEW!

These people had some idea that some, seemingly benign people can have mental health problems on a scale that they may end up hurting someone, but the idea that it could be as a result of a natural chemical depletion was foreign to them, so they needed to think that there was some form of distance.  They didn’t understand the resultant effects injuries can have on the brain; effects of enzymes levels, like dopamine and serotonin; effects of heredity and rearing; and they probably didn’t want to know such things.  They didn’t want to think that they were that close to those they labeled heinous monsters, so they turned to the world of fiction to give them comfort from these thoughts.

When we talk about monsters, in this modern era, we all know who we’re talking about.  We’ve all heard, read, and watched the stories of mass shootings, and we’ve all watched with open mouthed awe, from a comfortable distance, but at a certain point in the media saturation of these stories, some of us begin to wonder where we truly lie in the aftermath of these horrible tragedies?  Who are we, and how close are we to becoming that which we fear most?

We’ve all read the books in the True Crime section of our local book stores and libraries that will start with the “It could be you” narrative, that details how a normal, Midwestern, and religious small town white boy became an assailant.  His story is not that much different than ours, the theme of this narrative suggests, and this just opens our mouths wider and causes us to flip the pages faster.  How close are we to this truly horrific creature we’re reading about?  What was that different about their upbringing, their daily lives, and the thoughts that led to these horrible acts?

At some point in their maturation, these assailants chose a path that separated them from us, but this point of separation didn’t usually occur in one, solitary event.  There isn’t, usually, a substantial fork in the road that we can point to that says, “That’s where he and I differ.”  Most true crime authors don’t let us off the hook that easy, for that would be a simplistic reading of their complex, yet simple character, and they’ve written a whole book on the subject, so you’re simply going have to get to a half a bun on your chair while reading this book what could be more about you than you know.

If the author does provide some sort of separation it’s usually, and purposefully, murky.  The gist of the story that “this could be more about you than you know” is the reason most of us bought the book in the first place.  Some may have made the purchase based solely on the sadistic, or voyeuristic, interests in reading about torture, mayhem, destructive viciousness, and psychopaths, but most of us want to know about the separation.  Most of us want to know why we haven’t gone on killing sprees, or at least what makes those who do so different.  It could be that there actually is no separation, or it could be that providing unquestionable and substantial proof of the separation will lose the reader.  Whatever the case is, we continue to buy these books in pursuit of a truth or an explanation regarding why some fantasize about violence in the dark recesses of their mind, and why some act on them.

virginia-tech-shooter-cho-300x182Disgusted by the insanity defense, a friend of mine said: “I think we can go ahead and say one thing that is not debatable, and that is that anyone that would take the life of another is, at least, a little insane. To resort to taking another man’s life as a form of problem solving that requires, at least, a temporary degree of insanity that I’ll never know.”  Does one have to be insane to take another person’s life, especially if the matter at hand is somewhat innocuous, or is the determination of that person’s insanity a way of distancing one’s self from having to deal with the fact that they may be a lot more like us than we want to explore?

This mystery of what separates the rational from the irrational and the irrationally violent is not modern, and in some cases it dates back to early man.  Mary Shelley wrote Frankenstein in 1821; Bram Stoker wrote Dracula in 1897; and references to Werewolves were written in ancient Greece.  Trying to understand why man acts in the manner he does has fascinated other men for as long as we’ve been on the Earth.  It has fascinated some, titillated others, and repulsed many so much that they don’t even want to talk about it.  Those that are repulsed by such discussions believe that we are humanizing these monsters by giving them such play in the media and medical journals, and that we are giving them exactly what they want by broadcasting everything about their otherwise, anonymous lives.

We’re all fascinated with violence to some extent, some just may choose to distance themselves from that fascination that they don’t want to explore it in anyway, but is the person that is interested in exploring the differences closer or further away from the separation than those that aren’t?

Why are some prone to purchase a Rottweiler, or a Pitbull, and others a Poodle?  I know, I know your Pitbull is not violent, and you’ve raised him well in a happy home, and he wouldn’t harm a fly.  He’s just Ralphie.  He may be Ralphie now, but he wasn’t always Ralphie.  He was once a … Pitbull!!!, and if you’ve read or heard any stories about them, then you know that Pitbulls have a propensity for violence.  I know, I know, you’ve heard stories about the propensity that the Chihuahua has for violence, we all have, but how many “Chihuahua bites man” cases have come before Supreme Courts?  How many Supreme Court justices have found the Chihuahua to be “inherently dangerous” as they did the Pitbull in a case before the Maryland Supreme Court?{1}  The Chihuahua may have a propensity for violence that matches, and in some cases exceeds, that of the Pitbull, but does anyone care based on the capabilities of the Chihuahua?  The point is that potential owners are attracted to the potential and the capabilities of the Pitbull, and in this writer’s humble opinion, they love explaining that away too.  If it truly is not the case that you are in some way attracted to their potential, why didn’t you just pick a Poodle, or a Puggle?  They’re boring.  But why are they boring?  Why are there so few documentaries done on the anteater compared to number done on the shark or the alligator?  Why is Shark Week an annual event on The Discovery Channel?  Why do some people love the books of Stephen King, the movies of Quentin Tarantino, and violent rap music, while others read Dickenson, watch Wes Anderson movies, and listen to Brahms?  Some are simply more fascinated with the propensity to violence?  How close are they, and does owning a Pitbull give their owners greater distance from this potential, or does it tweak their fascination with it?

This article is not intended to be a tedious, Phil Donahue-style exercise in moral relativism, but an examination for why we are fascinated with violence and the tenuous line that exists between those that act on their fantasies and those that are fascinated by that tenuous line.  If you have a quick and easy answer for where you stand on that line, how did you arrive at that answer?  And why are you able to pull it out in such a quick-draw fashion?  Does it provide you comfort to have this answer at the ready, especially when it didn’t require much examination in the first place, or is it just easier for you to live the unexamined life?  Do you know yourself better or less than those of us constantly in search of answers?  Are you confident of your answers, or are you so insecure that you can’t stand the questions, and you seek a fictional depiction of a heinous creature to give you a comfortable distance?  Who are you, and how close are you to becoming that which you fear most?


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A scene from the television series Taxi captures this dilemma perfectly.  In the scene, the character Latka is experiencing a multiple personality disorder.  After going through counseling sessions, 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.  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 him.  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 this point, Alex is 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 in in 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 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 we are, and they’ve developed some theories on the decisions and choices we make that could just blow our minds if we understood them.  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 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 be a window that once opened will be explored by eager young minds thirsting for knowledge.

The alternative to grasping these concepts, and subsequently living without a philosophical sense of life, is nihilism—the belief in nothing.  This belief in nothing is a contrarian tool that nihilists generally use as a shield against attack.  They may not believe in anything, but at least they’re not foolish enough to believe in something.  Nihilists usually wage war on believers, studying up on your beliefs, your philosophy, or your religion, until they reach a point where they proudly claim to know your belief system better than you do— or at least those that believe the same as you.  Nihilists usually don’t single you out for this criticism, because they have found that direct criticism of one’s ideals usually leads to some form of confrontation.  Most nihilists enter contrarian arguments under the theme that you are the one person that is open-minded enough to accept their challenges to your belief system.  This guise allows them to complete their life’s mission of knocking everything everyone believes in, but it’s nothing personal. The truly nefarious consequences to nihilism are that you are left more vulnerable to total devastation.  The nihilist’s world exists on a precarious plane that there are certain truths that keeps them afloat.  Most of these 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 devastation we need a plan B, a sense of life, a philosophy, a religion, or something to fall back on.  Some say this need is biological, or anatomical, but whatever the case is, it’s undeniable that we need something to believe in, something greater than ourselves, and a plan B to fall back on when things don’t go as planned.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Descriptions of Indigo Children from the net include:

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

Other alleged traits include:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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







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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I now introduce you to the alien on your shoulder.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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




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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“The images I enjoy are non-pornographic (and typically involve fully-clothed people), have both male and female subjects, and show people having fun blowing up or otherwise playing with balloons.” –Tina

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For the globophobic sufferers in our society there is help out there.  Globophobia has been defined as:  “A persistent, abnormal, and unwarranted fear of balloons, despite the understanding by the phobic individual and reassurance by others that there is no danger; a strong fear of, dislike of, or aversion to balloons.” Most globophobics won’t publicly admit to their fears, but those who do admit to completely avoiding any situation that might warrant balloons.  Others say that when they attend a family function where the balloons is expected, such as a birthday party, their family members will hide the balloons in another room while they are there, which shows great understanding and concern from those family members, whereas other sufferers say that their families and friends enjoy tormenting them with balloons, knowing the kind of fear they have of balloons.  There is no talk, currently, of listing globophobia as a disability in the New England Journal of Medicine, as it is currently listed as an “abnormal phobia”.  That doesn’t mean that there isn’t help out there for sufferers, and admitting you have a problem is the first step.  If globophobic sufferers want to get any better there are ways to overcome their fears.  It may cost them some time and money to get over their fears, but if it means no longer living in fear of something that surrounds them constantly, then it will be wortth it. {3}




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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Most people don’t think it’s possible to curse a child with a name.  Even a truly odd name does not curse a child in the manner you suggest.  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.  Their name is but 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 bodily functions, but how many parents would purposely set out to cripple their child in such a manner?

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

When I first met Todd’s mom, I knew I would be able to have relations with her if I so chose. She gave me those “extra” looks when Todd wasn’t looking, and she said things that let me know that all she needed was a thumbs up to get things going, but she was not attractive.  If she was, I might fear appearing egotistical writing such a thing, but there was a reason that a forty-something female badly wanted to undress her son’s twenty-year-old friend, and I’m quite sure that little of it had anything to do with attraction.  She wore a frayed, yellow T-shirt that said something like “smell the magic” with an arrow pointing downwards.  She had naturally oily haired that was curled.  I wasn’t able to determine if these curls 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 braced with apology upon 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 having 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 liberated that she offered to drink and smoke with us once she got off work.  When that sentence was out, and Todd gauged my reaction to it, the mother shot me another “extra” look that told me I was either lucky or in deep trouble.  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 couldn’t entirely process.

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 solely 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 easily fooled.  I didn’t know that at the time, of course, but I sensed a certain susceptibility that I constantly fought. 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 got a “Don’t go there!” look for my obnoxiousness.  I thought that look had more to do with the “domination” theme of my joke, and I felt bad.  Then, I felt weird.  The silence that followed the “Don’t go there!” look caused me to believe that I had tripped upon a land mine loaded with forms of peculiar sexual peccadillos that I didn’t care to discuss.  I also thought I may have tripped upon an aspect of their relationship that would expose Todd’s aberrant domination of Tracy once it revealed itself.  I thought I may have placed them in the uncomfortable position of having to reveal details of their relationship that I might eventually have to fight Todd over, until he finally broke down and told me the story of how he never learned how to tie his shoes.

It began with a question that broke that silence, “So, if you don’t know how to tie your shoes, why would you buy shoestring tennis shoes?”  The answer to this question “was a funny story”. It involved a loving mother purchasing Velcro and “slip on” shoes for her son throughout the entirety of his youth.  It involved this rebellious, young man eventually breaking the shackles of a mother’s hold by purchasing shoestring tennis shoes with the first paycheck he earned.  It involved the shoe store attendant tying the shoes for him, Todd walking around the store, saying “I’ll take them” proudly, 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 like, “How did you get out of the first grade without tying your shoes at least once?”  The answer to that probably would’ve had something to do with “slip ons” and Velcro, but would every question I had be so easily dismissed, or would some of them be met with non-answers, shrugs, and furthered embarrassment.  I liked Todd, I thought he was a nice guy, and I didn’t want to embarrass him in front of his girlfriend.  The “Don’t go there” look informed me that I would have to keep those questions at bay, and I did until they culminated with the 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 fact that Todd had no fear of towels, 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 only 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 questions like: “Who has unexplainable fears?” with “Everyone does!” answers to follow.  It involved questions like: “Can you explain all of your irrational fears?” that elicited mental responses like: “Yes! Yes I can!”

I could explain that my irrational fear of heights involved falling.  I thought this was a rationale that could defeat any rationale Todd had for fearing cotton, because falling hurts and cotton does not.  Falling could lead to irreversible consequences.  It could lead to one being a paraplegic, and it could lead to death, and these were two rational fears I had any time I stood atop a tall structure of some sort.  I didn’t say any of this, however, I let Todd have his day.  I 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 perfectly good 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.  We were all going to have a moment.  I was excited at the prospect of this moment when I grabbed the cotton ball and raced towards him with an “Ooga Booga!” Ooga Booga were not the words I ritually use to strike fear in others.  I reserve other exclamations for that expressed purpose, but I felt Ooga Booga perfectly captured the mix between comedy and horror that I was hoping to capture in this moment.  I also enhanced my Ooga Booga presentation with my best Ooga Booga face.

“Don’t!  Dude!  Don’t dude!  For the love of God DON’T!”  Todd said leaning against Tracy, clutching her in a position that was nearly 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 later, and I would call them “Dudes” in a derogatory manner, but Todd was the first.  I felt bad about the Ooga Booga moment.  I felt weird.  I worried that I had tripped upon a land mine loaded with the sort of irrational, childhood fears that bubble up in a man, until he’s near tears and leaning up against his woman for protection.  I ruined the party.  I ruined Todd in the eyes of those attending the party.  I definitely had a moment, but I did feel bad about it.

Even after moments like those, women loved Todd.  He had a certain degree of vulnerability about him that girls liked.  He also had eyes, I was told.  He had crystal blue eyes that could 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 hair.  I thought he had the same naturally, oily hair that his mother had, but it was naturally 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.  No girl would admit to such a thing.  “That’s ridiculous!” is the usual reply I get 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!  Well, he’s just bound to find himself in the “hottie” stratosphere.  He’s good looking, vulnerable and non-threatening?  Well, that just lifts him into that rarified 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 was Todd.

There’s no scientific research that concludes that naming a child Todd, 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 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 something fundamentally different about them.  Something about their existential existence has been affected by a life lived with such a horrible, 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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Some of us think we are very complicated creatures.  We believe we can adapt to the people around us in a manner that causes those people, in all of their respective groups, to think that we belong, and some of the times this is true.  When all of these conversations come to a close during the last call of the day, we get into our cars, go home, and lay down in bed with a narrow definition.  Some find this narrow definition comforting, genuine, and our home base, but some people find it depressing.  The extroverts that are only comforted by conversation and rollicking parties find it depressing, but there is a character in there, and every person is forced to make a determination if they like that character or not.

Protons and NutronsThis narrow definition is made up by the people, places, and events that they have actually experienced in life.  It is not based on how they wanted to react in those situations, or their roles in the stories of how they reacted, but how they actually did react.  It is not based on who you always wanted to be, who you tell people you are, or how you perceive yourself, but who you actually are.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

These lies we tell ourselves may be unconscious measures that are employed to stave off the depression that we may fall into if we allowed the reality of our current existence to overwhelm us with sadness.  The unconscious measures we use can be interpretations of misdeeds that we employ to maintain the idea that we are good people regardless what we’ve done.  Walk through any penitentiary, and you’ll hear a number of these qualifiers and excuses.  Are these people lying, in the truest sense of the word?  Yes, 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 a modicum of mental health to avoid becoming so depressed by 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 to be great 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 the mythology of you as you see it.

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

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

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

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

“You’re only doing this for yourself,” a sick man, lying on a death bed, says to a female that is caressing his hands and whispering sweet nothings to him.  It’s a crass and heartless statement from a man who should enjoy any comfort he receives from another in the waning moments of his life.  Was it charity she sought to provide the sick man, or was she seeking greater definition of her character by standing next to him.  What would she do in the moments that followed his death?  Would she tell people about it, or was this indeed a selfless act by a woman that 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 remember the fun we had, and some of the aspects that led to our current maturity in life.  Those aren’t the only memories of course.  If we dug way back, with professional assistance, we would probably learn that those days weren’t as great as we remember them, but our selective memory has made us who we are today, so why would we bother with all of those awful memories if we don’t have to?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I hate to be too detailed in my ruminations over the people I’ve run across, lest they know that I’m talking about them, but some people deserve to be called out.  Esoteric man was an ad exec that was trying to sell my wife on radio advertising.  The first thing that popped out at me was this guy’s checkered pants.  The checkers were multi-colored, but some of those colors were pink.  The guy wore sensible shoes, chic eyeglasses, and he wore his hair in a coif.  He dressed like every guy I hated in high school.

He was a people person that knew how to relate to the folks.  I hated him before he said his twentieth word.

Hipster“I don’t even have cable!” was the most memorable thing this nouveau hipster said to punctuate the fact that he didn’t watch TV.  “I only have Netflix, because my kid enjoys some show, but that’s the only reason.”

“Wow!” was what we were supposed to say, “You’re so esoteric, and philosophical!  You’re what they call a with it dude!”  The hipster mentioned the specific show his kid watched, but I can’t remember what it was.  I couldn’t remember it two seconds after he said it.

He was a flood of useless information about himself.  He was on the edge of his seat wondering what he was going to say next.   He was a serious man that didn’t take himself too seriously, but he could get out of control at times too, and he knew that I knew that’s just the way he was, even though I never met him before.

“I don’t drink soda! It’s gross!” he said to initiate the preferences portion of our conversation that would be delightfully informal.  He found his preferences to be very esoteric and philosophical.  He found this portion of our conversation to be a personal touch that was essential to completing the sale.  This portion of the conversation gave schlubs like me a point where we could relate with one another.  He was being real for me to sell himself in the manner all salesmen know is fundamental to obligating customers to fork over the dollar.

He decided he was losing me at one point in our conversation, so he decided to talk more.  I’m not sure if he decided to disregard transitions in his stories, or if he wasn’t a transition fella, but his stories began to arrive in such a flurry that I lost my place in his stories a number of times, and I ended up forgetting almost everything he said.  He was turning red at various points, and he began yawning in others.  That suggested to me that his brain wasn’t getting enough oxygen, but it was obvious that he preferred an oxygen depleted brain over a lost sale.

“Wow! You must really be smart,” those without control of their sardonic nature would say to the list of this man’s preferences.  This is the response he expects to elicit from a TV watching, soda drinker Neanderthal, but he didn’t get it this time.  This time, he got a guy who stared at him with silent ambivalence, waiting for him to get back to the whole reason I came to him for in the first place.

“Ya’ know?” was the only transition that this man didn’t completely abdicate.  It was the only form of punctuation this man had left to let his listener know that a sentence was complete.  He mixed in a couple “Ya’ know what I’m saying?” questions to prevent losing me with redundancies, but that was the extent of his variation.

“Yes!” I replied to put a verbal foot on the floor and keep his transitions from spinning out of control.  I almost screamed it once, but the parental, patience practice of counting to ten kept me from the outburst.

He engaged in “aren’t we guys stupid?” chats that everyone considers fun.  When that didn’t achieve the desired result from me, he flipped to the “we’re all really stupid anyway” pop psychology nuggets, and the two of us were supposed to laugh heartily at those, because we could both relate to dumb people humor.  It reminded me of a heavy metal band’s lead singer attempt to reach his audience by mentioning the fact that he actually rode in a motorized vehicle on the paved roads of my home town.  “Today as we were driving down MAIN STREET….” YEAH!!!

He was a nicknames feller.  Even though he didn’t apply such nicknames to me, I’m quite sure that he calls more than one male in his life he calls “dawg”.  He probably also calls a couple of them “Bra!” and he bumps fists with them as he works his way past their cubicle.  I don’t know if he has any authority in his place of work, but if he does, I’m sure he asks all his peeps to call him by his first name, because he’s an informal fella that wants informal relationships with all of his peeps.  I’m sure he has an open-door policy, and that all his top performers are “rock stars!”  He’s a people person that’s not afraid to let his hair down.  If one of his peeps has a name that begins with a B, I’m sure he calls them ‘B’, or ‘J Dawg’ if their name starts with a J.  He’s also the esoteric guy in the office that conforms to group thought when he’s called upon to do so.  I’ve been around his type so often that I can pick them out of a closet from fifty yards away.  They all have nihilist beliefs in private, and they don’t bow to the man, until the man is in the room, and then they turn around to insult “the dude” when he walks away.

We didn’t talk politics, but I’d be willing to wax Brazilian if it’s proven to me that we see eye to eye on anything.  He’s the type that seeks “a third way” of governing.  He doesn’t want to be labeled, he wants to be perceived as open-minded, and he pities simpletons that have been conditioned to believe that there are actually very few forms of government to choose from, and in those forms there is only going to be one of two political parties in this country to run it.  Their type knows of another way.  They don’t have specifics, but they feel sorry for those of us that have bought into the system.  They are open-minded.  They are extraordinarily intelligent.  They are thoughtful. They are wonderful.  And we are wrong when we attach labels to them, because they are “truly” so much more than that.

When he eventually swerves into the whole reason I came to see him in the first place, I’m gone.   I’m beyond listening.  He thinks he’s warmed me up with his ‘look at me’ chatter, that he considers good bedside manner, but in reality I’ve begun to feel so sorry for him, and his pointless attempts to sound interesting, hip, funny, likable, intelligent, esoteric, philosophical, and personable, that I’ve missed the first two minutes of his presentation.

“We guys don’t seek medical attention.”  He smiled after that one.  He thought that was polite guy, fun chatter.  He surveyed my reaction.  He told me he enjoyed sports, and then he asked me if the San Diego Chargers were still in existence.  I normally would’ve enjoyed such ignorance of my arena, but I realized that I didn’t care if he knew anything about the Chargers, the NFL, sports in general, or anything else.  This was a huge accomplishment for this guy, whether he knows it or not, for as anyone who knows me knows, I get off on personal preferences. I want to know what books you read, what movies you like, what music you play, and what restaurants you frequent.  I love top ten lists, the reasons you rank one over another, and the why’s and how’s of your decision making process.  I didn’t want to know any of this about this particular guy. I just wanted him to stop talking.

We all know that the quiet types have something to hide.  They don’t say what they want to say, or when to say it.  They’re frozen by the fear that you’ll find something out about them if they voice their opinion, so they usually find it more comfortable to say nothing.  When a person talks and talks, we naturally assume they are as advertised.  We assume that they’re the “open book” they’ve told you they are so many times that they can only be trying to convince themselves.  They are an extrovert that is conversant on so many topics that we can’t think of anything else that they could possibly be hiding, until we walk away from them with the realization that they never really said anything.  They just said a whole lot of nothing on nothing topics.  It’s called obfuscation and misdirection.  It’s an art form we think of when we think of magicians, but talkers can display a talent for this art form too.  They just don’t use their hands…as much.

“The worst thing that you can be is a consumer,” an elitist writer once mused.  “And I say that in the most condescending manner possible.”  I’m quite sure that that sentence received some applause from those esoteric and refined consumers in the audience that would buy this author’s products.  I’m quite sure that a number of people in that audience considered the author’s stance brave and bold.  I’m sure that no one in the audience believed he was talking about them, and I’m sure that this author felt secure in his belief that no one in his audience would stand up and say, “Hey, I’m a consumer.  How dare you crack on my people!”  I’m quite sure that just about everyone in that audience pictured that consumer that they knew –that had to purchase the latest and greatest electronics products— and they defined themselves against that exaggerated contrast.  I’m quite sure that no one in that audience was objective enough to understand that the totality of the author’s insult included everyone but him.

wine“What is the difference between consumers that purchase consumable products sold at McDonald’s and those that are sold at the local, mom and pop coffee store?” is a question that I would love to ask this esteemed author.  The answer would be that one is a consumer, and the other happens to be a consumer, but that the former would presumably be pronounced in the most condescending manner possible.  This distinction was made clear to me when I told some friends of mine that blind taste tests showed that McDonald’s coffee tested as high as the coffee found in some of the coffee shops the more erudite attended.

“Pshaw!” these friends –that probably read this author— basically responded.  They actually used words that the more refined, and somewhat polite (see condescending) use, but the import of their response was that they were/are more cultured than I am.  They are more posh and eclectic.  They eat sushi and Thai, and they broaden their minds by listening to exotic podcasts and watching obscure documentaries.

I admitted in my testimonial that I couldn’t taste the difference between beans, and that most of the products I consume could probably be found on a 1950’s table, before the research on food taught us what we now know about food.  I told them that I watch broadcast television, and that I enjoy reading mainstream books, some of the times, and I basically admitted that I may be a Neanderthal.

I am not much of a coffee drinker.  These friends are.  They enjoy exotic coffee beans that can only be found at urban coffee shops I’ve never heard of.  They also have exotic coffee makers in their homes that require minimal mixing times, gentle air pressure pushes, and low brewing times for professional cuppers and true coffee aficionados.  I am not welcome in their world.

Their world involves community venues (see coffee shops in the Neanderthal’s lexicon) with artistic geniuses throwing brilliant ideas at one another under exotic Matisse paintings, all while learning to love various styles of coffee beans that are beyond me.  Some of the community venue customers have goatees, others have cornrows and dreadlocks, and they are all very Eurocentric.  They also feel a little sorry for bourgeoisie like me that only know McDonald’s coffee PSHAW!  I should clarify, they don’t say “pshaw!” for saying pshaw would define them as elitists, and they abhor elitists.

They feel at ease when bracketed alongside fine wine drinkers.  They eat Foie Gras, black pudding, organic foods, and even beluga caviar.  They don’t eat caviar, I should clarify, for posh, eclectic types don’t eat caviar anymore.  Caviar has been defined as a product consumed by consumers that are usually wealthy, in the manner Scooby Doo cartoons might depict the wealthy.  Caviar doesn’t provide prestige in community venues.  Foie Gras is their caviar.

“But blind taste tests conducted by Consumer Reports and Canadian Business Magazine found that McDonald’s and Dunkin’ Donuts coffee tested better than the coffee sold at Starbucks or Tim Horton’s,” I told my friends, and they weren’t shocked by this.  They heard of similar tests done with similar products, but that didn’t cause them to question their beliefs.  They were confident that their tastes were simply more refined than those of Americans (the latter word should be emphasized in the most condescending manner possible).

They answered my follow up, clarification with an, “Oh, no!” and there was almost a titter that leaked out in reaction to my lack of knowledge, and it may have made it out in the less refined.  They said what they said in the most condescending manner possible.  It was obvious to all of us that I knew nothing of coffee, and they appeared to be slightly embarrassed for me, for attempting to venture into their home turf.

“We don’t like Starbucks,” they said, “and we’ve never heard of this Tim Horton’s (largely Canadian franchise).”  This missed the general point I was making, but it wouldn’t have mattered if these magazines did specific blind taste tests on their specific brand of coffee.  They would still consider themselves to be specific, exceptions to the rule.  I couldn’t know who I was talking to when I was talking to them.  No one could.  They were/are posh and eclectic.

In his book You are Not so Smart, author David McRaney cites such blind, taste tests being done with professional wine tasters sipping wine.  The tests, he cites, were done with cheap wines and expensive, exotic wines to see if professionals could even tell the difference.  The results were quite shocking, for not only could the professionals not tell the difference, their brain scans showed that they were not lying when they stated their preferences.  The scans showed that their brains altered with excitement when they drank the expensive wines.  One particular test had the controllers putting the same wine in two different bottles.  They informed the professional wine tasters that the wine in bottle A was an expensive, exotic wine, and bottle B was a lesser, cheaper brand.  The brain scans showed the subjects’ brains were only lighting up on product A.  The conclusion that the controllers reached was that the professional testers grew excited by the expectation of something more expensive.

The conclusion McRaney drew was that it is expectation that causes us to prefer Pepsi over Coke; Budweiser over Miller; and Marlboro over Camel.  Expectation brought on by marketing campaigns, and the resultant branding, causes us to believe that one product is superior to another.  Expectation is brought on by packaging, environment, and presentation.  Expectation can be just as prevalent in desire as taste.  There is so little difference between the these brands, McRaney writes, that blind taste tests prove that we usually cannot taste the difference, but we’ve been branded.  We’re Pepsi drinkers, imported beer drinkers, expensive wine drinkers, and Columbian coffee drinkers.  This defines us in a way we find pleasing, but we’re all products of marketing, packaging, and environment.  Expectation can also cause us to want to be redefined by a product.

“Have you tried the latest lager from Djibouti?” Gucci asks Dior.  “You simply must try it.  It has an exceptional respect for the ancient art of brewing.  It is a highly fermented lager with a light malt, corn, water, hops and a yeast that gives it a bright, golden color with dazzling reflections.”  When Gucci concludes his exotic description, Dior must have it.  Is Dior so excited to try it, because Gucci’s narrative has heightened his expectation?  Probably, but he also wants that aura and that identity.  He wants that prestige coated on his epidermis for all that attend the next party he attends.  He can qualify his preference with a variety of statements, but it all boils down to the fact that he wants others to think he has such refined tastes that he will only drink lagers from Djibouti from now on, until something better comes along.

These people wouldn’t be caught dead sipping coffee in a McDonald’s.  That would be defined as consumerism in “the most condescending manner possible” by those consumers that prefer a community venue that offers exotic coffee beans with exotic flavors for the exotic mind.  If they entered a community venue that offered an exotic coffee bean, and that venue had paintings of cartoon clowns in them, my friends would probably consider the bean inferior.  If it had exotic Matisse paintings on its wall, and the customers all had goatees and dreadlocks, I’m quite sure that they would be sipping on their bean with a satisfied smile.

As David McRaney says throughout his book, “You don’t know yourself as well as you think you do.  You don’t know what you like and what you don’t like, or at the very least your preferences can be altered by suggestion, environment, presentation, and advertising.”  There may be a difference between the taste of the exotic Kopi Luwak bean and the beans used in McDonald’s coffee, but you don’t know the difference in quality to the degree that you can tell in a blind taste test.  All right, that may be an exaggeration.  Perhaps the Kopi Luwak coffee berry that passes through the digestive system of the Peruvian Civet Palm Cat (and is picked out of that cat’s poo) is so refined that there is a discernible difference between that and McDonald’s, but on a more linear scale (say Starbuck’s) McDonald’s coffee proves superior in blind taste test after blind taste test.

Even if I presented this information, in conjunction with the tests that suggested McDonald’s provided a superior cup of coffee, I’m sure that these friends would pshaw me.  Whether or not they actually tried McDonald’s coffee, they would know that it provided an inferior product.  Their pshaw would also contain elements of the messenger in the message, for they would probably assume that most of those blind taste test subjects were people like truck drivers, and church goers, for the blind taste test findings to make sense to them.  They would know that they know better.  They knew that I knew little about coffee, and they knew that I had no idea who I was talking to when I was speaking to them.

I like to think that I’m not one of these people.  I like to think that I’ve made conscientious choices that have made me a Bud man, and a Pepsi drinker that enjoys more bounce to the ounce.  I understand the feds prohibited Budweiser, and all alcohol producers, from showing people drink alcohol in their TV commercials, so they decided to sell a lifestyle that those that enjoy their products enjoy, but did I enjoy the projection of the lifestyle in those commercials so much that I began enjoying their products more?  My friends would pshaw! at such soul searching, for they know who they are.  They know that they’ve made conscientious choices in the products that they’ve decided to consume, but are they buying a product or a lifestyle?  And do any of us really know who we’re talking to when we decide to purchase one product over another?  Are we talking to a consumer of refined tastes, or a consumer attempting to purchase something they’re not, until they purchase it so often that they are?

How much time, effort, and money do we spend becoming attractive?  How many deodorants, scented shampoos, perfumes, colognes, and body washes do we purchase to mask the natural scent of our body?  There are five scent masking agents listed here, and you probably thought of three or four that were missed.  How many hours do we spend spraying, brushing, scrubbing, applying, lathering, and repeating if necessary?  It has been reported, in recent surveys, that scent actually factors very low on our list of things we seek in a mate.  So, why do we do it?  Why do we spend do so much money and effort trying to give the illusion that we don’t have scents?

pheromonesWhat drives attraction if not scent?  Are we, as we’re led to believe, attracted to big muscles, big boobs, a finely tuned posterior, the bulge in the front of the person’s pants, or the bulge in the back (wallet)?  Does the visual override the sense of smell?  Does a person with a sculpted, angular face, great hair, great teeth, and a strong chin have an advantage in the world of attraction, regardless of their other features?  Pablo Picasso believed that they do.  He believed the world of human attraction was based on visual cues that are located in the symmetry and angles of the face and the human form.  Sex sells, blunter groups will say, show your angles, reveal your symmetry in the exposure of your organs, your glands, and your cleavage.  Wear tighter clothing, accentuate your walk, and the world will beat a path to your door.  If you got it, flaunt it!

In her Serendip Studio piece, Meghan McCabe writes that attraction is not as complex as Picasso theorizes, and it may not be as simple as the chants of those blunter groups.  She says that sexual attraction is based on “airborne chemicals called pheromones.”  She said that these “airborne and odorless molecules emitted by an individual can cause changes in the physiology and/or behavior of another individual.”  These pheromones are sensed by a vomeronasal organ (VNO), that is a part of the olfactory system and located inside the mouth and nose.  She believed that pheromones are chemically detected, or communicated, from one human to another by an unidentified part of the olfactory system.  In other words, those of us who cake their neck with perfumes and colognes are simply wasting a lot of money when most research on pheromones in humans indicates that the main odor-producing organ is in the skin’s apocrine sebaceous glands.

The skin produces more agents that could be used to attract than the entire line of the products in the beauty and grooming section of your local drug store combined.  This, however, is impossible to sell, so we don’t buy it.  We don’t buy the fact that the subtle smell of underarm odor may be a valuable tool to use in attracting a mate.  We’re far too insecure to walk out of the house with a scent on us, or we fear that if we have such a subtle smell we will be insecure when talking to that prospective mate.  So we wash away our body odors, and we scrub them away when we fear that masking our scent with a deodorant may not be enough.  It’s also impossible for us to believe that the subtle smell of urine may cause sexual excitation in a prospective mate.  Urine stinks.  The very idea of it causes us revulsion when we walk into an unclean bathroom, and we associate it with a lack of cleanliness.  We think the key to attracting a mate is convincing them we don’t have bodily odors, and we don’t have bodily functions, or at least we don’t want that at the forefront of their mind when they’re talking to us.

We are an insecure people, but we are also a highly competitive people.  We believe we need help attracting a mate, and we seek assistance from a company that has spent millions in research and development labs to come up with that perfect chemical combination that put us over the top in the race to attract people.  McCabe and Dr. Goldsmith believe that most of these products are not only a waste of money, they may actually be counterproductive.

Contrary to what the marketing arms of these companies tell you, the key to attracting people sexually lies in the skin generally, but more specifically in the skin’s apocrine sebaceous glands.  The skin’s apocrine sebaceous glands are usually thought to produce the most abundant pheromones in the sweat glands and in bodily tufts of hair that are located everywhere on the body’s surface.  They do, as Melissa Kaplan collates in her Herp Care Collection Piece, tend to center themselves in six primary areas: the underarm, the nipples (of both genders), the genital region, the outer region of the lips, the eyelids, and the outer rims of the ears.  This is not due to the fact that the hairs produce these pheromone messages, she writes, but that the hairs hold onto the chemical stimuli that the skin’s apocrine sebaceous glands produce.  Yet, most of us shave these pheromone holders away to attract a mate.

While we are believed to have natural predilections to these pheromones, not all of us are attracted to them all of the time.  Women, for example, are no more attracted to the smell of musk than men, during their menstruation cycle.  Ten days after ovulation, however, women become very sensitive to it.  This musk substance can be produced synthetically, as it is in exaltolide, but it is also a substance produced in the cat’s anal glands, and on the tip of a boar’s sexual organs, or their preputial glands.  Ten days after menstruation, women reach a peak in estrogen production, and this causes them to be far more susceptible to musk.

Musk is generally produced in the underarms, in a smegma substance that can be found on and around the reproductive organs, and in urine.  The fact that men’s bodies secrete these substances, and that women are maximally sensitive to them when they are most fertile, indicates that there may be an olfactory role for these substances in human sexuality.

It is also important to note that while researchers believe that the vomeronasal organ (VNO) is a powerful organ in detecting chemical stimuli that leads to attraction, these chemical messages can be refuted by other mixed messages that other senses send to the brain.  If a person provides no visual stimuli to a prospective mate, for example, chemical messaging will not have a dominant role in attraction.  Also, while the VNO’s functions are linked to sense of smell it is not necessarily directly related to scent.  The VNO detects these chemical messages called pheromones, and it is possible that an overwhelming scent could overwhelm the VNO’s ability to detect these subtle chemical messages.  If the sense of smell dominates, the message that the brain receives might only be the smell, leaving the chemical messages that the VNO picks up as secondary.  Coating one’s self in urine, in other words, will not increase one’s chances for attracting a mate.  And fecal matter is not perceived to contain sexual attractants, even though it gathers some as it comes in contact with areas of the skin believed to produce these pheromones.  So dabbing a little fecal matter in select areas will produce no sexual attraction.  The messages that the other senses send to the brain regarding visible fecal matter would probably drown out any subtle chemical stimuli the VNO detected even if it contained such properties.

Urine in and of itself is not a pheromone producing agent, but when the liquid we drink comes in contact with the various parts of our body that produce pheromones it holds those pheromones in the same manner body hair will.  Plus, as stated above, urine does produce a slight, musk smell that women are attracted to at certain times of the month, and in faint doses —where the overall smell of it does not dominate— it could contain some attractants

The study of pheromones, the functions listed above of the VNO, and the very idea that humans are susceptible to them in the same manner other animals in the animal kingdom are, is a controversial one.  For every study that suggests that humans are no different than any other animal when it comes to chemical attraction, there is another study suggests that there are no definitive conclusions that have been reached.

“You’ll make it work in the end,” an adult baby said with a hand on his wife’s shoulder, while she verbally fretted over their financial records.  “You always do.”  The wife felt an incidental compliment from the gesture, but it failed to register with her, that this compliment stemmed from the idea that her adult baby would not be participating in the sacrifice that would be required to “make it all work out”, unless she specifically instructed him to do so.  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 as it didn’t affect his preferred lifestyle in any punitive manner.  The wife, thus far, did have an excellent track record at making it all work out, 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 counter her efforts.

WifeThe home is always sound, regardless of the amount of spending he engages in; the food is always on the table, regardless how many hours the wife is forced to work outside the home; and the kids are always well-tended to, regardless of the amount 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 have a happy home, you do have to let her have her say, and you have to say the woman is always right.  A nice “Yes dear!” here and there will do wonders to quell her insecurities.  It makes the clocks run on time, it balances the books, and it makes sure that the kids are off to school on time.

The adult baby usually has no powers of reflection, unless they’re forced to look at how life happens to work around them, and they usually aren’t because most adult babies wouldn’t be adult babies if they had no enablers.  The words ‘around’ in ‘around them’, are purposefully selected here to describe how the adult baby’s life works regardless of their involvement in it.  No matter what they do, how much they spend, or who they take to bed, at the end of the day their lives magically rebound to responsible living.

“I used to love getting flowers,” your Aunt Sheila once confessed to me, “Until I found out how much I would have to pay for them.”

Craig is Sheila’s ex.  Craig used to bring her flowers, and Craig was never one to just bring flowers in the customary manner a husband brings his wife flowers.  He brought flowers.  He decorated rooms.  He made cinematic statements about the love he had for his wife.  He was a good man.  He tried.  He loved his wife, and what better ways are there to tell a woman you love them than through flowers?  He wanted to make that statement, regardless what it said on their financial statements.

Craig would be the first to tell you, he knew nothing of finances.  The wife took care of that, he would say, and she could be a real drill sergeant.  She could drain the intrinsic and symbolic value of flowers and turn them into economic values that drained them of all of their romanticism.  She could be so anal-retentive, she reminded him of Monica Geller from Friends.  She was always harping about money, and how he couldn’t control his spending habits, and how he spent money like a child with no regard for the economic bottom line, but he made good money.  He worked his tail off.  He was a grown man.  Who did she think she was trying to always tell him how to live?  Craig lived by his own set of rules.  He was his own man.  No woman, not even his wife, should tell him how to live.  Spending money, and purchasing things, gave Craig a rush he couldn’t really explain.  He may have had some impulse control issues, but who didn’t?

“You’re selfish,” Sheila informed him one day after discovering another one of his spending sprees.  “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 as a point of fact.  He said this without emotion or reflection.  He said this to let her know that he was not such a bad guy.  People love me, this statement basically said, 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 honestly believe them.  Every once in a while, though, we accidentally step on a landmine that exposes us for who we are, and some of us are adult babies.

The term adult baby is not specifically targeted at males, but most adult babies tend to be males.  They’re usually forty-something males that have been controlled by women for the whole of their lives.  They’ve usually had women tell them to share, they’ve usually had females set their clocks, do their accounting for them, and raise their children.  Adult babies are usually good men who provide for their families, but that sense of responsibility usually ends when they punch out for the day.

Women have it so good, the adult baby says when confronted by their situation in life.  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 electronic devices, he gets it; and if the man wants some article 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 is ever forced to reflect on their financial status, “but she does make it work.”

The adult baby had a good woman cater to his needs for his first eighteen years, and then that responsibility shifted to a good woman he married straight out of college.  He probably married his high school sweetheart.  He probably married a woman that reminded him of his mother.  He probably wanted someone to take care of him when he married.  He was probably crazy in college.  He probably got drunk a lot when there was no one there to tell him to act responsible.  He probably 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 experienced failure.

No one wants the 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 some of the complexities life had to offer, but still young enough to shrug them off without the fear of consequences.  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’re finally able to flex the muscles of independent living, while getting our parents to pay the bills of college.  We’re also in a narrow zone of life —between adulthood and childhood— that allows us the freedom to form an identity without the responsibilities that form 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 financially responsible, and moral, and in control of our impulses, but most of us do, because we know we can’t live like a child forever.  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 they are the other 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 their boy had flaws, 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 financially irresponsible, that they weren’t the best and most attentive student, and they didn’t have a very good work ethic, but they were kind to their mothers, and that was really the kind of characterization they hoped their boy would have.  The boy knew how to hit all of his mother’s bullet points in other words.  He knew how to make her happy, even if it didn’t improve his character much, and 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 her with some grandchildren.  She wanted her boy to find that one, special woman who would give it all to him, and that probably 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 in the good son, and she may have brought them up incidentally, in a string of jokes being told about the good son, but when she added her bit, it angered the mother.  That joke was perceived to be a direct reflection on how the mother raised her son, and the mother took exception to that.  It drove a spike between the mother and the 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 she was now 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.  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 may feel bad about placing the family in such dire straits.  It’s at this point, while ridden with guilt about the sacrifices he has caused his family to endure, that he buys a whole bunch of flowers to put a band aid on the wounds his worried wife has exposed to him.

“You can’t buy me flowers anymore!” she shrieks when he presents them to her in a cinematic fashion that he believes expresses his love for her.  “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 adult baby is not fundamentally flawed.  Just like the insane are not crazy all the time, adult babies have lucid moments.  They have blips on the calendar when they can control their crazed behavior.  They have moments, such as those that occur when the wife finally confronts him with their situation, and he knows he needs to grow up and be more responsible, but both parties know that he will eventually revert back to who he is.  For he will eventually reach a point where he feels he that 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 individual power and freedom 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.”

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 that it used to be blue.  I couldn’t believe it.  He seems so nice.”

mohawkThe theme of these toasts, and the conversations that followed, was: There is usually something wrong with a guy that used to have a Mohawk, but that’s not the case with Mark.  I know Mark, and he’s nice.  We learned that the Mohawk was blue at times, and that it was spiked eight inches high at other times, but no matter what incarnation it took, Mark was always nice, and he would always talk to you just like any other feller.  Mark appeared to take this all in stride.  Either he didn’t see the condescension intoned in the toasts, or he agreed with the sentiment.  Whatever the case was, he sighed at the conclusion of each of the toasts, and he appeared to fondly recall those days when he used to have a Mohawk.

I was at this ceremony, at the behest of my handicapped uncle that was quite fond of the bride.  My uncle did not know the man that used to have a Mohawk.  My uncle did not know if this man went through such an identity crisis at one point in his life that he felt the need to cut his hair in such a fashion to get some kind of attention.  So, I can only draw on personal experience when I write that those that eventually get an attention drawing tattoo, or a Mohawk, start out dying for some attention.  They’re usually the type that can sit in the corner of the room, and no one would remember that they were even there.  This usually results in them punching people, or   displaying some aspect of a memorable fiery temper.  “Don’t mess with Jed,” they want said, “He’s insane.”  I’ve even seen some of these types go so far as to say such things about themselves to try to get that reputation started.  I’ve seen some of these men fail so badly in these pursuits that they resorted to doing something drastic, like getting a Mohawk.

I’ve heard some Mohawk wearers speak of sitting in front of a mirror, for over an hour, to get that hair gelled up just right, so that they could achieve the perception that only an eight-inch Mohawk will avail them.  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 those people are directing some sort of concerted effort directed towards them.  “For God’s sakes, Helen, the boy’s got a blue Mohawk!”  This type actually gets off on reactions like those, and I was sure Mark did too, in the days when he used to have a Mohawk.

It turns out Mark has a great heart, and he’d,” the best man would say to complete the circuit of the clichéd best man toast, “Give you the shirt off his back.”  The best man said, at one point in his toast, 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 selling the joke.  Laughter made its way around the room.  It was polite laughter.  There was nothing raucous about it.  There was nothing shocking, or raucous, or rebellious about Mark anymore.  The Mohawk was gone.  Normal men, with sensible haircuts, were now so comfortable with Mark that they felt free to laugh at him without fear, and he had to sit there and take it, nodding with silent vulnerability in the corner of the room.  His nod did have an unspoken ‘yep!’ to it that suggested he either regretted losing the Mohawk, or for trying it out in the first place.  My money was on the former.

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

It was an unorthodox ceremony that preceded these toasts.  One look at Mark and Mary could’ve told those in attendance that they were, at least, in for something unorthodox, but most of them were unorthodox too.  The church we were in was unorthodox, and it appeared to have seen its best days thirty years prior, but unorthodox can mean quaint and colorful and memorable and romantic to two people expressing their love for one another in their quaint and colorful and romantic way.  Events started to get inarguably unorthodox when two teenage girls stepped to the mike stands at the side of the altar, during the ceremony.

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

The songs weren’t a brief interlude either.  They were played in their entirety.  The girls were either tone deaf, or they couldn’t hear themselves sing.  Whatever the case was, they were off, but there was something kitschy about that, something wonderfully amateurish, and endearing, and embarrassing.  It didn’t work for this disinterested third party.  I can’t sing, and I usually have empathy for anyone trying to do anything artistic, but this display even made me cringe.

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

“But this was Mark and Mary’s ceremony,” I can hear others saying, and 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 internally become frustrated, mean-spirited Simon Cowell-types.

There were risqué moments at the reception.  The father-in-law turned an old, iron, fold out chair towards him, and 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 politely.

 I should be embarrassed?” the father says.  He’s aghast.  (He’s winking.)  “I thought Mary would have the decency to wear some under garments.”  We all laughed politely.  Boring.

The man, that used to have a Mohawk, then shot-gunned the garter to the one person in the room that didn’t want it.  Hilarious.  Boring.  We all laughed politely.  Mark did this after having everyone line up ceremoniously for the flinging of the garter.  He laughed after doing it.  His laugh was a little too obnoxious, to presumably give the moment a sense of obnoxiousness it lacked.

Why did you have everyone line up in such a fashion?  If all you were going to do was fling it to the one member of the gathering that didn’t want it?  It was one of those jokes that sounds great, and obnoxious, in the planning stages, but rarely translates in action.  It probably worked well in the aftermath however.  “Remember when I flung the garter to Johnson?” 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 garter recipients went back to their seats without smiles.  Even a man that used to have a Mohawk couldn’t make that moment funny.  He was a fish flopping out on the dance floor for all to watch quietly while he yearned for the day when he used to have a Mohawk.

The young kid, that caught the garter, thought it was funny, but he laughed a little too hard at it.  When he took to the dance floor, after the garter tossing, he proceeded to dance a little too crazy.  He dropped his shoulders too low in his dance steps, and he clapped a little too hard.  The naked eye could believe that he was having a whale of a good time, but closer scrutiny showed the kid having a little too much fun.  He wasn’t comfortable in his own skin.  He probably never had a Mohawk.

When this kid smiled, and his face crinkled beneath bullet-proof glasses, I knew he had a difficult time fitting in.  When the first, obligatory dance songs concluded, this kid sat quickly, a little too quickly, in the corner of the room.  He still laughed a little too hard from that corner, but he appeared to be more comfortable as a witness to festivities than he was as a participant.

That’s me in the corner, I thought, watching him.  That’s me in the spotlight, losing my confidence.   The kid was participating too much in something he wasn’t participating in, and he wanted to be comfortable getting nuts in context.  He was me, at nine years old, or however old he was.  He watched people get nuts in context … on TV, and he always imagined himself being one of those people, but he was not quite able to make that leap.  Everything was choreographed on TV to make you feel a part of it, and that’s probably what that kid sitting in a chair, watching, knew.  He didn’t know how to participate.  He wasn’t good at that part.  That kid was me, and I couldn’t stop watching him.

The groom cried during the wedding ceremony.  He was so shook up that he couldn’t recite his vows properly.  He had wanted this moment so badly, that it was a little touching.  After all that he had been through, he wanted his unification moment with Mary to be sentimental, sweet, and seminal.  How many chances does anyone have to have moments?  We all want them.  We dream of them.  We all want our moments to be more important than any of the other ones we’ve had thus far, but this moment was stolen from Mark by two four minute songs that the bride concocted for the ceremony, to ostensibly make the moment even more important.

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 –uncomfortably— to four minutes each.  Four minutes may not seem like a long time, unless you’re the one stuck up on a stage, trying to believe in a moment, with everyone looking at you, trying to see that moment in you.  Even if he still had his Mohawk, I’m thinking he may have cried during that moment.

Less is more when you’re looking for a moment, I wanted to say.  A moment is just what happens when you’re engaged in the moment.  You can’t choreograph them.  They just happen.  This moment was, unfortunately, defined by the choreographed two, four minute songs, and cry as hard as Mark did, it couldn’t be retrieved.

When our moment is taken away from us and defined by others, we try to steal it back.  Cheesy, choreographed lyrics about tenderness, togetherness, love, and always being there for your partner, look awesome on paper.  In reality, they’re show stopping, moment-stealing killers that you regret later, even if you refuse to admit it later.  You’re left trying to remove the definition of the cheesy lyrics in any way you can, until you’re left with nothing but tears of frustration at your inability to disassemble and recreate those moments when you used to have a Mohawk.

I was thinking of you the other day.  I was thinking about how special you are.  I was thinking that you are wonderful and generous.  I was thinking that I’ve never met a person as original and unique as you are, and I was thinking about how long it took you to become what you are today.  Seriously, look where you’re at now?  Compared to where you were even ten years ago?  You’ve made a lot of progress through the trials and tribulations you’ve been through.  We’ve all had our problems, but compared to you…we don’t even know what real problems are.  We thought we had it bad, until we heard the story of what happened to you.  It’s remarkable that you’ve been able to overcome all of that and not have a single personality weakness as a result.  I was thinking how well you knew yourself, and how long it’s taken you to know you in that special way you know yourself.  I know you don’t have a lot of “me time” to think about what you mean to all us, but I wanted you to know that we think you’re special, and original, and kind, and you’re the type that would give the shirt off your back to someone in need.  They usually only say such things about people after their dead, but I wanted you to know that I know this about you now, and I want you to keep on being who you are.  We need more people like you in this Godforsaken world full of self-serving types that wouldn’t spit on you if you were on fire.

I've been thinking about you

I’ve been thinking about you

The next time you feel a little down, read this, and know that someone out there knows you for who you are.  You have a need for other people to like and admire you, and yet you tend to be critical of yourself. While you have some personality weaknesses you are generally able to compensate for them. You have considerable unused capacity that you have not turned to your advantage. Disciplined and self-controlled on the outside, you tend to be worrisome and insecure on the inside. At times you have serious doubts as to whether you have made the right decision or done the right thing. You prefer a certain amount of change and variety and become dissatisfied when hemmed in by restrictions and limitations. You also pride yourself as an independent thinker; and do not accept others’ statements without satisfactory proof. But you have found it unwise to be too frank in revealing yourself to others. At times you are extroverted, affable, and sociable, while at other times you are introverted, wary, and reserved. Some of your aspirations tend to be rather unrealistic1.  Does that sound like anyone we know?  Well, some of us out here want you to know that we’re paying attention, and we know that you’re trying, and your special, and you care.

I remember when you said that you hate people who argue with you when they don’t know what they’re talking about.  I know exactly what you’re talking about.  Some of the times, it feels like the world is against you.  Some of the times, it feels like the stars will never line up for you in your current perdicament.  I’m telling you to just keep doing what you’re doing, and things will work out eventually.  It will for you anyway, because no matter what anyone tells you, you’re doing it right.  Who are we to argue with the way you’re doing things.  We don’t understand your situation, until we walk a mile in your shoes.  Your situation is different in ways you can’t really explain to people who don’t know you.  Well, I know you, and I know that you’ve gone through a lot when you tell me the stories of your life?  Who do I think I am when I consider the other person’s viewpoint in your story, when you’ve made it abundantly clear to us that you know what you’re doing?  We’re the self-indulgent types that don’t see you for who you are.

You’re the one who thinks differently.  We believe what others tell us, when we should be listening to you.  You appear to have a better grasp on the issues, because you’ve lived life, and no one gives you credit for that.

You reached that point of hyper-awareness on that drug that one time that helped you understand a fundamental truth about life that we never would understand?  Then you couldn’t remember it the next day, you remember that?  Yeah, you got so obsessed with it that you started taking drugs so often that you forgot why you were taking the drugs in the first place.  I know that we shouldn’t laugh, but the only reason you took the drugs in the first place was to facilitate extraordinary thought in your brain, but you took so much that you ruined it.  There were a lot of people laughing at you for that.  That wasn’t you?  Oh, sorry.  You sure, because I could’ve sworn…

Then you were the one who described that one person in a sexually gratuitous manner.  I remember that, because we were all stunned, and that’s exactly what you wanted.  You wanted us to drop the pretense we had of you being all graceful and polite.  You wanted us to know that you were not constrained by the constraints of your gender, but we all thought you took it too far.  We kind of felt sorry for you in a way.  You thought it was daring and confrontational, but we thought it was kind of sad that you had to fight so hard to appear to be an individual. You danced around your lust to us, when you probably would’ve been better just stating that you lusted after that person blatantly.  That wasn’t you either?  Oh, sorry.  You sure, because I could’ve sworn…


Getting people to laugh is difficult.  Some of us screw jokes up.  Some of us mess the stresses up when it comes to punctuating a punch line properly.  Some of us have horrible joke-telling rhythm.  Some of us can have the exact same material as the best comic in the world, but for some reason we didn’t hit the mark in the exact same manner.  What happened?  Why didn’t they fall over laughing the way they did when that other guy told that joke?

Even when we tell jokes to our friends at the water cooler, we’re all trying to find the perfect, most consistent way to get those around us to laugh.  One of the easiest ways to accomplish this is by mimicking the patterns, and rhythms, of situational comedies (sitcoms).  People already know those patterns, the rhythmic structures of their tones, and their exit strategies.  They are more comfortable with these patterns and rhythms, so it’s just easier, and less taxing, to simply copy them.  We all do it in one form or another.  We can’t help it.  We want the laugh.

imagesA friend of mine believed the finer points of joke telling came down to the exit.  I don’t know if he sat around and thought about it, or if he simply 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 telling jokes.  Before attempting this exit, this guy would bend down, and put his hands on the desk before him.  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.  Long story short, he was nervous around me.  Through the years we worked together, though, I attained some sort of upper-echelon status in his joke telling world.  So, if he ever came across a fantastic joke, 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.

So, he tells me the joke.  I can’t remember any of the actual jokes.  Most of them weren’t as great as he thought they were, but they weren’t bad either.  The actual jokes didn’t matter to me 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.  Immediately after the punch line was delivered, he would pull his hands away from the desk swiftly and exit in an erratic fashion.  This erratic motion was, somehow, 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 do it right, the laughter will follow you through the aisles you walk through.  Get in and GET OUT!

In real life though, some people don’t always execute exits well.  They just exit.  If I were to advise my friend on his exits, I would tell him to plan a destination ahead of time.  There have been times when he’s told a joke, exited, and ended up in another row with nothing to do there.  The sitcoms apparently never covered this territory very well, for their characters always have a place to go.  They usually exit offstage where no one can see them.  My friend, of course, never had this luxury, and everyone could see him look around foolishly in a poorly planned destination.

There have been some occasions when his jokes required some follow up.  I know the old phrase “jokes aren’t funny when you have to explain them,” but some jokes require explanation.  Call me stupid, if you want, but I’ve always been a processor that has to have some things explained, or I won’t get it.  On those occasions where I was forced to call him 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 extremely uncomfortable around one another while he did it.  I ruined his exit, and I knew it, so I would laugh extra hard to try to cover for this violation.

On other occasions, he would purposefully 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 usually pretended like he couldn’t see me.  We would then look at each other uncomfortably when he’d established the fact that he was not coming back.  You’re not ruining what I consider the perfect exit, his gait stated, to explain things to you in the manner I have too many times before.  You’re just going to have to figure this one out yourself.

The music that we like defines us.  All of our tastes in the particulars define us, of course, but none more so than music for whatever reason.  The question is: are we entirely in charge of how we are defined in this way, or are these definitions dictated to us by the prevailing winds of “cool”?  We would all love to believe that at some point in our lives, we leave that urgent desire to be cool entirely behind us, until we get slapped back by that cool, or that decidedly “uncool”, person that redefines us vicariously?  This leads us to another question: Do we ever reach a point where this dimension of our identity is entirely ours?  We would all like to think we’ve chosen our musical tastes based purely on individual preferences, but are those preferences entirely ours, or have they been shaped by group thought, rebellion to group thought, and/or group rebellion to an “uncool” group’s conformist thoughts?

groundhog-2Do groundhogs ever sit around and contemplate the nature of their existence in this manner, or are these concepts too foreign and complex for them to ever understand?  We assume that they have simple minds, and other than the fear of being eaten every day, we assume that theirs is a relatively stress-free existence.  There have been occasions, on nature shows, where we’ve seen groundhogs watch one of their own being eaten, and we’ve always assumed that this desire to watch was born of 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 simplistic, base desire too?

I’ve heard these groundhogs screech and chatter when their brethren are being eaten, but are these screams of terror for their own existence, is it a mechanism they use as one last, ditch effort to try and save their brethren, are they attempting to warn any other groundhogs in the vicinity, or are they titillated by the horror of the scene in the same manner we are when we watch one of our brethren being slaughtered in a slasher flick?  Are they so fascinated by their greatest horror 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 immediately attempt to minimize the individual so we can live better in the aftermath. We usually say, “yeah, but he was old,” 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.  I 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 do they simply accept every groundhog, with all of their flaws, based on the fact that that groundhog lives in their community?  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 normal.  I liked to shake people out of having too normal a day.  It’s who I am, 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. People were looking at each other too normally, and they were saying normal things to one another.  Someone had to shake something up.

Normally, I would’ve been doubled over with laughter at such a reaction, for I normally 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’ 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 he simply happy to be alive for another day, and does it 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 brains firing at a rapid pace?

If a groundhog decided to perform a sexual act in a different position, would this decision be documented as simple or complex?  What if test results showed that the groundhog performed his act listlessly 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 intravenously feeding him some sort of semen producing agent while suckling on his organ for the 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 all 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 been that I didn’t say the word dude 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 quite quickly, through the public square humiliation process, was that calling my grandma “my 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 overly impressed with her existence.  A hessian does not run across a room and hug his Nana.  That’s something for people who listen to Genesis.

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 embarrassed to like 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 Puppets, Ride 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 when someone is putting someone else down.  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.  Facebook has probably made life for teens in America easier by comparison.  You can block the people that question the constructs you have about your personality with 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 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 my 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’s all right to like their album In Through the Out Door, for example, but you cannot love it.  There are far too many synthesizers on that album.  John Paul Jones had far too much control 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 have to know that.

If groundhogs were forced to listen to music in a research lab, would they develop an affinity for certain kinds of music?  Would their shared affinity be considered simplistic or complex?  If it started out simple, is it possible that it could progress over time?  Would they begin to separate into groups based on a love for Zeppelin over Aerosmith?  After repeated listenings, would a culture develop in the groundhog community that allowed Zeppelin and Aerosmith lovers to commingle, but the Genesis lovers would forever be castigated for their simplicity?  Would these groundhogs develop a preference for complex music over simple music, and would they hate some music for the mileage it gained them in the groundhog community?  And would they eventually 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 groundhog community for the music they chose to love?  Would their love for the music strengthen over time, and if it did would it eventually be characterized as complex, or would it be seen as a simple desire to belong that group of groundhogs that listened to that form of music, and would the groundhogs ever begin to see the distinction for what it was?

The battle for placement in our lives may be the one of the most defining.  Are we superior or inferior to those around us?  We’re all searching for it, and everything is relative.  Some of us define our superiority based on sheer physical strength and athletic ability.  Others believe that their superiority lies in intelligence.  It’s often difficult, and fruitless, to stare into a mirror to try to gain definition, so we must use comparative analysis—through interaction—to gain information about ourselves and our true identity.  Unfortunately, our quest for greater understanding of our identity is usually defined through the questions of superiority and inferiority.

Mr+Bungle+-+Disco+Volante+%2B+Bonus+7%22+EP+-+LP+RECORD-67741Run into any person on the street, at work, or in any walk of life, and they will inadvertently begin psychologically dressing you down.  People search for their identity, their superiority, through our weaknesses.  These searches may occur in the first few moments we begin speaking to them.  This initial search usually involves physical appearance.  Are we well groomed?  Do we brush our teeth?  Are all of our nose and ear hairs trimmed?  Do we have a socially acceptable hairdo?  Are we wearing socially acceptable clothes, are we wearing fashionable clothes, or are we wearing the finest duds known to man?  What do our clothes say about us?  Do they suggest superiority or inferiority?  Do we have something to hide?  Is it apparent in our stance, in the manner in which we sit, or in the manner in which we hold our head when we walk?  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 is a difficult one to overcome, but some believe that it is often what we say after the first impression that actually holds more weight, for if we have a fatal flaw—noticeable in the first impression—we’re likely 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 tell someone what our weakness is—say in the form of a joke—it will give us a stronger follow up impression.  The theory behind that theory is that it will end their search for our weakness, and it will allow them to feel superior and more comfortable with us, which we hope will result in them liking us.  Comedian Louie Anderson has turned this into an art form.  Moments after setting foot on stage, Louie tells his audience he’s fat in the form of a well-rehearsed joke.  The first impression we have of Louie is that he’s fat, but that follow up impression disarms us—or takes away superiority and gives it back to us with his definition of it—and that re-definition of our superiority allows him to go ahead and psychologically dominate us, because we’re no longer concentrating on our physical superiority.

The problem with such a presentation rears its ugly head when we accidentally begin to overdo it.  When it works in the second stage of impression, and we move onto the third and fourth stages of impression with these people, our insecurity suggests to us that these people may not be as entertained by us as they were in the second, self-deprecating stage of impression, so we go back to it as a qualifying crutch…“of course I’m nothing but a fat body, so what do I know” we say to get them laughing again.  When it works, and we get them laughing again, we accidentally begin relying on those qualifiers so often that we begin to be the weakness that we gave them in our second impression stage.  They can’t help believing this is who we are, it’s the impression we’ve accidentally given them so often that that’s what they think of us.  “That’s true,” they say to any future points we may make, “but aren’t you fat?”

In all the stages that follow, we are constantly in search of indicators that tell us if that person is either dominant or subservient to us.  If they’re 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.”  To my memory, I had never heard anyone put it in such stark terms.  I had heard the general 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 perpetually curious about my (American) way of life.  She was always asking me questions about my motivations for why I did 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 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 him that this may be due to the fact that David was considerably younger than us.  My friend 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.  He 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 has usually left 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 my friend’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.

We all work through these channels of definition trying to find our place.  My college graduate friend was often left out in the dark in the many discussions that David and I had concerning the politics, pop culture, and the general news of the day.  My college graduate friend was also not the type to would read a story and instantly form an opinion on it, and he presumably found it difficult to enter into our discussions.  He had also been ignoring such issues for so long that he didn’t have the base of knowledge that could extend itself beyond the news of the day.  As a result, he did start reading the news, and he did start forming opinions on the news of the day to gain entrance into our discussions, but they were usually opinions based on late night talk show hosts, Saturday Night Live type clichéd opinions, and he was usually, quickly dismissed on that basis.  His opinions were, in other words, not of the daring variety, and the variety that held true to historical precedent.  After months of David and I easily dismissing our college graduate friend’s opinions during our bouts for intellectual superiority, my college graduate friend had apparently had enough of it, and he decided to remind us that he had some form of superiority that we were forgetting.

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

As for my college graduate friend, I was sure he had a psychological profile built on me.  I was sure he had all of his feelings of superiority mentally stacked in a row based upon the characteristics of me 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 superior to me.

This battle for modern battle for psychological definition occurs with guerilla-style tactics.  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 gentlemanly 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 would usually 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 usually involves a long standing battle of guerilla warfare-style pot shots.

I broke down one day and decided to violate all of the modern rules of psychological warfare with my college graduate friend.  “Do you think that you’re superior to me?”  Being a good friend, and a confident man, he gave me the equivocation answer.  Being the obnoxious man I was, I asked him to break it down.  “Would your competitive feelings of inferiority or superiority 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 changed with me?  Would you ask me if I got a promotion, won the lottery, or got laid the night before?  How badly would you have to have an answer for the new way I had started walking down the hall?  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, finally, consider me an equal?”

I used to think I would eventually become Batman, but I wasn’t willing to do the work it took. After reading the comics and waking up at six a.m. to watch the Superfriends cartoon to learn the formula, I realized that I would have to buy a number of gadgets. I was on a limited budget at the time, I think I was seven, and I realized it wasn’t going to be cost-effective. There were a number of other complications that arose that I won’t go into, but I never did become Batman. When I got a little older, I decided on the Fonz. He had a confluence of nerdiness and coolness that I could never quite tap into, but it seemed attainable to me, then there were my dreams of becoming Walter Payton and Johnny Jefferson, and finally Stephen King.

I was young, and these fantasies were powerful forces in my mind. I thought there was something special about me, and when I say special I’m not talking about Grandma rubbing my hair and telling me I’m special. I mean really special, I mean my whole world would be shocked when they found out the truth special. When I would get a bad grade, or when a teacher told me I wasn’t cutting it; when a bully would pick on me, or I would be ostracized from the ‘in crowd’ in some way; or when I went through those normal, insecure moments of doubt and indecision that weigh down the mind of an adolescent, I would fantasize about them finding out the real me that existed beneath what they thought they knew of me. I thought that I had an alter-ego that only I knew.

At a certain point in time, I realized that all I would ever be is me. Some have wanted to be more than what they are, and some have wanted to be less. I pretended like I was more, at times, to impress people, and I’ve pretended like I was less to gain their sympathy and empathy. It never did me a damn bit of good one way or another. I’ve thought I was more than whatever job I was working at the time. I’ve thought that the company was not using my skill set properly, and then I realized that I was the one not using his skill set properly. I was the one who chose this job after all, but I knew that I needed that alter-ego to get through the day and the job. It’s a part of who I am. I’ve also thought that I was less than the job I’m in. I see all these people around me, with their glorious numbers, and I would think that should be me. I have the potential, but I don’t have the wherewithal to get her done, and I didn’t care about all that at the same time. That’s not me, I would say, I know my potential, but is that potential the Batman alter-ego potential that they’ll never know, or that I’ll never know entirely?

I love to tell jokes that don’t get a laugh. I love to bomb like Johnny Carson and Andy Kaufman did. I’ve had people tell me I’m not funny more than once. My apologies to those of you who thought you were the first. The truth is I love that more than if someone were to tell me I’m funny. Yeah, I don’t entirely get it either. I loved David Lynch movies in which nothing seemed to happen and no one said much. People hate those movies. Trust me, I’ve talked to them and sat through the movies with them. Mike Patton’s music turns me on. People say it’s not music. They say it’s just some guy screaming and yipping and yiping for three minutes like Warner Brother’s Tasmanian Devil on crack. I’m not a tool, but rules are important to me. If you don’t know the rules, or don’t have them, what is there to rebel against? I used to religiously seek non-conformity, until I realized that there was a degree of conformity to the non-conformity I sought. I used to think that the key to intellectually superiority was in secular avenues, until I realized that I wasn’t even listening to the other side. When I began listening to the other side, I began listening to the secular, more liberal side again. When I began listening to the more liberal side, I did it for the sole purpose of appearing enlightened and open-minded, until I began to see the zippers in the back of their costumes. From that point forward, I listened to the more liberal arguments to strengthen my arguments against them and their agendas and formulas.

I’ve fantasized about becoming Batman, the Fonz, Walter Payton, Johnny Jefferson and Stephen King, but I wasn’t willing to put in the work to achieve what they’ve achieved. I’ve realized that while they may have some natural gifts that I have never had, they put in a lot of work to get where they are. Somewhere along the line, I began fantasizing about becoming me, and I realized that’s going to take a lot of work.

Interested in reading the non-political, fiction side of Rilaly? Follow the link below:

“This is it,” a former co-worker said approaching my desk.  He was too near when he said it, he startled me.  He was generally a close talker, but he even narrowed his usual gap for this one.  “My final farewell to you,” he said.  “I’m leaving the company.  I’m on my way out now.”

“Oh shoot,” I said to the man that was a close associate of mine.  The term “friends” would a bit extreme to describe our relationship, but we always talked about the stupid shit that people that like each other, from a distance, talk about.  This whole departure had been in the works for about two weeks prior to the moment when he walked up to my cubicle and began his final farewell.  I went to his going away party, we had discussions about his future, and we engaged in some premature final farewells.  I told him it wouldn’t be the same here without him, and all that sentimental junk that I didn’t really 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 at the same time.

I asked him if he was excited.  I said you get to do something really important with your life.  I told him that I envied him.  I asked him if he was a little scared about leaving the comfy confines of our company to achieve, or fail, in the mean cruel world.  He said yes to all of the above. Then he launched.

He spelled out for me, in explicit detail, his new venture in life.  He did so with magnificence and aplomb.  He was also magnanimous.  He spoke about how he thought that I was the type that would eventually 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 were in his vocabulary.  He tried to instill a sense of timeless profundity to his departure.  If it were a speech, it would have caused emotion. People would’ve been applauding, some may have cried, others may have stood to applaud.  He lit up in certain moments, like when he finished the ‘dreams can come true’ portion of his address with: “If it can happen for me, it can happen for anyone.”  I laughed slightly.  I thought he was going over the top with the characterization of his departure in a brilliant, albeit subtle attempt at comedy.  It sounded like a line from a soldier heading off to the Civil War in a Gone with the Wind passage.  I don’t know if this was something he practiced, or if he had said goodbye to so many people that day that he had it down, but it was one of the most elaborate departures I had ever experienced.

The thing of it was we were fellow office workers. We were associates, as I said, so the invitation to his going away party wasn’t a shock to me, but I didn’t talk to the guy much at that party, and I wasn’t wounded by the lack of attention. The guy gave me as much attention at that party as was warranted as far as I was concerned.

The 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 a diatribe 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 was a little trepidatious and excited at the same time.  By the time he finally began to step away, he was practically yelling good wishes to me.  My mouth wasn’t open, but I was a little taken aback by the display.  Then it happened…He got into a serious case of the leans.

It was one of the worst cases of the leans I’ve ever seen.  It was my desk neighbor that fell into the leans with him.  He went left, she went left; he went right, she went right; it was painful to watch.  There were four separate and distinct leans these two engaged in before they finally reached an agreement on which way they would go.  One usually concedes with laughter after two of three leans, but four was something I had never seen before.  What my desk neighbor failed to understand was that my friend was trying to make an immortal, Casablanca style exit. He wanted all of those left in his trail to say: “You know what, there goes one hell of a good fella.”  I’m sure that he thought that this parting made him think that I would if not cry then I would, at least, wistfully remember him for a long time, but all I remember was him shucking and jiving with my friend trying to get through the beverage center.

I wondered if he got mad at her for the leans and for ruining what I’m sure he considered an award-winning exit.  I wonder if he examined the ramifications of the leans on my memory of him, or if he swore at my desk neighbor for ruining his exit.  Whatever the case was, I’m sure the swear word he chose would not be indicative of the anger he felt at my desk neighbor for giving him the leans.

A co-worker of mine gave me the “you don’t have a shot in hell ray” the other day at the gym.  I did nothing to deserve this.  I waved.  I pulled my earbuds out.  I was prepared to have a polite, engaging conversation with her.  I didn’t expect to get a “you don’t have a shot in hell ray”.  I thought I was a good friend.

We used to talk about some issues that bothered her.  We used to talk about some guys she was hoping to date.  I was a good friend.  I wanted to ask her out, but I didn’t.  We worked together for three years.  We even sat by each other for about three months.  I say hello to her that day at the gym, and she shoots me the “you don’t have a shot in hell ray”.  I was a good friend!

glareShe does return the hello that day at the gym.  She fulfills her portion of polite protocol, but it’s guarded.  She appears annoyed by me saying hello.  What?  She appears annoyed by me saying hello.  Why?  I was such a good friend?

I see her at work the next day, and she gives me an over enthusiastic hello.  She knows.

It may have been a reflexive act on her part to set her phaser on “you don’t have a shot in hell”, 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 didn’t look at them, not 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 the future world of us dating, 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 my portion of polite protocol from this point forward.  How dare she, and her incredible breasts, give me anything more 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 am just so sick of girls giving me this look that I’ve decided to make an example of this girl.  It’s my hope that my decision to defriend her will teach this girl, and the rest of the fantastic looking girls—with fantastic breasts—of this world, a little lesson in decorum when she posts this moment on her exclusive “great looking girls” website.  I want her to tell them that you don’t give good friends the “you don’t have a shot in hell” ray no matter what the circumstances.

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 unspeakably beautiful breasts, but this was not the case.  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 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 Rilaly to kick around anymore.  You just lost one fantastic friend.

Journalists are not your friend

Let me start off by saying, I am not a fan of the music of rap duo Violent J and Shaggy 2 Dope, otherwise known as Insane Clown Posse (ICP), and other than the occasional, “This is the type of music they play … ” cuts I’ve heard in news clips, I’ve never listened to them.  I have no alliance to them, in other words, but I harbor no ill will for them either.  I know that they exist in the universe, they make music, they wear makeup, and their rap songs are violent.  Other than that, I don’t care about the theme of their material, I don’t care that they “outed” themselves as evangelical spiritualists,  and I don’t care that their fans (Juggalos and Juggalettes) stated that “They felt deeply betrayed and outraged” by the revelation of the rap duo’s spiritual nature.  I am not overtly religious, but I do not condemn organized religion in the manner I once did … in my youth.  I also don’t have any particular allegiance to fellow writer, Jon Ronson, either.  I say this to let you know that I do not have a dog in this fight.  I don’t have an ideological stake in one side appearing better at the end of this article, and I don’t see my side being represented by either party involved in this interview.

ICP-604x471What bothers me most about Mr. Jon Ronson’s interview of the ICP, presented in the form of an Have You Ever Stood Next to an Elephant essay, in Mr. Ronson’s Lost at Sea collection of essays, is the sense of trust the rap duo ICP display with Mr. Ronson.  I don’t care that that level of trust Jon Ronson attained from these two produced an entertaining article.  All the power to him for doing so, but I am not a member of the Jerry Springer contingent that enjoys watching people make fools of themselves.  Had I been present at this interview, I may have laughed a little, but at some point I would’ve said, “All right, all right!  Enough!”  I would’ve then turned to one of these two rappers and said, “This man is not your friend.  He is a journalist devoted to exposing the truth, your version of the truth, or the truth, as he sees it.”

I see this level of trust, displayed by religious people, in a number of journalistic enterprises, and I always want to ask the subjects of these interviews if they’ve read a newspaper in the last twenty years; if they’ve listened to the radio; and if they have cable.  If you have, I would say, why would you think this man is going to give you a fair shake?  Why wouldn’t you walk into the interview with less than a healthy dose of skepticism?  Why would you, after witnessing the last twenty years of journalists ripping and tearing at the heart of religion like starved hyena, not approach every question the ask you as if it were a trap?  I understand that you appreciate the opportunity this journalist is offering you to “get your message out”, but if you were paying attention you’d know that 9.8357 times out of 10 the only reason a journalist is going to agree to sit down with you, or seek you out for an interview, is that you said something stupid, dumb, or just plain wacky that feeds into their narrative that all religious people are stupid, dumb, or just plain wacky.  The latter may be hard for you to swallow, and it may be untrue as far as you’re concerned, but you should approach this interview with that mindset.

I don’t know what Mr. Ronson did to gain the level of trust he attained with the rap duo ICP.  I don’t know if he is blessed with such a pleasant demeanor that he disarms the subjects of his interviews, if he was in any way duplicitous with the ICP, or if the rap duo was so excited about getting their message out, in The Guardian, that they didn’t pay enough attention to how they were being presented.  I do suspect, however, that the rap duo may have fallen prey to the very human conceit of believing that they have such a command of the issue that they could control the debate that they would be having with a journalist, even if that journalist may be approaching the subject matter from an adversarial position.

As pieces of this type go, Jon Ronson was not as adversarial as some have been, but there are moments when Mr. Ronson characterizes this rap duo as … less than fluent.  In one particular section, Ronson writes that Violent J says: “Huh?” to a relatively innocuous, leading question that Mr. Ronson asks of him.  The author clarifies his question.  Violent J comes back with yet another “Huh?” that the author suggests is due to the fact that Violent J is mystified.  This is then followed by Ronson writing that: “There’s a silence.”  After this presumed “mystified” silence, Violent J proceeds to answer the question.  Whether or not, Violent J actually said “Huh?” on those two occasions, or spent a moment in silence gathering his thoughts, is not the point as far as I’m concerned.  The point –that should be remembered by those religious people, excited by the prospect of being interviewed in such a prestigious publication– is that Mr. Ronson considered it germane to include those three reactions.  The point, as it see is that the writer chose to include those three reactions to help him frame the interview for his readers, and presumably his colleagues and friends, so that they could laugh about it later.  The point is, also, that the editors at The Guardian considered them so germane to their writer’s point, and their writer’s framing, that they allowed it to be printed in that manner.  The point is that we’ve all read interviews with rock stars, and movie stars, and can all guess –based on the totality of what we’ve seen concerning the knowledge base of rock stars and movie stars– that these stats have a loose, half-baked grasp on the geopolitical issues they claim expertise in.  We can also guess that some, if not a majority, of those interviews are littered with “Huhs?” and spells of silence that are deleted from the final piece prior to publication.  For some reason, and I think those reasons are obvious, ICP were not extended this professional courtesy.

The point is not that Jon Ronson misrepresented the rap duo from ICP.  We don’t know what happened in that interview, an interview that occurred backstage at an ICP show.  We don’t know how long that interview lasted, or why Ronson decided to include what he did.  There are only three people that know exactly how that interview went down (unless there were others in the room of course), and only they know whether or not the rappers Violent J and Shaggy 2 Dope, of ICP, were properly represented.  And if it is the case that this is how these two wanted to be represented, then it appears that Mr. Ronson was more than happy to oblige.

Why would Mr. Ronson allow these two to represent themselves so poorly?  If you asked him, I’m sure he would say something along the lines of: “I’m a reporter, and this is what I do …Report the facts and all … I report you decide,” and he might say the latter with tongue firmly planted in cheek.  A truer motive might also be that Violent J and Shaggy 2 Dope further a narrative that Mr. Ronson has of religious people in general, a point that as I wrote answers the question of why he would decide to participate in this interview in the first place.  Would Mr. Ronson enjoy a “Why do you not want to meet (with) scientists?  Because (science is a way of) explaining things to people” debate with a C.S. Lewis type of rational advocate for religion?  Mr. Ronson very well may enjoy such debates in his private life, but he probably knows that such a heady debate might only find a home in a scholarly journal.

A rational, religious figure, like C.S. Lewis, might argue that while Mr. Ronson may not agree with the explanations religious leaders offer, they are, just like science, “explaining things to people”. Mr. Ronson might then reply with a Richard Dawkins-type reply: “Just because science hasn’t advanced to the degree that it can explain everything, doesn’t mean that we should fill all those gaps with some form of divine intervention.”  The C.S. Lewis type thinker could then talk about how the highly regarded physicist Albert Einstein believed in “a supernatural creative intelligence”.  To this, Ronson could say that Einstein was dealing with a level of science even less advanced than ours, and he may have had such an ego about his abilities that if he couldn’t explain it, then no one could, and therefore we must fill the gaps of what I, Albert Einstein, cannot explain with the mysteries of a supernatural power.  To this, the C.S. Lewis type of rational, religious thinker would remind Ronson that physicist Max Born commented that: “(I do) not think religious belief a sign of stupidity, not unbelief a sign of intelligence.”  While I am sure that this debate would be far more intelligent than the one I craft for example, enthusiasts eager for substantial debates of this nature, would view it in the manner sports enthusiasts viewed the epic battles between Michael Jordan’s Bulls versus Patrick Ewing’s Knicks, battles that resulted in blood, sweat and tears being shed before a game seven victor could be declared.  For reasons that are endemic to the argument that journalists (and their readers presumably) prefer, we get a preordained pickup game with the Washington Generals in which the journalist is allowed to dazzle the audience with their wordplay, and their Keats quotes, in a debate where the victor is so obvious that it’s an afterthought.

Instead of Michael Jordan skimming the inbound line to throw up a shot that Patrick Ewing barely misses, or John Starks throwing down “The Dunk” on Jordan, we get a Generals’ guard chasing Curly Neal around in a circle:

“Have you ever stood next to an elephant, my friend?” asks Violent J. “A f—— elephant is a miracle. If people can’t see a f—— miracle in a f—— elephant, then life must suck for them, because an elephant is a f—— miracle. So is a giraffe.”

We also read:

“Nobody can explain magnets,”  “Gravity’s cool, but not as cool as magnets,” and “Fog, to me, is awesome.”  

Finally, we receive the culmination of why Violent J and Shaggy 2 Dope prefer the idea of describing natural events as miracles, as opposed to the science explanations:

“Well,” Violent J says, “science is… we don’t really… that’s like…” He pauses. Then he waves his hands as if to say, “OK, an analogy”: “If you’re trying to f— a girl, but her mom’s home, f— her mom! You understand? You want to f— the girl, but her mom’s home? F— the mom. See?  Now, you don’t really feel that way,” Violent J says. “You don’t really hate her mom. But for this moment when you’re trying to f— this girl, f— her! And that’s what we mean when we say f— scientists. Sometimes they kill all the cool mysteries away. When I was a kid, they couldn’t tell you how pyramids were made…”

“Like Stonehenge and Easter Island,” says Shaggy. “Nobody knows how that s— got there. But since then, scientists go, ‘I’ve got an explanation for that.’ It’s like, f— you! I like to believe it was something out of this world.”

It makes for great theater, as I said, for those the love bearded ladies, wolf boys, and illustrated men, but if any of you laughers are religious, you should know that Jon Ronson, and his colleagues in journalism, are not laughing with you in such pieces.  They’re laughing at you.  You, the religious person, may deem these explanations, and this summation on science, as ridiculous as anyone else, but journalists don’t know that.  They may consider the ICP a bit of an outlier, but they know that for something to be truly funny it has to have a germ of truth in it, and I’m guessing that most of them find Jon Ronson’s piece hilarious.  They are not your friends.

If you are, by and large a religious person, and you are open about it, so open that you hope to encourage others to be religious, you will be considered “the other side” by most journalists, and they will do whatever they have to to characterize you as “that side” for their readers.  And you will learn, no matter how nice that interviewer appears to be on the surface, that most modern journalists are on that side, and they will do whatever they have to do to score points on you.

There are myths and miracles at the core of every belief system that, if held up to the harsh light of a scholar or an investigative reporter, could easily be passed off as lies,” Lawrence Wright writes in the epilogue of his book Going Clear.

They could also be passed off as ridiculous, as this essay proves, and while most religious people may agree that Violent J and Shaggy 2 Dope’s version of the Christian belief system is ridiculous, the greater import of Jon Ronson’s narrative appears to be that all religion is this ridiculous, but that the ICP version of it is just a slight exaggeration.

As I wrote, I don’t care that ICP were skewered by Mr. Ronson, and I don’t care that he took a few hours out of his day to attempt to skewer religion, insofar as I’m getting used to it.  What bothers me is the confusion that the members of ICP felt when the members of the music media pounced on them after their announcement.  This confusion is, as I see it, an exaggeration of the fact that most religious people are shocked to find out how anti-religious the media, as a whole, have become.  Soon after the announcement, Blender magazine listed them as the worst band in music history; and that “the worst musical moment from the worst band ever, is The Wraith: Shangri-La, the album that climaxes with Thy Unveiling” (the song where they reveal that they have been Christians all along).   They received negative responses to Thy Unveiling that spanned from science bloggers, college professors, and even Saturday Night Live.

When Mr. Ronson asked ICP if they anticipated such a reaction, Violent J said:

 “No, I figured most people would say, ‘Wow, I didn’t know Insane Clown Posse could be deep like that.”

Deep is, of course, a relative measure, and I’m going to guess that most that read the lyrics to this song are going to agree that depth is a relative measure, but I still can’t get over Violent J’s surprise.  When my religious friends express similar surprise, I ask them if they’re paying attention.  I ask them if they have cable, if they’ve ever read the newspaper, and when they say they do, I ask them how they can still shocked by it all.  If you had been paying any attention at all, I reply, you would know know that even mainstream religious views have been the subject to public scorn, and while I’m sure you regard your views as mainstream, you should know what all religious people paying attention to the current climate of the society should know: journalists are not your friend.

If a journalist asks you if you’d like to be interviewed for a major publication, go ahead and assume that they’re not going on a fact-finding mission that will help their readers learn the essence of your religion.  They want kooky ideas, medieval practices, a Svengali-like leader to herd the sheep, racist tendencies, homophobia, xenophobia, sexism, and any vestige of hatred that you may harbor to entertain their readers in a manner that characterizes your ideas and practices as those of the “other side”.  Even if you don’t harbor such hatred for your fellow man, and you haven’t said anything stupid that you know of, you should wonder why this journalist is so eager to interview you, and why they’re being so nice to you.  You should be skeptical of every question they ask you; treat every “friendly” story they share with you as a way of making you talk; and you should regard every smile as a duplicitous method of disarming you, even if it’s simply a pleasant smile from a relatively pleasant man.  You should wonder why a journalist, from a major publication, appears to be on the border of being your friend.  You should wonder why he just wants you to tell your side, why he just wants you to talk, and why he thinks the things you say are so funny.  I know you think you’re funny, but everyone does, and everyone enjoys making other people laugh, but in this particular case you’re probably not half as funny as he’s leading you to believe.  And he’s probably not laughing with you, he’s laughing at you, because he’s not your friend.

Hipster Hoedown

Posted: December 16, 2014 in Politics
Tags: , , , , ,

“Did you think that Andy was a complete jackass last night?” my hipster host friend asked me one day.  She asked this in a manner that suggested that I was there.  I wasn’t.  As most rhetorical questions of this nature go, my hipster host friend continued without leaving me the space to answer.  “I wouldn’t call it funny, jackass behavior either.”  This was said, presumably, to cut me off at the pass, as I was usually the one left to inform serious critics of jackass behavior that the subject of their criticism was trying to be funny.  “I would call it the kind of behavior that no one recovers from, and no one wants to be around again.”  She went into detail to describe some of Andy’s actions, but again, she did it in a manner that suggested I was there for it all.

Nerds vs. Hipsters

Nerds vs. Hipsters

I didn’t put this altogether at first.  At first, her tone of familiarity had me so wrapped me up in a like-minded cocoon that I was laughing in a manner that suggested that I thought she was hilarious, that she should continue down this road, and that I agreed with everything she was saying, until it dawned on me that I couldn’t agree with her, because I didn’t know what she was talking about. “Wait a second … party?” I said.  “What party?”

This was my inadvertent notification that I was no longer a member of the hipster circuit.  Was I upset?  An adamant “No!” would be a lie.  Indignant would be closer to the truth, indignation wrapped up in a big, old ball of confusion.  This confusion was partially based on the fact that I was never sure what landed me in their hipster world in the first place.  I was not their type, and every conversation I had with them, at their hipster hoedowns, only reinforced the idea that I didn’t belong.

I have been informed, throughout my life, that I have a tendency to over think, and that if I ever wanted to have any fun in life I would learn how to relax.  If I would’ve over thought my inclusion in this group, I might’ve guessed that I was the court jester brought in by the Athenians to provide their party goers some entertainment, I might’ve also believed that there had been a calculated decision made in the high court of hipster hosts that I now belonged among their ilk, but I chose not to over think this matter.  I chose to relax, as prescribed, and simply enjoy the few parties that I had been invited to attend.  As a result, I never basked in the inclusion, and I wasn’t crushed by my eventual ousting.  I was left with the conclusion that the whole matter was simply a foggy one that I would never be able to understand, because I wasn’t meant to understand, because the whole matter was so much more arbitrary than I had been led to believe, because I had inadvertently assigned these hipsters my own “beautiful people” values.

This hipster host’s reaction to my “Party?  What party?” query told me all I needed to know, before she said a single word.  Had I walked up and slapped her as hard as I could, I don’t think her reaction would’ve been as revealing.  She was a calm, composed, and confident woman that could approach most otherwise revealing matters without even blinking, but this incident left her naked and exposed to the fact that I had either been “the Andy” of a previous report, or that my name had arbitrarily been taken off the list.  Whatever the case was, the hipster host forgot, for a moment, that I was no longer hipster du jour.  She looked to a friend, a fellow hipster host, searching for rescue.  Her expression suggested that she was pleading with that fellow host, while affixing a pleasant, composed smile on her face.  When no assistance was offered, my hipster host, friend looked back at me with a smile that pleaded with me to just let it go.  I did, because by that point we were both fish flopping on the shore, and I knew that the definition of victory in such a contest is relative.  Before this incident could come to a close, however, I noticed an eavesdropper —an individual that had never been invited to one of these hipster parties— shoot me a “Welcome back to the other side” look.

Years later, this hipster host –long past her hipster status— invited me to a party.  We were, by this point, friends on Facebook, or friends that were declared friends for the purpose of showing the world how many friends we had.  We rarely if ever spoke, and when we spoke it involved recalling days gone by that were probably never as great as the dressed up memories recalled.  I immediately thought this invitation was conciliatory.  “An apology for all those ostracizing years,” is something that should’ve been printed along the masthead of her email invitation.  Calling any party, at this point in our lives, a party is kind a joke, at least when compared to the parties we all knew in our prime drinking years where all of the beautiful people involved did their best to control their sexual urges, lest they be the talk of the town the next day at work.  These forty-something parties involve no one saying anything inappropriate, for by this point in our lives we’ve all learned the lessons from the indiscretion of youth and alcohol that have guilted us into never saying anything inappropriate again.  And these nights turn out to be as memorable as family get-togethers that involve extended family that you’ve never met, with which you have a loose connection that you’re trying to establish for the purpose of having a conversation you really want no part of.  The natural selection process this hipster host once used to determine who would populate her party is gone, and in its place a desperate procedure devoted more to the quantity that could constitute a proper party than it was the quality of her hipster heyday.

When some confusion came into play regarding the specifics of the party, she asked me asked for a full-fledged commitment regarding whether or not I was actually going to be attending.  Hipster hosts never ask for a full-fledged conviction.  They simply feel sorry for those that decide not to attend.  Her request for commitment sounded a little desperate.  Did she want me at her party, because she loved me so much that she didn’t think it would be a proper party if I didn’t attend, or was she receiving so many vague commitments that she needed one solid one?  I still don’t know the answer to that question, but her desperation made it obvious that her once, much ballyhooed hipster status punch card had been punched.

“My husband and I just thought it might be fun to start a little tradition,” was the almost-apologetic follow up email the hipster host sent to the confirmed attendees.  It asked you not to expect a hip party even though its host was one that conducted the parties of her era.  This was simply a gathering of people she knew, that almost-apologetic follow up stated, nothing more and nothing less.

When we undesirables got one look at one another, we realized how necessary that follow up must have felt to her.  One attendee, a fifty-something, single guy decorated the various corners of my hipster host’s home.  How did this guy get an invitation, I wondered while watching him carry on about an amazing amount of anything he could think of saying, just to say it.  My hipster host friend would’ve been more apt to send this guy a “Don’t come within fifty yards of our party” restraining order for even thinking of nearing one of my hipster host friend’s party a decade ago.  Why was he invited?  Is seven attendees better than six, what if someone doesn’t show up, better invite him just in case.  He was emblematic of not just a fall from hipster status, but a screaming, mile-long fall at the Grand Canyon.

He was the type that ate all of the food, and said he “came for the free food,” (something he actually said at one point in the party).  He was the type you invite if you hope to have one of your party goers to make a joke about some girl’s tits; he was the type you invite if you fear that you may have bought too much beer; or if you want at least one of your guests to fall at one point in the party.  He was the type you invite if you fear long stretches of silence, because his presence will prompt all of your guests to keep talking in fear of him coming up with another Cliff Claven conversation that prompts obnoxious guests that are always looking to say what others are only thinking when they tell him to “Shut UP!”

The other attendees were an invisible couple that had little-to-no apparent ability to start a conversation.  They smiled politely at the conversations of others, and they occasionally giggled.  They had the kind of innocuous, vacant characteristics drug smugglers salivate over in their search for individuals with indefinable characteristics.

I notice these quirky things about these people, and I mentally list the deliciously uncomfortable things that I will say when everyone loosens up, but in the back of my mind I know no one will, and I’ll have to save all of this obnoxiousness for my after-party summation.  My uncomfortable, obnoxious prime drinking years, are over, and my conversation topics have switched from mentioning the fifty-something, single guy’s abundant nipples, and those innuendo laden comments that gained me some fame in my prime drinking years to conversations that concern how my dog that has trouble eating regularly, and a quirky thing that my child does to provide the room some comfortable titters.

In the midst of my self-imposed silence, I recall a day when I brought a fifteen-foot inflatable Shrek on stage and danced with it.  This is one of the most obnoxious –and perhaps most hilarious— things I’ve ever done, I thought with this inflatable blocking my view of the audience.  You know when you are engaged in such hilarity, that your hipster friends will regard it as epic, and you know that someone, somewhere will remember this for a generation.  You wonder how you are going to characterize this, and that you will have to answer the question regarding why you did this, this something, that is so out of character for you.  You know that your friends will be on the edge of their seat waiting for the conclusion of your recap, until you look out into the audience and realize none of these people are paying any attention to you.  They’re dancing, sure, but they’re dancing with the same amount of apathy they danced with throughout the show.  In desperation, you look back to those that know you, and you see that they’ve returned to their conversations, and you’re just a little bit older than you were before your last vestiges of youth drove you into doing something this “hilarious”.

I silently recall that night, and a handful of other nights, when I had to be obnoxious to shake up a night of comfortable titters.  I recall how I cashed in on almost all of them, and I do not do so in the manner a Spartan may his conquests on the battlefield.  I see nothing but regret laced with shame, and remorse for those times when I should have remained in the customary role of anonymity for which I’m better-suited.  This is age creeping up you, a like-minded listener may comment when I’ve concluded my story, and how I came to be a man that looks to his past more than his present or future.

Age has you regretting your past, coupled with the desire to relive it without that sense of regret.  Age has you examining your present state with a desire to live it with twenty years removed from your odometer.  But does it necessarily mean attending parties with no sexual tension, no beautiful people, and a sense of boredom among your new crowd of ostracized people that only feels bona fide through quantity over the quality of people in attendance.

A half-hour in the hipster host’s home recalls those extended family reunions where everyone involved struggles to find conversation topics among those they barely know, but should know by blood.  When they speak about their dog’s stubborn inability to eat on a regular schedule, you look over to the fifty-something, single guy in the corner hoping that he’ll say something to make everyone uncomfortable.  When the invisible couple say something about their quirky baby, and you’re sure that a phone will be flopped out to provide pictures for everyone, and you notice how many times the otherwise invisible wife has sipped on her hot tea while she speaks.  You hear the cartoons in the background that the hipster host was congenial enough to dial up for your child.  You see people tell innocuous stories with the kind of excitement, and edge-of-your-seat laughter that used to accompany dangerous, innuendo-laden stories that would embarrass the storyteller when they woke up the next morning, and your reactive laughter is so polite, it feels regurgitated.

The hipster host and I could’ve been an item, and I recall that window in time when she speaks.  Regret is inevitable when one calculates her beautiful people score, but the polar opposite of everything she is –coupled with an equal measure of physical beauty— makes me happier than I’ve ever been.  The hipster host is the typical, beautiful person that defines herself by those things beautiful.  Ask her who her favorite actor is, way back in her hipster host days, and she’ll ruminate over the exploits of Mel Gibson, Tom Cruise, the elf from Lord of the Rings, and on and on.  In the course of redirect, when you inform her that their acting ability is either suspect, or inconsequential, in their otherwise, innocuous movies, she would’ve spat, “Who gives a shit, he’s hot,” and you would’ve felt stupid for not recognizing that while immersed in her beautiful world.  Lying on the opposite, “You can’t be serious” pole of that discussion are Tim Conway and Don Knotts.  Two largely forgettable actors in a serious conversation about movies, that had the simple goal of making people laugh.  There was nothing glitzy, or glamorous about anything these two comedic actors did, and the mere mention of their name in such a discussion, would probably land one the same expression the paparazzi would give Tim Conway and Don Knotts if they ever deigned to step foot on a red carpet.

What does it mean that one person loves Don Knotts and Tim Conway, thirty to forty years past their prime, while another stays hip with those that exude sexuality?  No one knows.  No one knows why one thinks it’s a little endearing that their woman wants to watch movies with “Who gives a shit, they’re hot” actors in it, and to be bluntly honest few care about the differences.  Those that do, know that it matters, but they don’t know why either.

We were at her party, and her hipster host characteristics were on display, and all of the comparative analysis was available to anyone that wanted to chart them.  A life that could’ve been, a life that was, versus a life that is, and in every other sense, is as it should be.

As a front desk, hotel worker in a decidedly non-tourist spot, I’ve encountered tens of thousands of vacation travelers, and as anyone that has worked in the service industry can attest it is the squeaky wheels that get the grease.  The squeaky wheels are the rant and ravers, the screamers that throw things, and the ones that call you every profane name they can think of to get what they want.  They know that the standards of the service industry are set up in such a way that no self-respecting manager is going to allow a squeaky wheel to stand at their desk and create a spectacle.  They know that these standards are specifically designed to appease the screaming minority that call corporate offices and write letters.  They also know that frustrated, low-level employees –those that want to rebel against these standards and treat the screaming minority in the same manner they treat the quiet, more deferential majority— are mere stepping stones to a manager that will step in and just give the squeaky wheels whatever they want to make them go away.

8381997708_5b9f70d6de_b“Imagine what it must be like to live like that every day of your life,” the front desk manager informed me after my frustrations reached a boiling point with one particular shrieking wheel, and the favorable treatment he eventually received from us by being that way.  The gist of my frustration was that there was no discernible punishment for acting the way he did, and that the idea of a social, karmic contract we sign up for when we treat others the way we want to be treated, is to keep us rubes acting nice, while the shrieking minority walks away with all the spoils.  The gist of my more reasonable manager’s reply was that this shrieking wheel’s punishment for acting the way he did, was having to live the way he presumably lives.  “A person cannot be that obnoxiously miserable,” he stated, “without being obnoxiously miserable.”

No one involved in this man’s spectacle knew what happened to him after his one issue was resolved, but we came to the conclusion that the remaining moments of his vacation would be miserable, because he was miserable, and the greatest impediment to him having an enjoyable vacation was the decision he made to take him with him on the vacation.

Happy people tend to get lost in the shuffle in the course of a day at a hotel.  They do not get chocolate truffle apologies sent to their room by the manager; they do not get any of the extra-amenities that every hotel has lying in wait to grease those squeaky wheels; and they will not gain the sense of satisfaction that the miserable must feel by conquering an eighteen-year-old service industry employee’s desire to do everything they can to avoid rewarding him for being obnoxiously miserable.  Happy people are rewarded in all of the intangible ways everyone knows, but some it appears, would rather have a chocolate truffle.

It’s been my experience, working at a hotel in a decidedly non-tourist spot, that happy people can have great, enjoyable vacations no matter where they decide to travel, whom they vacation with, or what their vacation destination has to offer.  Their happiness is so infectious that it bleeds over into their daily life, in much the same manner misery does for the miserable.  To the happy, the very idea of travel is not necessary, but it’s a luxury that they enjoy to its fullest extent.  The miserable, however, can find something to be miserable about in the most luxurious, five-star destination spots the world has to offer, because they make the unfortunate decision to take them, and all of their baggage, with them on vacation.

No vacation can make you any happier, or any more miserable, than you already are.  The weather will not act according to plan; everything will be more expensive than you calculated; some members of the service industry will be miserable jerks to you in a manner that makes your vacation more miserable; and you will run into some unreasonable jerks, in the general population of the locale to which you travel, because these people always seem to find you.  If this is you, and you think that Murphy’s Law comes into play whenever you decide to vacation, you should consider the fact that the greater thrust of Murphy’s Law does not apply to places and things, so much as applies to people … people like you.

If you are a miserable person, and you ever come to the realization that the greatest obstacle to you having a great time on vacation is that you have to take you with you, you may want to consider another course of action that will save you, and those you vacation with, a great deal of headache and heartache by finding some way to avoid taking you with you.  If that means staying home and watching TV, stay home and watch TV.  You can complain about the dwindling number of shrimp in your takeout, or the amount of commercials on TV, from the comfort of your own home, and you won’t have to ruin the vacation for all the happy people around you that enjoy their lives.

Head in the Sand Gains

Traveling will not change you, your intelligence level, or any of the aspects of your personality that are endemic to your character.  If you are one that believes that the only way one can know anything about the Vadoma tribe of western Zimbabwe (derogatorily called “The Ostrich People”) is to travel there and shake hands with a tribal leader, you’re mistaken by a matter of degree.  You will be able to use the line: “Oh, you simply must visit the Vadoma people personally.  Gluck Gluck, the tribal chief, is an amiable host” for the rest of your life.  It may enrich your life a little to touch the Ectrodactyly-ridden toes of the fraction of this tribe that suffers from the ostrich-like condition; you may have a conversation piece for the rest of your life that centers around the smell of their refuse, the particular foods that they eat, and the opportunity you had to share that quaint meal with them, or you may even gain a perspective on your life that gives you a renewed appreciation of the extravagances your life has afforded you, but you will not become smarter, happier, or more miserable by travel alone.

There are people –and you know who you are— that believe that they are somehow worldlier, smarter, and more experienced than others based on the quantity and quality of their travels.  “How would you know?” a world traveler once asked me in a debate, largely unrelated to travel, “You haven’t traveled extensively.”

Few people are as bold, or as stark as that, but there does appear to be an element of this mindset in many world travelers.  We should all take a moment out of our lives to inform them that greater intelligence is derived by the manner in which one approaches a subject.  If you are one that already knows most of what there is to know about everything, and I think we can say that based on our experience with most world travelers that they approach most subjects with this mindset, your prospects for greater intelligence are probably going to be limited.  If your general nature is such that you approach various subjects without ego, and an insatiable curiosity, your intelligence level may reach a “boundless” characterization by those that listen to you, and this can all be accomplished without travel.

This person that questioned my overall intelligence, based on my limited travels, appeared to believe that by traveling in tour groups –on the yellow brick roads that the travel industry built to allow them to view the indigenous people of third world countries from behind proverbial velvet ropes that protected them from “icky” involvement with the indigenous, and basically viewed these people in the manner zoo patrons view the rhinoceros— that she was somehow smarter, or worldlier than me.  She was there, in western Zimbabwe, and no one can ever take that away from her, but she didn’t eat with them, sleep with them, or spend any significant amount of time with them.  She viewed them in the manner baboons are viewed at the zoo, refraining—we can assume—from tossing them peanuts.

“I did it for the experience,” is something she might tell you.  “I did it to be a well-rounded character that has a greater perspective about the world.”  No one can deny these possibilities, but listening to her one can’t help but think that she took this particular, third world vacation with an unspoken enthusiasm for the mileage it would gain her in the face of those that haven’t.  What good is taking a vacation like that, if you can’t tell people about it, if you can’t feel worldlier in its aftermath, and if you can’t lord it over those that haven’t taken such an excursion?

If you’re one that sees the proverbial velvet ropes that line the chamber of commerce’s yellow brick road as stifling, and you want to step into the world of adventurous travel, you may want to check to see if you have an American, OHBM (outrageously hot, blonde mom) in your tour group.  If there isn’t one, find the closest thing, and ask her husband if they’d like to join you on your adventurous excursion.  The reason for this is that no country –that makes any revenue from tourism— wants to see their country mentioned in the U.S. media, and there’s nothing the U.S. media loves more than a “Something happened to an American OHBM” story.  When something happens to an American overseas, it makes the news.  Depending on the severity of what happened, your story may only make the local news and a few internet outlets, but the ability to tell a heart wrenching “Something happened to an American OHBM” story, coupled with the image of an OHBM, might just land the story Malaysian Airlines flight 370 style coverage.  One has to guess that the minute a member of a country’s chamber of commerce gets one look at this OHBM, they might assign her some armed forces to make sure she isn’t so much as spoken to by the indigenous.

Know Thyself, Know Thy Family

Family reunion vacations are a far less dangerous adventure, of course, but even they can also yield some life-altering moments that could change our perspective.  We all find comfort in the notion that while most of humanity is so confusing, chaotic, and diametrically opposed to our way of thinking, we know our family.  We know how those that were raised in our homes think.  We may reserve some space for individual variance, but we cling to the idea that those that have ventured too far from the path will eventually have a redemptive “come to Jesus” moment that brings them back.  We may believe that that redemptive moment will be laced with regret, but even if it’s not we hope that they will arrive at that moment before it’s too late.  They usually don’t for reasons that are completely foreign to us.  They usually don’t, because they don’t believe that they’re been headed on a wrong course.  It’s their course, and if they knew where they were headed, they would’ve corrected their course long before the need for a redemptive moment arrived.  What usually happens, per my experience with such matters, is that the finger crossers realize they don’t know these people half as well as they thought.

We’ve all witnessed redemptive moments arrive for the subjects of our concern, and we’ve waited on half a bun while their “sure to arrive” realization tottered on the cusp.  We’ve witnessed all of the past events that should’ve led them to a realization, and some of us have even had others corroborate our version of those events, in the company of the subjects.  To our utter amazement, these people deny any vulnerability on the matter, they offer some sort of excuse for their involvement or lack thereof, or they accuse those of us that suggest that they were in any way vulnerable on the matter of either rewriting history, or being limited in our view on the matter.  Long story short, those waiting for an “aha!” moment where the subject comes to the realization that they’ve been doing it wrong in ways large or small, are rarely granted satisfaction.

Bill Murray has said that if you are thinking of marrying someone, you may want to take a vacation with them.  “Travel the world with them,” he suggests.  The import of this suggestion has less to do with traveling, and more to do with being cooped up with another individual on a plane, in transferring flights, setting up hotel stays, visiting sites together, and in all of the interactions where you can witness them engaging in with service industry employees.  Did they make the most out of every day of this lengthy vacation, or were some stops viewed as meager compared to the future highlights in your vacation plans?  And finally, how did your prospective mate describe the trip to others after it was completed?  Did they lord it over people that they had been to one particular location that they had not?  Coupled with all the virtues and pleasantries of travel, are the stresses and strains, and how that person deals with them can define them in ways that may not be apparent in those situations where they are able to keep their best foot forward.  The point of the Murray suggestion, given in a prospective groom’s toast, was that people thinking about getting married should place their prospective mate in situations where they don’t know anyone else is looking.  It may give a person some insight into whether their prospective mate is a happy person or a miserable person before they invite that person to join them in their journey through life, and how that journey might end up being a happier one if they decide not to take them with them.

I really want to stay out of the limelight,” said Rich Weinstein, a Philadelphia investment adviser. “This is not about me.”

“Too late,” say those of us that appreciate Rich Weinstein’s efforts to expose the Jonathon Gruber, “Stupidity” videos.  We want you, Rich Weinstein, to know that what you did was a “big (expletive) deal” to some of us. To those of us that have witnessed the media, and later Hollywood, canonize whistle-blowers like Mark Felt (deep throat) and Daniel Ellsberg (Pentagon Papers), we would like to send out our own form of media thank you to you, the citizen journalist from Philly, that reopened –and in some cases opened— the eyes of the public on the revelations you exposed about the behind the scenes machinations involved in the passage of the Affordable Care Act, the ACA, or Obamacare.

Photo by BYKST Kai Stachowiak (Age 47) from Hamburg, Deutschland on Pixabay

The anonymous, concerned citizen named Rich Weinstein

“Rich Weinstein,” characterizes Howard Kurtz of Media Buzz, “Is a slightly obsessed citizen” that was concerned about Obamacare. “He is,” according to Lucy McDermott of Politco, “Just an angry guy from Philly who says he lost his health insurance because of Obamacare.” He is, according to me, simply a frustrated citizen, one of the millions in the country, that opened up a letter one day from his insurance company to find out that he, in fact, would not be able to keep his insurance policy if he wanted to, even though he had been promised by all those Democrats that were willing to do whatever it took –and say whatever had to be said— to pass a bill that the Democrats had been trying to pass in Americans for over sixty years. He is also a concerned and frustrated citizen that found out that if he wanted to have health insurance at all, his premiums would double. He is that guy that answered the call so many have made in their general “Why doesn’t someone do something about this?” complaint.  He is anecdotal evidence (unfortunately) of the idea that most apathetic Americans are willing to just sit back and allow Washington to pass whatever they pass, as long as they get their bread and circuses.

Rich Weinstein is simply a concerned citizen, equivalent to that concerned citizen that reads an article from a relatively anonymous blogger, and he is equivalent to that relatively anonymous blogger writing an article like this one. He is you. He is me. I am Rich Weinstein, you are Rich Weinstein, and if there were more Rich Weinsteins –that took the idea of active citizenship to the point of watching countless hours of video taken at academic conferences and in other settings of discussions on Obamacare— politicians everywhere might be more concerned about passing legislation that their constituents might hold against them in the next election.

The subject of the video clips Rich Weinstein found, Jonaton Gruber, was not even Rich Weinstein’s initial target, as his initial focus was another administration adviser. After watching these countless hours of video, Mr. Weinstein found a video that had the M.I.T. professor stating that: “ObamaCare subscribers wouldn’t get tax benefits if their states didn’t set up health care exchanges.” He thought this video was so important that he wanted others to see it, and possibly be more informed on an issue that bothered him.

That’s when Weinstein used every means he could think of, from Facebook to phone calls, to get the attention of journalists,” writes Howard Kurtz in his Fox News piece.  “He (Weinstein) says he tried getting messages to Fox News, Forbes, National Review, Glenn Beck and a network affiliate in Philadelphia where a friend worked. Nobody bit. Nobody called back.

“It was so frustrating,” Weinstein said. “I tried really hard to give this to the media. I had this and couldn’t get it to anybody that knows what to do with it.” All he wanted, Weinstein says, was a train ride to D.C. for him and his lawyer, and “I was going to give them everything for nothing, no money, all I wanted was autographed pictures of the people I was working with to hang on my office wall.”

“It wasn’t until shortly before the midterms that Weinstein found what came to be known as Gruber’s “stupidity” video. He plastered it on his Twitter feed days later, sometimes inserting the names of journalists to try to grab their attention. This time, the news was quickly picked up by Fox, the Daily Caller and other media outlets (but not the broadcast networks or major newspapers).

Rich Weinstein is not a mainstream journalist, he’s not even a journalist. He is not a political operative or professional opposition researcher, and he did not do research on these videos, or release them, for any form of fame.  As Howard Kurtz wrote, “Weinstein would not be coaxed into an on-camera interview, or even provide a photograph. He doesn’t want his 15 minutes.” He does not want to become “Rich the Plumber”.”  He’s not a guy who lives in his mother’s basement. He does not wear a tinfoil hat. He is simply a man that took that age-old complaint, “Why doesn’t someone do something about this!” complain to heart and decided to do something.

Howard Kurtz excuses his compatriots in the media for not beating Weinstein to the Jonathon Gruber “Stupidity” videos by writing that “the tedium involved in Weinstein’s research is perhaps the best reason why a “Self-described regular guy” was able to unearth what the media could not. Few news organizations could afford to have a reporter spend a long period searching for a needle in an online haystack, especially without a tip that the needle existed at all.” That makes a great deal of sense when one factors in the limited budgets most media outlets are now operating with, until one plays what former CBS reporter Sharyl Atkisson calls the substitution game, and we replace the theme of this particular story: “The behind-the-scenes deception involved in the passage of Obamacare” with “The behind-the-scenes deception involved in the (Republican president’s) passage of a tax cut”. If the latter were the theme of a story that a mainstream reporter pitched to an editor, one can speculate that most editors, of those mainstream media outlets, would bust the budget trying to come up with their own “Gruber in the haystack” video that would momentarily humiliate all of the Republicans involved and potentially diminished the idea of tax cuts for the long haul.

If nothing else, the fact that Rich Weinstein wants to maintain his relative anonymity should prevent the videos he presented to us from being discredited by the cynical media that perpetually declares that anyone that speaks out against their cause is only doing it with ulterior motives and/or personal enrichment. It also allows those of us concerned with the sometimes dubious machinations of Washington –and frustrated with the bread and circuses contingent of our society that doesn’t seem to care enough to know how their lives are being affected— to identify with a concerned citizen that simply wanted to get the word out.

Rich Weinstein is the man leaning out the window in the movie Network, repeating the Paddy Chayefsky line: “I’m mad as hell, and I’m not going to take it anymore!” The difference, of course is that Mr. Weinstein didn’t just engage in this time-honored, relatively inactive, and largely symbolic art of complaining –that seems indigenous to Americans– Mr. Weinstein actually did something about it.

And what he did, some have speculated –by providing these “American Stupidity”, Jonathon Gruber videos– may end up doing more than just providing other American citizens greater ability to make an informed choice on this specific issue, but it may affect the decisions that Senators, and Congressman, make on the hill. It could also, others have speculated, inform future decisions made by the Supreme Court judges, on the future of Obamacare.  It’s possible, they say, but it’s also possible that these videos end up amounting to nothing more than filler for certain 24-7 news broadcasts, and radio talk-shows, that have a constant need to fill their news cycles.  In the greater sense, as it applies to his desire for fame, Weinstein doesn’t appear to care one way or another.

What should bother Weinstein, and all anonymous researchers performing countless hours of research for the purpose of informing whatever portion of the public that reads their articles, is the general reaction to Rich Weinstein and other citizen journalists.  Rich Weinstein is mocked, in some quarters, for being “mad” –a characterization usually given, by media types, to any that speak out, or vote against, Democrats.  He is depicted as angry, in the manner Travis Bickell (a character from the movie Taxi Driver) was angry; he is angry the angry the way William Foster (Falling Down) was angry, with a vigor that they suggest can only be autobiographical, but his anger could probably best be defined (by the elitist members of the establishment media) in the symbolic and directionless anger expressed by the Howard Beale in the movie Network shouting out his window to simply let out a little bit of steam.  What should also bother Richard Weinstein is that the media knows nothing about Rich Weinstein, any more than they know anything about the rest of us, that they throw under the “cuckoo” umbrella as a fallback explanation for a common, concerned citizen suggesting that a Democrat could be wrong, and acting in a deceptive manner, with regards to a specific issue.

Those of us that engage in a “Weinstein” number of hours researching stories, trying to do whatever we can to inform those people that they read our articles, or those of us that fall under the “cuckoo” umbrella, would like to send out a big (expletive) thank you for your efforts Mr. Rich Weinstein, and before you slip back under the cloak of anonymity –that you prefer– let me stick my head out the window for one second and shout “I am Rich Weinstein!”

Everyone has had an experience with a Vincent McKenna (played by Bill Murray), a St. Vincent, and very few of them involve any form of redemption. St. Vincents are St. Vincents as a result of the demons that chase them into being the people they are, and those demons are so powerful that they cannot be easily thwarted.

st-vincent-movie-reviewsAnyone that has read my personal experiences with Ellis Reddick, knows that I’ve had my own experience with a St. Vincent, and that I’ve been affected by his sociopathic tendencies in a subtle manner that I may never be able to shake.  Ellis Reddicks, and St. Vincents, are considered ideal characters for horror movies and coming-of-age style redemptive movies.  They are usually nice people (in the coming-of-age movies) that simply require a non-traditional lens, and it’s in that scope that they usually find the redemption that no one ever afforded them before.  Having said all that, St. Vincent is a really good movie for it’s honest, and all too realistic (for some of us) portrayal of a demon-ridden, lout that tries to take advantage of everyone around him, but as anyone that has watched a movie made in this century (the 21st century) knows, he’s not going to be such a bad guy after all at the end, and in the reality of this particular movie no one really is.

The demons that chased Ellis Reddick are the same that presumably drove Vincent throughout his life, except for the alcohol and the stripper.  The demeanor, the overall outlook, and the need for vices are all the same.  Vincent McKenna is an alcoholic that frequents the track, and spends some of his day and most of his nights with a stripper in a seemingly asexual relationship.  He tries to take advantage of everyone around him, including a banker, a recently divorced single mother to fund his loutish behavior, and her child.  With the banker, Vincent finds out that the money he’s received thus far from the bank, as a result of a reverse mortgage, has been completely tapped. The banker tries to explain the process of the reverse mortgage, and the idea that as far as the process is concerned, the bank can no longer provide Vincent McKenna money. Anyone that understands this process, understands what the banker is saying, but Vincent (and thus the audience) believes that the banker could find a way to continue to fund Vincent’s lifestyle, and the fact that he doesn’t makes him a tool.  The banker then becomes, in a limited manner that only characterizes Vincent’s current plight, the bad guy.  There is some struggle at this point, however, in totally believing that the banker is a bad guy.  He looks at Vincent with confusion in a manner that suggests that his hands are tied, but the sympathy for the main character cannot be shaken.  There is no struggle with the story of Vincent taking advantage of the single mother’s situation however.  That is more blatant, and in an odd way that makes you feel uncomfortable with yourself, kind of funny.

The John Nolte, November 14, 1014 review for, suggests that St. Vincent is basically trope-less, or as he describes it, it “isn’t a tropey-trope.” I’m guessing that Nolte is stating that this movie isn’t so loaded with tropes that it’s totally derivative, and thus unwatchable.  If this is what he’s saying, he’s right, but it’s still loaded with so many tropes that any serious review would probably have to mention the word to be taken seriously, even when they are attempting to dismiss it.  The primary reason to watch this movie, as with any movie Bill Murray is involved in is Bill Murray.

Bill Murray pulls his role off with the inexplicable, characteristic ease he pulls off every role.  As Steve Martin once said of Bill Murray: “It can’t be that easy for him.  It just can’t!”  Inherent in Martin’s consternation is Hollywood, the critics’, and most Americans’ inability to understand why he is popular, and why they love him.  The consternation also suggests that there has to be some underlying philosophy, or effort, to it all that no one knows about.  If it were any other actor, most people would accuse Bill Murray of sleepwalking through most of the movies he’s done.  He doesn’t appear to care, and we love him for it.  I love him for it.  It may have something to do with what Bill Murray said, “I knew from the moment I finished reading the script for Ghostbusters that we would all be able to be late for the rest of our lives.”  It may have something to do with, as Truman Capote once said, “All you need is one truly great book.”  It may have been his years on Saturday Night Live, the movies What about Bob? or Groundhog Day, or the stories of citizen Bill Murray that have made their way into the zeitgeist, but one gets the feeling that if St. Vincent were his first movie, you would love his performance without knowing why.

If it’s true, as political philosopher Hannah Arendt says that “To think critically is always to be hostile,” then you could regard this review as hostile.  Most critical thinkers prefer to think of a critical review as an honest review.  Some critical thinkers rip apart commercials and cartoons.  They may enjoy these vehicles, but they can’t shut that critical portion of their brain off, no matter how much they enjoy the presentation before them.  Some may view critical thinking as negative thinking, or cynical thinking, and some may take critical thinking a step too far.  The latter tend to think that the audience of that criticism can’t help but think that they are striving for the cachet that critical thinking can gain a person.  Having said that, Theodore Melfi’s directorial debut of his screenplay is very good. The primary reason for this, as I’ve stated, is that Melfi and Murray combined to characterize this Vincent McKenna character in a manner that recalled the Vincent McKennas I’ve known throughout my life. That alone, in my opinion, makes the movie worthwhile in my humble opinion. As the movie moves through this methodical characterization, we only love to hate Vincent McKenna more.  Prior to the redemptive phase of the movie, the trope that we all have to suspect in a well-rounded movie,  I was reminded of all of the St. Vincents I’ve known, as I worked my way through the confusing aspects of youth –looking for a hero to imitate or emulate– I found them all falling so far short that the St. Vincent redemption eventuality seemed both inevitable and incorrect.

Other than the fact that this curmudgeon, this Vincent McKenna, doesn’t have a tropey-trope-like, Scrooge-style redemption at the end, but all the surrounding characters do, I would point out that just about everything else in this movie has been done, ad nauseum, before.  The most pervasive trope in this movie, and that which seems so pervasive in modern cinema, is that “there are no good guys, there are no bad guys. There’s only you and me babe, and we just can’t agree”.  And if there are bad guys, they may be bad guys to traditional thinkers, but once viewed through a non-traditional lens, they can be something more, something better.  The lens in this movie is, of course, provided by a child, the neighbor’s son, named Oliver.  Another “bad guy” Oliver’s bully becomes a good guy after a more traditionally minded style of beating. The audience’s focus then shifts to the villainous divorced Dad of Oliver.  As the movie plays out, you realize he’s not such a bad guy after all either.

The St. Vincent’s I’ve known were not Vietnam Veterans, and they weren’t retirees that had already lived a life when I knew them.  When I knew them, they were fully immersed in the depths of their failure, so it may be unfair to equate St. Vincent with the curmudgeons and louts I’ve known throughout my life, but (again to the credit of the movie) they reminded me so much of some of the awful characters that have littered my life that I couldn’t help but feel cheated by the happy, redemptive ending.  When it involves Bull Murray though, you can’t leave entirely angry.

Pollution, by definition, is waste. And waste, by definition is inefficient. It is waste! Why is it hard to get some in the business community to see this?” Carl Cannon asks in a Real Clear Politics interview.

The premise of Mr. Cannon’s question is that most business leaders don’t understand how to deal with their waste, and that they should appreciate any outsider’s viewpoint on how to deal with it in a more productive manner, as opposed to conducting business in the manner they have for years, sometimes decades, and that they should stop viewing those “that are only trying to help them” in an adversarial manner.

Daniel Fiorino

Daniel Fiorino

The interview subject Daniel Fiorino, Director of the Center for Environmental Policy at American University in Washington, D.C., agrees with the premise of this question. He basically states that most businesses don’t understand the virtues of the assistance that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) can provide them, and as evidence of this, Mr. Fiorino cites a time when he visited a business where the accountability for energy efficiency was scattered, because the decisions were made by a separate branch of the business in a different city. Mr. Fiorino concedes that this compelling evidence for the need for an EPA happened 15 years ago, and he added: “I don’t think that happens anymore.”

As usual with like-minded people having a political discussion, their problem is a matter of perspective. They are viewing the tarnished relationship the EPA has with business, and the Republican Party, from a sympathetic position, looking out on those that have an adversarial position, wondering why those people don’t see the situation in the same manner they do.

Mr. Cannon would refute this characterization of the discussion by saying that one of the subjects of their discussion was that the EPA was created by Republicans, President Richard M. Nixon, and how in the discussion, he wonders aloud how this “Republican” agency has lost the support of so many Republicans –and although he doesn’t state this in this manner— how those in business community could also began to deal with the EPA in an adversarial manner, if it’s a Republican creation.

Anyone that knows the history of the EPA in America, dating back to 1970, knows that the relationship was not intended to be this adversarial.  The primary driver of the EPA was to promote better, more effective and efficient ways for businesses to deal with their waste in a manner that would lead to cleaner air and cleaner water, and many “man on the streets” EPA acolytes still believe that this is the EPA’s primary, and sole, driver, and the “man on the street” doesn’t understand how anyone could be against that?

The EPA, by its very nature, could be said to be adversarial to business, even in 1970, and in a Republican administration.  No business likes to be told what to do, how to do it, or if they’re doing anything wrong in any way.  Bosses don’t like having bosses in other words, but even the most conservative business man would have to admit that the EPA has done some good over the course of its forty-year existence. Even the most ardent Republican would have to admit that the rivers they used to swim in, as kids, are cleaner, that they are rarely hit with the fumes that some businesses used to emit into the public air, while riding in their parents’ car to the city zoo, and they would agree with the general principle that cleaner water and cleaner air is a good thing. Most Republicans and business owners would also have to admit, perhaps begrudgingly, that the creation of the EPA wasn’t a total waste of time. Something has happened over the course of the last forty years, however, that has diverted the EPA away from their primary driver of cleaner air and cleaner water into an arena most business owners, and most farmers, have declared as anti-business.

Ask a member of the business community, as opposed to a Director of the Center for Environmental Policy at American University in Washington, D.C., for their perspective on their relationship with the EPA, and how things have gone awry, and one of the first words you’ll hear is overreach. You’ll hear them talk about this government agency in a manner most people speak of most government agencies, “The EPA may have begun with nothing but the most saintly intents, but it has been bastardized over time, as it searched for ways to define, and then justify, its own existence, and after the left of center politicos stepped in to assist it with that definition and justification to help make it even more purposeful.”

Ask an uninvolved “man on the street” why they may have a negative opinion of the EPA, and you’ll likely hear the word overreach there too, in some form. They may not use the exact same verbiage one that has direct interaction with the EPA would use, but the gist of their answer will involve a description  of the EPA evolving from an institution that may have been created as a hand holding agency to a hands on agency, or a macro manager to a micro manager in their relationship with corporate America and farmers.

If a less than sympathetic interviewer had a chance to interview Mr. Fiorino, the first question they would have almost been required to ask him, after allowing him to make his case is, “I think we can all agree that the premise of human relationships is such that they are a two-way street, as any of us that have been in long-term relationships know all too well. We know that it takes a humble person, with a strong constitution, to admit that they’ve made mistakes, or that they’ve been categorically wrong in some cases.  If that person wants that relationship to last, and prosper, however, they know there are things they can do –no matter how wrong they believe the other party is— to rectify anything they may have done wrong, and/or change their behavior as warranted. That relationship can accidentally get locked into the adversarial if they don’t.  My question to you, based on this analogy is, what would the business community say has led to the two of you getting locked into this adversarial relationship?

If Fiorino is the typical wonkish Washingtonian, he would filibuster with a history of the EPA that basically leaves all listeners (that are still awake) with the unmistakable notion that Mr. Fiorino doesn’t believe the EPA hasn’t really done anything wrong, per se, but that they can, and will, do things better in the future, like having a conversation about greater flexibility, that they need to sit down and have a dialogue with business owners and Republican leaders over these matters to figure out how to discuss one of Mr. Fiorino’s themed discussions: “You don’t have to trade environmental protection for economic success.” It would also lead discerning listeners to the idea that Mr. Fiorino believes that there are ways to make business leaders more agreeable to the ways and means of the EPA, as opposed to the other way around.

A decent follow up question would only pound this relationship-theme point home with a: “We’ve all been in situations where our human relationships have become derailed, and these moments always call for some degree of self-examination. My question to you, as someone that has been involved in the EPA for (X) number of years is, what has the EPA done differently over the course of the last 40 years, that may have led Republicans, and perhaps more importantly business leaders, to believe that their relationship with the EPA is now an adversarial one. And what, specifically, could the EPA now do to heal those wounds and rebuild that relationship?”

If Mr. Fiorino is the typical wonkish Washingtonian, he would remain vague with talk of flexible proposals and efficiency goals, and talk of having a national conversation on the matter, and he would probably say something along the lines of “other than some changes that have been made to keep up with the times, the central goals of the EPA have not changed”.  And from Mr. Fiorino’s perspective all of these answers may, indeed, be honest and heartfelt, but if he denied that the perspective of the EPA has changed, and the scope of the EPA’s efforts haven’t become more burdensome, very few could deny that his perspective is, at the very least, limited.

The answers Mr. Fiorino gave to Mr. Cannon may have been the same regardless the degree of sympathy the interviewer had for the cause, or the degree of aggressiveness employed by the interviewer, and as I said that very consistency may prove his passion for the cause, and his heartfelt beliefs, but it would also represent an ideological blind spot the man has that may cloud whatever conflict resolution ideas he brings to the interview. He may be one of those that stubbornly adheres to Cannon’s initial question, why can’t Republicans and the business community understand that you’re just trying to help them? And any answers, and non-answers, he provides beyond all that, only illustrate the problem of the great divide between these two parties in this conflict.

On Friday, November 14, 2014, former CNBC, and current Fox Business News, anchor Melissa Francis charged that the management at CNBC effectively silenced her criticism of the math of Obamacare.

When I was at CNBC, I pointed out to my viewers that the math of ObamaCare simply didn’t work, not the politics, by the way, just the basic math,” Francis said. (my emphasis)

“And when I did that, I was silenced. I said on the air that you couldn’t add millions of people to the system and force insurance companies to cover their preexisting conditions without raising the price on everyone else.”

“I pointed out that it couldn’t possibly be true that if you like your plan, you can keep it,” Francis said. “That was a lie. And in fact, millions of people had their insurance canceled.”

“As a result of what I said at CNBC, I was called into management where I was told that I was ‘disrespecting the office of the president’ by telling what turned out to be the absolute truth.”

Francis ThumbnailA Fox News Insider report states that on the November 16, 2014 episode of Howard Kurtz’s Media Buzz, Melissa Francis stated that this call to the office occurred four years ago, when the Obama administration was attempting to pass Obamacare.  She further stated that she was called into the CNBC management office a number of times.  She states that the CNBC management informed her that her on air comments were ‘inappropriate’ and ‘too political’.

Look, this is math, not politics. I’m talking about dollars and cents. We’re a money channel,” Ms. Francis states that she said in her defense in one of these meetings. “And I was told I was ‘disrespecting the office of the president.’”

When Howard Kurtz asked Melissa Francis if this happened four years ago, why she didn’t go public earlier, Ms. Francis basically said her reason for coming forward now is that she now feels guilty for any role she may have played in, what M.I.T. health economist, and chief architect of Obamacare, Jonathon Gruber stated was the passage of Obamacare, based on the stupidity of most Americans.  She also basically stated that she feared for her job, even though no such threats were made to Ms. Francis by the management at CNBC.

I think the American public deserves to know that the reason why Jonathan Gruber and others like him are able to get away with this is because there are networks out there and management at CNBC who are complicit in this cover-up and keeping people ignorant,” Francis said.

Ms. Francis further stated that:

You may decide that ObamaCare makes sense, but you need to do it based on the facts. You need to understand the real math, then decide. And that’s certainly what we try to do on Fox Business.”

Ms. Francis can only comment on this matter from her personal experience with CNBC management, but as anyone that has watched a critical news broadcast will tell you, the stories of the Obama administration managing their press, in an unprecedented manner, are legion.  One example the Media Research Council’s News Busters provided on September 19, 2009, involved Fox News Sunday’s Chris Wallace complaining about being a target of such attempts by the Obama administration on The O’Reilly Factor.

(To) These guys (the Obama administration), everything is personal,” Wallace said. “They are the biggest bunch of crybabies I have dealt with in my 30 years in Washington. They constantly are on the phone, or emailing me complaining, well, you had this guest. Or you did this thing. I mean, they are working the umps all the time. I think it works for the others. It doesn’t work with me.”

It could be argued that the Fox News brand tends to swing traditional, in general, and it is usually more critical of Democrats, in general, and the Obama administration specifically, than the other networks.  Those that make such an argument would say that the Obama administration has every right to defend itself against the charges that Fox News makes against it.  Anyone that has watched the Fox News Sunday broadcast, however, knows that Chris Wallace makes a concerted effort to make his presentation less partisan than the opinion-based broadcasts on the cable network.  If you are one that refuses to acknowledge this, and you remain steadfast in the belief that these charges come solely from a news broadcast that you deem to be adversaries of the administration, provides an October 13, 2013 report that details the Obama administration’s efforts to control the media from a non-profit, watchdog group called The Committee to Protect Journalists that states that they are dedicated to global press freedoms.

Among the charges this group makes is that the Obama administration has “chilled the flow of information on issues of great public interest.” They state that “Obama has “fallen short” on his promises of a transparent government while at the same time forging ahead with an unprecedented effort —the “most aggressive” since the President Richard M. Nixon administration— to silence government officials and the media at large.

Six government employees, plus two contractors including Edward Snowden, have been subjects of felony criminal prosecutions since 2009 under the 1917 Espionage Act, accused of leaking classified information to the press—compared with a total of three such prosecutions in all previous U.S. administrations (since 1917),” said the committee’s report, prepared by Leonard Downie Jr., the former executive editor of The Washington Post.”

This, writes author David Kravets of the piece, is in contradiction to Obama’s speech in 2008 when he stated: “I’ll make our government open and transparent so that anyone can ensure that our business is the people’s business. No more secrecy.”

As further evidence of the administration’s desire to manipulate their press, the administration objected to this Committee to Protect Journalists report –the first time the committee has examined the press climate in the United States.  In their defense, the administration said that President Barack Obama “has given more interviews than his two predecessors combined, has placed online more government data, and has moved to limit the amount of classified government secrets.”

The former executive editor of The Washington PostLeonard Downie Jr., disagrees:

The administration’s war on leaks and other efforts to control information are the most aggressive I’ve seen since the Nixon administration, when I was one of the editors involved in The Washington Post’s investigation of Watergate.”

Downie’s Committee to Protect Journalists report then provides other conclusions that it found regarding the administration’s relationship with the media and its overall transparency:

  1. To the administration’s defense that they have “placed more government data online”, the report states that the administration, “Employs the internet to ‘dispense’ favorable information while hindering efforts of a ‘probing press.’”
  2. As Chris Wallace charged, the report found that the administration, “Often calls reporters and editors complaining about news stories.”
  3. As former CBS reporter, Sharyl Attkisson, has charged, the report found that administration, “Spokesmen are “often hostile or unresponsive to press inquiries.””
  4. The report also stated that the administration, “Has secretly seized telephone records from The Associated Press and Fox News; and that the administration, “Declared in an affidavit for telephone records that a Fox News reporter may have breached the Espionage Act in reporting about the United States’ monitoring of North Korea’s nuclear program.

If it’s true, as political philosopher Hannah Arendt says that “To think critically is always to be hostile,” then it could be said that the administration’s mentality in regards to their relationship with the media is: “If they bring a knife to the fight, we bring a gun.”

The immediate defenses that comes to mind regarding the charge Melissa Francis brings to the table is that she does not mention the administration, and that her complaint specifically dealt with the management at CNBC.  That is true, of course, and it could be the case that the CNBC management acted alone, and that the disagreement between the two parties was all about a difference over the characterization of her presentation.  Given the administration’s track record, however, one could reasonably suspect that the management were merely passing the pressure along to Ms. Francis.  Another defense one could foresee from administration officials, and their defenders, is that other administrations (Bill Clinton’s most notably) have had entire teams devoted to controlling their media.  It’s proven to be good politics, they could say, for any administration of this era to “work the umps” and stay on top of the media’s presentation of them.  As Melissa Francis and Chris Wallace imply, and the Committee to Protect Journalists report corroborates, the extent to which this administration has attempted to intimidate and silence their critics in the media has silenced some to such a degree that the electorate has become so uninformed that the administration can now “torture bills and legislation” in such a way that the American people are stupid enough to fall for it.