A Crass Piece of Self-Promotion

I write the following crass piece of self-promotion in protest, as it was never my goal to establish a relationship with the reader. My goal was to allow these pieces to have an independent relationship with the reader, but you’re not bonding them in the manner I had hoped. As a result, I’m now forced to expose myself to you and let you see every nook and cranny of the process.

Anyone that knows an artist knows that the worst question to ask them is any question that references their process. If you value your time, and your just being polite, there are about a million other questions that will fulfill the need some have for polite, friendly conversations. Those that have unwittingly entered such a conversation know that at some point it’s better to just get up and walk away. Artists of all venues, love to talk about the process. I am no different. Having been on the other end of such a discussion, I know how tedious it can be, but you’re not reading these pieces, so I have nothing to lose by doing this.

"Birth of a New Man" Salvador Dali

“Birth of a New Man” Salvador Dali

Some of the pieces on this list will appear pleasing at first glance, but there will be others, and I may be forced to grab your head and train your attention into areas that are not as pleasant. This will be as unpleasant for me as it will be for you, trust me, but keep in mind that if you had just read these pieces when I told you to, I wouldn’t be forced to do to you what I’m about to do.

Everyone loves a piece about something familiar, but most of the subjects that intrigue me do not involve headlines. Of those few eye-catching subjects I’ve covered, I’ve often found an angle of interest that is less than traditional. I also chose to dissect these subjects in a critical manner, as opposed to those slavish, love pieces that do little more than ingratiate the reader to the subject. I prefer to analyze the other side of what drives people to try and accomplish something in their field, what their niche was, and how (or why) they chose to follow that vision to its end? A critical view attempts to analyze a subject from a more objective (some may say negative) manner that scrutinizes a subject in a more comprehensive manner.

The other pieces focus on less attractive characteristics. They are the result of people talking. Most of us talk so much about ourselves so often that those in our inner orb have grown disinterested. When we run across a person that will listen, and listens in an active manner, we become excited. We find ourselves saying things we wouldn’t say in the comfort of our bedroom. Our spouses may cringe when we say such things, but we’ve had thoughts bottled up for so long, and we’ve never had a person this interested before, and we can’t disappoint them. That would be a disappointment.

The talker may not know it, but the creative writer is carving them up, removing the extraneous fat of their testimonial, deleting the painstaking details involved in the talker proving a point, deleting their tired repetition, and even deleting the talker. The latter may come as a complete surprise, for as embarrassing as some of those details were, they were the talker’s details, and the talker didn’t expect to be deleted. They thought it was all about them. The talker has no problem laughing at themselves, of course, but to see a moment of crisis turned into a dance-able number is just beyond the pale.

The difficulty involved in selling these pieces to the masses arrived soon after the joy of completion. The joy I had immersing myself in each character that proved to be so different than the ones I wrote about prior, was a near-spiritual experience for me. The bizarre experiences I’ve had with the subjects covered in these pieces have been so unique, and in some cases so profound, that I couldn’t believe these subjects had never been covered before. The problem arrived soon after I realized that those fascinating and unique qualities would also prove to be their detriment when an attempt to tie them up in a tight, cohesive narrative was made. I realized that most of these pieces are what amounts to self-embodied dissertations.

So, enjoy them for what they are, as I apparently am not going to make a thin dime off them. Also, remember, as you read through this crass piece of self-promotion that I never wanted to do this. You forced it upon me with your stubborn refusal to read them. This list of what I believe are my best posts is on you!

20)  The Conspiracy of Game 6, 2002. I, like all fans of sport, have a love/hate relationship with sports. I have been known to jump around the room a time or two, and this is considered fine for those that haven’t reached adulthood. A grown man should never swear at a television set –particularly when he’s watching athletes that are young enough to be his children– and a grown man makes a fool at himself in a bar when he draws attention with his antics. I cannot help it. I’ve been frustrated a time or two … thousand with sports officiating. When the officials seem biased, and they often do to avid sports fans, there is a feeling of hopelessness. What can a fan do?  They’re a fan. No one cares what they think.

For the purpose of greater mental health, I’ve managed to work most poorly officiated games out of my head, but there are a few that I may never shake. This decade old playoff game, between the Lakers and the Kings, is the number one (non-Cornhusker) game on that list, and I’m not even a Kings’ fan.

19) Anti-Anti-Consumer ArtAfter walking through various art galleries in NYC and Connecticut, it dawned on me that just about every piece I encountered there was based on an anti-consumer theme. I thought of a cure.

18) Finding a Better, Happier Person Through Change. This piece dawned on me after a discussion with an unhappy relative. She tried a few extreme measures to ease her suffering, and she spoke of future remedies. She no longer wanted to speak of the past we shared. She wanted to speak of the present, and how happy she was now, and how much happier she was going to be in the future. The only discussion she wanted to have about the past, was what our deceased relatives would think of her extreme changes. I thought of how happy we are now, even if we don’t realize it. We don’t realize it, because the present is kind of boring. Or, if it’s not boring, it’s at least not as exciting as the prospect of what the future could bring, with changes, and more changes, until we are so happy that our deceased relatives wouldn’t even recognize us now.

17) Don’t Go Chasing Eel Testicles: A Brief, Select History of Sigmund Freud. This is a prime example of my desire to take a well-known figure and analyze them in a manner that is a little different than most of the wealth of knowledge provided by writers that know a lot more about the subject than I do.

16) When Geese Attack! On some level, I flirt with the notion that we are being deceived by When Animals Attack videos. Most of these videos have after-the-attack testimonials from the victims. In these testimonials, the victims declare that they aren’t bitter about the attack that left them legless and sexless. I don’t think these victims are lying, though I suspect that some may fudge the truth to get on the air. I do suspect that the producers and editors of the show are engaged in some deception, in the process they use to select which testimonials to air. I think that the team involved in the production of the video have reasoned that if they’re going to make such a violent video, with the expressed purpose of showing animals at their worst, they had better round it out with a forgiving human at the end that says, ‘I don’t blame the animal. I was in their environment.’  If that’s not true. If the producers and editors air every testimonial available to them, even the angry ones (I’ve never witnessed one of these in all the videos I’ve watched) then what these victims say goes against everything I think I know about humanity.

I know that some people can have their arms and legs torn off by a homicidal maniac, and they manage to find a way to forgive that person, or pray for them, or try to better understand why they did what they did. I guess there’s something wonderful about a person that can do this. I know they’re out there, I’ve met them, and I know they’re more evolved than I am. I also respect the Christian ideal of forgiveness, and I know that holding onto bitterness, as the victim Charla Nash basically said, will ruin your life, but as a man that supports vigilantism against violent criminals, I cannot imagine how victims of violent acts can arrive at such a rational, healthy mentality.

15) The Expectation of Purchasing Refined Tastes. I am a foodie. The self-described, slightly snobbish foodie may not be indigenous to America, but I would guess that there are more foodies in America, per capita, than anywhere else in the world. Part of that is based, I think, on the fact that we are blessed with such an overabundance of food.

My recognition of this personality trait was born in comparison to the young people around me. Young people eat. Most of the time, they eat in a manner equivalent to the method they use to breathe. They have preferences, but they don’t value food in the manner adults do. Eating is just something they do, before they do something else. As we age, we begin to realize that we can no longer eat the way we did before we turned thirty, unless we have no problem with failing to register on scales that only go up to three hundred.

The rest of us learn that we’re probably going to have to limit ourselves to about one and a half meals a day. That self-imposed limitation makes the one and a half meals a day an event. When we force ourselves through a number of unmemorable meals, we begin to seek out memorable meals more often, and we relish them, and we begin to look for ideas from those that have had an exciting meal. This culminates in us putting thought into our meals. We think about what we’re going eat that evening, when we leave for work in the morning, and the thought of that meal consumes our day. If that evening meal turns out bland, it ruins our night, and to prevent that from ever happening again, we spend the next day looking for ideas from others, until we end up talking about meals so often that we reach a point that we can’t understand grown adults that say, “It’s just food. It gets me through the day.”

Then it happens. A person gives us an excellent recommendation. They become our resident expert, and our go-to-gal, when it comes to restaurant recommendations. We develop a bond with this woman that goes to her head, and we’re not sure if that mindset was always there, or if she only showed it to us after we developed this bond, but she has evolved from being a fellow foodie to a foodist. She begins to regard those that don’t put enough thought in their diet as inferior beings. Is this a natural progression, or something endemic in the human need to feel superior about something?

Why is a dining experience at a Thai restaurant superior to one at Chucky Cheese?  I’m not talking about the quality of food there, I’m talking about the sense of superiority one feels when telling another they ate exotic last night. Why is a wine from an exotic, foreign country considered a superior drinking experience when compared to an evening spent drinking a supermarket wine? It’s an experience that you must have and, and, detail for your friends. Coffee is another experience that people must indulge in for all the fruits of life. As I detail in the piece, McDonald’s coffee is judged to be on par with some of the finer coffees available to the public, but it has no value at the water cooler at work the next day, not when compared to the refined, exotic Kopi Luwak bean. Drink that, and more importantly pay the exorbitant price tag for a drink of that, and the water cooler crowd will be hanging on your every word. The key word of this piece, just to give a tease, is the word expectation.

14) Mechanical Animals. I think it should be considered a cultural violation for a mechanical animal to get us all horny with talk of their expertise on a project that plagues our home before disappointing us while lubing our joint. I have my areas of expertise, but I qualify my advice on these subjects with the appropriate terminology that informs my audience of my limitations. Mechanical animals have no qualms about letting another person think they know everything about a subject that they know little-to-nothing about.

You can fix my ‘what have you’?   Without me having to paying an exorbitant rate?  Holy stuff partner, welcome to my humble abode.

It is interesting to watch this type speak from their backside, and it provides communal laughter to those standing on his lawn, with a beer in hand, and machismo punctuating his sentences, but what happens to those people that don’t see these primal, chest bumping contests for what they are? What happens when one member of the mechanical animal’s audience grows so desperate that they fall for those sweet, late night whispers?

I have been that puppy dog on that lawn soiling myself when I hear great ideas and simple how-to, fix-it solutions. I make no pretenses about my knowledge in this area, and the mechanical animals love it. I don’t know if they view me as smart, but they do love the idea that they have superior knowledge in this arena, and it has led them to enter my home and perform some half-fix that was stalled by a variable that they couldn’t foresee on that lawn, with a beer in hand. They need a tool that they left at home, and they’ll get back to me in a week, and my (what have you) is left dangling in the breeze. I’m forced to call the fix-it guy and pay that exorbitant fee to not only fix what has needed to be fixed in the first place, but to repair the damage that the mechanical animal did to it. (At this point, a descriptive expletive would be appreciated to round this description off and describe for the audience the degree of frustration an inordinate amount of exclamation points can’t capture.)

13) Fear Bradycardia and the Normalcy BiasWe all have ‘no fear’ friends. These are manly men and headstrong women that believe fear is a sign of weakness. These people have precedents stored in their biological hard drive for unexpected anomalies that cause others fear. Fear is weakness to them. Fear is propaganda. They are well-traveled and experienced individuals that have lived in other locales far more tumultuous than the silly city you two now live in, and no silly weather anomaly can compare to what their cosmopolitan metropolis offered.

This mindset is indefatigable. Even when an anomaly is documented to be unprecedented, they will proclaim that they’ve been through worse. ‘What would cause you fear then,’ I ask. “I don’t know, but it’s not this.”

Our lives should not be ruled by fear, of course, but acknowledging fear and using it to prompt one’s self to action is the theme of David McRaney’s brilliant essay Normalcy Bias on the topic. In this essay, McRaney points out that if one encounters a life-threatening episode, all the qualifying they’ve done to this point is bound to catch up to them, and it may be their undoing.

There is a state of mind called the fear bradycardia state, or tonic immobility, that occurs in life-threatening episodes. It is a state individuals fall into that that is near-catatonic. It is a state that first responders have documented where a victim of such an episode freezes in place. Some of these first responders have spoken about not being able to talk victims out of the burning airplane, because that victim is sitting in their seat wishing that this episode would just go away, or they are immersed in the ‘It’s not that bad. Shut up!’ mindset. The mindset is the culmination of a life spent rationalizing fear and explaining it away in all the ways described above.

The mindset is also borne from this belief that we will know what to do when tragedy arrives, because we’ve already experienced tragedy in the form of a third party, at a movie theater, mentally informing the characters in these movies to do the right thing. We know what we would do, in other words, and now that it’s upon us, it’s beyond anything we ever imagined, and holy stuff!  It can’t be that bad. The victim cannot deal with it, because they’ve never truly prepared themselves for a true, life-altering tragedy.

This piece is based on the essay Normalcy Bias, by David McRaney. After reading that brilliant essay, I decided that his piece wasn’t as focused as I thought it could be, or as visual as I thought it should be, or as humorous as I thought it might be. Imitation, as they say, is the sincerest form of flattery.

12) Fear of a Beaver Perineal Gland. This piece wrote itself. It is the result of a lifelong hatred of those that say, “Do you know what is in that?” when I’m about to consume something. *Spoiler Alert: I don’t care.

11) And Then There’s Todd also wrote itself. Anytime an author writes the words ‘wrote itself’ it should be followed by an asterisk and a footnote that says: “Some pieces do flow with such ease that an author merely documents them, but there is a lot of pruning involved for a smooth, clean flow. Some require artificial enhancements, some do not.”

As opposed to the other pieces on this list, there is no central message in this story, no theme, and no arc that will lead the reader to a greater understanding of humanity through my mind’s eye. It’s just a true story about a man named Todd. Todd was (and probably still is) an enigma that only an author seeking a definition of humanity through an atypical lens could appreciate. The material that the real life Todd provided was such that all I had to do was document my experiences with the man.

One of the beauties of this ‘Todd piece lay in its understated beauty. This beauty may be relative to the reader, of course, as it leaves the reader with a ‘who gives a (blank)’ feeling when it’s done. I know this feeling, because I felt it when it was completed. It didn’t feel complete. I thought it needed some oregano, some rosemary, or something. I didn’t know what it was, but as I smacked my lips together, I thought it needed something profound to make it worthy, until I realized that every addition felt like an addition, and it was then that I realized that some stories are complete in the essence of that sense of in-completion that everyone knows soon after digestion. As with most unusual items we consume, however, some of them stick with us, and we’re forced to rediscover their essence in various ways.

Write as many stories as I have, and you have that built in ‘beginning, a middle, conflict, arc, and ending’ requirement. With narrative essays of this sort, an author is only given a snapshot. Some of the experiences an author has in life are incomplete, and the author is required to complete them. Some of the times an author cannot complete a piece, and some of the times they shouldn’t. We don’t know what happened to that person, and our perspective on them is limited by the perspective they have of themselves, and our limited experience with them. There is no profound conclusion to be had in other words. We just run into some guys and girls that have a twisted logic about life, and we happened to hear some of them. Todd was quirky man that even an interested observer could never quite grasp, and this observer never would because he’s just that different. I still thought this story had to be completed, in the sense that all storytellers feel a need to complete, until it dawned on me that the sense of completion for some stories exists in the idea that they are to remain incomplete.

10) You Don’t Bring me Flowers Anymore! The exclamation point is the key to the theme of this piece. To protect the innocent, let’s just say that this story has six different testimonials in it. There were six different blocks that the author had to weave together to form the term adult baby. In this piece, I felt more like a reporter than a storyteller, as I reported on the stories that people around me told me.

The main thrust came from a friend and her sister complaining about former husbands, and how one husband bought his wife so many flowers, so often, that it put them in financial peril. Another husband complimented his wife for getting them out of the financial messes he got them into. She thought that was great, until it became obvious that he had no plans to alter his lifestyle in any way to make things easier for her in the future, but that he would continue to admire the way she got them out of financial dilemmas.

“You’ll work it all out,” he said. “You always do.” What kind of adult mind thinks that way, I wondered. What kind of adult continues to live like an irresponsible teen and moves on? It was explained to me that this man didn’t expect others to clean up after him. He didn’t give it that much thought. He just did what he did, and it would get cleaned up. It always did.

There is something about true stories, like the You Don’t Bring me Flowers Anymore! piece that trumps the greatest, most creative fiction. I had some initial thoughts of making a short story about this, but I realized that it had to contain straight fact, because I think readers can sense when a story is real or not, and that adds an element to the narrative. In fiction, I think there’s a need to go over the top with details of a story, and a recognition by the reader for that need. Thus, when they finish the story, they reach a conclusion that it was an entertaining story, but it wasn’t all that plausible. No grown man can be that irresponsible, and if they are, they aren’t that oblivious to it. There was a eureka moment that occurred in this making of this story, but that amounted to little more a couple paragraphs. The rest involved weaving those six blocks together, until the piece achieved a sense of completion.

9) Most People Don’t Give a Crap About You. Humanity is divided between those that view their fellow man in an optimistic manner, until they are proven wrong, and those that have a more cynical take. This piece focuses on those people that are prepared for the snakes that surround us, and how they believe that perspective alters the approach of the snake.

This piece focuses on a quote from an old professor that I approached with this optimism versus cynical approach to humanity, and my inherent question regarding whether it was healthier to approach humanity from an optimistic point of view.

“I’ll give you a third possibility, have you ever considered the idea that nobody gives a crap about you.” This quote changed my outlook on this matter. I realized that most people don’t care if people trust them, or if people are more optimistic, pessimistic, or cynical in regards to them. Most people don’t care what caused people to be sad today, or that they’ve survived a tragedy intact. Most people just want to go home and live the lives we don’t give a crap about.

Even after exploring this mindset to whatever extent I did, I find it astonishing that some people can achieve a plane of certitude regarding the idea that nobody gives a crap about them. Some of us think that everyone is paying attention to everything we do, some of us have realized that people aren’t paying attention half as much as we once feared, but some of us (and I’ve met them) are convinced that no one is paying attention. If I could achieve that plane of absolute certainty, I would probably find it liberating on one level, but on another level I wonder why these people would even bother wearing different clothes on different days, if they considered it pointless to try to make an impression. On yet another level, I think that if people found out how little attention people paid to them, it would depress them, and they would try to fix whatever disinterested others so much.

8) Busybody Nation is an attempt to turn an event from my life into a battle cry. It is built on a theme that is the polar opposite to the Most People Don’t Give a Crap About You essay, to discuss the people that care so much that they have no qualms about infiltrating another person’s day. Busybodies are begrudged individuals that acted right as children, while authority figures fiddled as Rome burned. They were the types that said:

“Don’t let Ms. Johnson catch you doing that, she’ll tan your hide,” only to find out that Ms. Johnson did little-to-nothing about it from their standpoint. The busybody believed that Ms. Johnson was fierce and authoritarian, and it was the primary reason that the busybody didn’t engage in nefarious activities. Thus, when Ms. Johnson failed to live up to the busybody’s expectations, to preserve the busybody’s sense of order with a fire and brimstone style punishment for the disorderly, the busybody was confused and resentful. They overestimated Ms. Johnson based on their need to fear of authority, and the consequences for acting up. If Ms. Johnson didn’t witness the transgression, the busybody informed her of it, and when Ms. Johnson did nothing after that, with all of the evidence the busybody compiled against the culprit, a begrudged feeling was born in the mind of the busybody that resulted in a festering boil that led the busybody to spend the rest of their life trying to correct. It’s a begrudged feeling that leaves them with the idea that they’re the lone sentry guarding the final outpost to total chaos in the universe, and they don’t mind invading your privacy to get you to act according to their begrudged findings of how the world around them should operate.

7) Scorpio Man I, Scorpio Man II, and Scorpio Man III These testimonials should not be analyzed. I enjoyed writing the first one so much that I wrote another, and that other led to another.

6) Are you Superior? and Are You Superior? II Part I of Are you Superior? focuses on explaining the roles a sense of superiority and inferiority can occur in the most innocuous interactions. The second piece focuses on an interaction that provided arrows of superiority and inferiority based on the variables that occurred in that brief conversation. It was, in essence, an algorithm that left me completely confused about my status in that conversation, until I realized that I missed a day when I didn’t obsess about status, and that I just missed what should have been an enjoyable conversation based on the fact that I was so consumed with these ideas.

5) The Unfunny. I’m not funny. I’ve been told that I’m not funny. I’ve been told that to whatever extent I might be humorous, exists in a weird, strange, and perhaps clever place that isn’t all that funny.

This piece is dedicated to those that have learned they’re not funny. Most of us think we’re funny when we’re young. We have insider jokes about our dad that makes our brother laugh, and we say odd things that our grandparents delight in. At some point, truly funny people learn to branch out beyond immediate familiarity to material that is more universal. When we, the unfunny, step out into the world, they run into a wall. No one knows what we’re talking about, until we gain some points of familiarity with them. We want to be funny, everyone does. Girls like funny. Everyone wants to know what a funny person is going to say next. They enjoy funny analysis of people, places and things. This piece is for people like me that have little-to-no talent for being funny.

Those of us that strive to make people laugh have tried copying the great comedians, and their sitcoms, and we’ve all grown a little frustrated that no one has recognized our breadth of talent.

This piece is an homage to Andy Kaufman, the most hysterical, unfunny person that ever lived. When I write that Mr. Kaufman influenced my sense of humor, the word understatement feels like an understatement. I’ve read just about every book written on Sir Kaufman (I’ve personally knighted him in the halls of comedy). I’ve watched every videotape, Taxi episode, and YouTube video there is available on him, and the one thing I learned when I walked away from the proverbial temple I had built for him is that his genius was, in fact, limited. It pains me to write that, and it took me a while to reach this point of objectivity on the man, but if Andy Kaufman had lived for another twenty to thirty years, I’m not sure he would’ve done much more to add to what he did, by the time he became ill.

You never know what could’ve happened of course. He could’ve reinvented himself, and all that, but I think the entry into woman’s wrestling confirmed for all of us that this man was, if not a one-trick pony, then a limited one. With that said, what he developed in his short life, was something that led those of us that are unfunny to believe we had something to offer the world of comedy … Whether or not our brand of comedy is limited to our own peculiar definition of funny is inconsequential, for being funny has its own rewards.

As I wrote in the piece, we had no idea we could be someone that someone, somewhere, regarded as so unfunny that we were an idiot, until Andy Kaufman kicked that door in and showed us all of the beautiful furniture.”

4) He Used to Have a Mohawk The next two pieces on this list may not be the best narrative essays I’ve written, but they do capture the essence of what I’ve been trying to accomplish better than any of the other narrative essays. Both of these pieces take place at a wedding, the same wedding, a wedding my uncle forced me to attend. Nothing of substance happened at this wedding. My guess is that 99% of the world’s population could’ve attended this wedding and found nothing of note. This is not to say that I’m more intelligent, or more observant than 99% of the world’s population, but that some, otherwise routine occurrences can happen in a manner that applies to one person more than 99% of the population. Capturing that element, and personalizing it, may be the definition of art I love more than any other.

Having said that, if someone informed me that this wedding would produce 5,000 of my favorite words, it, it probably wouldn’t have. If they instructed me to enter this wedding with a scribble pad to document the goings on, because “Something fundamental to whatever it is you’re doing will occur,” I would’ve been sitting on the edge of my seat, documenting everything, and absorbing little-to-nothing. If someone had hoped to inspire me to thought by requesting a 5,000 word essay on it later, it may not have coalesced into the material that I have now pined over for over three years. I would’ve expected something groundbreaking, and under that mindset, I would’ve been disappointed.

“You cannot go get the game. You have to let the game come to you.” –Joe Montana 

Once the game comes to you, you do with it, what you do. Some of the moments in these narrative essays have been immediate, but most of the moments ended up coalescing into my favorite material, after spending a great deal of time browning in a slow roaster.

3)  That’s Me in the Corner This little essay began its gestation cycle in the womb of the He Used to Have a Mohawk essay. Its life began as nothing more than three paragraphs that could not remain in the Mohawk essay, and they couldn’t exist on their own either. As anyone that has ever written anything knows, the difficulty involved in excising material can be as painful as the surgical removal of an organ. The painful decision came and went, and I left the three little paragraphs roasting in some forgettable file for about a month. I couldn’t get this kid out of my mind, however, and I loved (and I mean loved!) the idea of it. At some moment after its exorcism, approximately one month later, it began speaking. It was gibberish, at first, but it was something. I considered it such a beautiful, little idea that when it began walking on its own, I took its hand and began correcting some of the more immature mistakes it made, until it found a way out of its mother’s basement and grow into the beautiful, independent essay you know today.

2) A Simplicity Trapped in a Complex Mind. Some of the descriptions in this essay are bold and heartless. As with He Used to Have a Mohawk, part of what some may consider ridicule in this Simplicity piece, is what I consider straight forward talk regarding how one deals with the fact that they were, are, and may forever be an anomaly. I could’ve qualified each thought I had with a statement that suggested that I don’t think mental health sufferers, or people with Mohawks are all that I’ve defined, but I’ve had friends that qualify everything they say and write. It’s tedious. Plus, much of He Used to Have a Mohawk concerns my thoughts of what a man that used to have a Mohawk must think regarding what other people are saying about him. We don’t often qualify thoughts in our own head when we ask ourselves what we thought of those days when we used to have a Mohawk. We just miss it, or we declare it a mistake in our lives that we now want to forget. On that note, how does a mental health sufferer view themselves, and how do we view them?  One of the ways we deal with anomalies in life is through ridicule. Ridicule is, in this sense, a coping mechanism that helps the normal human mind deal with the fear of someone that is different. If the patient reader is able to overcome some of the offenses to their sensibilities that these two pieces contain to read through to the end, I think they will find that what the author seeks is an unvarnished, universal truth. The path to the conclusion does not adhere to the rich tradition of provoking empathy, as time-honored ABC After School Specials and Lifetime Network movies will, with stark definitions of good guys and bad guys, for even good guys can be offensive. As such, the reader may be confused by the characterizations of the players involved, for they are not bad people, but people seeking a greater understanding through what some could consider offensive venues. If the reader is blinded by offensive statements, and they don’t believe that a greater understanding of humanity can be derived from them, they may want to forego reading these pieces.

1) The Thief’s Mentality I tried to make the argument that this wasn’t the best, most original concept I’ve developed. I’m going to guess that just about every artist goes through this act of denial, especially if they’ve created a wealth of material after said piece. In the original version of this list, I attempted to do just that. Based on some reflection, I realized that I was trying to convince myself that what I’ve done more recently is better. Hindsight has led me to realize that this was an error, and I have since come correct.

With that said, I just want you to know that I’m expending great effort to economize my words here to inform you that this little 4,000 word piece was decades in the making. I have always had these thoughts about a person with this type of mindset, in other words, but it wasn’t until a loved one informed me that this succinct characterization helped her frame the accusations that her loved one had made against her for years that I thought it had any literary merit.

If you’ve ever met an actual thief, you know that they believer everyone is a thief. The thief’s mentality is one that top security firms seek when hiring, because they want their employees to be as sneaky and duplicitous as the culprits that seek to steal from their clients. If you’ve had some form of extended involvement with a person that thinks this way, you know that its logical extension involves a thief suggesting that most people are rotten and rotting. It also extends out to those that don’t believe the same, and the laughter and ridicule they direct at them for being hopelessly naive. The decades of interactions I’ve had with these types, and all of the reflection and introspection that has been devoted to them just needed a title, and once I had it, I sat down to write it.

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

The thief’s mentality is about a search for truth by the cynical, and while they may not think the world is as awful as they portray it, it makes them feel better about themselves to think it is. It allows them to think they fit in better. The accusation is more important than the truth in this regard, for by leveling the accusation they hope to inhibit the searches for the truth in their mind, and the introspection such a search might cause the thief.

The thrust of the thief’s aggressive strategy is to locate a truth, and a definition of trust, for modern times, but their definitions of truth and trust are subjective and self-serving, and it requires an arbitrary level of street smarts that the thief will exert on the unsuspecting, naïve, and honest individuals that may judge them for their actions. In this sense it’s more of a redirect, or a slight of hand, to deflect judgment.


Find Your Own Truth

“Find your own truth,” was the advice author Ray Bradbury gave to an aspiring, young writer on a radio call in show.

It was vague advice.  Everyone hates vague advice.  We want answers, easy answers, but we also know that you get what you pay for.  When we listen to a radio show guesting a master craftsman, however, we want some nugget that will explain to us how he happened to carve out a niche in such an overpopulated craft.  We want tidbits, words of wisdom about design, and/or habits that we can imitate and emulate, until we reach a point where we don’t have to feel so alone in our structure.  Vague advice, and vague platitudes, feel like a waste of our time.  Especially when that advice appears to come so close to the core and stops.

Ray-Bradbury-Quotes-2Bradbury went onto define this relative vision of “the truth” as he saw it, but he didn’t step much beyond that precipice.  I had already tuned him out by the time he began speaking of other, more trivial matters, and I eventually turned the channel.  I may have missed some great advice, but I was frustrated.

If you’re anything like me, you went back to what you were doing soon after hearing the advice, and it is there right there that the quality of deep, profound advice begins to take shape.  It begins soon after the recipient of such advice forgets the advice, until it applies to a situation.  When that situation arises, the recipient tries to remember the exact phrase that they’ve already filed it away as meaningless.  When it applies to another situation, they being to chew on it and digest it, until they’re repeating it, and they realize that while others may continue to find this vague advice about finding a truth to be nothing more than waste matter –to bring this analogy to its biological conclusion– begins to infiltrate everything they do.  They’re also spotting truths that should’ve been so obvious before, but they rejected them because it wasn’t true for others, and they’re also beginning to see what is considered a truth for everyone else is not as true for them as they once thought.  Somewhere in that mix, under this new mindset, an original, creative idea is born.

Vague advice may have no import to those that don’t bump up against the precipice, and for them a platitude like “Find your own truth” may have an of course suffix attached to it.

“Of course you need to find your own truth when approaching an artistic project,” they may say.  “Isn’t that the very definition of art?” 

It is, but go ahead and ask an artist if the project they are currently working on is any closer to their truth than the past ones they attempted.  They’ll probably say yes, and it’s the reason they decided to approach this particular subject matter.  Once they’ve completed that project, go ahead and ask them the same question.  You’re likely to receive a revelation of their frustration in one form or another, as most art involves the pursuit of a truth coupled with an inability to capture it to the artist’s satisfaction.  Yet, it could be said that the very pursuit of artistic truth, and the frustration of never achieving it, may provide more fuel to the artist than an actual, final, arrived upon truth ever could.

Finding your truth, as I see it, involves learning the rules of your craft, locating the parameters of your ability, finding your formula within, and whittling.  Any individual that has ever attempted to create art has started with a master’s template in mind.  The aspiring, young artist tries to imitate and emulate that master design, and they wonder what that master of the design might do in moments of artistic turmoil throughout.  Can I accomplish this, should I do that, what would they do, and is my truth nestled somewhere inside awaiting further exploration?  At a furthered point in the process, the artist is hit by other truths, truths that contradict the original master’s design, and this begins to happen so often that everything the artist believed to be a truth, at one point, becomes an absolute falsehood, and this is where the whittling comes in.

In a manner similar to the whittling away at a stick to create form, the storyteller is always whittling.  He’s whittling when he writes.  He’s whittling when he reads.  He’s whittling in a movie theater, spotting subplots, and subtext that no one else sees.  He’s whittling away at the story to what he believes is the core of the story that the author of the piece may not even see.  Is he correct?  It doesn’t matter, because he doesn’t believe that the author’s representation of the truth is a truth.

Once the artist has learned all the rules, defined the parameters, and found his own formula through the study of the master’s template, and all the templates that contradict that master template, it is time for him to branch out and find his own truth.

The Narrative Essay

Even while scouring the RIYL (read if you like) links provided at the bottom of the webpages of books I’ve enjoyed, I knew that the narrative essay existed.  Just like I’ve always known that the strawberry existed, I knew about the form some call memoir, and others call creative non-fiction, but have you ever tasted a strawberry that caused you to flirt with the notion of eating nothing but strawberries for the rest of your life?  If you have, it probably had less to do with the strawberry and more to do with the diet you had prior to eating that strawberry.  You may have carelessly ignored the nutrients that this gorgeous, little heart-shaped berry has in abundance for some time.  You may have been depleted in vitamin C, for example, in ways that were not apparent to you, until you took that first bite.

That first bite caused you inexplicable feelings of euphoria that you didn’t understand, until you read about chemicals of the brain, and the manner in which the brain rewards the person for fulfilling a biological need.  The only thing you knew at the time was that that strawberry tasted so glorious that you stood at the strawberry section of the buffet line gorging on strawberries while everyone waited for you to move along.

I am sure, at this point, that the reader would love to learn the title of that one gorgeous, little narrative essay that caused my feelings of creative euphoria, but in the same manner eating one strawberry cannot quench a depletion, one narrative essay did not provide me a eureka-style epiphany that led me to an understanding of all of the creative avenues that could be explored in the format, and that my idea-depleted mind ached for in the traditional parameters, with time-tested formulas, notions I had of the world of storytelling.  I just knew that I needed more, and I read all the narrative essays I could find in the same manner I decided to explore the maximum benefits the strawberry could provide, until a checker proclaimed that she had never witnessed one man purchasing as many strawberries as I had at one time.  She even called a fellow employee over to witness the spectacle I had laid out on her conveyor belt.  The unspoken critique being that no wife would permit a man to purchase this many strawberries at once, so I must be single and self-indulgent.

An unprecedented amount of strawberries didn’t provide me an unprecedented amount of euphoria, of course, as the brain only provides near-euphoric chemical rewards for satisfying a severe depletion, but the chemical rewards my brain has given me for finding my own truth in the narrative essay format have proven almost endless.  As have the rewards I’ve experienced reading others reach their creative peaks.  As I’ve suggested, I knew narrative essays existed, but I considered most of them to be dry, personal essays that attempted to describe the cute, funny things that happened to them on their way to forty.  I never thought of them as a vehicle for the exploration of unique creativity, until I found those authors that had.

It is also difficult to describe a personal epiphany to a person that’s never had one. Even to those that have had one, I would say that the variables within an epiphany are so unique that they can be difficult to describe to a listener that has an “of course” face on.  You could tell them that, more often than not, an epiphany does not involve the single, most unique thought ever considered, but a common place “of course” thought that the recipient has to arrive at of their own accord.  When that doesn’t make a dent in the “of course” face, you’re left to concede that most epiphanies are so personal that no one can understand them in the manner in the manner the recipient does.

For me, the narrative essay was an avenue to a truth that my mind craved, and I may have never have ventured as far down this path as I did, had Ray Bradbury’s vague four words “Find your own truth,” failed to penetrate.  For those stubbornly maintaining their “of course” faces in the shadow of the maxim the late, great Ray Bradbury inscribed in the minds of all those that heard it, I give you yet another vague piece of advice that the late-great Rodney Dangerfield offered to an aspiring, young comedian:

You’ll figure it out.”

If you hear a vague piece of advice that appears to be such an obvious statement that you don’t understand how it can be applied to what it is that you do, no matter how much you do it, or think about it, or add to it, or whittle away at it to find a core worthy of exploration, I add, you’ll either figure it out, or you won’t.

A Simplicity Trapped in a Complex Mind

“In a general way, then, madness is not linked to the world and its subterranean forms, but rather to man, his weaknesses and illusions…There is no madness but which is in every man, since it is man who constitutes madness in the attachment he bears for himself and the illusions he entertains…In this delusive attachment to himself, man generates his madness like a mirage.”

Michel Foucault, Madness and Civilization.

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

albert-meme-generator-the-thing-about-smart-people-is-they-sound-crazy-to-dumb-people-cc1514I frequented The Family Liquor Store for just this reason: I loved the anomaly.  I knew little-to-nothing of anomalies in the sheltered life I lived prior to walking into The Family Liquor Store.  I knew that some people succeeded and others failed, but those in my dad’s inner circle that hadn’t succeeded, were a rung lower on the socioeconomic chain.  I knew nothing of the depths of failure and despair that I would encounter in my friend’s parents’ liquor store, where he happened to work.

Even while immersed in this world of despair, I encountered pride, coping mechanisms, and outright lies.  John informed me that he once played against Wayne Gretzky in a minor league hockey match, Jay informed me of the time he screamed “Go to Hell JFK!” to the man’s face, and Ronny told me of the various strength contests he won.  The fact that I flirted with believing any aspects of the tales told the others in The Family Liquor Store that I was almost as laughable as the fools that told them.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Be careful,” Paul said.

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

“Be careful!”

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

“Why?” I asked.

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

“Could that happen?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Scorpio Man II: The Second Testimonial

My life has taken quite a turn, since last we spoke. I may still experience some unease when confronted with the dark shadow of my fixed, archetypal Scorpio male leanings, when the moon is in the north node of my chart, and you ask what Sun I was born under, but I now understand this may be be due to years of patriarchal conditioning being bred into my psyche and stored there.

Those of you that read the May 17, 2014 testimonial may have deemed me to be irretrievable, and I still may be, but I am spending a ton of money and working very hard to progress through the three totems of this Scorpio archetype. To suggest that I have evolved, or that I’m progressing towards change, would be harmful to my Evolvement, but suffice it to say that my wonderful Natural Psychologist, Ms. Maria Edgeworth, has informed me that I’m more open to balancing my summer and winter. This is an accomplishment most associate with the Pisces, according to Ms. Maria Edgeworth, and she also states that I’ve moved closer to the center, than any of those Scorpio Men that remain stuck in the first level of Scorpio Evolvement, the Scorpion totem that she treats.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

She laughed in a soft, polite pitch.

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

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

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

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

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

{Update: If you have enjoyed learning of my progress, this is the second of three testimonials The first testimonial can be found here, and the third, and final testimonial can be found here. Thank you for reading.}

That’s Me In the Corner

I never considered the idea that I might be witnessing a physical manifestation of me –that speculative writers might call a doppelganger– in the form of a kid dancing on the dance floor.  I did not expect this kid to take to a corner, open up an NFL preview guide and eat an entire bag of soda crackers, while listening to the rock band Kiss.  I don’t know what I would’ve done, had that happened, as I had already reached a frequency of thought, just watching the kid, that I might never have reached on my own –thanks to that near impenetrable, crusted shell of good and bad memories that prevents, and protects, the human mind from seeing who we were when we weren’t paying attention.  Spotting these similarities in the kid did require some effort on my part, and some interpretation, until I developed an unusual, momentary obsession focused on the idea that this kid might be able to help me unlock some unanswered questions from my own youth that plagued me.

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

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

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

The kid’s shoulders dropped lower than any of the other uncomfortable kids on the dance floor, his hand claps were a little harder than any of the others struggling to follow the beat, and his gyrations were so out of step with the rest of the participants that those of us in the audience had trouble stifling our giggles.  This kid was dancing.

“Who’s the kid?” I asked my uncle.

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

I realized I was now one of those whispering and pointing at Kevin, after asking that question.  My initial assumption was that those watching the kid, were watching him in the same manner I was, with one bemused eyebrow raised.  The number of whisperers called to mind the first time I heard Miles Davis Kind of Blue.  People, I knew, worshipped Miles Davis, and they proclaimed Kind of Blue, his masterpiece, his personal Sgt. Peppers.  I listened to Kind of Blue, and I liked it, but the term masterpiece seemed to me a stretch?  The structure, compared to his other works, seemed so simple.  I discovered its simplistic brilliance after repeated spins, but I may not have listened to it a second time if group thought hadn’t conditioned me to believe that I was missing out on something.

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

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

“Because it’s cute.”

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

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

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

When the kid made a bee-line to his chair the moment this obligatory dance concluded –a dance I assumed his mother had forced him to participate in– I imagined that some people may have been shocked at the manner he exited.  I wasn’t.  I laughed.  I thought it added to the spectacle.  I laughed loud, believing that my laughter would be shared by those that had laughed while he danced.  It wasn’t.  I was the only one laughing.  I felt confused faces turn to me.  They were not shocked by the idea that his bee-line exit proved so harried that he nearly knocked the chair over.  They’d moved on.  I tried to, but I was fixated on this kid.

I figured that some in the audience may have regarded this kid’s exit as a statement regarding what he thought of the art of dance.  Most probably thought it had something to do with the fact that the kid hated being the center of attention.  It may have been one of the two, it may have been both, but I thought it had something to do with the fact that this kid wanted to enjoy the show.

The kid’s elbows went out on the table before him, after he sat.  The person seated next to him, whispered something to Kevin.  He gave no reaction to that whisperer beyond looking at them after the whisper.  He had settled in.  He was ready to watch.  The disappointing aspect to this, was that Kevin proved to be the only somewhat entertaining thing to watch in this otherwise routine wedding reception.  He didn’t appear to be the least bit embarrassed dancing in front of other people, so why would he prefer to watch?

Psychologists state that we have mirror neurons in our brain that seek enjoyment from another’s perspective, and that that enjoyment can be so comprehensive that we may reach a point where we convince ourselves that we’re the ones doing that which we’re watching.  Others describe it as a frequency of thought, or a through line to a greater understanding of being: being funnier, more entertaining, and better in all the ways that an insecure, young man thinks that those around him are better.  Honing in on this frequency is something that TV watching, video game playing nine-to-ten-year-olds know well.  It goes beyond the joy of watching others make fools of themselves, for the sole purpose of being entertained by it, to a belief that when watching others attempt to be entertaining, we’ve achieved that level ourselves without having to deal with all the messy details involved in the trials and errors to get to that point.

I knew, even while I was doing it, how odd others might find it that I was paying so much attention to a nine-to-ten-year-old boy, in such an innocuous moment of that boy’s life, and I made several attempts to look away, but every time a member of the wedding party made a joke, or a foolish error, this kid would laugh harder than anyone else in the room.  My guess was that that raucous laughter was fueled by the relief that he wasn’t one of those in the position to commit such errors.  Every time a joke was told, I would to look over and watch this kid laugh loud enough to be heard above all the other laughers.

“He’s attempting a crossover,” I thought.

“What’s that?” my uncle said.

“What?” I said.  “Nothing.” 

My uncle’s ‘What’s that?’ was preceded by a pause in the manner that most ‘What’s that?’ people ask for the expressed purpose of ridiculing another for talking to themselves.  If it wasn’t that, my uncle’s ‘What’s that?’ had something to do with the fact that he couldn’t place my comment in the current situation, and his curiosity was genuine.

Whatever the case was, I hadn’t intended for that thought to be verbalized.  I was embarrassed.  I was embarrassed that I was so caught up in searching for this nine-to-ten-year-old’s motivation, and prognosticating his future moves in a way that I wanted on the record if it panned out in the manner I thought it would.

What I would not tell my uncle, for fear of being deemed one that is far too interested in self-serving minutiae, was that this ‘crossover’ is considered the Houdini Milk Can maneuver by observers.  The initial stages of a crossover are not a difficult to achieve.  Anyone can shout out comments, or laugh in an obnoxious and raucous manner that garners attention, but the reason that making the leap from observer to perceived participant is that it’s difficult to avoid indulging in the benefits derived from initial success.  Overdoing it, may lead to the intended audience saying something along the lines of: “We know you were there.  You wouldn’t shut up about it,” and this may lead to your role as an observer being more prominent in any stories that follow said event.  The perfect crossover requires a tightrope walker’s discipline and balance to leave the seed of an impression that storytellers will hopefully enhance regarding their participation in the events of the night.

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

This recognition granted the kid an excellent first step, if in fact he was attempting a crossover.  It may have provided the kid an unfair advantage, based on the fact that the man that said it had presumably spent the last couple years trying to have the kid accept him as an eventual step-father.  If the kid used it, however, he could complete a total crossover and have those in the audience incorporating him into the event, in after-party stories, regardless the kid’s actual participation in it.  It dawned on me, then, that I would never know if the kid was successful, as I had no familiarity with those that would tell the story of this day.

The reason this kid named Kevin drew my attention a number of times probably had something to do with the fact that he was a beacon in a fog of otherwise boring people completing routine events of a wedding, but to this point in our remote connection, I was not obsessed with him.  Everything I’ve written about this moment thus far, occurred as a result of reflection.  The acute focus that some could call an obsession, based on a personal connection I would develop with the kid, did not happen until Kevin’s mother, the bride, called upon him to participate more in the festivities.

Kevin waved her off.  He waved her off in the manner I waved off so many of my own calls for increased participation.  I attempted to regard this as a normal boy that doesn’t enjoy dancing, and doesn’t care to be the center of attention, but I found myself frustrated with Kevin.  I was frustrated in a manner that any person that has regrets witnesses others go down the same road without gauging the consequences for it.  I wanted to say things to the kid that I wish someone would have said to me at the time.  I was caught in spiral of emotions that led me to recognize that my own preference for observing events went deeper than I ever considered prior to that moment.  I realized –while stifling what I wanted to call out to this kid– that my preference for observing those that participate, over actual participation, was so entrenched that I regarded any attempts to have me do otherwise as a reach beyond my character.  I could not remember any specific incident, but I knew that I had waved people off in my youth, in the same manner Kevin had, as an obnoxious distraction from my desire to observe the event.

That’s me in the corner I thought watching the mother give up after one futile, symbolic attempt that she appeared to know would fail.  That’s me in the spotlight, losing my sense of belonging.

‘You were just integral to the party,’ is what I wanted to shout out to that kid with such vigor that I would’ve revealed myself as something more than just an obnoxious person.  ‘Why would you prefer to sit on the sidelines of your mother’s wedding?’

Could it be that this preference for observing has something to do with the idea that we’ve all been participants and observers in the audience at various points in our lives, and we’ve all learned that the memories others have of these roles are somewhat interchangeable?  Unless the participant is so over-the-top funny, entertaining, or in all other ways memorable, the observer has the opportunity to be viewed as an equal to all participants, if they know how to enhance their role as an astute observer.

When one displays some athleticism, for example, the members of the audience may cheer their athletic exploits in ways that display that they’re proud of any connection they may have to that athlete.  When that athlete commits an error, or underperforms in any way, the lone association the audience will have with that athlete is through vicarious definition of themselves through that athlete.  They may not disassociate themselves from the athlete, depending on the error, but the error allows them to believe that put in the same position at the time of the error, they would not have committed it.  ‘All you had to do was catch the ball,’ is something they may say, ‘and it was hit right to you.’

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

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

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

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

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

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

Anti-Anti-Consumer Art

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

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

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

Margaret Roleke "Hanging"

Margaret Roleke “Hanging”

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

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

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

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

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

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

Narrowed view

Narrowed view

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

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

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

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

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

"Eat at McDonald's"

“Eat at McDonald’s”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fear of a Beaver Perineal Gland

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

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

The premise of the idea that there could be too much knowledge out there makes some of us wince.  How can there be too much knowledge?  It makes no sense.  If we thought the complaint was limited to the fact that too many people know too much about too many people, and that too many people focus too much of their energy on trivial matters, we might be able to get behind that. Even when an informed consumer decides that it’s acceptable for him to share his knowledge on the ingredients of the food we’re about to eat, we might still wince at what we hope amounts to nothing more than casual, and humorous observations that we should place some kind of Orwellian governor on the information outlays that are available on net.  We might say that it’s on the individual to put a cap on the type of information they provide others, insofar as it might be something that their audience cares little about, and it should be their responsibility to recognize when their audience doesn’t care, and that it’s something of a violation to intrude upon anything beyond that.

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

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

I did everything but close my eyes here.  This type does not stop.  It’s almost as if they have so much trivial knowledge stored in their cerebral tank that if they don’t hit the release valve every once in a while, they may experience whatever occurs to one that is experiencing an excess buildup.

has too much building up inside them.  One can’t just say that they don’t want to have excess information dumped, to these people, you are forced to play ball with the hope that it will all be over soon.

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

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

The Castoreum Connection


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

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

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

Natural and Artificial Flavoring

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

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

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

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


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


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

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

Fish bladders to fight bitter beer?

Fish bladders to fight bitter beer taste?

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

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

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

To get you in the mood

Ambergris: The Love Molecule?

Ambergris: The Love Molecule?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Who was the first to discover this?

The first question that arises from any discussion that involves the “yuck factor” properties that the beaver, and the whale, have provided mankind is: Who discovered this, and how did they arrive at the notion that it could be used in the manner it is now used?

Did it have anything to do with the fact that someone noticed that an inordinate amount of women were inordinate with their attraction to whalers?  Did this observer set about trying to find out why?  Did whalers, after a number of successful conquests of women, begin to realize that there was something more to their success rate than the rugged individualism that women seemed to associate with whaling?  Did one whaler begin to put some whale vomit behind his ears before he went to the tavern, and the others followed suit after watching him succeed, until the history of ambergris was written?  And who was the first person to mix beaver taint juice and ice cream together and decide that it was such a winning proposition that he would pitch it to corporations, and what was he forced to say in that pitch to make it persuasive?  And what of the psychedelic and psychoactive properties of the toad?


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

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

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

My Advice to Informed Consumers

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

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

The Real Back Pain Solution

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Are You Superior? II

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wearing a Mask the Face Grows Into

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

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

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

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

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

Orwell describes the encounter in this manner:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Hard-Ass Boss

I had a boss once that did everything he could to foster the mystique of being a “hard-ass boss”.  His goal, as characterized by the team of workers that worked under him, was to procure in them this idea that he was willing to do whatever it took to get maximum efficiency out of his employees.

Those of us that worked under him knew this boss would not defend us, even if we had particular exceptions to the rule that warranted a defense.  We also suspected that he might fight the more lenient Human Resources department to inflict maximum damage upon us in support of his mystique.  This resulted in most of us believing that he cared little-to-nothing about us and only about advancing his mystique, until it advanced him within the company.  Was this a fair characterization?  It may not have been, but it was pervasive throughout the team, and he never did anything to dispel us of it.

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

I was disappointed.  I lost respect for him.  I couldn’t explain it, and I could’t avoid pursuing it.  The characterization I had of him was such that when he didn’t punish me in an unfair manner, above and beyond that which his superiors accorded to him,  I was left to fill in the blanks with pleasant and assumptive characterizations. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Unfunny, Influential Comedy of Andy Kaufman

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Being Unfunny in Funny Situations

Like the knuckleball, situational humor can get better or worse as the game goes on, but if a person is  going to have any success with it they’re going to have to devote themselves to the pitch.  An individual that enjoys pulling situational jokes and pranks on people (an idiot) should be prepared to have the subjects of their joke hit the occasional home run off of them, and they should be prepared to knock out the occasional mascot with a wild pitch, but for situational jokes to ever become effective, they can’t be just another pitch in an arsenal.  They require a commitment that will become a concentration, until it eventuates into a lifestyle that even those closest to the situational comic will have a difficult time understanding.

“Why would you try to confuse people?” they will ask those attempting this pitch.  “By saying things that aren’t funny?” 

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

The truth, for many idiots, may be that we don’t know why we enjoy such bizarre, situational humor.  We just do.  The truth may be that we know the path to achieving laughter, through the various pitches and rhythms made available to us in movies and prime time sitcoms, and it bores us.  We never thought we were funny, or funnier than those that have mastered the template of joke telling, but the idea that everyone knows these jokes so well that they know our punchlines before we say them, leads us to try something different.

Others may recognize, at some point in their lives, that they don’t have the wherewithal to match the delivery of their friends –those with game show host type personalities.  For these people, the raison d’être of Kaufman’s idiot may offer an end run around the traditional modes of comedy.  Some may employ these tactics, to simply stand out, and above the fray, and others may enjoy the superiority-through-inferiority psychological base that can be a byproduct of this mindset, but most people find that they are unable to identify the reason behind doing what they do.  They just know they like it, and they will continue to like it, no matter how many poison-tipped arrows come their way.

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

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

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

The pause before her second sentence included an expression that every idiot lives for, one that caused the pride to fade, and the beam to subside, as it dawned on her that everything she thought she figured out opened up more questions, and an eventual flowchart that ended in rabbit hole that once entered into would place her in a variety of vulnerable positions, including the beginning.  She pursued me after that, to convince me that she was onto this whole thing I was doing, and she did it so often that it became obvious that she was the audience to her own argument.

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

The point is that if a situational comic devotes themselves to this mindset, and they are able to avoid having anyone see the stitches of their pitch, they might be able to convince some of the people, some of the times, that they are an idiot.

The List

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

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

2) “What did he say?” is a much more difficult non sequitur to land, even for the seasoned idiot, well-schooled in the art of being idiotic.  This response may never receive the laughter that a well-timed, “So’s your mother” or a “That’s what she said” response may.  It’s the sequential reactions this line receives, over time, that may be better than those other two, if the idiot is strategic in the manner in which they employ it in their conversations over time.  All non sequiturs, it should be noted, are required to be delivered in a careful, measured tone that leads the listener to believe that the idiot, in question, believes what they’re saying to the point that the speaker believes they have lost the idiot. They may repeat the story, and the logical order for the idiot in question, for the idiot’s benefit, but the idiot must persevere through this repetition to the point that the speaker may believe the idiot is a little damaged.  This requires diligence and patience on the part of the idiot, but I dare say that no non sequitur humor requires more diligence than that which is required in the “What did he say?” algorithm.

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

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

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

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

One other thing, before we continue, this space in time will also provide a chicken exit.  If an individual decides, at this point, that they’re more interested in having friends, or that they are uncomfortable with people regarding them as an idiot, they’ll want to consider pulling the ripcord on the joke right here.  This can be accomplished with a simple line like, “Oh, ok, I must have misheard you,” or “I was just kidding.”  Some people may also feel a little uneasy playing with another person’s head in this manner, as they fear it may lead the other to find them deceptive in a manner that may place a wedge between them and the other person, and this is the perfect moment to end it all before feelings are hurt.

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

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

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

“It’s a girl,” the speaker will say, if the idiot has reached that sweet spot in their reactions and emphasis.  “Martha is a girl.”

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

This line of responses will not bear fruit at the outset, and an idiot may want to skip the next story involving an agreed upon female name, like Barbara, to prevent their audience seeing the stitches of the situational humor, but when the speaker approaches the idiot with a third story, about a person name Beatrice, the idiot might want to say, “What’s he doing now?” The emphasis on the word ‘he’, at this point in the joke, is acceptable, if the idiot has managed to place the speaker in the vulnerable position.

This is the portion of the joke where the idiot may receive dividends for all of their hard work.  Some may enjoy pursuing this façade ad infinitum, adding intricacies here and there to it as it expands, but most of us want payoffs.  The payoff may not be immediate. That perfect expression on their face, as they become aware of all that you’ve done to them, may never arrive.  They may not say anything, for it may be embarrassing to them to admit that they fell for it so hard, but if this knuckleball was successful, the idiot may learn of their success when they try to pull the joke on someone else, and their initial victim turns to them, with empathy, and says:

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

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

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

Needless to say, the idiot is the one that says all three sentences.  Their third sentence should be followed by some fatigue, or some tone of urgency that suggests that they’re tired of repeating themselves.

Most recipients of this joke will not say a word.  There may be some reactions, and I’ve found that the reactions vary, but if an idiot pulls the joke off often enough, they may land a reaction like this one:

“I did not say what. YOU DID!” 

I received this reaction over the course of years.  I did it so many times that I was no longer trying.  I was no longer trying to be funny, and I wasn’t trying to perfect my rhythms and expressions.  I just did it, and that may be the key to pulling this one off.

The person that said this colored her response with an ‘I’m not the stupid one here, YOU ARE!’ intonation that suggested that my impatience with her was uncalled for.  I was only afforded one more opportunity to pull this joke on her, due to time constraints, and she was more adamant the second time through, but I was not afforded the opportunity to do this as often as it may have been necessary to have subject want to strike me, but I still dream about that day.

This one is the most difficult to pull off, for most people see the stitches of this knuckleball very early on, and most of them 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, except for that one effortless attempt.

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

My modus operandi, brought to you, in part, by the late, great Andy Kaufman, is that while jokes are funny, reactions are hilarious.  If a person becomes practiced in the art of deception, and they learn how to deceive another into believing that they are a total idiot, they, too, can produce some jewels that will leave them with the feeling that they’ve created some temporary moments in their life that turned out to be rewarding.

4) Recite an Inappropriate Song Lyric in an Appropriate Moment

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

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

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

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

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

The Idiostory

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

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

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

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

The Disclaimer

This particular mindset should not be used by those that want others to consider them funny.  If this is the goal, they will want to learn how to incorporate their responses into conversations by putting acute focus on the beats and rhythms of delivery.  Quality humor, like quality music, should have pleasing beats and rhythms that find a comfortable place in the listener’s mind.  It should then be repeated for the purpose of providing a pleasing pattern that all listeners will recognize before the punchline is unleashed.  Once the punchline is hit, the listeners’ brains will reward them for figuring out the pattern before the punchline was said, they’ll be rewarded with a shot of dopamine, and the joke teller will be rewarded with their laughter.  If the joke teller learns all this well, and incorporates all that they have learned into their joke, the listener may even say the punchline before  the joke teller does.

If the goal is to be an unfunny idiot that gets no laughter for the effort, the joke teller will want to know the rules of comedic presentation, even better than funny people.  As any gifted practitioner of the art of idiocy will tell those willing to listen, it is far more difficult to find a way to distort and destroy people’s perception of conventional humor than it is to abide by them.  It takes being practiced in the art of practice in other words.  It takes an ear tuned to the rhythms and beats of a conversation, or situation, to be able to distort them with efficiency, and achieving this level of efficiency involves a lot of trial and error.

As expressed throughout this article, the rewards for being a total idiot are far and few between, but anyone that has managed to achieve total destruction, or distortion, of what is believed to be the beats and rhythms of humor, may encounter a sympathetic soul that considers the joke teller such an idiot that they may consult the joke teller about the beats and rhythm of their delivery.  For the most part, however, the rewards received will include damage to the joke teller’s reputation as a potential funny person, total dismissal of the joke teller as strange and weird, and others wanting little-to-nothing to do with such a person.  The total idiot may even find that no normal woman wants to date them, as they prefer nice guys that are funny, “and you, you’re just kind of weird.”

The Weird and the Strange

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

Being weird is a choice. 

George Grosz, Ghosts, 1934

                      George Grosz, Ghosts, 1934

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

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

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

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

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

When I left my dad’s normal home and ventured out into a world outside the realm of his influence, I became attracted to weird, oddball philosophy.  I found the information they presented me so intoxicating that I had trouble keeping it in the bottle.

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

If there are any young minds reading this, engaged in a similar, passionate pursuit of all that falls under the abnormal umbrella, I want to stress one thing before we go any further.  You can be a freak in life, you can violate every spoken and unspoken rule of our culture, and become that greaser, with tattoos and spikes in your leather jacket, with an ever present snarl on your face, but you first have to learn the rules that you plan to spend the rest of your life violating.  Learning the rules gives one a proper foundation, from which to violate.  I know you think you know these rules –and they bore you– but trust me you don’t know them as well as you think.  Violation comes with its own set of rules, if you hope to violate in a constructive and substantive manner.  Failure to learn the rules, and the proper violation of them, will allow those that set the rules to dismiss you as someone that doesn’t know what they’re talking about, and your goal of undermining those rules will also be dismissed with ease.  You do also run the risk of being deemed uninteresting, and a rebel without a cause.

A Rebel Without a Cause makes for great fodder in a movie where all of the extraneous conditions, and players, can be manipulated to enhance the qualities of the main character, but in real life there are situations and forces that you cannot control.  There are people that will hit you with scenarios for which you’ll be unprepared, and if you don’t study the rules from every angle possible your whole argument will be forgotten soon after you make it.

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

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

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

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

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

This person that condemned me for being audacious in my attempts to play around in what she claimed her birthright, was weird in a natural, and fundamental, sense, but she was also sad in a natural and fundamental sense, and miserable, and angry about the manner in which life had trampled upon her.  Anyone that knew her, or even held a simple conversation with her, would walk away knowing that chaos had dominated much of her life, and as a result she was well-known for being so desperate as to seek refuge in the controlled substances she found that eased that pain.

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

Busybody Nation

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

It should have been an uneventful walk in the park on an otherwise uneventful Thursday. The weather was even uneventful, an occurrence that any resident of Omaha, Nebraska will tell you is an event in and of itself. The conversation was pleasant, but unmemorable and uneventful, and our walk through the park should have ended that way, but I’d had enough.

I started what would become a confrontation, by committing what I would be informed to be a crime against nature, by allowing my leashed dog to chase some of the park’s ducks into the water. I initiated the confrontation. I should not have, but I’d had enough.

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

eyb09e00_p2After chasing the ducks, my dog sniffed at the shore the ducks stood on seconds earlier. He looked up and watched them swim away a couple seconds longer, and he walked away.

Had my wife said, “Did you hear that lady shriek at you?” I could’ve pled ignorance. I could’ve also said that I had no idea the shrieking was directed at me. The shriek was faint, and distant, enough that it could’ve been directed at anyone. I knew it wasn’t. I knew it was directed at me, but I could’ve walked away from it, and no one not even my wifewould’ve known that I heard her. My pride was not on the line, in other words, and I had nothing to gain by pursuing confrontation. I did think about this, all of this, while my dog sniffed the shore, and my wife spoke of her concerns in the background, but I’d had enough.

There is something to be gained by pursuing some confrontation. Some of the times your character is on the line, and you need to come out swinging, with your best vocabulary, to define yourself. Some of the times, a person should not sit back and allow unwarranted, slanderous accusations. Yet, we all make mistakes when we confuse perceived slights with actual, in-your-face accusations, in our quest for definition. Some of the times, I think, we can be so driven by the need to be respected that we engage in inconsequential confrontations that result in no gains. Some of the times, I think we engage in confrontation just to feel better about ourselves, and some of the times we engage in irrational, unnecessary confrontations for the irrational reason that we’ve had enough.

Most people are inconsiderate, but if we take a couple of seconds to realize that at the base of the word inconsiderate is the word consider, we’d realize that the other parties involved in our impulsive confrontations didn’t consider the ramifications of their actions. There is, in most cases, a wide chasm between being rude and being inconsiderate, and it’s our perceptions of these incidents that drive them together.

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

Those of us that choose to live peaceful, uneventful, and non-confrontational lives have an outlet. We go home to those that make us happy again, and we inform them of our near confrontation, and we tell them how we managed to avoid overreacting. We say we know we were right, but we avoided exasperating the matter. We might recite for them, what we could’ve said, but we often let the matter die there. We play with our kids, we love our spouse, and we pet our dog.

There is a point, however, when inconsequential incidents begin to build up in a person. I prefer to use the analogy of the pressurized valve. The pressurized valve contains those moments when the objective, rational man considered all points of view, and it involved the considerations one made that nothing would be gained by acting in those moments. These people are some of the nicest, most peaceful people on Earth, yet even they experience a clog over time. Even those that cling to pacifism, as a lifesaver against the tide of the irrational, have moments when the nice, peaceful route is no longer the an option. This moment will not change them into an irrational person that seeks confrontation in the aftermath, but even the most peaceful people on earth have moments when their threshold has been met.

My threshold was met sometime after years of listening to shrieking busybodies notify authority figures that they –or their children– have experienced perceived slights. The list of these perceived slights, now filed under national catastrophes, is so long that a compendium the size of War and Peace would have to be titled Volume One. I had reached my threshold of hearing about shrieking busybodies, in restaurants and malls, watching the manner in which every man, woman, and child treats every other man, woman, and child. I had enough of shrieking busybodies sifting through my emails, and Instant Messages, for material in their next ‘to whom it may concern’ report. Shrieking busybodies are in government seats now, our judicial system, our hard drives, message boards, and our minds trying to ferret out the motives that we may have had swimming around in our minds when we decided to engage in a perceived slight.

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

If the sole motivation, for these busybodies, were to be an information resource, a ‘we report, you decide’ outlet, we might have less to complain about. We know that ‘everything in moderation’ are words to live by to enjoy quality health, we know that indulging has deleterious consequences, and we know that there are some that need information outlets to be reminded of what we already know. We also know being an information resource is not the sole motivation of the true busybody. If that were their case, they wouldn’t grow so frustrated that they end up shrieking in a city park.when another refuses to adhere to their strict definition of order

Most busybodies are the result of a peaceful nation that leaves its citizenry with little to worry about. They’re a begrudged segment of the population that holds a lifelong grudge against those that “got away” with transgressions in their youth. Most children test boundaries. Busybodies tested them too, but they never “got away” with anything, or at least that’s how they remember it. They remember those that “got away” with testing limits, and how those people acted like they didn’t care what the rules were. Busybodies did. They didn’t want to get in trouble, and they didn’t think it was fair when others eluded authoritarian consequences. When others did get caught, and the consequences were less severe than the busybody thought they should be, the percolating began.

A “That’s not fair!” mantra became their battle cry, and they used that battle cry to assist teachers, and other parents, with the difficult task of imposing order. This battle cry followed them into adulthood where their life’s mission transitioned to assisting office managers, supervisors, and lawmakers with their very difficult task of imposing a sense of what should be everyone’s very strict definition of order. They write letters to the editor, they’re parent teacher conferences last forty-five minutes, and they’re one-on-one’s with management are just short of screaming matches. They want order, they want fairness, and they don’t want anyone to get away with what they cannot.

They’re our busybodies, the Gladys Kravitzes of our nation, trying to right the wrongs of a previous generation, to protect this generation’s vulnerable from the vicious assaults that they perceive to be occurring.

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

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

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

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

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

“Be careful,” the man said.  “I’m a prosecutor, and people run sting operations in this park all the time.”

I must admit that this put me back a step. Was that intended to be a threat? It was. It stoked my ire.

“We’re just having a little fun,” I said, “But I do thank you for your concern,” and I offered him a smile and a good-natured wave that was as confrontational as a smile and a good-natured wave can be.

The ‘Don’t do that!’ shrieker stepped to the fore. She had been waiting for me about twenty yards further along the park’s trail. She had been waiting, I can only assume, to see how the prosecuting attorney’s threats would affect me. When it was determined that I was unaffected by them, she stepped to the fore. She informed me, at high volume, that the ducks were scared, and that they cannot fly, and she added some other gibberish that flew out of her mouth at such a rate that I feared she might be exhibiting the early, warning signs of a cardiac arrest.

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

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

“Yes you would,” she said.

The uninteresting “nu uh,” “yes huh” portion of the confrontation lasted for another thirty seconds, with each party parrying and thrusting, until the shrieking woman decided to turn and walk away. She was still saying things, but her venom had diminished a tad.

I’ve been accused, in the past, of being a last word person. I’ve often found that those that accuse me of this, need to have the last word far more than me, and they beat me to the last word by accusing me of being one that needs to have the last word. This has happened to me so often that I’ve thought of accusing people of needing to have the last word before we even begin such a discussion, just to take that arrow out of their quiver.

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

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

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

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

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

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

If I were lucky enough to be considered for this role, I would inform my followers that we need to engage in more inconsequential, indefensible arguments, such as the one that occurred on a Thursday in the park, to roll back the tide of these busybodies involving themselves in all of the otherwise inconsequential moments of our lives. Our goal would not be to stop busybodies, for that would be impossible, but to start planting proverbial “Mind your own business Gladys!” flags in the terra firma of city parks to let these no stress, no conflict, and no turmoil busybodies know that they’re not going to receive righteous warrior badges on our watch.

“This park right here is neutral ground for the inconsequential to go about living their inconsequential lives without consequence!” is something we should scream as we plant our proverbial flag in the confrontation.

If you’ve ever looked over your shoulder, after committing one of these “crimes against nature”, you’ve witnessed the otherwise unharmed ducks go right back to the exact shoreline that your dog, or child, scared them off of moments earlier. An insecure bully –that found joy in scaring innocent little ducks– might perceive this as a direct challenge to their manhood that the ducks are sending out. Our movement would not support such bullying tactics. We would do it with the idea that these ducks have realized that kids and dogs chasing after them is an acceptable consequence of living among the humans. We would do it with the belief that this happens to these ducks so often that it doesn’t even ruffle their feathers anymore. If the ducks have conversations, I have to imagine that this procedure has become so routine for them, that they fly away and back without so much as a pause in their sentence.

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

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

The Pitfalls of the Previous, Private Generation

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

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

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

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

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

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

Busybodies have a trumpet, and they’re not afraid to use it

There are varying degrees of busybody intrusion, of course. Some, as noted above, carefully intercede on behalf of another in a moment they believe has, in some way, spun out of control. They might say something, but they move on. They might concede they don’t know the whole story, but from what they saw it appeared to be a moment that called for some intrusion. Others take great pride in their ability to recognize a situation before it escalates, and they will intercede without concession. The difference can be often found in the aftermath, when true busybodies trumpet their exploits to friends and family. It’s what true busybodies do. They’re proud of it, and it’s how they attain their badges of honor. It’s why people call them righteous warriors, according to their definition of what they think people should say about them.

The audience of the righteous warrior’s retelling often know little-to-nothing of what happened in the incident, so they may perpetuate the self-righteousness of the righteous warrior by congratulating him for stepping in. It’s rare that a listener will prod the righteous warrior for more details:

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

“What do you mean, did I know what happened there?” the busybody will ask in a defensive posture, “I saw an adult correcting a child in a manner that I deemed to be unwarranted to the extreme! It’s just a child for gosh sakes! There was no need for that!”

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

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

“But you don’t know that to be the case, here, is all I’m saying. I’m saying that some of the times, you should mind your own business, unless you know for sure.” 

This is the temptation those of us that have grown to loathe the busybody have, but as anyone on the “but” end of a busybody’s complaint will tell you, the escalation of busybodies has reached a point now where there’s no turning back. The sins of the past generation, and all the movies, and TV shows that have documented them, have led us to believe that extreme situations exist around every corner of our nation, until we’re screaming at the top of our lungs about the psychology of some poor ducks that were scared into entering a lake.

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

If this confrontation that occurred on a Thursday, in the park, were about protecting ducks alone, would I have been hit with the threat of prosecution? If it were focused on the well-being and livelihood of the ducks, this shrieking woman could’ve put me in my place with a quick, inside voice condemnation of my actions. She could’ve undressed me, in a psychological manner, with a couple of quick words like: “Don’t scare the ducks. You’re a grown man, for gosh sakes. Do you get some kind of perverse joy out of it?” If she had used a measured tone, when she said that, my dog and I would’ve left the park with our tails between our legs. What the two shriekers did, instead, was so over the top that I’m quite sure that the second shrieker’s doctor –concerned about her high blood pressure, and her heart valves weakened by years of overreacting to perceived slights and perceived extreme situations– would’ve warned her against future outbursts, and the partners in the first shrieker’s law firm would’ve cautioned him against throwing his weight around in otherwise meaningless moments. Most busybodies have no authority to be saying anything that they’re saying, and this fact, I assume, frustrates them to a point that they feel the need to hit the release button on the pressurized valve that they hope ruins your day in the manner so many of theirs have been.

Scorpio Man

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

“I mean you no harm,” I want to say, as if that would do anyone any good at this point in human history.  “I do not want to hurt you,” I do say, at times, when I see how badly 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 receive after telling people that I happen to be a man, born of Pluto, the god of death and mystery and rebirth that lying about the essence of my being, and all that I stand for, is now preferable.

Is this really what you all want?  It appears as though you do.  I’ve thought about fighting it.  I’ve thought about telling you about all of the peace-loving Scorpio brethren that litter history, but at this point it has to be deemed an unwinnable war.

Some of you, and you know who you are, have decided that it’s acceptable, in this age of supposed enlightenment and acceptance, to call Scorpio Men a dark force!?  I’m sorry, but that’s a pejorative term that my people have dealt with since the Hellenistic culture exerted its influence on Babylonian astrology, and just because a few bad eggs have gone rotten since, does not mean that the whole basket should be thrown out.  In this era of enlightenment, one would think that we would all make a more concerted effort to see past whatever constellation the Sun happened to be in at the time of a person’s 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 thoughtless troglodytes that happen to have crawled out of the womb during another, superior positioning of the Sun that suggest that Scorpio Men “Can be total trips sometimes.”  Then to have that air of superiority that comes from some (I’m looking at you Cancer Sun women!) that know that we will either get murdered (statistical samples show that most Scorpio males may get murdered in their bed) or murder (statistical samples state that Scorpio males “Can be most high rated criminals” (sic).  And just because we tend to be serial killers that “Thrive on power and control because they (Scorpios) are so insecure, and if they loose (sic) that power or control they go crazy” does not mean that it’s going to happen in the immediate aftermath of the revelation of our birth date, on that particular elevator ride we share with you.  We don’t know when it’s going to happen, if you want to know the truth, and some of us have been able to control our Scorpio man impulses thanks to extensive and expensive “Scorpio Man” Evolvement courses.

It’s obvious that an unfortunate majority of people don’t care about any of that though.  They’re not even curious enough to ask. They can say they are, but we all know what they say about us when we’re not around.  We know that the consensus is that 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, people are going to insist that: “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 our dark half, to decide that we’re just going to lie about the 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 that has been created, of prejudicial reactions, is now so toxic that it has become almost impossible for some of us to live normal lives, and we’ve reached a point where it’s just easier for us to conceal that aspect of our identity that was, at one time, such a proud heritage for some of us.

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

The Big Lebowski and Philosophy

Throw the (damned) ball—

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

Bridges brought this scenario to a bowling coach that was hired to inform the cast of The Big Lebowski on the mechanics of bowling in a manner that would appease most bowling aficionados that happened to see the film.  The deliberations that the bowling coach went through –pausing to include the necessary intricacies involved– carried out in a manner that Bridges found reminiscent of Norton’s deliberations, until Bridges said:

“Anyone ever tell you to just throw the (damn) ball?!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“We’re all looking for perfection,” Bridges says to conclude the ‘Just throw the damn ball’ chapter, “But perfection is often a past and future tense that we’re not going to achieve in the present.”  

Bridges speaks about the difference between reading movie scripts in rehearsal and reading lines before the camera.  He says that when you read a chunk of dialogue in rehearsal, at times, you can walk away thinking that you nailed it.  If that happens, you may spend the time between rehearsal, and going before the camera trying to memorize the pitch, the rhythm, and the pauses you used when nailing it, until you’re reading it before the camera.

Once that camera clicks on, it’s almost impossible to ‘nail it’ in the exact same manner you did in rehearsal, because the conditions have all changed, and until you can learn to adapt to the current conditions before you, you’ll never be able to repeat the lines with any proficiency.  I nailed it in rehearsal, why can’t I find that same place?

“Because,” he says, “That place may have never existed, or it may not have existed in the manner you thought it did.  A person can go through all of the deliberations of trying to find that exact same, perfect place again, and they can go crazy with the thought that they never will.  Some of the times it’s better to just throw the damn ball.”

 Be the man they want you to be—

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I set this series of jokes up to increase this girl’s perception, but I also grew tired of people laughing at this girl’s ‘dumb girl’ jokes for what I thought were all the wrong reasons.  I also didn’t care for the elevated perceptions these people gained of themselves while laughing at her ‘dumb girl’ antics.  I felt a need to mess with the dynamics of those relationships, so I began feeding her answers.

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

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

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

At some point, we forgot to do it, and then we forgot about it over time, as other matters of consequence distracted us, but I now realize that that may have added the cherry atop the pie of the perception of this girl.  Had we continued to do it, we may have overdone it, and if we had given the joke up, it would’ve destroyed everything we built.  I’m quite sure this girl reverted back to her ‘dumb girl’ jokes over time, for it was where she felt most comfortable, but I wonder if the people that heard these jokes formed a new impression of this girl that lasted?  I also wonder if doing this changed people’s perception of her to such a degree that it cost her some friendships.

That’s just your opinion

The goal of any writer should be to write a book that causes one to think in ways they would not have if they never picked their book up.  If this was the goal of the authors of The Dude and The Zen Master, then I say mission accomplished.  One glaring example is the “That’s just your opinion” section.  We hear this often in our culture, when another disagrees with our opinion.  My reply has always been, “Of course that’s my opinion. Where do you think I got it?”  Glassman’s twist is that some of the times a person needs to say this to themselves.  If a person has failed to the point that they’re devastated by it, it could be said that the nature of that failure is just one person’s, theirs.  It could be said that a person’s opinion of themselves is the most vital opinion, but Bernie Glassman says it’s still just an opinion, one person’s opinion.  If you can convince yourself that it’s not a fact that you’re a failure, but an opinion, it might help you move on. While this may sound like a bunch of gobbeldy gook to some of us, if it could be used in a productive manner by a reader, and it could lead to more people just throwing the (damned) ball again without all of the complications involved from previous failures.


The Conspiracy of Game 6, 2002

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

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

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

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

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

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

To attempt to put all of these Game 6, 2002 conspiracy theories to rest, Roland Beech, of 182.com, provided an in-depth analysis of the game.  After this exhaustive review, Beech found that the:

Officiating hurt the King’s chances at victory.”  He also declared, “No nefarious scheme on the part of the refs to determine the outcome.”

Sheldon Hirsch from Real Clear Sports expounded on Beech’s findings, commenting that the Kings:

Were clearly unlucky, (but) that’s not the same thing as being cheated.” 

After reading, and rereading Beech’s analysis, I’ve found Beech’s findings to be meticulous, and objective, but they have done little to quell my irrational condemnation of two of the three referees that handled Game 6, 2002, and a Game 6, 2002 cloud has loomed over every NBA game I’ve watched since, and will continue to in any NBA games I may watch in the future.

Corroborating Evidence?

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

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

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

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

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

Corroborating Outrage!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bill Simmons, of ESPN, called the game:

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

Nader concluded his letter to Stern:

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

The point that I believe Nader and Wilbon are alluding to is that there has long been a conspiracy among NBA fans that the NBA wants the Lakers to win.  The Lakers are showtime.  They are West and Chamberlain;  Magic and Kareem; and Kobe and Shaq, and the reasons that the NBA might favor a Lakers team in the championship begins with the word money and ends with a whole lot of exclamation points.  This point is not debatable among conspiracy theorists, and non-conspiracy-minded fans, but how much the NBA would do to make that happen has been the core of conspiracy theories for as long as I’ve been alive.  

Conspiracy theory exists in all sports, of course, but they are more prominent in the NBA, because most officiated calls in the NBA are so close, and so subjective, that they invite more scrutiny, more interpretation, and more conspiracy theories than any other sport.

What was Stern’s reaction to Nader’s letter?

“He spoke like the head of a giant corporate dictatorship,” Nader said.

The Point Beyond the Random

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Brutal Honesty in the Age of Being Real

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

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

"Lars and The Real Girl"

“Lars and The Real Girl”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Another surprising, and somewhat depressing, reaction to presenting an image of brutal honesty is that even the most polite listeners begin to feel free to be brutally honest with you:

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

She asked me to reconsider if I was qualified.  Why?  Was she jealous? After processing this, with the acknowledgement of her politeness and kindness, I realized that her concerns were simple reactions to all of the brutal honesty presentations I had provided her over the years.  She didn’t want me to get hurt by the realities of my limits, limits that I had expressed in the course of being honest with my vulnerabilities, and she was just reacting to what she had been told.

As a result of such actions, people like my sweet, polite friend can inadvertently assist the person striving for brutal honesty into a depressing state of their reality.  The honest assessor realizes, about halfway down this spiral, that they’re doing this to themselves, and that they’re becoming too honest.  Their friends aren’t helping, but their friends are just listening and forming opinions based on what they’ve heard, and their regurgitating your opinions of yourself back on you. Their friends are, in fact, greasing the skids.  An honest assessor realizes, about halfway down this spiral, that they’ve become so realistic in their assessments that they’ve become brutally realistic.

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

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

“Part of an interview involves salesmanship,” those in the know would tell their audience … in off the record comments.  This was their “wink and a nod” attempt to assuage the confusion that was building around what many considered an absolute travesty.  And many thought the truth would find a way to rear her beautiful head and rectify the situation. If you have ever been in such a situation, you know the term new reality.  You know that some in the know person will come along and say, “You should be happy for her” to suggest that most of the confusion that surrounds the promotion is born of a personal animus.

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

Amid the personal and professional confusion, one honest assessor stepped forth and professed the harsh reality of the situation: “Molly simply fed into the leadership mystique of her superiors better than others.”

When others concerned themselves with learning the inner machinations of the company’s system in a proficient manner that would impress their superiors, Molly was purchasing gift baskets for boss day.  When others were out volunteering for special projects to pad their resumé, and working untold amounts of overtime to put a smile on their bosses’ faces, Molly was at the bosses’ lunch tables laughing at their jokes.  And when all of the applicants were drilling the interviewer with the bullet points of their resumé, Molly was feeding into whatever mystique they wanted to gain in that particular setting. It was her primary skill set.

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

As the nuns told us in grade school, “Those that live in a dishonest manner will eventually get theirs” and that “Truth has a way of prevailing”, and Molly was eventually discovered to be “not a good fit” for the position, but she was promoted up and out of the position, and out of the department, and the person that replaced her was yet another mystique feeder.

The problem, those of us naïve enough to believe in the age of being real, discovered was not with Molly, but that Molly was emblematic of the problems inherent in a system that the honest people once believed would find a way to provide rewards to those honest, hard working people that put their nose to the grindstone.  The problem that seemed so complex to those of us that tried to wrestle with it, turned out to be so simple. The problem was that those that controlled the spigots of reward for the hard working women and men in company were humans themselves, and humans are inherently susceptible to flattery.

The nuns also provided their grade school students the proviso that if you’re living the honest life with the expectation of eventually receiving concretized recognition for it, you’re doing it for all the wrong reasons. We knew when they said this that they were preaching gospel.  Even if we didn’t know the depth of their statement, at the time, some part of us knew that the rewards of living the honest life involved intangible, internal, and spiritual rewards.  When the Delusional People began to beat us to the more tangible goals, however, most of the honest assessors in the group would be forced to admit that it was difficult not to be affected by it, if they were being real with you.

The Paris Syndrome

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

“We’ll always have Paris.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

That Sunday newspaper also quoted psychologist Herve Benhamou saying:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Know Thyself

“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.”

Some would say that the key to living the good life can be found in reflection and examination.  If you do not have a full grasp of all of your strengths and weaknesses, in other words, the changes that you make will either be pointless, or you won’t be able to sustain them for long.  Knowing is half the battle, to quote the cliché.

coordinate2Knowing how weird, strange, and different we are, in conjunction with the resultant feelings superiority and inferiority that arrive from it, can provide us some relief from the confusion we feel about the the world around us.  If we were to use the Cartesian coordinate system that we studied in our high school Algebra class, we might be able to locate where we are compared to point of origin, or the point of total normalcy on one axis, versus our superiority and inferiority on the other, to form a (0,0) for example, on the (x,y) axis.  This may be an inexact science, but the best method we have found of knowing thyself is through comparative analysis.

We’ve all met those strange individuals that tend to be more organic by nature, and we know we’re not that.  Through comparative analysis, we could say that those people exist five increments to the right of the point of normalcy on (‘X’) axis of the Cartesian coordinate system, yet we know that we do not lie on the point or origin either.  We know we have odd tendencies that others might consider weird, and that few would say that we exist on this point of total normalcy.  Let’s say, for the sake of argument, that we are a two on the weird to normal (‘X’) axis.  If that’s the case, where would we be on superiority versus inferiority (‘Y’) axis?  We can only guess that it would have a corresponding effect, and that we would be four increments up (‘Y’) axis if the relationship between being more normal leads to greater self-esteem, or superiority.  Through comparative analysis we could say, with some confidence, that we are a (2,4) coordinate compared to the rest of the normal, well-adjusted world.

The next question, for those plotting points in their ledger, is what aspect of your personality should you be more focused on?  The answer is there is no solution, if you operate from the unstated assumption that your “2=4” comparative findings will reveal a true solution.

The true solution to all that plagues you do not lie in comparative analysis.  So, you can put your ledger down.  It is pointless.  The true solution lies just outside plotting points, and inside your own Cartesian coordinate system.  The true solution lies just beyond the analysis you’ve performed while reading this.  It is inside some of the questions you asked, and in some of the answers you arrived at.  Ask more questions, in other words, and you’ll arrive at more answers.  You may never find the perfect question that leads to the truth of it all, but along the way you’ll find some answers, to some dilemmas that plague you, until you have more answers than most.

Philosophers, bothered by the pesky complaints of philosophy fans wanting them to be more direct in their philosophies, believed that they were granted a gift in the form of a maxim delivered by the Ancient Greeks to the world.  Among the many things the Ancient Greeks offered the world was a simple inscription found at the forecourt of the Ancient Greek’s Temple of Apollo at Delphi, and reported to the world by a writer named Pausanias.

It was what modern day philosophers might call the ancient philosophers’ “Holy Stuff!” moment, and what a previous generation would call a “Eureka!” moment, and to all philosophers since, the foundation for all philosophical thought.  For modern readers, the discovery may appear vague, and it was, but it was vague in a comprehensive manner from which philosophy would be built.  It was a discovery that provided the student of philosophy a Rosetta Stone for the human mind and human involvement, and it was accomplished in two simple words:

“Know Thyself.”            

Perhaps a modern translation, or 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, but there probably would not be many that argue that man has never had as many distractions as we have right now.  I don’t think there would be many that argue against the idea that it’s now become easier to lose track of who are, who we really are.

The Holy Grail for those that produce images on movie screens, TV screens, and mobile devices is to have the audience identify with the characters they produce so thoroughly that we begin to relate to them.  The path to this Holy Grail is littered with idyllic images that a consumer may begin to associate with so often, that they begin to incorporate them into their personality.  On a conscious level, we know that these images are fictional in nature, but they may exhibit characteristics so admirable that we may begin to mimic them when among our peers.  A moment of truth arrives when we find that we’re having difficulty drawing a line of distinction between the subconscious incorporation of all of these fictional characteristics and the realization that they are not us, and we are not them, and we don’t know how to handle a moment of personal crisis.

When the moment of personal crisis arrives, we may project a screen image version of us into reality, and that version we have of ourselves may know how to handle this crisis better than we ever will.  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, now that we’re being called upon to handle a crisis.

We may have been a swashbuckling hero –in one episode 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 episode– and we may 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 wasn’t us doing it, it wasn’t really us.  On some level, we may even know that it wasn’t us, but we’ve incorporated so many images of so many characters, handling so many situations with such adept fluidity, that we’ve incorporated those idyllic, screen images into our image of ourselves.

Another idyllic image occurs over time, 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 refined, sculpted specimen that is capable of handling any situation that arises.  These adjustments may be false interpretations of how we handled that confrontation, but we preferred our rewrite over the reality of what happened.  We then began erecting that rewrite so often, or with such thoroughness, that we convinced ourselves that we handled the matter a lot better than we actually did in order to create that ideal image that we needed for better mental health.

Have you ever been forced to correct a peer on the specifics of an event?  Have you ever felt the need to gather corroborating evidence for this peer, from others that were involved in the incident in question, and you found that the subject of this correction was shocked at the overwhelming evidence you’ve accumulated against their recollection?  Have you ever found it difficult to believe that they were shocked?  Have you ever walked away thinking that these people had to, at least, be delusional to believe it happened in the manner they explained it?  Have you ever thought that they had to know the truth, but that they chose to view things different?  Have you ever thought less of these people from a distance, a distance that suggests 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 condemning this person, have you ever remembered events in a similar fashion that others felt compelled to correct you on?

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 we are able to convince ourselves that these incidents are the exception to the rule, we may be able to find excuses for why another succeeds where we fail, but when it’s repeated over and over, with peer after peer, we start to get frustrated, confused, and we may even find ourselves growing depressed.  To attempt to avoid falling 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 could be quite healthy.  The alternative, they say, occurs when one becomes too steeped in their reality, and that may result in depression, or other forms of regressed mental health.  If that’s true, where is the dividing line between using healthy delusions and being delusional?

If an individual achieves what they want from delusional thinking, and the incorporation of idyllic images to foster their desired perception in an effort of thwarting depression, and they get away with it, what’s to stop them from using those mental tools so often that they’re rewarded with even greater esteem among their peers, and greater self-esteem?  Why would they choose to moderate future delusions?  What’s to stop this delusional thinker from continuing down these delusional paths, until the subject begins lose track of who they are … who they really are?

Most of the research on the brain is dedicated to the organ’s miraculous power to remember, but recent science is finding that the power to forget is just as fundamental to happiness and greater mental health.  This thesis suggests that the brain may distill horrific memories and bad choices out, for greater mental health, in a manner similar to the ways in which the liver distills impurities out for greater physical health.

If this is true, it could be said that those lying friends may have remembered the embarrassing incident different in a biological attempt aimed at achieving greater mental health. Were they lying? Yes.  Was there goal to deceive everyone around that they were a lot better than they actually are, perhaps, but it is also likely that they were seeking to deceive themselves into the idyllic image that they needed to create for greater mental health.  To take this theory to its natural conclusion, one could also say that those that need intense counseling may have decided to go down these delusional paths so often –blocking out embarrassing details and forgetting self-esteem crushing decisions along the way, and replacing them with idyllic images and positive reinforcements– that the person has spent so much time in their bright and shiny forest of positive illusions and delusions, with their idyllic images, screen and otherwise, that they now need a professional to take them by the hand and guide them to a 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 path to greater knowledge, a better life, happiness, and more self-esteem exists somewhere on the path of knowing thyself better, and that most of the time spent investigating other, irrelevant matters is a waste of time, or superfluous minutiae for people with too much time on their hands.

When Geese Attack!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Charla Nash

Charla Nash

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Finding the Better, Happier Person Through Change

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Psychology of the Super Sports Fan

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

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

Falcon fan face painterImmersing one’s self in the world of sports’ super fandom can be stressful, for a super fan is required to be unsatisfied with their team’s progress, regardless how well they do.  A super fan is never happy.  A casual sports fan can enjoy a good tussle between two opponents, measuring one another’s physical abilities, but a super fan doesn’t enjoy a good game that involves their team, unless their team blows the other team out. Close games are stressful, and they suggest an obvious deficiency in your team that must be rectified before the next game.  Unadulterated blowouts confirm superiority.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Super fans that have listened to sports talk radio for far too long, have had it pounded into our head that there’s no glory in meaningless victories … if you don’t have that ring.  If you were a Buffalo Bills fan, in the 90’s, and you were happy with an appearance in the Super Bowl for four straight years, you were soft, because those teams lost all of those Super Bowls. The super fan would’ve preferred that the Bills failed to make it to the playoffs in the face of all that losing. That was embarrassing.  The Bills proved to be historic choke artists.  Nothing more.  It didn’t matter to the superfan that they were able to do something unprecedented when they made it to the Super Bowl after three consecutive losses.  They lost the fourth one too!  Bunch of choke artists is what they were.

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

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

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

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

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

Conquering Fear: A Few Tips from Psychopaths

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

hannibalWhat is a psychopath?  The word 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 to be worthy of discussion, 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 the other guy might be 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 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?  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 be so incomprehensible that it is impossible for us to contemplate, 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 world of a psychiatric institute, and they may be preaching to us from an insular world in which they don’t have to deal with the constant failings we may experience in life by following their philosophies, but they believe that they’ve lived a portion of their lives freer than we’ve ever known, and that the only reason they’re locked up is that they may have been granted a little bit too much of a good thing.

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

To B or not to B

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The alternative to grasping these concepts, and subsequently living without a philosophical sense of life, is nihilism —the belief in nothing.  Some nihilists even condemn atheists for their beliefs. Atheists may share the metaphysical belief that God doesn’t exist with nihilists, but where they divert is in the meaning of life.  Atheists believe that one doesn’t have to believe in God for life to have meaning.  Nihilism maintains that life has absolutely no meaning, purpose, or value, and the godfather of nihilism even went so far to write that Christianity may actually have more in common with nihilism than atheism does, based on the fact that Christians place less value on this life than they do the afterlife.

This absolute belief in nothing, when used in conversation, can be a contrarian tool that a self-proclaimed nihilist can use as a shield against attack.  It may allow them to sit back with a smug smile while atheists and Christians attack one another with the mindset being that they may not believe in anything, but at least they’re not foolish enough to believe in something.

Nihilists usually wage a philosophical war on believers, studying up on your beliefs, your philosophy, or your religion, until they reach a point where they can proudly claim to know your belief system better than you do— or at least those that believe the same as you.  The latter is an important distinction to make, for most nihilists usually don’t single you out for their criticism.  They may actually go so far as to single you for support by saying that you’re not one of those they’re talking about, because you’re more open-minded, erudite, or one of the few that can speak about this rationally.  Whatever guise they use to avoid further confrontation, they do so to complete their life’s mission of knocking everything everyone else believes in, by trying to keep it impersonal. To suggest that all nihilists operate in a nefarious manner with the sole goal of undermining belief, would be as incorrect as the comprehensive labels they attach to believers, but they do seek some sort of validation for their mindset from you the believer.

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

Oh! Our Electromagnetic Minds

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The God helmet was not designed for the sole purpose of providing a subject with a feeling of God’s presence, but various tests ended up yielding such results.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“One might think Christians would be upset that this professor in Sudbury is trying to do with physics what Nietzsche did with metaphysics –kill off God. One might also think that devout ufologists would denounce him for putting neuroscience on the side of the skeptics.” {1} But Persinger claims that the purpose of his experiment is not to suggest that God doesn’t exist, or to disprove alien visitations.  He claims that his argument concerns the notion that certain EM fields may be tinkering with our consciousness.  He claims that most of those individuals that founded various religions may have experienced some sort of EM intrusion in their enlightening experiences.  Other than the Smith and Taze Russell experiences mentioned above, there is the Saul of Damascus transformation that occurred following a bright flash of light.  Persinger’s theory suggests that that experience may have occurred to Saul, later Paul, as a result of a minor seizure or a strike of lightning.  Moses seeing the burning bush, may have been as a result of Moses being close enough to lightning striking that bush that receptors in his brain may have heard the voice of God coming from that bush.  Persinger doesn’t appear to want to damage these stories in lieu of what these men went on to accomplish following the initial experiences, but he does believe that there was an electromagnetic element to these stories that has never been explored before.  The element is what Persinger calls electromagnetic spirituality.  These ideas, and others, have given rise to a field called Neurotheology.  Though neurotheologists do not have specific concerns related to the validity of their subject’s belief, they do seek to determine what’s happening in the brain during a religious experience without apology.

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

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

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

Indigo Children: The Next Step in Human Evolution

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Descriptions of Indigo Children from the net include:

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

Other alleged traits include:

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

According to Tober and Carroll, Indigo Children may not function well in conventional schools due to their rejection of rigid authority*, being smarter (or of a more spiritual mature) than their teachers, and a lack of response to guilt-, fear- or manipulation-based discipline.

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

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

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

We love our kids so much, and they’re so cute and funny, that we cannot accept the fact that there’s something wrong with them, if there isn’t, and if our kids just aren’t able to meet our expectations in the manner we require.  We give tangible love to our kids by doing something to help them, even if they don’t need anything.  We want to do that something that someone should’ve done for us to put them on an equal level with their peer group, and to assist them through life, but some of the times the best course of action to take is to do nothing.  It may go against every parental instinct we have, but it might be the best thing we ever did for our children.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Let Your Freak Flag Fly!

As usual with any idiom of this sort, most people either don’t know, or care, how a phrase originated. When attempting to trace the origin of any idiom of this sort, in casual conversation, one tends to hear the response: “Dude, I don’t know, I’ve been saying it for decades.” It is perceived to be uncool, to trace origins of hip phrases in this manner. If an individual were to attempt a true, point of origin trace for their use of the phrase, it might result in something as humdrum as “I think my Cousin Ralphie is cool as hell, and when I heard him say it I wanted some of his cool on me”. If this individual were that honest, they would run the risk of being “so over” as to be drummed out of the “in-crowd”, for that would be deemed a violation of the binary, unspoken agreement those in the “in-crowd” have designed for the world of phraseology. In this world, all users are the point of origin, or they should be considered the originators from the listener’s perspective. If the curious insists on continuing with this line of questioning, they’ll probably find themselves drummed out on an “If you have to ask …” basis.

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

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

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

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

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

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

One could find a freak flag in esoteric likes and dislikes, such as a perverted use of balloons in sexual activity, a personality defined by a Mohawk haircut, an apathetic reaction to a suicide, a fear of the nighttime world, and a preference for food that someone hasn’t spoken to. While we would not make an overarching 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.

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

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

Social Psychological Operations

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let’s say that that “How was your day?” greeting involved someone at the office, getting coffee in the refreshment center of the office at the same time we do.  Let’s say this person we encounter is not a total stranger, but one with whom we have an ongoing relationship.  They are work associates in the truest sense of the word.  They may know a little something something about us, but that they keep that information close to the vest.  We may know some somethings about them, but we would consider it a violation of protocol to use that information against them.  If that’s the case, a “How was your day?” greeting can take on altogether different meaning.  It may begin in a benign manner, but it’s not as innocuous as the 7-11 interaction was.  When we say “Good” to this person that asks about our day, both parties flip the page of the playbook to a chapter where they have some somethings on another.

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

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

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

Again, this may appear innocuous on the surface, but they know that our kid has had some challenges when it comes to displaying athletic prowess, and they have had no such difficulties with their kid.  They know that they have a lot of social psych op points on you on this page, and they enjoy displaying them whenever the two of you interact in the refreshment center.  It gives them a little lift for that day to know that while their lives are not what anyone would call intact, at least it isn’t as bad as yours.

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

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

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

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

“I could live like that too,” you say with a laugh.  “If I didn’t mind living in debt.” 

The two of you have just compiled some much needed points on the Jones fella that you can keep close to the vest the next time you see him.  You thank your associate for that information, because you needed that lift.  You needed the social psych op points.

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

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

“But I don’t do any of this,” some of our friends will complain, if we bring our social psych ops theories to them.  “I don’t dress people down psychologically or otherwise.  When I asked you how your day was, I just wanted to know how your day was.  Nothing more.  I have no ulterior motives.  I just wanted to get to know you better.  Sheesh, maybe you need to get out more.” 

It is possible that some people think this way.  It is possible that their “How is your day?” conversation was benign?  It’s also possible that their search for dominance was occurring on a level they may not even be aware of.  It’s also possible that this attempt to tell you that they don’t play such games is a social psych op in and of itself.

The follow up sentence to further condemn you to a few moments beneath their heel would be,

“And I can’t believe you do … play games like these.”

By telling you that your outlook on life is steeped in inordinate cynicism, they just scored some social psych ops points on you.  Some of the times they vocalize such sentiments, but most of the times it is an unspoken sentiment that they keep close to the vest for their own, internal accumulation of points.

The final social psych op occurs when we look back on this conversation and realize that they were engaging in a social psychological operation that is foreign to us, one steeped in passive aggressions.  We may believe that, on some level, they were lying, and we may believe we have just gained some insight into who they are, and that we have gained some points in the social psych ops playbook with that knowledge.

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

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

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

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

As with any exercise of this sort, our opponent will attempt to survey the battlefield before engaging.  He will try to locate our insecurities and place his best forces there.  The best social psych ops general will also have knowledge of his weaknesses, and either place some forces there, or cede ground.  And there’s nothing wrong with temporary, strategic surrender, as long as we recognize our opponent’s attack strategy for what it is.

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

All attacks and counterattacks are situational, of course, but once one establishes a frame of reference they can develop an ability to counterattack with equal measure in most cases.  This universal frame of reference is vital to a psychological operations soldier, for once we’ve established ourselves in a given area, our antagonists will attempt to switch the playing field on us.  They may choose politics or sports, because their team has a recent history of beating ours; they may choose the department of the company they work in, or the inferior position in the company we have; or the clothes we wear; or the type of dog they own that is superior in a physical sense; or the shows we watch that are not as funny as theirs; or any sort of psychological vine they cling to as they hang off the cliff with all of their inferiorities dangling out for the world to see because they forgot to wear their psychological support hose.

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

To this point in our psych ops training, we have focused on some strategic aspects and information gathering exercises of social psych ops warfare.  All of this is key to understanding how these PSYCH OPS are employed, of course, but no amount of theoretical discussion will help a reader understand what they’re up against better than witnessing them deployed in live action.

Operational PSYCH OPS involve putting all that was gathered during the information gathering exercises of social psychological operations into play.  It is an informed approach that the psych op soldier uses to attack fellow psych op soldiers in what could loosely be termed a training exercise.

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

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

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

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

Tactical PSYCH OPS are the culmination of all that was learned in the previous two, social psychological operations in that they are conducted in an arena assigned by the individual across a wide range of psychological operations to support the tactical mission against opposing forces.  When the PSYCH OPS soldier exploited your weakness in the training exercise, they were testing your vulnerabilities, and gauging your reactions to see if the material could be used later, before the opposite sex, or in any arena that involves an individual that the psychological operations soldier is trying to impress.

One may not experience tactical operations from their closest friends for years, until such time that the individual uses all that they have learned in training exercises to impress that one person that means something to them.  The victim may be surprised by the attack that appeared to come from nowhere and didn’t appear to establish anything beyond what could be termed humorous and insignificant.  For the operational soldier, however, the tactical use of psychological warfare is the end game.  It’s the reason they invited you to this particular outing, it’s the reason they engaged in all those private, training exercises with you, and it’s the reason they continue to call you friend.

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

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

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

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

The successful deployment of this strategy, followed by the Dumb-Fire Missile, has the potential to procure enjoyment of foreign forces to a point that the social PSYCH OPS adversary loses will to fight.  By lowering the adversary’s morale, and then its efficiency, these operations can also discourage aggressive reactions by creating disaffection within their ranks, ultimately leading to total surrender.

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

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

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

“You’d eat it if you were on the field of battle,” my Dad used to tell me when I displayed preferences for the food he had prepared.  “You’d eat it if it was part of your C-rations, and you’d eat it if you were hungry, but you’ve never known hunger … not in the sense that others have known hunger.”

FatherSonDM_468x308Getting children to show appreciation for food is a time-honored concern that dates back to the cavemen.  When the first children stated that they were sick of eating Mammoth, their mother must have felt compelled to remind her children of the sacrifice, and danger, their father faced to provide them with their meal of the day.  Those days of acquiring food were much more perilous, and we can assume the kids knew that, but we can also assume that the kids still didn’t appreciate it.  Later in the timeline, parents informed their children of the lack of preservation techniques available for their food, and how the children would have to eat up all their food, or it would go bad.  Modern technology has provided safer and easier access to food, and it’s provided preservation techniques that have become so common, for so many generations of Americans, that even most parents have taken food for granted for the whole of their lives.  We’re never known hunger … not in the sense that others have known hunger.

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

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

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

“I never had to worry about you eating.  It was your brother that we had to worry about.  He was finicky.”

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

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

My brother’s finicky nature was the primary concern of my dad’s life, but he was also concerned with the fact that my brother didn’t pay as much attention to his meal as my dad felt was necessary.  My brother would pause to think about things while he ate.  He would talk during the meal.  He even looked at the television set while eating. This was anathema to our dad.  When food was before you, you were to eat it without distraction, and by doing so you were paying homage to all that went into the food you had been provided.  You were to eat with time constraints similar to those of a prison inmate’s, or in a manner of a soldier appreciating the nutrients contained in C-rations, that the soldier knew was just enough to get them through the day.  It said something about that individual that ate like they didn’t know where their next meal would come from at my dad’s table.  It said that you appreciated those that came before you that gave up their lives to provide you this opportunity to eat.

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

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

He never had a problem with me, as I said.  My brother, on the other hand, needed constant reminders to eat.  Dad tried everything to get through to the boy.  He tried all the techniques listed above, and he tried to instill appreciation in my brother by informing him of the preparation process involved in the particular meal before him.  It wasn’t that my brother was disobedient or rebellious, and he wasn’t unappreciative or ungrateful either.  He tried to remain focused on his meal, and he tried to finish the meal in the manner that our dad dictated, but he couldn’t help falling back into his ways.  It provided our dad such consternation, over the years, that he developed a song that the family called the Eat Tono Eat song.

The lyrics are as follows: “Eat Tono eat!  Eat Tono eat!!  Eat Tono eat!!!  Oh, eat Tono eat!!!!”  The emphasis he placed on the ‘Oh’ portion of the song was intended to allow the listener a pleasing bridge to the fourth repetition of the refrain.  He composed no other lyrics for the song. His songwriting acumen was as simple, direct, and to the point as he was.  He created the song to serve a purpose, and that purpose was not humor, for once that purpose was achieved, the song could whither on the vine for all he cared.  You could enjoy the song if you wanted, that was on you, but you would be left wanting if you had any desire for an encore.

With such a mindset drilled into one’s head, over so many decades, one can’t help but be disgusted by those with preferences.  I didn’t draw a direct correlation to my Dad’s philosophy for many a year, as most things that we are conditioned to do do not come with immediate connections.  It became an undeniable source of my Dad’s repetitious conditioning, however, when my nephew limited his diet to macaroni and cheese, carbohydrates, and sugary sweets, and it disgusted me.  It boiled up inside me, until I had to say something.  That something I said to instill an appreciation for food in my nephew was:

“You don’t know how to eat.”  

The reason I put those words in quotes is that it was an exact quote from my Dad to me and my brother.  I shuddered a little when those words fell out.  I wasn’t disgusted with my nephew for his young, uninformed choices, however, for I understood that his preferences were those of a young, unformed child, but I felt the need to inform him that I was disgusted by the general practice of displaying preferences.

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

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

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

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

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


The Thief’s Mentality

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

It was an individual named Kurt Lee that taught me more about being a thief, and a real piece of work (POS), than any other person I’ve encountered, movie I’ve watched, or book that I’ve read on the subject. I didn’t know it at the time, of course, but Kurt Lee would prove to be the prototype I would use to try and understand this type of person. The most interesting aspect of Kurt Lee, and that which may defy the profile I’ve been building thus far, is that he was a charming individual. The man could be engaging, infectious, and humorous when he wanted to be, and one found themselves attracted to his sensibilities, and epistemology in a manner that is difficult to describe to one that’s never met anyone like Kurt Lee. He had a way of letting a person know how naïve they were, without being condescending.

We would envy him for the ways in which he openly defy authority figures without guilt, but those that spent as much time around Kurt Lee as I did, witnessed the fact that for all the personality a charismatic POS can display, while destroying the conventions that “all the squares live by”, their ways end up destroying them from the inside out.

I was on a city bus with Kurt Lee the day he decided to play with the ball on top of an elder woman’s stocking cap that sat in front of him. My reaction to this spectacle may be one of the things that I have to answer for when I reach Judgment Day, but I found this deed hysterical.

I now suspect that my attraction to Kurt Lee’s antics may have had something to do with learning about the mores and rules my mother had taught me. Why hadn’t I ever played with the ball on top of an old lady’s stocking cap?  What was the difference between Kurt Lee and me? Was it all about morality, or did it have more to do with common decency?  My mother taught me that when a young, healthy male sees an old lady, they should smile at them and try to think up something nice to say. I was taught to hold a door for them, and that it should be considered a privilege to give up my seat to them, on a city bus, if no other seats were available. These could be called typical conventions that mothers pass on to sons however. Not only did Kurt Lee ignore these conventions, he did the exact opposite. He played with the most vulnerable member of our culture’s hat. He violated her sense of security. Was this wrong?  Of course it was, but it was also a fascinating exploration of human nature?  How would she react?  How would a real POS counter that reaction?  Why did he do it in the first place?  Did he think he would get away with it?  Did he even care?  I would never know the answer to the latter three questions, but I was so fascinated by the answers to the former three questions that I inadvertently urged him on with my laughter. Was this wrong?  Of course it was, but I now believe I did so because I was fascinated to learn more about the moral codes for which we all abide, by watching another solidify my rationale without regard for the consequences of violating them. I didn’t have any of these thoughts at the time, of course, but I did know that I couldn’t wait to see how this would end, and I dare say that most of those that spend their whole lives trying to live up to the standards their mother taught them, would not have been able to look away either.

This vulnerable, old lady did turn on Kurt, and she did so with an angry expression. She had allowed the first few flicks of the ball atop her stocking cap go, as she presumably went about trying to muster up the courage to tell him off. Kurt Lee appeared ready to concede to that initial, nonverbal admonition, until he spotted me laughing. I encouraged him onward with that laughter. He did it three more times, before she reached a point of absolute frustration that led her to say something along the lines of, “Stop it, you young punk!”

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

Had Kurt Lee decided to stick his middle finger up in the face of a healthier, younger adult, it would have been just as difficult to avoid watching. The fact that he chose such a sacred cow of our culture for his act of rebellion, however, made his actions over-the-top hilarious. In my young, unformed mind, this was a real life equivalent to David Letterman’s brand of man-on-the-street segments, taken up ten notches on the bold-o-meter. I would later learn that Kurt Lee was something of a coward that selected his victims based on their inability to fight back, as opposed to making a profound statement about our societal conventions, but at the time I found his actions so bold that I couldn’t look away, and I couldn’t stop laughing.

As time wore on, I would be introduced to a wide array of fascinating explorations of human nature, but they would pale in comparison to Kurt Lee’s mentality, his philosophy, and what drove him to be so different from everyone I had ever met. To listen to Kurt Lee speak on this subject, there was nothing different about him. He simply had the courage of his convictions. He ascribed to the more conventional line of thought that we were all afraid to be like him, but he also suggested that the rest of us have had this part of our makeup denied for so long, by parents and teachers instructing us to act different, that we now believe we are. It’s not about him, you see, it’s not about you. It’s about human nature, and the thief’s mentality.

“If you could get away with it, you would try,” was his answer to those that dare pose such questions to him. “You mean to tell me you’ve never stolen anything?  Ever?  All right then, let’s talk about reality.” Kurt Lee was a thief, and like most thieves, he would not defend his position from the position of a thief. He would substitute an exaggeration of your moral qualms of thievery with this idea that a person that has stolen one thing is in no position to judge someone that steals on a regular basis.

In short time frames, and on topic, Kurt Lee could lower the most skilled debater to the ground. He was, what we called, a master debater. He could never be pinned down on specifics. It was a joy to watch. Prolonged exposure, however, opened up all these windows into his soul. When we would ask him how a guy from the sticks could afford the latest, top of the line zipper pants, for example, or a pair of sunglasses that would put a fella back two weeks’ pay, and an original, signed copy of the Rolling Stones album, Some Girls, he would tell us, but even his most ardent defender had a hard time believing Santa Claus could be that generous.

Kurt Lee stole so often by the time I came to know him that the act of shoplifting had lost its thrill. He decided to challenge himself in a manner I can only guess that top athletes, and top news anchors, will by hiring outside analysts to scrutinize the minutiae of their performance. Kurt Lee asked me to watch him steal baseball cards from a baseball card shop owner that we all agreed was in need of a good lesson. The owner refused to buy our cards ninety-nine percent of the time, and on those rare occasions when he would, the amount he offered was so low that we thought he was taking advantage of us.

I posed a theory about the transactions we had with this shop owner. I said I thought he refused to buy our cards so often to establish his bona fides as a resident expert of value, so that when he informed us that we had a card of some value, we would jump at the chance, no matter what he offered. In doing so, I said, he made us feel more valuable for finally offering him a card he considered of value.

“You’re right,” Kurt Lee said. “Let’s get him.” I felt validated for coming up with a theory that Kurt believed explained the man, but in hindsight, I think I could’ve said anything at that moment and Kurt Lee would’ve used it to motivate me to conspire against the baseball card shop owner.

Kurt Lee did have one proviso, before we entered, and that was that I had to be careful how I watched Kurt Lee. I couldn’t be so obvious that the owner would know what we were doing.

I was being invited into a world I had never known. I was as nervous as I was excited. I considered the idea that I might be implicated in this incident with my knowledge of what he was about to do, but I couldn’t shake the asexual intimacy that Kurt Lee was sharing with me, with this invitation into his world.

Before we entered the baseball card shop, Kurt Lee opened up his pockets, in the manner a magician might, and he asked me to confirm that he had no cards in his pockets.

When our hour at the baseball card shop concluded, and Kurt Lee had decided not to steal anything, I mocked him.

“I thought you said you were going to steal something?” I said.

He opened up his jacket and showed me his inner pockets. It knocked me back a couple steps. I actually took a step back when it was revealed to me that his pockets were lined with baseball cards. Had he displayed one card, I would have been impressed, three or four may have shocked me, but the number of cards he stole without me noticing one act of thievery, led me to believe his abilities were wasted in shoplifting. I thought he should’ve tried his hand at magic. I considered him a maestro of shoplifting.

Soon after recovering from that sense of awe, I began to wonder how one acquires such a deft hand. As with any acquired skill, trial and error is involved, but nestled within the trial and error process of being a thief, lies a utility that permits the thief in-training to proceed uninhibited by shame. A skilled performer in the arts, or athletics, delights in showcasing their ability to the world, in other words, but a thief prefers to operate in the shadows, and their skill is acquired with some modicum of shame attached. Their success, it would seem to those of us on the outside looking in, requires that they either defeat that sense of shame, or find some way to manage it.

Shame, it could be argued, becomes more manageable with familiarity. When a father introduces child to shame, in the brutal assessments a father makes regarding the value of the child, the child becomes familiar with an intimate definition of shame before they are old enough to combat such assessments. When these brutal assessments are then echoed by a mother’s concern that their child can do nothing right, the combined effort can damage a child to lasting effect. When those parents then console the child with a suggestion that while the child may be bad, they’re no worse than anyone else, something gestates in the child. Some kind of moral relativism that suggests that the search for the definitions of right and wrong is over, and the sooner they accept that, the more honest they will become. Watching their mother scold the child’s teacher for punishing her child for a transgression, clarifies this confusion a little more. In this relativist scolding, the child hears their mother inform the teacher that the child can do no wrong, and they hear her unconditional support. They also learn, over time, that their parents will not always be there for them, and that they will need to develop their own defense mechanisms. The child also learns to accept these realities for what they are, for the (insert the POS family name here) have never had the courage to commit suicide.

I hated to discount the level of individual ingenuity on Kurt Lee’s part, but he was simply too good at the various forms of deception for it to have been something he arrived at on his own. It had to be the result of parental influence that had a transgenerational foundation composed of sedimentary layers of grievance, envy, frustration, and desperation. Some may consider that a bit of an overreach, but how much of our lives are spent rebelling against, and acquiescing to parental guidance, and how many of us can say we are entirely free from their influence?

I was so obsessed with this, at one point, that I bridged the gap between simple curiosity and badgering. This was apparent in his volatile reaction:

“You think you’re better than me?” he said, using the universal get out of judgment free card of moral relativism. It is a time-honored redirect, because it is reinforced by the lessons our mom taught us that we are no better than anyone else, but Kurt Lee’s rant would begin to pivot out of control when he would follow the rationale to what he believed to be a logical extension. This logical extension, if no one is better than anyone else, and everyone resides on the cusp of being whatever Kurt Lee is, required the inclusion of an individual that is perceived to be so-harmless-it’s-almost-laughable to suggest otherwise. That individual was a kid named Pete Pestroni, and if Kurt Lee’s argument was going to hold water, Pete Pestroni would have to be declared a wolf in sheep’s clothing. I don’t know why Kurt Lee went down this Pete Pestroni road so often, but I suspect that it had something to do with the idea that if Pete was immune, in one form or another, then everyone had to be. Pete was just too weak, or too scared, to let his wolf run wild, in Kurt Lee’s epistemological view of the world. We would laugh at the implausibility of Pete Pestroni having a Kurt Lee trapped inside, dying to come out, and our intention was to laugh with Kurt Lee about it, but he wouldn’t even smile. This was a chapter in Kurt Lee’s personal bible, and an ingredient of the thief’s mentality that took me decades to grasp.

The thief’s mentality is a mindset that involves a redirect of exposing an uncomfortable truth, or a hypocrisy, in others, so that the thief might escape a level of scrutiny might lead to introspection. An individual with a thief’s mentality may steal, but they are just as apt to lie and cheat. The thief’s mentality begins as a coping mechanism for dealing with the character flaws that drive them to do what they do, but it progresses from those harmless, white lies to a form of deception that requires a generational foundation.

The thief’s mentality is deflection, by way of subterfuge, to explain the carrier’s inability to trust beyond that point that they should be trusted, but some thieves’ outward distrust of others is so exaggerated that it can only say more about them than those they accuse. Their cynicism is their objectivity, and your faith in humanity is a subjective viewpoint that you must bear. We live in a dog eat dog, “screw or be screwed” world that suggests that those that trust anyone outside their own home are so naïve as to be hopeless. It’s incumbent on the listener, if they hope to survive in this version of world, to see past the façades, and through the veneers that others present to you, to the truth.

The truth, in Kurt Lee’s worldview, had it that TV anchors with fourteen inch parts, and perfect teeth, end their day by going home to beat their wives. No one attains wealth in an honest manner, Catholic priests are all pedophiles, all presidents have engaged in acts of infidelity in the White House, “You think JFK and Clinton are different? They just got caught is all,” and little old ladies that complain about having the balls on the stocking caps played with, just want it up the ass. There is a grain of truth to some of it, but the thief often has to extend a great deal of effort to support that one grain.

At some point in these discussions, after the agreed upon basics of human nature begin to fracture with a thief’s logical extensions, they turn their accusations on us. We may think that we’re all virtuous and moral, but they know all about hidden agendas that are not apparent to others. They maintain a perpetual state of readiness for that day when we break free of the constraints of morality and loyalty to expose our evil, naked underbelly to the world. They have us all figured out, because they know those lies we tell. It’s the thief’s mentality.

They may even believe what they’re saying with their accusations, regardless what we’ve done to establish ourselves as an honest person, but the validity of their argument pales in comparison to their need to keep the subject of their accusations in a perpetual state of trustworthiness, in a manner that they know they should be kept in check.

I’ve witnessed some try to turn the table on a real POS, like Kurt Lee, by telling him that other people trust them. The answer he gave to one combatant was so clever that it was beyond his years. Again, I hate to discount individual ingenuity, but it just seemed too clever for Kurt to deliver as quickly as he did.

“So you think if someone trusts you that makes you trustworthy?” is what he said. Kurt Lee said the word trustworthy, as if it were an accusation. He would go on to add something about how those that consider themselves a beacon of trustworthiness are, in fact, suffering from a psychosis of another stripe. The reason I considered this response so perfect, as it pertains to Kurt Lee, was that it put the onus of being trustworthy on the person that asked the question, and any further questions regarding Kurt Lee’s character, or what his inability to trust people said about him, until the questioner could determine whether the level of his own trustworthiness was based on a delusion that group thought had led him to believe.

With the precedent of Kurt Lee always fresh in my mind, I’ve had a number of otherwise trustworthy friends ask me how to deal with the thief in their life. They don’t understand why their beloved doesn’t trust them in even the most banal arenas of life. These worried friends state that they can’t remember what they did to damage that trust that their beloved declares irretrievable. My friends were insecure about their trustworthiness in the manner we all are, but they can’t remember the specific incident that brought about the damning accusations regarding their trustworthiness. They come to me with grief and sorrow on their hearts. “How do I win him back? How do I regain his trust?”

“I’m sorry to say that it’s not about you,” I tell them. “It’s the thief’s mentality.” I am sorry to say this, because these concerned friends have consigned themselves to some sort of relationship with the afflicted that requires them to spend long hours, days, and years with this person. I have explained what I mean to these people, via my personal experiences with the sort that exhibited such traits, and it has helped these concerned and confused souls frame the accusations their thief may make, but that relief is dispelled by the fact that their loved one is never going to trust them anymore than they trust themselves.

Thieves, like Kurt Lee, are damaged in irreparable and relative ways. They may not enjoy the lives they’ve created for themselves, where they don’t even trust the one person in their lives that they could, or should, but it does help them spread their misery a little to accuse. It does lighten their load to transfer some of their toxins to others. It also gives them a little lift to know that you are a little less trusting than you were before you met them. It helps them believe that they’re not such an aberration, but this relief is temporary, as the toxins that have made them what they are, are as endemic to the biological chemistry as white and blood red cells, but it does please them to know that you now view humanity in the same cynical, all-hope-is-lost manner they do.

The lack of self-awareness, as it pertains to what we are, and what we are to become, is as endemic to the thief’s mentality as it is in every other walk of life. They believe, as the rest of us do, that they do not live on an exaggerate pole of morality. They believe that they reside with the rest of us in the middle, somewhere on the good side of this fuzzy dividing line, and that we’re all tempted to do that one thing that could place us on the other side. The difference being that their lack of fear separates them, coupled with their refusal to conform to what they’ve been taught. They also know that we place most of humanity on their side of the fuzzy line, because we all have problems trusting those that we don’t know well enough to know whether or not they will make moral decisions in life, but some take this natural state of skepticism a step further. Some thieves’ outward distrust for those around them is so exaggerated that it ends up saying more about them than those they accuse. It’s the thief’s mentality.

Kinesthetic Learning in Sports

“Who is the best athlete of all-time?” That question, this debate, can be as intoxicating as watching the athletes perform. Who’s the best boxer of all-time, Muhammed Ali, or Mike Tyson? Was there a professional athlete more exciting to watch than Walter Payton? Does Michael Jordan have a peer in basketball?  If you grew up in the Bill Russell, Will Chamberlain era, you think he does. Some debate participants could probably list off twenty to thirty athletes, from their personal Mount Rushmore of sports, that are not listed here. That’s the question, and this is the debate among sports fans.

roger-federer-28aNo matter what faces make it onto a person’s Mount Rushmore, theirs is filled with elite athletes.  What is the difference between the gifted, well-conditioned, professional athlete and that pack of elite athletes that should be considered in the debate?  How does one superior athlete appear to execute to perfection every single time out, while another phenomenal athlete executes a majority of the time?  What’s the difference between the natural gifts of a supreme athlete, like Allen Iverson versus a gym rat like Michael Jordan?  One word. Practice. We’re talking about practice.

The theme of such bar stool discussions often centers around the physical exploits of said athlete, but as author David Wallace suggests, in a posthumous collection of his essays Both Flesh and Not, the physical may no longer be half as instrumental as it once was in the separation between those in the upper echelon and the elite.

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

Kinesthetic learning (also known as tactile learning) is a style of learning that is devoted to physical activity, rather than listening to a lecture or watching a demonstration. Those that are more inclined to this kinesthetic style of learning are also referred to as “do-ers”.

Most people do not have the degree of internal discipline necessary to achieve an elite level. Most parents attempt to cultivate the creative and disciplined characteristics of their children to such a degree that their children may have trouble achieving the tunnel vision necessary for such discipline. Most people do not want to subject their children to, what they deem to be “cruel and inhumane” amounts of practice. Achieving what those in the field call “autonomic responses”, may not be in the top 1,000 most important concerns parents have for their child. They want their children to succeed, but not so much that they’re deprived of the fun of being young.

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

True, elite levels of success in sports, requires acute focus on the muscles involved in, say hitting a baseball, and there is little in the way of variation for how to approach to the ball, the point of contact, or the follow through. The creative mind may acknowledge the teacher’s bona fides in the quest to become proficient, but the more they cede to the creative portion of their brain, the more difficult it will be to fight the urge to personalize their play a little. They don’t want to be an automaton, in other words, that can be the lone product of their teacher’s lesson. They want to look cool, they want to have fun, and they want to introduce some creativity in the process of their swing. The creative mind has ideas on how to achieve success, and the creative mind desires more autonomy with progressed levels of success. This perception leads some to believe that it takes an almost inhuman, machine-like mind, enhanced with massive amounts of discipline, such as that of a Roger Federer, to achieve levels of success in sports, 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 such a serve in a manner that he could place it in a specific, and strategic, corner of the other player’s side of the court?  In David Foster Wallace essay, we receive a description of Federer’s exploits that have left tennis aficionados with their mouths hanging open for decades.  Wallace terms these moments, moments where Federer separated from the pack of the elite, as: “Federer Moments”.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This psychological concentration on minutiae, goes beyond the positioning of the thumb on a driver in golf, the tweak of the forearm in the tennis stroke, and all of the muscles involved in the follow through. It goes beyond the pure physical aspects of sports to the mental. Some of these concentrations have been known for eons, and the general idea may not be a shock, but the acute focus on the actions and reactions has increased tenfold over the decades, until you no longer have mano y mano confrontations at the plate, but one machine conditioned to the psychology of the game versus another equipped with the same.

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

deion1Most normal humans haven’t practiced any activity, to the point of achieving autonomic responses. Most normal humans engage in athletic activities for casual enjoyment, and they involve their kids in sports for the purpose of the character definition it can provide. Most do not subject themselves, or their kids, to the kind of “cruel, and inhumane” amount of practice that could steal a young person’s youth.  As a result, most of us cannot comprehend how a man could return a serve of 130mph and place it in that tiny spot that is his opponent’s greatest after serve weakness on a consistent basis.

The time span involved, in such a serve, has been clocked at .41 seconds, or the time it takes you to blink twice in rapid fashion, or a speed that defies the natural facilities of human reaction. On the flipside, there are more deliberate acts in sports, such as when a ball is thrown to a receiver that a Deion Sanders is covering. This could take a couple seconds from the time the ball is released to the moment it hits Deion Sanders’ area. What happens in those seconds? It could be called a blank space in which the athlete knows what to do, but they may not be able to accomplish it on a consistent basis. They may panic. Even the greatest of athletes have had these moments, and they may display absolute confusion for the fact that their minds and body didn’t act in unison during that crucial moment in time. They had such belief in their ability, they thought they worked as hard as anyone to prepare for that moment, and they failed. They may be confused by the fact that they’ve failed, after all the hours, weeks and years they spent practicing, but to read Wallace’s description, and the descriptions of Federer’s workouts, these players may not have worked out to the point that some characterize as exhaustive and cruel amounts of practice required to reach a kinesthetic sense, or an autonomic response, to the ball being in the air.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Balloonophilia Conflict

Balloon fetishists call themselves balloonophiles, looners, or loonatics, I learned soon after the group’s moderator, Olive Branch –a name I was sure was a pseudonym the woman chose for the purpose of this meeting, but I never verified this– made a call to order.  I would later learn, from those that were kind enough to stay for an after-meeting conversation, that Baloonophiles enjoy blowing up balloons and watching others blow up balloons.  They enjoy popping either latex balloons, or the higher quality Mylar balloons when they have more disposable cash on hand.  Segments of the balloonist community enjoy popping the balloon with a pin, others enjoy using a flame, but some of the more specific loonatics use a shoe heel for maximum impact.  Non-poppers also like to bake their balloons in an oven to make them stretchier.  Needless to say, except for a few anecdotal examples these balloonophiles provided me, these acts were performed in conjunction with various sex acts.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“The images I enjoy are non-pornographic and tend to involve clothed people, have both male and female subjects, and show people having fun blowing up or otherwise playing with balloons.  It doesn’t always have to be a sexual thing,” said a woman named Tina that claimed she couldn’t find any place that would hire her, other than the “stressful, unrewarding field of telemarketing.”

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

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

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

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

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

“As is often the case, when someone has a bizarre arousal pattern, there has been something in their past that has made them susceptible to something deviant, or something unusual occurred.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Danish kagemand with chocolate decor framing to creat the perfect looking man shaped birthday cake

Would You Eat Someone Somebody Cared About?

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

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

“I’m going to give you to this lady now, and she’s going to eat you.  I’m sorry,” he whispered to the pastry.  Then, as if involved in an argument with the pastry, Sal Vulcano added: “This is just the way things are.”

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

“I don’t want one that you’ve spoken to.”

At the conclusion of the segment, all four comedians come to the fore to comment on the segment, and they admitted that they wouldn’t eat food that someone has spoken to either.

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

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

The obvious answer is that Sal’s presentation animated the pastries in a manner that this customer found disconcerting.  In her world, presumably, it had always been socially acceptable to eat pastries, and she wanted to return that world.  She didn’t want the guilt associated with eating a product that had a friend, or that someone cared about, or at the very least she didn’t want to watch their interaction.  She was so uneasy with the association that she made a boldfaced demand that Sal give her a pastry that hasn’t been spoken to in any manner, and she did 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 that over thinks matters.  She appears to be an individual who cares about matters that prop up her perception before others.  Who would eat something that someone cares so much about?  A cad would.  Someone who doesn’t care about a person, place, or thing would.  It’s a reflection on you if you can eat such a thing without a second thought.  You’re saying you would eat such a thing without guilt?  What kind of person are you?  How would you sell yourself to those around in the aftermath?

Would you eat a small child’s beloved dog?  If the answer is no, what 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 that turkey displayed a little spunk that the observer couldn’t help but appreciate? What if that turkey befriend another turkey in a manner that was so obvious it was a little endearing?  What if it displayed some kindness that left an impression?  What if it allowed you to fondle its wattle?  What if that turkey had a name? How could you eat a thing with a name?  What kind of person are you? Would you rather eat a turkey that you’ve never met, that some individual in a factory farm slaughtered and packaged for you?  If you are that caring person that doesn’t want to see anything (or anyone) suffer, how could you eat a pastry that an individual appears to have bonded with?  What’s the difference?  Where is the line? It’s a pastry you say, and a pastry does not have the recognition of its own life in the manner a turkey does.

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 person, with susceptibilities to messaging, could be made to feel guilty about eating them?  If that was successful, could an enterprising young documentarian launch a well-funded campaign, steeped in political pressure, lead 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 displaying the inhumane process through which the peanuts and caramel are adjoined with the nougat in a final process that involves what could be called a suffocation technique employed by the layer of chocolate placed over the top, would it be possible to substantiate this cause to a point where a person would not only stop eating Snickers but denigrate those that do, until they believe those people, and anyone that supports the Mars corporation to be identifying with evil?  It’s not only possible, in my humble opinion, the seeds of it were on display in the inadvertent brilliance of this comic sketch on this episode of Impractical Jokers.

… And Then There’s Todd

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

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


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

Her cynical bitterness did not cause her to name her only begotten son Todd, I’m quite sure, and I have no doubt that her overt hatred of men hadn’t prompted her to give her son a life of misery with a name.  I’m sure she just liked it.

Most people don’t think it’s possible to curse a child with a name.  Even a person with such an odd, one syllable sound attached to their identity is not cursed, some might say, not in the manner you suggest anyway.  A child can go onto achieve great things as an adult, no matter what their name is, look at Aldous Huxley.  They can gain acceptance among their peers, they can be happy, and they can escape anything put before them.  A name is a trivial concern in the grand scope of things. Contrarians might admit that there are names out there that could cripple a child, such as those names that rhyme with body functions, but how many parents would set out to cripple their child in such a manner?

And there’s Todd.  Todd is not a cruel name you say.  It’s a common male name in American society today that dates back to a medieval period in England.  It means fox, as in clever or cunning.  I know a couple Todds, and they’re not cursed in the manner you suggest, and there’s no such thing as boxing a kid into some sort of predestination by giving him a name.  The very notion is irrational.  Most of those that say such things, I challenge, are not named Todd.

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

“Come On!” I said, “He’s nineteen!”  I was a naïve twenty-year-old that was not difficult to fool.  I didn’t know that at the time, of course, but I sensed a certain susceptibility that I knew I would have to expend effort to defeat.  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 I thought that was an excellent domination technique that I would use on my girlfriend the next time I saw her.  I received a “Don’t go there!” glare for my obnoxiousness.  I thought that look had more to do with the “domination” theme of my joke, and I felt a little guilty, because they knew my girlfriend.  My girlfriend was Tracy’s best friend.  This bad feeling ended for me when I said I was joking, but the cloud continued to loom over us, until I realized that this “Don’t go there!” look had less to do with my joke, and more to do with a subject matter that began to gather so many elements in the silence that followed, that I began to feel weird trapped in it.  I thought that I had tripped some kind of wire that would reveal domination techniques, or some sort of sexual peccadillo that I didn’t care to explore with them, and their continued silence suggested they were ready to share if I was ready to hear it.  I thought that I may have placed them in the uncomfortable position of having to reveal details of their relationship that I might have to fight Todd over, until Todd broke down and told me the story of how he never learned how to tie his shoes.

This revelation began when I tired of the tension that arose between the three of us, and I popped the question:

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

The answer to this question “was a funny story”. The funny story involved a loving mother purchasing Velcro and slip on shoes for her son throughout the entirety of his youth.  It involved that rebellious, young man finding it a way to break the shackles of a mother’s hold with the first paycheck he had earned.  The funny story involved the shoe store attendant tying the shoes for him, and Todd walking around the store, saying “I’ll take them” with the pride so many young people experience with their first, individual purchase.  It involved that young man arriving home for the night and preparing to those shoes off for bed, as he had on every other night.  The funny story involved Todd’s realization that once he untied those shoes for bed, he would never be able put the shoes on again without assistance, and it ended with Todd sleeping in his shoes that night.

I was the only one not laughing.

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

I had so many questions that I didn’t want to ask such as, “How did you get out of the first grade without tying your shoes at least once?”  The answer to that question was another funny story that involved a mother protecting her son by continuing to purchase slip ons and Velcro for her boy.  I had more questions, but I feared that they may involve answers that might lead to other revelations about a single mother’s stubborn attempts to protect a son that bordered on neglectful.  I did not want to go down that road, Tracy’s “Don’t go there” look informed me, and I didn’t, and I kept most of my questions about Todd’s upbringing at bay for much of our friendship, until I was informed of Todd’s lifelong fear of cotton.

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

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

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

I informed them that I had an irrational fear of heights, but that irrational fear was based on the prospect of falling.

“I fear falling more than I do being high up,” I said.  “Because some primal instinct informs me that hitting the ground at a high rate of speed will end up damaging something that I enjoy using, and I’m not speaking of reproductive organs,” I said to ease them out of innuendo.  I had, even as a young twenty-something, already tired of the instinctual leap to perverse humor.  “I’m talking arms, legs, brain matter.”

I informed them that if they still had a problem with my explanation that they should take their complaints to my brain, for my brain was the epicenter of self-preservation, and that my brain introduced me to the fear emotion to prevent me from harming myself, in the manner falling from on high might, and I told them that I thought the brain had been doing one well of a good job so far.

I did agree with Tracy that most fear provokes irrational and emotional reactions, but I refused to accept her premise that my fear of falling and Todd’s fear of cotton should be viewed on equal ground.

“Falling hurts, cotton does not,” I concluded.  

The silent reactions I received suggested I wouldn’t have to list off the personal experiences I had had with paraplegics that had assumed their condition based on falling.  I wouldn’t need to recount the number of fatalities that had resulted from falling, and I wouldn’t need to compare those numbers against the number of people that had died as a result of an encounter with a cotton ball.  I wouldn’t need to go into these numbers.  My point was made.  Plus, I wanted to be a good guy, and a good guy doesn’t make a fella look bad in front of his girlfriend.   This is what caused a dilemma in my mind, when I remembered that I had a quality, cotton ball in an aspirin bottle in my medicine chest.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Even after that moment, and all of those that occurred thereafter that revealed the eccentricities of this man named Todd even more, girls loved him.  He had a degree of vulnerability about him they loved.  He also had eyes those eyes.  A pair of crystal blue eyes, I was informed, 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 that hair.  I thought he had the same oiled and curled hair that his mother had, but it was blonde.  He was a natural blonde.  It was a little dirty, and somewhat unkempt, but he fit the mold of one that could get away with all of this.

He was also dumb, and girls like dumb.  Now, no self-respecting, ambitious girl will admit to such a thing, but they love dumb guys.  “That’s ridiculous!” is the reaction I receive when I pose this notion to the women I’ve met in my post-Todd life.  This reaction is so unanimous among women from all walks of life that I’m forced to note it, but I have found that if a guy has all of the ingredients listed above, and he has a way of making a woman feel smarter on top of all that, he’s bound to find himself a permanent resident on “hotty” isle, as long as he doesn’t say, or do, anything to tarnish that presentation.

Todd never did anything to ruin his presentation.  He could work a room of girls without effort.  He could move from one girl to another without leaving any of them upset in the aftermath.  He could have one night stands, and the two girls involved would begin yelling at one another without even considering the role the Todd –that sits between them– may have played in the situation, because he is Todd.

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

The Mythology of You

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

Has anyone ever lied to you?  We’re talking white lies here that don’t harm anyone.  We’re talking lies that don’t affect lives that could be deemed meaningless, until they begin to pile up.  When such lies begin to pile up, we feel compelled to set the record straight, and we gather friends to corroborate the truth, as we know it to be?  We then receive that look, the look that informs us that they’re shocked at the details we’ve gathered that have compiled.  Your purpose was confront the liar after their lying reached a point where you could no longer tolerate it, but at some point you realize that they weren’t lying, and this is made all the more evident when the confrontation is over, and they continue to lie.

I was flabbergasted to learn that most people are not lying when they reveal an untruth. They may have been exaggerating a truth to cast themselves in the best light possible, but it was not their intent to deceive anyone.  At some point, before they said a word about the event in question, they created a truth that they believed.  What’s the difference?  I didn’t think there was one, until I began delving into the psychology of “misremembering” that some psychologists equate to the problems inherent in eye-witness testimony. The product of this research is this collection of narrative essays in which I dissect the varying worlds of comfort that arise from those that seek comfort in a world of truth, those that seek comfort in a world of delusions, and the confusion that can arise.

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

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

Those that find it depressing tend to be frustrated individuals that thought they were meant for so much more. When they were kids, and teens, and twenty-somethings, they thought the world was their oyster.  When the world landed on that oyster, crushing it to smithereens before their very eyes, they were devastated.  They did walk away from the devastation, they survived, but they were diminished by it.  This diminished view of the world defined them going forward, but they would adapt and moved forward with a narrowing of their character in the aftermath.

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

Most of wish that we had done some things different.  We wish we had studied harder, loved more women, focused more on the matters we could have been more substantial in, had more friends, experienced a little bit more, and some now wish they had some sort of military service for the structure it may have provided them.  Some of us wish that we had eaten healthier, worked out more, and led a healthier life.

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

Most of us also ache over seminal moments, and some of us believe that the desire we now have to do those things different has shaped us. We believe that we have learned from those experiences, and that that knowledge will shape the next seminal moment that happens.  Until we rectify those moments, however, the reality of who we are is shaped by them.

Most of us don’t care for the new narrowed definition of our reality, so we’ve come up with a number of definitions that suit us better.  This is our mythology, and if we have enough belief in it, we might be able to sell it to others so often that we begin to believe it.

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

The Protons and Neutrons 

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

The Electrons 

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

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

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

The Cheaters 

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

Celebrities are almost forced to engage in this lie whenever they go out.  Their mythologies have been bought and paid for by those who stand to prosper from it, but no one stands to prosper more from a positive mythology than the celebrity themselves, so their tips are often extravagant enough to make an impression.  An inadequate tip could do damage to the mythology they’ve worked so hard to create after all, and if the mythology is real, who’s to say the perception isn’t?  This is often the case if the celebrity is perceived to be a good guy.  One bad tip in a restaurant, in Omaha, Nebraska can now get around the nation in a matter of moment, 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 by building mythologies so often that we can no longer see through the cloud we’ve created, and when this happens we may need professional psychiatric, or psychological, help when something goes wrong.  We’ve cheated so often, and created so many mythologies, that we can’t achieve enough objectivity to see our way through a problem.  We need to pay someone to let us talk about our past.  We need someone cold-hearted to stop us in the middle of our tale and say that some of the things we’ve discussed are not true.  We may be shocked by their cold-hearted nature, but if we strive for mental health, we’ll drop the façade and work from the new premise.  We’ll recognize that those around us have allowed us to live certain lies, because they don’t want to be so cold-hearted.  We’ll also recognize that these professionals are doing their best to help us achieve some sort of clarification about who we are and why we do the things we do.  We can’t do this ourselves anymore, because we’ve loaded our minds are loaded with such positive clutter that we can’t see through to the truth of our existence anymore.  We thought we were somewhat happy, yet we were also very unhappy, and we’re left with a feeling that life isn’t as fulfilling as it was when we thought we had it all figured out.

Publicity and Charity 

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

“You’re doing this for yourself,” a sick man, lying on a death bed, says to a female that is caressing his hands and whispering sweet nothings to him.  It’s a crass and heartless statement from a man who should enjoy any comfort he receives from another in the waning moments of his life.  Was it charity she sought to provide the sick man, or was she seeking greater definition of her character by sitting 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?  Who cares, some would say, as long as she did it.

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

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

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

I’m disgusting, he’s disgusting, she’s disgusting, wouldn’t you like to be disgusting too?

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

I watched the show Seinfeld.  I loved Seinfeld.  I found his peculiar demands for hygienic excellence hilarious, until I saw these two grown men discuss their superiority on the matter.  They both agreed that the common habits of their fellow man were gross, they both agreed that one particular person, that all three of us knew, was gross, and that our employer’s bathroom was an absolute cesspool of germs.  I laughed in the middle of this discussion, in the same manner I laughed at Seinfeld’s obsessive quirks, but these two weren’t laughing.  They had smiles, but they were beaming smiles, the kinds of smiles that one gives in recognition of finding a like-minded soul at long last.

jerry386-293449“If you’re disgusting and you know it clap your hands!” is the perceived mantra of a major news network’s website that a number of my fellow co-workers visit.  This site is a declared news website, but I know those that visit this site on a regular basis and they know little to nothing of the news of the day, but they always have some interesting little nugget about the manner in which we could all improve our hygienic standard of living a little.

“Your kitchen counter has more germs than your floor,” one of my co-workers said when he approached our lunchroom table.  “Your dishrags and sponges are cesspools of germs, and using them on a continual basis doesn’t rid your kitchen of germs, it spreads them around,” he concluded. 

That’s right, it was a male that said this.  This sentence is not included to state that it is less than macho to be hygienic, but to point out that an 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 counter top, 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, the bathroom, and your fingertips … They’re gross!  The bathroom may be obvious, but what your bedroom?  And if you have any thoughts of going into the basement, you may want to think about investing in a gas mask and Tyvek suit with hood and boots.  Your basement a cesspool teeming with pathogens no one can pronounce!  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 being clean is nothing more than a good start.  She didn’t know that the optimal way to avoid germs is to clean the cleaning products.  She used the same sponge and dishrag for more than a week without dipping it into a solution that contained one part bleach to nine parts warm water.  She didn’t know.  She used the same cleaning products for more than one task with no knowledge of cross contaminants.

“If you’re cleaning up appliances, counter tops, tables, et cetera, it’s almost mandatory that you use different cleaning agents.  There should be different designated sponges for each function.  After you clean up the debris from the meat carcass, place your sponge in this cleaning solution for about a minute or so.  That will kill all of the potential pathogens.”{1} 

She didn’t know.

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

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

A Psychology Today (PT) piece details this perversity by stating that there are now some obsessives that will avoid a shopping cart that has a crumpled piece of paper in it.{2}  Why do they do that?  It’s gross.  It’s evidence that at some point, since the creation of that cart, it’s been used.  We all know, on some level, that every cart in the row before us has been used, but to see ample evidence of that fact is regarded as repellent.  The simple solution is to select another cart, but how obnoxious is that?  Why would we want to avoid one cart that has some evidence of another left behind for another that doesn’t have such obvious evidence?  It would be one thing, if that cart had a crumbled piece of soiled tissue paper in it, but if it’s nothing more than a crumpled ad for that store, why would we avoid using that cart?  It’s evidence of other people, germs, pathogens, and a general lack of uncleanliness on the part of the store.  It also initiates in us what the author of the PT piece describes as,

“A desire to keep that which is outside from getting inside.”

The thing about being disgusted is that it’s both learned and selective.  If the hygienic person, that has obsessive characteristics, happens to see the person that left the crumpled ad from the store in the cart, and they found that person to be somewhat attractive, the PT piece states that they would be less disgusted by the crumpled ad, and the subsequent use of that cart.  If they judged that previous cart user to be gorgeous, they would be even less disgusted.  To take this idea to its logical conclusion, if the hygienic person, with obsessive tendencies, saw that it was an attractive celebrity that left the crumpled ad in their cart, that customer may feel privileged to use that cart regardless what that celebrity’s hygienic practices are.  They might even save that piece of paper, and take it home to tell their friends and family that the celebrity touched it.  If the customer appeared to be somewhat overweight, or of foreign descent, we would be more apt select another cart.

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

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

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

What doesn’t make as much sense to those that believe their disgust has philosophical purity, is the decision making process that concerns those outside our immediate realm.  Our boss, for example, is viewed as a stranger that exists outside our immediate realm.  We may interact with him on a day-to-day basis, but not in the intimate manner we would a family member, so the natural inclination is to place them below our family members, but we also place our boss below the weatherman on the list of people that we would share a toothbrush with, if we were forced?  If our overriding concern is hygiene, why would we prefer to share a toothbrush with a weatherman over a boss that we interact with on a day-to-day basis?  A weatherman is often better looking.  The weatherman is often more clean cut and better dressed, and our bosses are often more disliked.

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

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

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

This is why babies have no problem eating things they find on the floor.  This is why they don’t have a problem crawling anywhere and everywhere.  They don’t understand what is disgusting and what is not, no matter how often they are told.  It’s the reason my brother and his wife had to exert such effort at keeping 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 even result in better overall health for the child as they age, if we believe that doing so may strengthen their immunity system.  Even after we achieve three years of age, says the PT piece, we don’t have a total understanding of disgust.

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

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


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

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

Esoteric Man

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Expectation of Purchasing Refined Tastes

“The worst thing that you can be is a consumer,” an elitist writer once mused.  “And I say that in the most condescending manner possible.” 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Every Girl’s Crazy about a Faint Whiff of Urine

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

pheromonesWhat drives attraction if not scent?  We’re led to believe that large muscles, glands, and bulges in the front, and the back (wallet) are the keys to attraction, but do these visual cues 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 what they smell like?  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, so show your angles, reveal that symmetry, display your organs and glands in a tasteful, or tasty, manner. Wear tighter clothing, reveal more cleavage, accentuate that walk in a manner that has them flipping and flopping, and the world will beat a path to your floor.  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 believes that pheromones are “chemically detected, or communicated, from one human to another by an unidentified part of the olfactory system.”  Those of us that cake our neck with perfumes and colognes, in other words, are wasting a whole lot of money on smells, when most research on pheromones in humans indicates that the main odor-producing organ reside 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 idea 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 that 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 those odors, and we scrub them away when we fear that masking our scent with a topical 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 those odors, and that we don’t have impolite body functions, or at least we don’t want those thoughts at the forefront of a person’s mind when they’re talking to us.

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

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

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

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

It is also important to note that while researchers believe that the vomeronasal organ (VNO) is a powerful organ in detecting chemical stimuli that leads to attraction, these chemical messages can be refuted by other mixed messages that other senses send to the brain.  If a person provides no visual stimuli to a prospective mate, for example, chemical messaging will not have a dominant role in attraction.  Also, while the VNO’s functions are linked to sense of smell that does not mean that it’s relation to scent is as direct as one might guess.

The VNO detects these chemical messages called pheromones, and it is possible that an overwhelming scent could overwhelm the VNO’s ability to detect these subtle chemical messages.  If the sense of smell dominates, the message that the brain receives might be the smell, leaving the chemical messages that the VNO picks up as secondary.  Coating one’s self in urine, in other words, will not increase one’s chances for attracting a mate.  And fecal matter is not perceived to contain sexual attractants, even though it gathers some as it comes in contact with areas of the skin believed to produce these pheromones.  So dabbing a little fecal matter behind your ears before going out on the town, will produce no sexual attraction.  The messages that the other senses send to the brain regarding visible fecal matter would drown out any subtle chemical stimuli the VNO detected even if it contained such properties.

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

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

You Don’t Bring me Flowers Anymore!

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

The wife recognized this as the compliment that it was, but the full import of the gesture failed to register with her at the time.  She had no idea that her husband, the adult baby, would not be participating in any future sacrifices that would be required to “Make it all work out in the end,” unless she was adamant with her instruction.  Even when she was adamant and detailed with her instruction, he would only alter his lifestyle as long as it was deemed necessary to get over the current, financial bump.

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

An important note to make here, before we continue, is that an adult baby doesn’t expect others to clean up after them.  They don’t give it that much thought.  They are the equivalent of children at play.  They play, and if they have never been taught to clean up after themselves, the idea of cleaning up doesn’t enter their purview.  They play, and it gets cleaned up.  It always does.

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

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

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

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

“How can you put a price on love?” is something Craig might say. 

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

He’ll go on to complain about how she’s always harping.  “Money is her big topic,” he says.  He informed us that she talks about how he can’t control his spending habits.  She talked about how he signs up for credit cards and doesn’t tell her, how he spends money as if he has no regard for the bottom line.  She said that he has acted like a child that has been introduced to the power of money for the first time, for so long, that he doesn’t view the consequences for irresponsibility.  Craig said that this argument had devolved into he said, she said.

“I make the money,” he says. “And I work my tail off.  I’m a grown man.  Who does she think she is, trying to tell me how to live?”

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

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

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

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

We all say things to win arguments of course, but what we say defines us.  We all have images of ourselves that we portray to others, and they aren’t lies.  We believe them.  Every once in a while, though, we step on a landmine that exposes the fact that we’ve failed to mature in all the ways our peers have.

The term adult baby is not exclusive to males, but most adult babies are males.  The term is not exclusive to forty-something males, though the idea that the man is not able to escape his child-like ways becomes more inexcusable after decades of adulthood.  The term is not exclusive to men that have had women nurture them throughout their lives, though women do tend to make excuses, clean up the messes, and make their clocks run on time in a manner that tends to enable such characteristics.

The progression, or lack thereof, occurs soon after the adult baby leaves his mother’s home and all parties concerned begin to realize that not only does the child fail to appreciate his mother’s mothering, but he assumes that the wife will be the one to take the baton.  For an adult baby there is rarely a way station in which the adult baby will assume the responsibilities of life.  They are transported from mother to wife, and the wife will assume the responsibility of inconsequential matters while the adult baby does what is necessary to provide.  They have been the ones that punched in for the day and punched out, for decades, without complaint, and now they’re being asked to do more?  Where does it end?

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

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

When the first eighteen years of the adult baby’s life have concluded, the responsibility for his welfare switches to the good woman he married straight out of college.  The adult baby then marries his high school sweetheart, a woman that reminds him of his mother, and all the ways she took care of him.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You can’t buy me flowers anymore!” his wife shrieks, as she places monetary value on his apology.  “We’re broke!”  He means well, and she feels bad for shrieking at him, and she used to love flowers, until she realized how much she was going to have to pay for them.

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

He Used to Have a Mohawk

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Humor with a Haircut

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bereft of Brevity

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Most People Don’t Give a Crap About You

Enter some old wise man. 

Every day, at eleven A.M., a crotchety, old professor walked through school cafeteria.  He had a bag lunch, but he insisted on grabbing a tray to lay his lunch out on.  I don’t know if the man was as wise as the typical old man, or if he was any wiser.  I do not know if the man had any allegiances, as his lectures did not favor a political party, a religion, a gender, race, persuasion, or class.  He didn’t appear to favor me in anyway either, even when I was speaking to him.  It was frustrating.

When we tell people about those crucial, crisis moments of our lives, most listeners will side with us, regardless how they feel about it in private.  Not this old man.  It was annoying.  I reached a point where I wanted him to give me just one thing that I was correct about in a manner that was unequivocal.  He did tell me I was correct in some circumstances, but he added so many variables that I never achieved a sense of satisfaction.  I never left his class, or his lunch table, feeling that I had the correct answer about anything.  As a result, I sought his counsel on a number of issues that plagued me.

AAAAAAAAHe never seemed pleased by my need to seek his counsel, but he never seemed annoyed by it either.  He never greeted me in a pleasant fashion, but he was not rude either.  He was the type of guy that I’ve always tried to please.  A dog acts this way, I realized before I approached him with one particular question.  A dog finds that one person in the room that is ambivalent to its existence, and it attempts to befriend them.  This could be a result of the dog’s identity being so wrapped up in its cuteness, that when that cuteness is not acknowledged by one person in the room, that identity is challenged, and the dog cannot move on until it has convinced that one person that it’s as cute as everybody else thinks it is.

Some people have complimented me for my objectivity, and they’ve said that my observational skills exceed most of those they encounter, so why do I continue to seek the counsel of the one person that doesn’t acknowledge my attributes in a complimentary manner?  Am I as insecure as the attention craving dog with an identity crisis?  Did I need him to tell me, “You’re the one living life the way it should be lived?”  The answer was that I saw this man’s ambivalence as objectivity.  I thought he might be the one to answer my questions about life in a manner that was neither complimentary nor insulting, and he did … in one short, ambivalent sentence.

“My friend and I have been having a debate,” I informed the crotchety, old professor.  “I believe people are inherently good, until they prove otherwise.” I told him that I considered living with an optimistic mindset the only way to live.  I told him that optimistic people should be prepared to be wrong about humanity on occasion, but that that anecdotal evidence should not dissuade them from the overriding belief that most people are pretty decent.

“My friend thinks this is a naïve way of approaching humanity,” I continued.  “He thinks it’s best to live by the idea that everyone you run across is corrupt, until they prove otherwise.  So you’re prepared, he says, for that slime ball that you will run across that attempts to dupe you out of all of your money.  Not everyone we run across will be evil, he concedes, but it’s best to be prepared for those that are.”

“I’ll give you a third possibility,” this professor said chewing on some awful smelling, squishy sandwich.  “Have you ever considered the possibility that most people don’t give a crap about you?”

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

Most of us know, on a certain level, that the world doesn’t give a crap about us, and on a certain level we don’t give a crap about them, but how many things do we do in one day to convince the others around us that we’re wonderful people?

Depending on the nature of their interactions, most people don’t care that we optimistic outlook on them that offers them a chance to be wonderful.  Most people won’t approach us based on your whether our perspective is positive or negative.  Most people don’t give a crap about us, or our perspective.  The slime balls and shysters of the world aren’t more wary of us if we are more prepared for them, and the very idea that we believe that we’re more prepared for them may, in fact, be our undoing when they flip the page on us and become the guy that we want them to be.  They’re bad guys, and this is what they do, but that doesn’t mean they give a crap about what we may think of them when our interaction is complete.

Enter the salesman.

Anyone that has had a stressful sales job, with commission-based pay, knows that a majority of the population are now more prepared for slime balls that are employed in sales.  Most people employed in sales aren’t slime balls, but they’re prepared for us to think they are.

We salespeople are provided a massive training manual that contains a reactions section, given to us by the sales training team.  As with everything else in life, the language in sales’ training manuals is not as overt as the illustration I will provide here, but anyone that has been on a sales training team knows the reactions a training team are required to give their salespeople before they hit the floor, and those “reactions” are well represented in these manuals.

If a salesperson receives a simple “No thank you” from a potential client, for example, the salesperson is instructed to turn to page 23 of the “reactions” section of this sales training manual, if the salesperson receive a “hell no!” they’re instructed to turn to page 46 of the reactions section, and if they receive that witty retort –that their potential client thought up that morning in the mirror– in preparation for a slime ball like them, “If it’s so great why don’t you buy it?” they turn to page 69.  If the reaction they receive is a rehearsed one that calls a sales person out for being the slime ball that you know they are, “Because I know slime balls,” salespeople are instructed to turn to page 92.

The best defense, for those potential clients that have intention of becoming one, is to take a step back and realize that they’re in the majority of those people that don’t trust salespeople, and that they’re in a majority of people that believe they have the perfect witty response that will put a salesperson in their place.  The defense also requires an acknowledgement from the potential client that they cannot play this game better than us.  This is our home turf, and we know how to play this game better than most of those we call.  We have been trained with focus group tested responses that can be summarized in the idea that we don’t give a crap about you.

We, salespeople, don’t give a crap that you may be the smartest man that ever walked the earth.  We’ve been trained to avoid the idea that the potential client might be a pretty good guy that knows the worst of humanity when you happen upon it.  We were trained to make the sale, regardless what anyone may think of us, or our abilities.  If the reader wants to know the super-secret way to defeating a salesperson at their game, a method that will separate them from the pack that have their psychology twisted and turned into a sale, it involves the psychological complexities inherent in hanging up the phone in the midst of the salesperson’s sales pitch.

In just about every sales job I’ve had in telemarketing firms, there is one constant: the salesperson is not allowed to hang up the phone.  No matter what “the smartest man that ever walked the earth” on the other end of the phone says, the salesperson cannot hang up.  A sales rep has sales quotas, and time allotments for each call, and the smart people “who know slime balls when they happen upon them” are wasting everybody’s time by trying to outdo us.  By hanging up the phone, the potential client is saving themselves, and the slime ball, salesperson a lot of time and frustration.

After spending so much time in training, strategy meetings, and coaching sessions, I thought I found the perfect solution, and the ideal rationale to back up that solution, that could help so many in my inner circle avoid the frustration of a sales call.  I told them that the only action the “reactions” portion of the training manual didn’t cover, because it couldn’t, was the hang up.  It’s fool proof, I told them.  I received blank, “of course” stares.  No one refuted my findings, but no one followed them either.

This is the point where the line ‘psychological complexities inherent in hanging up the phone’ comes into play, for most people cannot simply hang up a phone.  I don’t know if doing so violates everything our mothers told us about phone etiquette, or if people have too much invested in the idea that they are one of the very few people on the planet that can spot a slime ball and beat them at their game, but hanging up the phone just seems too easy and too anti-climactic.

Most salespeople are not smarter, or craftier, than anyone else, but we have huge advantage: years, sometimes decades, of focus tested material at our disposal.  Our training teams have learned from the trial and error experiences of the salespeople in their company, and other companies trading trade secrets, regarding the best ways to flip a potential client.  They have alternatives available for just about every personality that decides to work in sales for them.  Most of these companies have hundreds of salespeople on the floor making calls, and they know that most people are not aggressive self-starters.  They have fashioned responses for these people to help them sound smart, crafty, and pleasing to the average potential client.  So, the next time you step into what a potential clients enters into what they consider a duel of the minds at the O.K. Corral, they are armed with nothing but their wits against an individual armed with a time-tested, rapid fire machine gun.

If client is fortunate enough to run across the salesperson that is daunted by the client’s perspicacity and insurmountable wit, and the salesperson cannot respond to the witty retorts that were thought up that day in the mirror, that salesperson will be pulled into a boardroom for coaching tips.  These coaching tips will revolve around the concept that the salesperson should stop caring so much what potential clients say.  If that salesperson continues to be intimidated by the mind games potential clients will play, they will be replaced by one that isn’t.

For those “slime balls” that strive to excel in sales, sales can be like an inescapable penitentiary to a convict.  Inmates don’t give a crap that good men have spent their lives designing and fortifying a fortress to make it impossible to escape.  Most inmates aren’t the type to appreciate craftsmanship, until they begin searching for that one weakness in the structure.  The very idea that the fortress is considered an inescapable is what intrigues them.  They spend their days and nights focused on finding that crack in the walls good men have built to keep them in.  Few inmates believe they are bad guys that need to do time for the crime they committed.  They want freedom.  They want to escape.

Quality salespeople approach sales in the same manner, in that they don’t give a crap if anyone considers them a wonderful person.  They spend countless hours in training seminars and strategy sessions, trying to find the perfect way to flip someone like you.  They discuss people like you on their lunch hour, and they take people like you to the after work bar to discuss the minutiae of your phone call with their peers.  As hard as they try to separate their work life from their home, they will take you home with them, and they will discuss you with their spouse, and they will eat you with their tuna salad sandwich, and they will spend hours of insomnia staring at the ceiling with you on their mind.  It’s not about being nice or mean to a quality salesperson, and it’s not even about the product they’re selling.  As many top-tier salespeople will tell anyone that is interested enough to hear it, sales is not about selling a product as much as it is about a salesperson selling themselves.

If you’ve ever been in sales, in an office of hundreds of people, you’ve witnessed a salesperson lose it:

“How dare you say that to me?” one man said into the microphone attachment of his headset.  “Sir, that’s uncalled for,” he said at another point in his phone call with an irate customer.  “I understand sir, but I don’t think that personal insults are necessary.” 

This particular salesman was a tenured agent on the floor, and my interactions with him led me to believe he was a level-headed feller that was in full control of his emotions.  This phone call appeared to have him on the verge of tears.  I wondered, for a moment, if he was ill-suited for the job.  I flirted with the notion that he may have been doing this for so long that he was burned out.  I also wondered if I was suited for the job, for if this otherwise this level-headed guy could fall prey to hysterics, anyone could.  When his call ended, I asked him if he was okay.  My concern was more self-serving than an actual concern I had for his well-being.

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

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

My time spent as a phone sales agent taught me as much about human psychology, as it did sales.  It taught me that when the prospective client, enter the salesperson’s lot with all of their witty responses and refusals, that if these salespeople are any good at what they do, they will understand more about the client’s psychology than they do.  Coupled with the strategy sessions, and peer review, is the eight hours a day, forty hours a week, hands on application and trial and error of dealing with the best response the client has ever heard regarding a sales call from an annoying telemarketer.

The most shocking aspect for those that receive non-stop, telemarketing sales calls, might be that to a tenured salesperson exploiting a client’s weaknesses no longer provides much of a thrill.  Most experienced salespeople are so well-schooled in your psychology that flipping you into the sale is just something they do in the course of a day.

Enter the panhandler.

The panhandler also doesn’t give a crap about the person handing them money.  They may manipulate the psychology of the generous person for the period of time it takes to complete the transaction, but the minute that transaction is complete they will turn back to street.  They won’t remember anything about that person.  They may remember that that person handed them a twenty dollar bill, as opposed to the fives they’ve received from everyone else, but that will change nothing in their head but the math involved in their calculations.  They may be fond of the giver for as long as that transaction takes to complete, and they may give that person some of the obligatory responses they seek, but that’s done to feed into their ego and their sense of altruism that may encourage them to give out another twenty in the future.  When a panhandler purchase their goods, however, they won’t smile when they think of the overwhelming generosity they’ve encountered that day.  They won’t think of the person that gave them a twenty, as opposed to a five, because they don’t give a crap about them.

They also won’t give a crap that a hard working person with a couple extra bucks trusts them to do something fruitful with the money they’ve given them.  As far as the panhandler is concerned, it’s their money now, and they’ll do whatever the hell they want with it.

“That guy must’ve been feeling real guilty about something,” they may say when they are gathered with their snickering peers in regards to the twenty dollar bill fella, but that generous person doesn’t care that they may say that.  That’s not why they gave them some of their hard-earned money.  They had no agenda.  They did it because they’re a generous person with a wonderful sense of altruism about them.  Bottom line.  If that’s the case, they should continue to give panhandlers money.  They should not do it with the belief that the recipient of their largesse will think that that they are a better person for doing it.  They won’t.  They will not think they’re a bad person for giving them the money, of course, and they may not even consider them were a chump for doing it, but my guess is that they accept that person’s money with all of the consideration, and emotion, of a courteous ticket taker at a movie theater completing that transaction.

Enter the fashion aficionado.

Nobody gives a crap what people wear either.  This part may be the hardest part for some to believe, for we’ve all received compliments for the clothes we’ve worn, and we’ve all adjusted our wardrobe based on those compliments.  Clothes make the man, is something we’ve all said for generations.  ‘People pay attention,’ some say.  ‘I’ve heard it.  I’ve witnessed it firsthand.’

Unless the person that wears the finest clothes known to man informs those around them that they will wear nothing but the finest clothes known to man, a greater percentage of the people they run across will not remember anything about another person’s wardrobe choices.  Some will, of course, and those are the people we think about in the morning, in the mirror, as we dress.  We all dress to impress.  The question is how many?  How many people, in a room full of let’s say twenty, would notice anything about our clothing choices for the day?  Our conceit leads us to suggest that it’s more than we may think, for most people don’t vocalize their impressions, but the reality suggests otherwise.

In a psychological study, cited in David McRaney’s book You are Not so Smart, subjects were instructed to wear a flamboyant Barry Manilow T-shirt.  Some of the subjects were so embarrassed by the prospect of doing this that they couldn’t bring themselves to do it.  They didn’t think their pride could take the hit.  They believed that people would forever remember them as the guy that wore the Manilow T-shirt that one day.  Those subjects that conceded to wear the shirt were instructed to interrupt a class full of students to ask the professor a question.  The result: 25% of the students in the class could remember any details about the flamboyant, Manilow T-shirt.  In a separate part of the experiment, McRaney cites, a subject was instructed to wear the finest duds available to man and interrupt the professor’s class in a similar manner.  The result: 10% of the students in the class remembered any details about the finest duds available to man.  Very few people give a crap about what you’re wearing, and even fewer will remember what you wore yesterday, because most people don’t give a crap about you.

Enter the Speaker.

Nobody gives a crap that you just messed up in your speech, and they don’t even care that you just apologized for your mess up.  As David McRaney suggests, “most people don’t pay enough attention to a speech to know that an error was made, until the speaker apologizes for their error.”  Most people just want you to get on with it, so they can go home to watch their shows.

Have you ever committed a show stopping error that you assumed everyone in the auditorium noticed?  Have you ever thought that you just couldn’t go on, because you just lost all credibility with them?  Have you ever looked out into the audience with overwhelming sense of shame?  It’s been my experience that those that are paying attention, are looking at the speaker in a manner that says, “Just get on with it!”  They don’t care that we just mispronounced “Nucular”, or “Eckspecially”, or that you may have mixed up your tenses, or lost your place.  They just want you to get to the whole reason they decided to attend your seminar.

Have you ever witnessed a professional speaker commit an egregious error and move on as if nothing happened?  How can they do that?  That was an egregious error.  They know that most people aren’t paying near as much attention as you are, and the fact that they are able to move on is what has separated them from the likes of you.  That hutzpah is what has made them a speaker that people are willing to pay to hear.

The very idea that that speech should’ve been perfect was the dream scenario, and if the speaker finds a route around their self-indulgent desire that this may have been the greatest speech delivered since they laid Winston Churchill to rest, that speaker might find that most people care far more about how a speech was delivered than they do what was delivered in that speech.  They may want a nugget of information that they didn’t have before entering the ballroom, and if that speaker can deliver that, everything else will fade away.

Nobody gives a crap that another person may have mustard on their collar, that they have mismatched socks, or that they haven’t talked all day because they’re upset about the fact that their husband has become lactose intolerant.  We may listen to these complaints, but how many times does one person intro their statements with something along the lines of:  “I’ll bet you’re wondering why I’m so quiet today?”  How many times did we notice that they weren’t speaking?  How many times did we fail to notice that, because we were focusing on our own problems?  We all feel the need to tell other people our problems, and in response those people tell us the problems they have that they think are so much worse.  In the end, neither party gives a crap, because most people aren’t paying that much attention to one another.  They just want their workday to end, so they can get on with the lives that most people don’t give a crap about.


Fear Bradycardia and the Normalcy Bias

“Didn’t you hear the old, Native American woman say there’s a monster in the lake?!” one of the great looking people on shore screams.  Dougie ignores them, apparently unaware of the golden rule of modern cinema: Always listen to Native Americans, especially if they’re old, and they speak in hallowed tones.  “You’ve gone too far Dougie!” the great looking people on shore continue to shriek.  “Come back!”

“C’mon ya’ chickens!” Dougie says backstroking leisurely.  “It’s fun, and there’s nothing out here!”

DragonThe music that cues Dougie’s impending doom spills out of the speakers of our movie theater.  It is followed by a subtle roar.  We tense up.  We’re gripping the armrests so intensely that the muscles in our forearms are flexed.  We’re joining the gorgeous people on shore with mental screams sent to Dougie to get out of the water.  The great looking people on shore grow hysterical, screaming that there are swirling waters.

“Dougie please!”

“Ah, shut it!” everybody’s favorite clown, Dougie, says waving off their warnings. 

The trouble is the actor that plays Dougie is slightly unattractive and out of shape.  Those of us that have watched movies for decades, and know casting, know Dougie’s in trouble.

The monster roars up to an impossible height.  Dougie looks up at it, and he finally begins screaming.  The monster takes its time, so we can see the full breadth of its horror.  It gnashes its teeth a little, it swivels its head about, and it looks menacingly at Dougie.  Dougie continues to look up, and he continues to scream, as the monster lowers onto him and bites his head off.  The fact that this scene took a whole thirty seconds leaves those of us that have watched too many horror movies in a squirming state.

Why didn’t he just move, is a question horror movie aficionados have asked for decades.  Why did he sit there and scream for thirty seconds?  We could live with the fact that the monster would’ve moved through the water quicker than Dougie, had Dougie attempted to swim away.  It’s more aquatic than Dougie.  We could’ve also lived with the fact that Dougie probably didn’t have much of a chance the moment he jumped into the water, but as a person that gets titillated by horror movies, I would like to see their victims do a little more to survive.

When I later learned that actors have to stay on their mark, I was a little less disgusted with the actors who played Dougie types.  I still wanted them to move, but I realized that they were instructed by the director to stay on the spot the director designated for the decapitation scene.  This clichéd scene may strike horror in some, but I would venture to say that most of those people are not quite thirty.  For the rest of us, it’s just plain irrational that a person wouldn’t move, or do anything and everything they can to survive.

Author David McRaney argues that not only are Dougie’s reactions normal, but they are actually closer to the truth than anything we movie goers call for.  The book McRaney wrote is called You Are Not so Smart, and it basically states that the only aspect of such a scene that may be overdramatized is Dougie’s screaming.

Those of us that are casual, non-psychology types, believe that there are two basic reactions every human will have in the face of catastrophic, chaotic moments: action and non-action, or those that act and those that choke.  Those that act may also be broken down into two categories: those that act to selfishly save themselves and those that act in a heroic fashion to save others, but there are still only two basic reactions for casual, non-psychology types.

McRaney argues that there is actually a third course of action, and casual, non-psychology types will likely view this course of action as an extension of their idea of choking.  It is called fear bradycardia.  McRaney argues that while fear bradycardia may fall in the “choking” category, choking is a term that should be reserved for routine circumstances in which a person fails to act.  Fear bradycardia is an involuntary, automatic instinct that is likely to occur in moments that contain unprecedented aspects of chaos and horror for the unprepared.

Put succinctly, fear bradycardia is the idea that a person, a Dougie, simply stops moving and hopes for the best.  It is based on the idea that most of us are not accustomed to moments of abject horror in which our lives are truly on the line.  It is based on the idea that in those moments, most of us will not know what to do, and we will simply freeze in place with the hope that that moment will simply go away, and we won’t be forced to decide what to do, or how to act, in anyway.  It is an automatic and involuntary instinct in all of us.  Fear bradycardia is also referred to as tonic immobility by some, but no matter what it’s called it falls under the umbrella of a term psychologists call the normalcy bias.

McRaney details several incidents in which people experienced fear bradycardia.  He lists an F5 tornado that occurred in Bridge Creek, Oklahoma, a plane crash in which the plane managed to get earthbound before exploding and killing everyone on impact, survivors of floods, and the Trade Center terrorist incident that occurred on 9/11/01.

According to some first responders, the one thing common to most survivors of such tragedies is that they go to a dream-like state.  With their world falling down around them, and no one to shake them out of it, most survivors will simply shut down and go to a safe, more normal place in their minds where all of this horror isn’t occurring around them, and they aren’t being called upon to act in a manner that will result in their survival.

In the aftermath of the Trade Center terrorist incident that occurred on 9/11/01, some first responders spoke of the orderly fashion in which the survivors evacuated, and how they were grateful that people responded in such a fashion. These first responders said that the calm exit saved lives.  They suggested that the nature of this exit should be reported on, so future survivors would learn of the example these Trade Center evacuees set.

Other first responders agreed with the general sentiment, but they added that the unspoken sense of order was so calm that it bordered on eerie.  Very few survivors were screaming, and though there wasn’t much room to sprint, very few added to the chaos by trying to find some way to get out of the buildings quicker.

Some of the first responders, cited by McRaney, spoke of the manner in which some survivors took a couple of extra, crucial moments to log safely out of their computers before listening to the first responders; some gathered their coats, and others even engaged in mundane conversations with their cohorts on the way out.

What a bunch of idiots, those of us on the outside looking in may think, reading that.  If that were me, I can tell you I would be running.  I would probably be crying, even screaming, and I might even be knocking little, old ladies down, but I would do everything I could to get out.  I don’t care what this pop psychologist says I’m all about survival brutha.

We’ve all seen scenes in movies, and TV shows, that depict such scenes, and we’ve all mentally placed ourselves in the mind of the characters involved, and we’ve all done things a little differently in our mind.  We’ve all shouted things at screens when the Dougies just sit there as a monster nears them, and we all know how we would’ve reacted, but the central question of McRaney’s thesis is do we really know?

Do we really know how prepared we are for a moment of unprecedented horror and catastrophe?  Have we ever actually been involved in a worst case scenario in which our lives are on the line?  “If you haven’t,” writes McRaney, “you can never truly know how prepared you will be, and you can never truly know how you’ll react.  Our ideas of how we will react may be lies we’ve told ourselves so often that we’ll only find the actual truth after it’s too late to rectify it.”

Shutting down computers, gathering coats and having mundane conversations are automatic and involuntary responses that occur as a result of this dream-like, normal state that we go to when it becomes clear that no amount of rationalizing will ever make this horrific, and unprecedented moment of chaos, a normal moment.  It’s a shutdown mode we go to to block out the flood of external stimuli that may otherwise cause us to panic.

The people in the World Trade Centers on 9/11 had a supreme need to feel safe and secure,” McRaney writes.  “They had a desire to make everything around them “go” normal again in the face of something so horrific that their brains couldn’t deal with it in a functional manner.”

As previously stated, most casual, non-psychology types would characterize this as choking in the clutch, but McRaney states that it goes beyond this, because you’re not necessarily freezing up out of panic.  “It’s a reflexive incredulity” McRaney writes —attributing the term to an Amanda Ripley— “that causes you to freeze up in a reflexive manner.  It’s a reflexive incredulity that causes you to wait for normalcy to return beyond the point where it’s reasonable to do so.  It’s a tendency that those concerned with evacuation procedures— the travel industry, architects, first responders, and stadium personnel— are well aware of, and that they document this in manuals and trade publications.”

McRaney provides just such a list from a journal called “The International Journal of Mass Emergencies and Disasters.” This entry lists the course of actions most of us will experience when we go through a chaotic catastrophe.

Interpret.  You will attempt to define the incident that is occurring around you in terms that you are familiar with, and in doing so, you will underestimate it.

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

Save for those passengers on flight ninety-three, that managed to overtake the pilots piloting the plane to crash into the ground near Pittsburgh, one has to imagine that most of the passengers on the other flights, froze up with reflexive incredulity when the terrorists took control of the planes.  They didn’t know a world where terrorists flew planes into buildings, and they were not prepared for the violent worst-case scenario the terrorists’ presence indicated.

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

Information. You will seek information from those around you to see what they think of the incident.  This may involve, as McRaney points out in other parts of the chapter, listening to radio and television, and any source of media that helps you come to terms with the incident.

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

Again, from the reports we’ve had of flight ninety-three, there was a great deal of discussion in the aircraft, and with others on the ground that occurred before Todd Beamer said: “Are you guys ready? Let’s roll!” They helped each other interpret what they were experiencing with the information they gleaned from those on the ground, and they used this information to prompt others to act.

Move.  After doing all this, you will evacuate.

The sociologists, McRaney cites, say that “You are more likely to dawdle if you fail to follow these steps properly and are improperly informed of the severity of the issue.”  Improperly informing one’s self then leads to speculation and inevitably to the comparing and contrasting it other incidents of which we are more familiar.

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

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

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

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

For these reasons and others, it is crucial that a city facing an ensuing crisis, have their local media inundate us with reports concerning an impending storm, because the media needs to help us redefine our norm.  It is also a reason, for those of us that make fun of our friends for paying attention to the stewardess’ instructions, to drop our macho façade and listen.  We may also want to drop the pretense that we’re such frequent travelers that we’re prepared for anything and get our normalcy redefined in preparation for what could go wrong.

Even with all the information McRaney provides, I still find it hard to believe that those movie scenes that depict the near-catatonic reactions a Dougie will display as a monster nears him, are closer to the truth than I am about how I will react.  I live with the belief that a survivor instinct will kick in when I see a monster coming at my head, and that I will do whatever it takes to try to survive the incident, regardless if I am great looking, unattractive, or slightly out of shape.  That doesn’t mean, however, that I am going to be so afraid of appearing afraid that I will disregard the information that may help me avert disaster.  We’ve all had some incidents in our lives that could be called mini-disasters in the grand scheme of things, and most people have a fairly decent batting average when it comes to reacting to them.  Here’s to hoping that if our lives ever depend on our reactions that we don’t experience a fear bradycardia, a tonic immobility, a reflexive incredulity, or any of those normal bias tendencies that McRaney says are automatic and involuntary instincts among the unprepared that have lied to themselves for so long that they accidentally rationalize themselves to death.

The Exit Strategy of Sitcoms

Finding the perfect formula for humor can be difficult.  Most of us screw jokes up so often that it can be embarrassing.  Some of us mess the stresses up when it comes to punctuating a punch line in a proper manner.  Some of us have horrible joke-telling rhythm.  Some of us provide our audience the exact same material as the best comic in the world, but for some reason we just don’t hit the mark in the exact same manner they do.  What happens?  Why didn’t they fall over laughing the way they did when that comedian told the joke?

imagesThe first thing we all need to do is relax for just a second and realize that we’re not as funny as Jerry Seinfeld, and we never will be, and no one else is either.  The next thing to focus on is that Jerry Seinfeld is not as funny as Jerry Seinfeld.  We’ve all seen interviews with the man, and we have seen that he is a humorous man, but he’s not as funny in everyday life, as he is on stage, or on TV.  He works his tail off to perfect these routines, and those skits, and he fails more often than he succeeds.  The difference is, you only see the successful portions of his ability to make people laugh.  That standup routine you just witnessed is a result of constant practice, and the honing and refining of his material.  He places emphasis on a punchline, finds out if that works or not, and tries it another way when it doesn’t.  This is what he does for a living, and he has stated that most of his concerts are a testing ground for that pursuit of the perfect tone, emphasis, and rhythm for telling the perfect joke.  Your frustration regarding your inability to execute your joke was based on the idea that you couldn’t execute it in the manner of an expert comedian after spending one impulsive minute (sometimes less) thinking about it.

One of the easiest ways we’ve found to evoke laughter among our friends at the water cooler is to mimic the patterns, and rhythms, of these comedians and their situation comedies (sitcoms).  People already know those patterns, they’re tried and tested, as are the rhythmic structures of their tones, and their exit strategies.  People are more comfortable with these patterns and rhythms, so it’s just easier, and less taxing, to copy them.  We all do it in one form or another.  Some of us wish we didn’t have to resort to that, but we can’t help it.  We want the laugh.

A friend of mine believed the finer points of joke telling came down to his exit.  I don’t know if he sat around and thought about it, or if he picked it up over the years, but he appeared to believe that the perfect exit would cover for any deficiencies he may have otherwise had in joke-telling.  He was a nervous guy.  He doesn’t speak well in public, and he and I never did break down the barrier between acquaintance and friendship to a point where he would’ve been at ease telling me a joke.  Long story short, he was nervous around me.

Through the years we worked together, I had somehow attained some sort of upper-echelon status in his joke telling world.  If he ever came across a fantastic joke, in other words, he felt compelled to bring it to me.  Regardless how nervous I made him, he had to tell me the joke, but he couldn’t look at me when he did it.

Before attempting his exit, the guy would lean down, and put his hands on the desk before him.  This was, I’m guessing, his joke-telling stance.  I can’t remember any of the actual jokes he told me.  Most of them weren’t as great as he thought they were, but they weren’t that bad either.  The actual jokes don’t matter though.  What mattered to me were his exits.  He had this whole routine down.  He would lean down, tell the joke, and deliver the punch line.  In the immediate aftermath of the punch line, he would pull his hands away from the desk in a swift manner and exit in an erratic fashion.  This erratic exit was supposed to punctuate the joke.  It was supposed to add to the comedic rhythm.  “Get in, get out” was his strategy.  Don’t stick around for the laughter.  If you execute the perfect exit, the laughter will follow as a matter of course.  It will arise in appreciation for the exit, as punctuation for the rhythm the audience feels compelled to conclude with you.  “Get in, GET OUT!”

It’s a compulsion that diehard TV watchers have felt compelled to add to the tail end of sitcom jokes for so many decades that it’s almost instinctual at this point.  The one “don’t try this at home” lesson that my friend illustrated, through his attempt to execute the comedic exit was that he had nowhere to go.  There is no “exit stage left” in real life.  In real life, you are required to have a predetermined destination when you exit.  There is no curtain concealing you backstage.  In real life, even trained TV watchers may watch you leave, and some of the times they see you trapped in the reality of having nowhere to go.

There have been times when my friend has attempted an exit stage left, after executing the perfect punchline tone and pitch, and ended up in another row of desks with nothing to do there.  It’s embarrassing.  The sitcoms don’t cover this, for their characters always have a predetermined destination.  My friend, of course, isn’t offered this luxury, and anyone watching him can see that he hasn’t planned his exit well.

The pained question I see on his face, when I ask him to return is, “Why do you need jokes explained to you.  Most jokes don’t survive explanations.”  True, but some do.  Whether it’s the flaw in the manner in which the joke was told, or the inability of the listener to follow it well, some jokes require further explanation.  Call all of those that require explanation stupid if you want, but if you’re going to come to us with a joke, be prepared to stick around for some of the questions.

On those occasions where I was forced to call my friend back, we would both look at each other with pained expressions.  “I’m sorry,” my expression would say, “I just don’t get it.”  Some of the times, he would come back and explain his joke to me, and we would be so uncomfortable that I felt compelled to laugh harder than I otherwise would have as an act of contrition for forcing him to provide follow up.  I had ruined his exit, and we both knew it, so I felt the need to cover for this sense of violation.

On other occasions, he would exit to a location so far away that it would be inconceivable for me to call him back.  I would still call him back, but he often pretends that he can no longer hear me.  We would then share an uncomfortable look when he established the fact that he was not returning.  You’re not ruining what I consider the perfect exit, his gait stated, to explain things to you in the manner I have far too many times before.  You’re just going to have to figure this one out yourself.

Groundhogs, Led Zeppelin, and our Existential Existence

We define ourselves through music.  It’s who we are, and we believe that it provides our audience a concise definition.  Our tastes in all art forms define us, of course, but the appreciation of music could be said to be more universal than all of the other art forms, and thus a common denominator of what we are versus other fans of music.  The question that springs from this is: are we in charge of who we are, if music is such a great barometer?  In high school, our favorite music artists changed by the day, dictated to us by the prevailing winds of “cool”. We may believe that at some point in our lives, we leave that mercurial teenage mindset behind us as our high school years become smaller and smaller in our rear view mirror, but some social scholars have stated that we never leave high school.

groundhog-2What this means, to some, is that it is almost impossible to reach such a level of confidence regarding our identity.  It is possible to “know thyself” to elevated degrees as we age, but we are forever susceptible to getting this definition of slapped around by the prevailing winds of cool and uncool.  This leads us to another question: Do we ever reach a point where this dimension of our identity is absolute and true?  We would all prefer to believe we’ve made individual choices regarding the music will listen to on a regular basis, but are those preferences ours, or have they been shaped by group thought, rebellion to group thought, and/or a rebellion to the rebellious group’s thoughts?

Research scientists often study animals to get to the root cause of why humans do what they do. The modus operandi of doing so is based on their desire to locate the primal nature of actions and reactions.  Humans are often more difficult to test in such groups, because humans tend to project images of who they prefer to be, rather than who they are.  Animals test much better because they remain closer to the primal state, and they may tell us more about our psychological base than a test of hundreds of humans in a test group might.

Animals do not have the mental capacity to sit around and contemplate greater questions about their identity, as most of the concepts involved are too foreign and complex for them, but how simple, and primal are their brains?

There have been occasions, on nature shows, where we’ve witnessed groundhogs watching one of their own being eaten, and we’ve assumed that this desire was born of primal simplicity.  Could their desire to watch be more complex than we’ve ever imagined?  Is this desire to watch similar to our complex desire to rubberneck an accident on the interstate, or is that a primal simplicity on our part?

We’ve all heard groundhogs screech and chatter when one of their brethren are being eaten, and we’ve always assumed that the screeches are a mechanism they use as one last, ditch effort to try and save their brethren.  We’ve also assumed that they are attempting to warn other groundhogs in the vicinity, but could these screeches be similar to those that we engage in during horror flicks when we watch one of our fellow human beings being slaughtered in a slasher flick?  Are they so fascinated by the greatest horror they can imagine that they cannot look away?  Do they speak about the images they saw later, in the manner we do when walking out of a theater, and do they sit around and talk about how they miss their former family members in the aftermath of it all?

When humans die, we attempt to minimize the individual so we can all live better in the aftermath.  “Yeah, but he was old,” is something we might say to minimize the horror of death.  Or, he smoked, or he had been running himself ragged for so long that it was bound to happen sooner rather than later.  One has to wonder if groundhogs have similar comments for their deceased.  We have to wonder if they feel the need to achieve some sort of distance from the deceased to help them deal with it better.   Do they say, “Yeah, well Alfonso was slow!  He didn’t work out enough, and all he ever did was build and rebuild his home. I knew he was going to die, and frankly I say good riddance.”

Do groundhogs like and dislike other groundhogs based on personality traits?  If they do, how far do they take it?  Do they ostracize other groundhogs who have strange growths on their head, or are they more accepting than we are?  Do they castigate another groundhog based on that groundhog’s work ethic, his kids’ obnoxious behavior, and would one groundhog ever exclude another groundhog based on the fact that he gave them a titty twister?

I used to love to give titty twisters to other fellas.  Don’t ask me why.  I thought it was funny.  There were no sexual motivations, and I didn’t consider titty twisters a proclamation of dominance over a titty twistee.  I just thought it would be a funny thing to do that to that guy that was just standing there being far too normal.  I liked to shake people out of having too normal a day.  It’s who I was, and who I will always be.  I don’t force people out of the norm with physical actions in that manner anymore.  I’m more subtle now.  When I did it to this one guy, however, he punched me in the chest for it.  I twisted his titty.  Things were too normal for me. The people around me were too normal, their conversations were too normal, and I thought they all needed someone to shake it up.

I would’ve been doubled over with laughter at such a reaction, on a normal day, for I loved unexpected reactions. This guy’s reaction carried a mean face with it though.  I thought we were friends.  His mean face told me that the punch was meant to reject everything I hold dear, and our friendship never recovered.  I’m sure groundhogs reject other groundhogs’ for over-the-top attempts at humor, but do they hold grudges?  This guy told people he hated me after that.

Does a groundhog ever do anything to shake up the norm, or is his existence so primal that he’s happy to be alive for another day?  Does that attribute say more or less about the human being that we take life for granted to such a degree that we’re no longer happy to just be alive?  Is this desire to shake our lives out of the norm a complex desire, or is it a simplistic, biological need we have to keep our complex brains firing at a rapid pace?

If a groundhog decided to perform a sexual act in a different position, for example, would this decision be documented as simple or complex?  What if test results showed that the groundhog performed his act in a listless manner for a couple days before trying that new position?  What if the groundhog began performing his act on other groundhogs when his selected mate wasn’t around?  Would this be seen as complex or simplistic?  If we could see inside the groundhog’s brain, and we saw him fantasize about being shackled to a wall by an army of alien invaders with the aliens suckling on his reproductive organ for the semen nutrient these aliens needed to survive, would we consider this a complex fantasy for a groundhog or a simplistic, base desire?

This titty twistee, former friend was a heavy metal dude, and I was a heavy metal dude.  I thought this should be enough for some sort of lifelong association.  I was wrong.  Most of the people I grew up around were heavy metal dudes.  We called our kind hessians.  I wanted to be a hessian so bad I was willing to do anything to make that happen, but I had a tough time getting in.  I didn’t like Rush or Iron Maiden, but I did like Kiss.  Kiss wasn’t enough to get into most of the circles of which I sought entry.  Kiss was too popular by the time I became a teen.  They were too mainstream to be cool.  I had to like an outlier group, and if it wasn’t going to be Rush or Iron Maiden, then I was offered Slayer or Megadeth.  Sorry, I said. I wanted to be a hessian, but I couldn’t appreciate any of these groups.  They had cool monsters on their albums and all, but their music was beyond me.  I wore the mandatory jean jacket, and I had the mullet, but for some reason I was on the outside looking in for most of my young life.  It may have had something to do with the fact that I didn’t say the word ‘dude’ often enough, but I didn’t give a durn about nothing, and I thought authority figures were laughable.  I thought that should be enough.

One thing I learned early on, through the public square humiliation process, was that calling my grandma “Nana” would be out if I wanted to be a hessian.  I didn’t have to hate my Nana, that trait was reserved for punkers, but I didn’t have to like her so much either.  A hessian greets their Nana in a nonplussed manner.  He may want to consider shaking her hand, and greeting her with a hello ma’am, but he should then go on about his business as if he’s not so concerned with her existence.  A hessian does not run across a room and hug his Nana.  That’s something for people who listen to Genesis and the B-52’s.

Genesis lovers valued stupidity over analytical pragmatism, so we hated them, and we gained a lot more mileage hating something than we did expressing any kind of love for anything. Hatred gives you character and complexity.  “You don’t like Phil Collins?” No, I think he’s gay.  Loving something gets you scorn.  Loving something gives other hessians something to hate you for, whether it’s loving Kiss, Happy Days, or your Nana.  Loving something gives hessians a weakness to poke and prod, until you’re too embarrassed to love anything, unless it’s Metallica.  You can say you love Metallica and still be a hessian, but that’s it.

If you’re one of those that doesn’t know Metallica, you may want to run out to the store tomorrow and buy Master of PuppetsRide the Lightning, or And Justice for All… If you don’t like these three albums, after repeated listens, you’re a poser.  You may as well take the jean jacket off, cut your hair, and start calling your grandma Nana, because you’ll never gain entrance into this community.

Hessians can smile, and they can laugh, but only at the expense of another.  A hessian can like Kiss and Van Halen, but as I said that’s not enough, and they cannot (I repeat cannot) like Poison, Cinderella, or Faster Pussycat.  Those that love these bands were the source of ridicule, and hessians around the world were given license to smile and laugh at their simplicity.  I can only assume that Facebook has made life for teens in America easier by comparison.  You can block the people that question the constructs you have about your personality on Facebook.

This complex world became a lot easier for me when I became a Zeppelin guy though.  People wanted to befriend Zeppelin guys.  They wanted to talk with us, be us, and accept us into their community.  I could hang out with Zeppelin guys, I could talk with them about the band’s folklore, and I could even create other Zeppelin guys when I wanted another friend.  I could just play Zoso, or II, and create a friend with all of the shared associations and memories that came along with that.  After becoming a Zeppelin guy, and creating other Zeppelin guys, I decided I needed to progress from being a Zoso and Zeppelin II guy to a Physical Graffiti and Zeppelin III guy.  I learned every lyric, and every beat, to those Zeppelin albums, and to some Zeppelin guys I progressed from being a Zeppelin guy to the Zeppelin guy.  I was assigned complicated and mysterious Zeppelin guy characteristics for loving those two albums.

“Yeah, II and Zoso are great,” I would say to beginners, “but wait until you get to the point of loving III and Fizzy Graph.” (Fizzy graph is what the Zeppelin guys called Physical Graffiti.)

It was a glorious world to step into.  It was a world of opportunity, a world where girls existed, and a world where you could taste forbidden fruits, and still be a fella.  It was a world where hessians, punkers, and even some Genesis guys could stand side by side in a mutual admiration society.  It was a world where musicians and music lovers of all stripes could talk and laugh and listen to the greatest music ever produced, for as all Zeppelin guys know, all music stems from Zeppelin.

Zeppelin guys still had to avoid giving a durn about most things, however, it wasn’t a cloak against being ostracized. A Zeppelin guy still had to hate Beverly Hills 90210, Michael Jackson and Tom Cruise movies, and Zeppelin guys were still not able to say Nana in public.

You also had to protect your Zeppelin guy status, then the Zeppelin guy status if you were lucky enough to achieve it. You still had to guard yourself against complacency in the Zep guy world, or you could lose your status.  It was all right to like the album In Through the Out Door, for example, but you could not love it.  There were far too many synthesizers on that album.  John Paul Jones had far too much influence on that album.  It lacked the raw, Page/Plant magic of the first six albums, and if you want to achieve the Zeppelin guy status you had to know that.

We all realize that the brain of a groundhog is less complex than that of the human’s, but we all know that even the most simplistic, primal minds react to music.  If a groundhog listens to the same music, over time, will they develop an affinity for certain kinds of music?  Will certain groups of groundhogs break out of the pack and develop discerning tastes?  Will these groups begin to develop an affinity for Zeppelin over Genesis, and will they begin to ostracize Genesis lovers for the mileage it gains them in their group?  And would they reach a point, in their progression, where it was no longer about the music for them but the iconography and complexities they developed in their particular group in the groundhog community for the music they chose to love?  Would their love for the music strengthen over time, and if it did would it reach a point where it could be characterized as complex?  Or, would it forever be deemed a simple desire to belong to that “cool” group of groundhogs that listened to that form of music, and would the groundhogs ever begin to see the distinction for what it was?

Feedback: How about you?  Do you still listen to the music you loved as a teen?  Are your musical preferences trapped in that era?  Did you choose to be a Led Zeppelin fan, in those initial stages, because it was great music, or was there some sort of identity you hoped to gain from the mystique that cool kid had by preferring them?  If music forms the identity we prefer to project, were we in charge of that identity in the beginning, that we’re still projecting to the point that we have disdain for those that have broken free the shackles, now that we feel free to admit that Genesis wasn’t all that bad?  What about Michael Jackson, or Cindy Lauper?  And if we remain trapped in that era, by way of our musical preferences, are we still in high school?  

Are you Superior?

Some of us define our superiority based on sheer physical strength and athletic ability.  Others believe that their greatest opportunity for superiority lies in their intelligence.  It’s often difficult, and fruitless, to stare into a mirror and gain true, objective definition, so we use comparative analysis –through our day-to-day interactions– to try to gain information about ourselves and our true identity.  The one unfortunate characteristic to our quest for greater understanding of our identity is that it is, more often than not, gained on the backs of others.

Mr+Bungle+-+Disco+Volante+%2B+Bonus+7%22+EP+-+LP+RECORD-67741Run into a person on the street, at work, or in any walk of life, and some will begin dressing you down.  Why do they do it?  Most of them don’t know why, and those that do have something of an idea, may not attribute it to a search for superiority, but they do know that they’re searching for something that will give them a lift.  These searches may occur in the first few moments we begin speaking to them, and it often begins with our physical appearance.  Are we well groomed?  Do we brush our teeth?  Are all of our nose and ear hairs trimmed?  Do we have a hairdo that is accepted in the greater society?  Are we wearing clothes that they accept as fashionable, or are we wearing the finest duds known to man?  Have you ever heard the phrase, the suit makes the man?  Some would tell you it’s all about the shoes.  Others would tell you that if you can create a pleasing dimple in your tie, by denting that tie with your thumb in the tying process, you can create a lasting first impression.  Most people won’t speak in terms of superiority or inferiority in polite company, but what is a lasting impression?  What is a first impression?  What are impressions in general, but attempts to, at the very least, define one’s self equal to their counterparts?

Is it all about the clothes?  Is it apparent in the way we stand, the way we sit, the manner in which we hold our head when we talk, or whether or not we can look our counterpart in the eye?  Do we have a tongue stud?  Are we a tattooed individual, or a non-tattooed individual, and who is superior in that dynamic?  It’s all relative.

The first impression can be a difficult one to overcome, but some believe that it is often what we say after the first impression that holds more weight, for if we have a fatal flaw –noticeable in the first impression– we can garner sympathy or empathy, through an underdog status, with what we say in the follow up impression we provide.

To further this theory, some believe that if we notify our counterpart of our weakness –say in the form of a self-deprecating joke– it will redown to the benefit in a strong follow up impression.  The theory behind that is that doing so will end the search for our weakness, and it will allow them to feel superior and thus more comfortable with us, which we hope will result in them liking us more.  Comedian Louie Anderson turned this into an art form.  Moments after stepping foot on stage, Louie Anderson will inform his audience that he’s fat in the form of a well-rehearsed joke.  The first impression we have of Louie is that he’s fat, but when he follows that first impression up with a quality, self-deprecating joke it disarms us –or takes away whatever feelings of superiority we had and gives it back to us with his definition of it– and that re-definition of our superiority allows him to go ahead and dominate us in all the ways a comedian needs to dominate a crowd, because we’re no longer distracted by our physical superiority.

The problem with such a successful, follow up presentation rears its ugly head when we begin to overdo it.  When it works in the second stage of impression, and we attempt to move into the third and fourth stages of impression with our counterpart, our insecurity suggests to us that our counterparts may not be as entertained by us as they were in the second, self-deprecating stage of impression.  As a result, we may begin to commit fall back on the more successful, second impression.  “Of course I’m nothing but a fat body, so what do I know,” we say when they didn’t laugh at what we said.  When that proves successful, and our counterparts begin laughing again, we begin committing to this qualifier so often that we begin to become the weakness in their eyes.  They can’t help believing this is who we are, for it’s the repetitive impression we’ve given them so often that it becomes what they think of us.  One way to find out if you have fallen prey to this progression is to remove that successful, second impression qualifier that you have been adding to the tail end of your jokes and stories.  If this is the case, they may add, “That’s true, but aren’t you fat?” to the tail end for you.

Some of the times, these additions are made to complete the rhythm of a joke, or story, but most of the times it’s done to insert some element of superiority or inferiority.  Thanks to certain situation comedies, and the effect they’ve had on the zeitgeist, some jokes, stories, and thoughts feel incomplete without some element of superiority or inferiority attached to it.  I used to be a qualifier, until I realized that too many people were exploiting my qualifiers for their own sense of superiority.  It was so bad, at one point, that I couldn’t say anything halfway intelligent without someone adding the equivalent of “Ross, you’re zipper is down” at the tail end of it.

It’s my contention that most of us are in a constant search of indicators of superiority or inferiority. If our counterpart is religious, we may feel superior to them based on the fact that we’re not.  If we are religious, we may want to know what religion they are, and we may base our feelings of superiority on that.

“They’re all going to hell,” a friend of mine commented when we passed a group of Muslims.  When I asked why she thought this, she said: “They don’t accept the Lord, Jesus Christ as their personal savior.” 

I heard that statement many times, but I hadn’t heard anyone use it as a weapon of superiority before.  I realized some time later that this was all this woman had.  She hated her job, her kids hated her, and she was far from attractive, or in good shape.  She needed this nugget of superiority to help her get through the day, and to assist her in believing that she was, at least, superior to someone in some manner.

On the flip side of the coin, a Muslim friend of mine seemed forever curious about my (American) way of life.  She was always asking me questions about the motivations I had for doing what I did.  It dawned on me later that she was searching for points of superiority.  She saw the Muslim religion as a clean religion from which she gained a feeling of purity.  There is nothing wrong with that, of course, until she used that as a weapon of superiority against me.

Another friend of mine (we’ll call him Steve) informed me that a mutual friend of ours (we’ll call him David) was not intelligent, and because of that the two of them did not have substantial or engaging conversations.  I informed Steve that this may be due to the fact that David was much younger than us.  Steve agreed with that to an extent, but he stated that he thought it had more to do with the fact that David did not have a college degree.  Steve informed me that he considered me intelligent and that I provided well-rounded conversation topics, based on my well-rounded intelligence … even though I didn’t have a college degree.  I smiled.  I don’t know why I smiled, but that delusional blanket he wrapped me in was quite warm and comfortable.  I felt like an absolute fool later, and I thought of confronting him with this, but I’ve always felt guilty about revealing others aloud.  It’s never gained me anything more than the feeling of superiority.  It tends to leave the other person feeling bad about their identity, it has hurt their feelings, and it has cost me friendships.  That guilt thing would not permit me to lift that warm and comfortable blanket from us to reveal us for who we are.  The laughable thing about Steve’s comment was that his greater goal was not to compliment me, or insult David, but to define his feelings of superiority through comparative analysis.

Upon reflection, I realized that my college graduate friend, Steve, had been left out of the many discussions that David and I had regarding the politics, pop culture, and the general news of the day.  Steve was also not the type to learn of a story and form an instant opinion on it, and he often found it difficult to enter into our discussions.  He had also been ignoring such issues for so long that he didn’t have a base of knowledge that could extend itself beyond a particular news article he had read that day.  Steve was also a type to learn of an expert opinion of a subject and go with that.  He didn’t practice the art of dissent from majority opinion as often as David and I had.

As a result, Steve did start reading the news more often, and he did try to start formulating opinions on the news of the day to gain entrance into our discussions.  The opinions he did offer tended to be of a more clichéd variety that sounded as if they came straight off a late night talk show Tele-prompter, or a Saturday Night Live episode.  They were not of an individualistic, provocative variety.  As a result, his opinions were often dismissed on that basis.  Nothing that David and I ever discussed was noteworthy, or over-the-top intellectual, but we formed a mutual appreciation for the other’s knowledge, even though most of our discussions were antagonistic.  It was that appreciation, and I assume, Steve’s inability to find a place in it, that led him to feel the need to remind us that he had an intellectual superiority that we were neglecting.

The search for where we stand in this chasm of superiority and inferiority can be a difficult one to traverse, so we often attempt to answer them on the backs of others.  It’s a shortcut to examination and self-reflection.  Some feel superior to another, based on that other’s religion, their politics, their race, or in the case of Steve, their education level.  There may even be some that gain their feelings of superiority based on whether one brushes their teeth top to bottom as opposed to side to side.  There may even be others that base their comparative analyses on the manner in which a person shaves their pubic hair.  If one person leaves a strip and another person shaves Brazilian who is superior, and who is inferior, and where does the person that lets it all grow wild stand in that dynamic?  We all have some positions of superiority and inferiority, and most of them are relative.

As for Steve, I was sure he had a psychological profile built on me.  I was sure he had all of his feelings of superiority stacked in a row, based on the characteristics he had witnessed over the years.  The tenuousness of that profile was made apparent to me through the various reminders he would give me that he was, in all ways, superior to me.

This modern battle for psychological definition often calls for a type of guerilla warfare tactic.  The modern battle calls for subtlety and nuance.  The age of standing toe to toe may have occurred in the days of duels, and The Civil War, but most field generals of the mind would never risk their troops in the type of toe to toe battles that used to be considered the gentleman’s way to fight.  No one, of the modern age, would ever ask their counterpart if they think they’re superior, in other words, for that may involve some sort of equivocation that detailed the strengths and weaknesses of both parties in which no one was a winner and no one a loser.  No, the battle between two modern day, psychological combatants, more often than not, involves a long standing battle of guerilla warfare-style pot shots.

I broke down one day and decided to violate all of these modern rules of psychological warfare with Steve.  “Do you think that you’re superior to me?”  Being a good friend, and a modern psychological warrior well-schooled in the PC/HR tactics of guerilla warfare, he gave me an equivocation steeped in relative constructs.  Being the obnoxious man I was, I asked him to break it down.  “Would your competitive feelings change if you saw me start walking down a hall with more confidence?  Would this shatter your beliefs to such a degree that you asked me what had changed with me?  Would you ask me if I received a promotion, won the lottery, or got laid the night before?  Would you become so obsessed in your search for an answer regarding my new walk that you wouldn’t be able to sleep at night?  What if I decided to start walking down hallways without moving my arms at all?  Would you consider that walk kind of freakish, a little funny, and an inferiority on my part?  Or,” I asked, “Would you then consider me an equal?”

The ‘You Don’t Have a Shot in Hell’ Ray

A co-worker of mine shot me a “you don’t have a shot in hell” ray the other day at the gym.  I did not deserve this.  I waved at her.  That’s all.  I pulled my earbuds out as she approached the elliptical machine I was on.  I was prepared to have a polite, engaging conversation with her.  I didn’t expect the “you don’t have a shot in hell” glare I received when she made it half of the way to me.  I was a good friend.

We used to talk to me about the issues that bothered her, and I listened, and I was an active listener.  Some of her conversation topics may have bored me, but I made sure she never knew it.  We used to talk about some of the guys she was hoping to date.  I was jealous.  I wanted her to speak about me in this manner, but I never pushed it.  I was a good friend.  We worked in the same department for three years.  We even sat by each other for about three months.  We talked all the time.  I say hello to her one day at a gym, and boom she shoots me a “you don’t have a shot in hell” ray that crippled me in a psychological manner.   I was a good friend!

beautyShe did return the wave.  She fulfilled her portion of polite protocol, but it was guarded.  It was an annoyed wave, and I’m not being sensitive when I write this.  The most casual observer could have read her body language and determined that she didn’t even want to give me that, but she was polite, and then she followed that up by shooting that ray at me.  Why?  I was such a good friend that it seemed unfair.

I saw her at work the next day, and she gave me an over enthusiastic hello.  She did everything but hug me.  She knew what she did.  She felt guilty.  She knew I was a good friend.

Setting her internal phaser on “you don’t have a shot in hell” may have been reflexive, but I’m me.  I’m the buddy.  I’m the one who listened to her honest confessions without looking at her breasts.  I looked at her breasts. We all did.  They were two, compact missiles set to stun any onlooker, but I wasn’t looking at them when she went into her deep, meaningful moments.  I was a good gawdamned friend!

I’m the one who joked with her, listened to her complaints about the job and our co-workers without an eye to a future dating world, and she treats me like a hungry dawg whimpering for table scraps?  I hate to sound like a seventh grade girl, but I’m done with her.  I won’t go beyond the polite protocol with her from this point forward.  How dare this girl, with incredible breasts, give me anything less than a polite ‘how do you do?’  I was one incredible friend.

The thing is she is a nice girl, and she may have just been having a bad day.  She may have been hit on a couple times before she saw me, but I’ve just reached a point in my life where I’ve decided to make an example of her.  It’s my hope that my decision to defriend her will teach her, and the rest of her fantastic looking girlfriends, with fantastic breasts and apple-shaped bottoms, a little lesson in decorum when she posts this moment on her exclusive “great looking girls” website.  I want her to tell them all that you don’t give good friends the “you don’t have a shot in hell” ray no matter what your circumstances are at that time.

I realize that she may have seen the enthusiasm with which I waved to her, and mistook it for my desire to do unspeakable things to her, and her adjective-defying breasts, her apple-shaped bottom, and curves that would have the Pope giving her second look, but this was not the case with her former friend and confidant.  I’m sure that she’s been hit on so often that her defense mechanisms are honed, but I was such a good friend.  Perhaps, she has had even had good friends hit on her, and she’s had those friendships dissolve as a result, so it’s best to have the “you don’t have a shot in hell” ray set whenever you leave your home.  Well, I don’t play by those rules, and I won’t abide by them in the aftermath.  So, be good anonymous girl and have a good life. You won’t have this friend to kick around anymore.  You just lost one fantastic friend missy!

Scorpio Man III: Everything Has Changed

This, I am happy to announce, will be the final installment in the Scorpio Man series, as the discovery of what I now call the 9/26/2016 miracle has brought about an end to my suffering. As of this date, I no longer have to worry about some nosy busybody badgering me for my date of birth, and I no longer have to lie when they do for it has been determined that I am no longer a man born under the sign ruled by Mars the god of war and Pluto the god of the underworld. I will no longer be burdened by the prejudicial notions of those born under the Scorpio ecliptic. I no longer have to endure those that claim to sense a murderous, dark force within me, and I no longer have to endure the Scorpio Man Evolvement courses to keep those inclinations at bay. I no longer have to involve myself in group sessions, or the prescriptions and Emotional Support Animals (ESAs) that Ms. Maria Edgeworth prescribed to help me deal with the emotional trauma I’ve dealt with as a result. It’s all over for me now, as of 9/26/2016, a day that shall live in infamy for me, for I have been declared a perfectly balanced specimen of a man, a man of partnership, equality, and justice. I am now deemed to be an objective man. I am Libra Man.

downloadI don’t know if these annual posts, over the last three years, appear planned. They weren’t. After discovering my powers, I decided to post a complaint about the prejudicial treatment I have endured from those that insist that men born when the Sun was in the Scorpio ecliptic are the incarnation of a dark force. My intention, in that first testimonial, was to try and change minds about men born under the sign of Scorpio, and to try and spread awareness that I hoped might lead to a national conversation on this matter. The second testimonial was an unplanned report on the progress I made to that point in my Scorpio Man Evolvement courses, and this third testimonial was intended to involve a list of complaints regarding the lack of progress I had made to that point in my the Scorpio Man Evolvement. The tiny, little miracle that happened on 9/26/2016, rendered all of those complaints moot. I feel for those few that continue to endure the plight of the Scorpio man, and I have empathy for those that are forced to endure the toxic climate that has been created over the last 2,000 years, but I am no longer one of them, and I bid them adieu.

As an industrious, self-driven man, I am loathe to admit despair, but a feeling of powerless overwhelmed me. The forces that seek to ostracize, impugn, and relegate others to some sort of generalization can be so powerful that it is difficult for the subject to defeat internally and otherwise.

My Natural Psychologist, Ms. Maria Edgeworth informed me that my progress towards the enlightenment that awaited me in second stage of Scorpio Evolution, The Eagle Totem stage, was exemplary. I responded that if this was progress she would have to define the word for me. In our sessions, I experienced what I believed to be the old one step forward two steps back adage used to describe regressed progress. Young children and women continued to flee when I exposed myself to their opinions. My girlfriend, the lovely Faith dumped me as a result of my inability confront my preexisting limitations and transmute and evolve past them suggested that I had not made the commitments necessary to grow.

That was what she told me anyway, but the idea that she was with someone, days later, led me to suspect the true nature of our breakup. Regardless why we broke up, I found myself feeling as alone as I had on the day I started the Evolvement courses and their subsequent group sessions.

Ms. Edgeworth decided that this breakup was a traumatic event that would impede my progress, and she suggested that I might need temporary, emotional, and external support to give me the strength necessary to get back on the road to progress. Ms. Edgeworth prescribed what she called an Emotional Support Animal (ESA). She stated that the progress those suffering from similar, post-traumatic stress disorders (PTSDs) had made in the ESA program, was documented in medical journals and online periodicals, and it proved so exciting to her that she decided to have her own dog trained in the program.

This, now registered, ESA dog of hers, named Gordon, was a 173-pound Newfoundland dog that could provide services I would be permitted to rent for a weekend. She said that laws had been changed in our state to allow Gordon to accompany me in restaurants, where I had informed her my feelings of loneliness were exaggerated by the idea of sitting alone amid whispering diners.

I deferred, of course, to Ms. Edgeworth’s abilities as a Natural Psychologist, but I had no idea the expense involved. The laws had been changed, as she suggested, but the law also required the ESA patient to write a therapy letter that had to be evaluated by a mental health professional. The law also required that an ESA vest be purchased by each individual patient, an ESA travel kit is required, regardless if the patient plans to travel or not, and this includes the registration card and a survival guide. On top of that, I had to pay Ms. Edgeworth’s rental fees, and the high-priced food that Gordon eats. Ms. Edgeworth was kind enough to provide the evaluation of my therapy letter, and the various other products I would. I probably should’ve been more skeptical when the bill was placed before me, but I was in such a desperate place at that time in my life, and I considered the idea that Gordon might be the light at the end of my dark, lonely tunnel.

I wasn’t sure what to expect of Gordon, but when I met him I was giddy. The thought that this dog might help me get well, as a result of the companionship the ESA program promised, made me think that my life might change.

Gordon’s size was intimidating, but that was countered by the almost comically sad face the Newfoundland is graced with, and the very sweet disposition. I laughed when I saw him. This laughter was born of the preposterous nature of the idea, but it was also born of the idea that it was so silly that it might just worked. I tried everything else, I rationalized, who am I to say that the companionship this dog offers cannot offer healing properties. On top of all that, Gordon was such a beautiful dog that I wanted to love this him, just to love something, just to feel whole again.

I am not a dog guy, however, I am not a cat guy, a goldfish guy, or a pet guy in general. My family had a couple of dogs when I was younger, but I never bonded with them in the manner kids will. It’s not that I have a problem with animals. I don’t loathe them, and I am not afraid of them. They are just not for me, as I will detail, but I was eager to pursue any idea that I thought might get me out of this funk I was in, until the dog licked me in the face.

This need dogs have to lick is the primary reason I’ve never had a dog as an adult. It repulses me, and I have to restrain myself when a friend’s dog sneaks in a lick of my arm or leg. It’s just a leg or an arm, I think to coach myself down, but something happens when a dog licks me in the face. I am unable to find my happy place, and I probably make a fool out of myself, but it’s traumatic to me. I don’t know if I have some deep-rooted psychological issue, or if it’s just so disgusting to me that I can’t control my reaction, but I consider it an affront every bit as personal as a slap to the face.

I told Ms. Edgeworth all of this. All of it. She was nonplussed by what I informed her were the facts of my being. She informed me that to Gordon, a lick was the equivalent to a handshake, and that we wouldn’t be able to work together, unless I allowed Gordon one lick. I don’t know if I was so caught up in this dilemma at hand, but I swear I saw a plea in Gordon’s face.

“If you’re aversion to licking is that intense,” Ms. Edgeworth said. “We may want to consider permitting him a sniff of your crotch. We have to find a way to allow Gordon to bond with you.”

When faced with this alternative, I decided that a lick to the face would be less psychologically damaging than the idea of voluntarily placing my crotch in front of Gordon. I had never tried to get a dog to sniff my crotch, and I suspected that it could require repeated attempts as Gordon likely wouldn’t know what we were trying to do. I realized that I may have to engage in repeated attempts to keep this dog’s nose on my crotch, until Gordon granted me with a sniff. In a roundabout way, I knew that I would interpret the failed attempts as Gordon rejecting me, and I wasn’t sure how I would deal with that.

When Gordon licked me, a part of me expected a spiritual connection to develop, but this was no single swipe of the tongue. This was a full-fledged, pore-penetrating lick that led me to believe I may have sacrificed some layers of skin for the cause. My recollections of this moment occur in slow-motion, and I imagine that it took a full five seconds, though I know it may have lasted about two. The saliva of the Newfoundland is renowned for its near-gelatinous thickness, but what I felt on my face reminded me of the congealed substance that the alien in the movie Alien had dripping from its mouth. I scrubbed my face raw for about two days trying to rid myself for what I assumed had disfigured my face.

My disgust, at the time, must have been apparent for Ms. Edgeworth cautioned me to avoid wiping my face.

“Don’t wipe it off,” Ms. Edgeworth said. “Not until he looks away, anyway,” she cautioned.

Gordon’s sad eyes stayed on me for an elongated period of time, until it looked at Ms. Edgeworth.  I wiped it off, as she squealed:

“He likes you,” Ms. Edgeworth said. Whatever look he gave her confirmed her hopes that we get along, and she was giddy. She was clapping. “You’re in!” She said that with a sense of accomplishment for all parties involved.

I felt helpless to accept this dog as my savoir. I retained the services of Gordon on weekends. I signed up for the night shift on Fridays, and the day shift on Saturday and Sunday.

I was a little skeptical, seeing as how I was, in essence, paying Ms. Edgeworth to babysit her dog for a weekend while she engaged in an active social life, but these fears were quelled in the next Scorpio Man group session I attended. One Scorpio Man sang the praises of ESA’s in general, and Gordon in particular. He said that Gordon was a loving dog that sought constant companionship, and he said that feeding, watering, and walking Gordon also provided a sense of responsibility that distracted this man from his pain in life. Another Scorpio Man stood up and detailed for the group how Gordon gave him the courage to make a clean break from God. I wasn’t sure how true these claims were, but I did know that the person making these claims believed them. I couldn’t help but be awed by such claims, and I looked forward to witnessing my own progress in this regard.

When Gordon began whimpering at my table, that first day at a Denny’s, I gave him some of my sandwich. When he whimpered more, I gave him more. When he began walking around in circles, I believed he was searching for a comfortable place to rest. I was calculating how much it would cost me to keep this beast fed when the already weighted silence that the patrons at the Denny’s had greeted us with upon entrance –witnessing a grown man, with no apparent ailments, enter a Denny’s with a dog– grew more weighted and concentrated on Gordon.

I’ve never owned a pet as an adult, as I said, and I never paid attention to those dogs my family owned. If I did pay them any attention, it was not to the point that I learned a dog’s rhythms or routines. If the others in the restaurant knew them better than I did, and they said nothing, when Gordon proceeded to arch his back and lower his bottom to dispense of extraneous nutrients, that was on them. I, honestly, didn’t know what was going on.

There were no shrieks when the dog began responding to his biological needs, but the silence of the restaurant strengthened, until a few giggles leaked through. I was embarrassed when I saw the source of the commotion, but what could I do?  How does one stop a dog, once they’ve started the process? I was so embarrassed, looking out on the patrons. I attempted to pretend that nothing had happened, and that I hadn’t noticed it.

Two patrons stood up, their meal half-eaten, and they left the restaurant without paying.

“Excuse me sir,” the waiter said. “I believe your dog has gone to the bathroom on the carpet.”

“I know,” I said. “And I am sorry.  I’m sorry!” I called the latter out to the remaining patrons.

“We’re going to have to ask you to clean it up,” he said.

I showed him the evaluation that Ms. Edgeworth had provided my therapy letter. I showed him Gordon’s registration card, and I informed him that I didn’t think cleaning up after Gordon would be conducive to my therapeutic progress. “I’m a man born under the astrological sign of the Scorpio,” I said. I thought that would bring clarity to our discussion.

The waiter gave me that look that I’ve detailed in my first testimonial. I could feel my therapy begin to regress under the weight of that look.

“You brought the dog in sir,” the waiter concluded. “I believe it’s your responsibility to clean up after it.”

“Sorry,” I said. “I can’t.”

The waiter consulted his manager, who kindly scooped up Gordon’s offense.

I informed Ms. Maria Edgeworth that that ordeal only caused me more distress, and she decided that I needed to explore the benefits of her Eastern Medicine cabinet. We tried this before, of course, and I was dubious about their medicinal properties, and I informed her that I considered them to expensive for my budget.

“I understand,” Ms. Maria Edgeworth said. “But at this point, a better question may be, can you afford not to?” 

Ms. Edgeworth was an excellent Natural Psychologist. She administered to my needs, throughout the years of our professional relationship, in a manner that suggested that she cared about me, as a person. She listened to everything I had to say, she offered me advice, and she was a patient steward of my life. I write this disclaimer, based on her reaction to my claim that Gordon did me more harm than good. Her claim that I needed to pursue the pharmacology of the Eastern Medicine was so, how should I say this, urgent. She even placed me on a time table for payment, which she never did before, and she basically placed me on a time table for taking these drugs, saying that I needed to do something to help me get past my traumatic episode. The idea of doing nothing prompted me to say that I would do some research on that which she prescribed. I didn’t even want to do that, but I was in pain, and I wanted that to end as quick as possible.

I had that itemized list of medicines before me, off to the left of my laptop. I was ensconced in research on the medicinal properties of the drugs that Ms. Edgeworth had listed for me, and I had already checked three off. I calculated that I may not be able to make the payments on these drugs, according to Ms. Edgeworth’s timetable. Therefore, I entered my company’s website and saw that overtime would be available to me at the click of a mouse. I had the amount of hours filled in the blank, and all of the boxes checked. All I had to do was click enter, and my next two weekends would be gone. I didn’t hit the button. I surfed. I discovered the miracle.

It started with a simple, little link on a news site. The link to this story read, “NASA Changed all of the Astrological Signs, and I’m a Crab Now.” I wouldn’t say that I was awash with relief at the sight of the words on the page, but I did read the 1,000 word article in about a minute, and I reread it for the next five. My emotions drifted between euphoria and confusion. It seemed odd that after 3,000 years of study that everything would just change. It seemed so arbitrary. It seemed like a spoof.

I’ve fallen for stories online before. I think we all have. I went up to the title of the article, to make sure it wasn’t a piece from The Onion, or some other spoof news site. I went to a search engine and entered the words, “NASA changes Astrology”. I took a deep breath, and I hit enter. One of the first posts listed was from a site called NASASpacePlace. It appeared as a kiddie information page will, but it also appeared to confirm the declarations of what I had worried might be a spoof piece. Rereading this, and reading again that it was from NASA, I decided that it was a page designed for kids, but it was still from NASA. How could anyone consider this anything but primary source information, I wondered. I watched YouTube discussions on the matter, I watched news clips from local and national broadcasts.

That piece from NASA should’ve been sufficient, but after everything I had been through I couldn’t achieve a sense of confirmation that brought me peace, until I had overwhelming evidence of the fact that everything had changed.

I felt free. I felt peaceful and fair-minded. I felt like a balanced man that seeks cooperation among his fellow men and women. I felt more diplomatic, and gracious. I felt like a social man that no longer needed to be accompanied by a dog in a Denny’s. I felt like a Libra.

Here are the facts I attained from exhaustive searches, for those suffering from anything close to what I’ve been through, NASA decided to do the math on the astronomy put forth by the Babylonians, and they discovered a thirteenth symbol, an Ophiuchus constellation, that the Babylonians had arbitrarily left off their calculations. The term discovered, I’ve found is incorrect, as other sites confirmed that NASA, and the astrology community as a whole, have known about the Ophiuchus constellation, and arbitrary calculations of the Babylonians for years. I enter this for the sole purpose of refuting the use of the term discovered, as it pertains to something they just found to be true. They didn’t recently find it, most of the articles detail, they’ve known about it for years. They also detailed that:

“The sky has shifted because the Earth’s axis (North Pole) doesn’t point in quite the same direction that it once had.

“The constellations are different sizes and shapes,” NASA furthered. “So the Sun spends different lengths of time lined up with each one. The line from Earth through the Sun points to Virgo for 45 days, but it points to Scorpius for only 7 days. To make a tidy match with their 12-month calendar, the Babylonians ignored the fact that the Sun actually moves through 13 constellations, not 12. Then they assigned each of those 12 constellations equal amounts of time. Besides the 12 familiar constellations of the zodiac, the Sun is also aligned with Ophiuchus for about 18 days each year.”

What took them so long, was the first question I had. Why did NASA decide now to come forth with this information now? How long did they wait? When did the Earth’s shift become apparent? When did the manipulation of the Babylonians become mathematically apparent, and how long was NASA sitting on this information? Something tells me that one of the reasons that NASA listed the excuse that “Astronomy is not Astrology” is that they knew the chaos this would bring to so many lives. Something tells me that the men and women of NASA sat around boardrooms trying to figure out a way to reveal their findings, but they didn’t have the courage to come forth. This is speculation on my part, but I have this sneaking suspicion that a lot of my pain could’ve been eased by them coming forth with this information sooner.

One answer I found is that we live on, and I quote, a wobbly earth:

“This wobble, a phenomenon called precession, has altered the position of the constellations we see today.”

This begs the question, what defines a person? Some say that a person is most defined by their parents, the rest of their family, and friends. Other suggest that class and the location of one’s maturity are determining factors, as in a person born in a tough neighborhood in East Saint Louis is going to view the world in a fundamentally different way than a person born ten hours away in small town, Kansas. Those that I listened to for too many years said, in a roundabout manner, that a person born under the Sagittarius ecliptic, for example, is going to be the same whether they were born in the depths of poverty, in a third world country, or in the richest cities of the richest nations on earth, unless, apparently, the earth wobbles.

One of the unfortunate characteristics of the Libra Man that I’ve known for so long, is that we do hold grudges. The first grudge I would like to hold, as a Libra Man, is directed at the Babylonians. They developed the 12-month calendar, and they wanted their constellations to match that calendar, so they arbitrarily picked a constellation, Ophiuchus, to leave off and thus match that calendar. I’m quite sure that if they knew that this calendar, and its accompanying listing of the Sun’s movement, would last 3,000 years, they might have reconsidered leaving one constellation out, but my question is why did it take so long for us to make this correction? Do those that decided to wait have any sympathy for those that have suffered for so long? We’ve been through personal and financial hell as a result of their delay, to prove that we were never ruled by Mars the god of war and Pluto the god of the underworld, and that we were not ruled by some dark force in our nature.

I don’t care what it is, any time something earth shattering of this nature arises, true believers will say something to account for these changes. They say that they knew all along, that there are different kinds of astrology, and that it’s more a reading of relationships between stars, planets and other heavenly bodies than it is a direct reading of a person’s nature through the stars. It was for this reason that Ms. Edgeworth proclaimed that I was making a mistake by firing her, and “that would be only be fully realized over time.”

I asked her if she had read the NASASpacePlace post. She said she had.

“Then you know,” I said with less confidence. “Everything has changed.”

“Nothing has changed,” she said. “NASA works from a Sidereal Zodiac, which is different from the Tropical Zodiac you and I have been working from in your therapy. The Tropical Zodiac has not changed. Astronomers have known about the differences between the two studies and the 13th constellation since about 100 B.C. It’s been rumored for a year that NASA would be evaluating the findings of astronomers from the Minnesota Planetarium Society found regarding the moon’s gravitational pull on Earth, and the affect it had on the alignment of the stars.”

“Okay,” I said. “Why didn’t you tell the rest of us? Why did you lead some of us to believe that astrology was based, in part, on a science consistent with astronomy?”

“As I’ve always said,” she said in a manner politicians will when they have been nothing but inconsistent or vague. She also concluded this intro with my name, another marker I’ve found among those that are attempting to make a personal connection when they are being inconsistent or vague (see lying). “Astrology is geocentric. It involves the children of earth, and the mother of nature, and the dramatic effects of her seasons. It’s also been in place since Ptolemy first made calculations on the Zodiac for Tropical, or Western astrology. This strain of the zodiac is not affected by NASA’s re-calibration.”

“Then why have a number of publications decided to publish new star dates based on NASA’s findings?” I asked. “I’ve noticed that some of these publications are sitting in your waiting area.”

When she answered this question, I noticed, not for the first time, what a beautiful woman Ms. Edgeworth is. Ms. Edgeworth is a very smart person, with a rich vocabulary, and a person that should have received an honorary degree in persuasion, but she is also beautiful. The reason this matters is that in my plight to find happiness, I believed everything she said. I believed every proclamation, every diagnosis, and every prescription she provided for what ailed me, because I wanted to believe her. I wanted to believe that she knew a secret password, or handshake, to the world of beautiful women. I thought she could tell me something I missed. I began to wonder, as she answered my last question, if her appearance had been bland, and she was slightly overweight, if I would’ve spent years, and as much money as I had, in our professional relationship. She did answer every question I had, sort of. She answered me bold in some areas, but in others, she deflected, obfuscated, and outright avoided my question.

“I’ve decided to go another way,” I said.

“I-I’m sorry to hear that,” she said, again mentioning my name. She sounded so sad. There were tears in her voice. She sounded like a jilted lover, and that hurt. That hurt me. My resolve, in the silence that followed, nearly broke. I wanted to be happy, but I also wanted her to be happy. She was, is, and always will be a nice person, and this hold she had on me was difficult to break.

I knew I never had unusual inclinations to murder, a dark side if you will, and these feelings have now been borne out. I knew that that designation was not correct when it came to me, and I believed that it was as unfair as suggesting that all Italians have fiery tempers, and all Irish drink massive amounts of beer, but the people around me believed these things about Scorpion Man, and they convinced me that there was something needed to expunge from my being.

I contemplated suing NASA for the delays they had in coming forth with this information, that cost me thousands of dollars. I asked a lawyer friend of mine what he thought, and he informed me that that lawsuit might be one of the few that gets tossed out for lack of merit. I told him it might be worth it, however, just to go through the discovery phase of a trial to learn what information NASA had and when. When did they discover the purposeful error on the part of the Babylonians and when did they decide to make this information public, and how much money have I, and others, spent in the interim, trying to convince the world that while all of us have dark sides, the dark side of the supposed Scorpio Man is no more prominent than any others?

Long story short, I’m free. I don’t care what excuses they try to come up with. I know nothing about the differences between Tropical and Sidereal Astrology, and I honestly don’t care. My desperation to be something better led me to believe in something I now consider exposed for its arbitrary nature. The field of astrology may not be a money-making scheme for rubes, and if it is its own science then I am free of it. I no longer have to lie about the Sun’s positioning at the time of my birth. I can feel comfortable, for the first time in my life, about my celestial phenomenon in relation to my Sun’s positioning. I feel free to look people in the eye again. I no longer have to endure expensive and intensive Scorpio Evolvement sessions, and Ms. Maria Edgeworth’s group sessions with those of us suffering from Male Scorpion debilities, I have been able to fire Ms. Maria Edgeworth, I discontinued Gordon’s services, and I am now considered a man of balance, a Libra Man, thanks to NASA. I do have some empathy for those few that are still under the Scorpio classification, though they have narrowed their date range to less than a week, November 23 to November 29. This is largely a good thing, as there should be as few Scorpions as possible on this planet, but I am no longer one of them.

Hot Dog Gets Ketchup

The most exciting play of the 10/2/2016, fourth week of the NFL, for me, was a legal hit by Atlanta Falcons Linebacker Deion Jones on Carolina Panthers Quarterback Cam Newton, as Newton jogged to the end zone for a two-point conversion. The jog, for those not familiar with Cam Newton’s show-boating style of play, is a deliberate pace Newton will use to make the defense look even worse for their inability to stop him, than they may have looked had he completed the play at full speed. Jones’ hit was not only an attempt to punish Newton for a slow jog, that was intended to humiliate the Falcons defense, it was revenge for a previous play in which Newton got in Jones’ fan to celebrate a first down, a play in which Newton was flagged for excessive celebration. Deion Jones’ hit not only wobbled Jones, it sent Newton to the locker room with a concussion.


Although I’m not for players getting injured, I am all for “on the field” justice. As it stands right now, the NFL permits an offensive player a number of different celebrations, and the defensive player is not permitted to retaliate for the offensive player celebrating. The player from the offense is permitted to walk off the field of play without any form of retribution for that celebration. I realize that the NFL attempted to make all celebrations illegal, years ago, and that that attempt resulted in a public relations nightmare that led to fans and writers calling it the “No Fun League”, but if the NFL is going to allow “some” celebrations and some showboating, within strict guidelines, they should permit “some” retributions for those celebrations, within strict guidelines. If I were to write this “retributions” rule, it would follow some of the other rules the NFL has instituted for other plays. It would permit “one player from the defense one shot against a celebrant that is below the head and above the knees, and it has to occur in the midst of the offensive players’ theatrics, or in an acceptable time thereafter.” This addendum to the celebrations rule, would allow professional football players to clean up their own in a manner similar to the manner baseball players and hockey players are allowed to clean up their game.

Cam Newton may be an excellent teammate, and an all-around good guy off the field, but I, like most football fans, only care about his on the field activities. On the field, a Cam Newton is emblematic of the “me-first” athletes that are not afraid to humiliate their opponents, because there is no real retribution for doing so. Part of Cam’s alleged charm that he is willing to mock other players, and walk away with the knowledge that those players can’t do anything to him.

“If you don’t want me to celebrate, don’t let me score,” Cam Newton said to those that have suggested that his celebrations were over the top. I would have less of a complaint if football were more of a mano y mano game, in the manner say boxing, tennis, or golf are. Cam’s line of defense suggests that the defense is trying to stop him, and him alone, and that they cannot do it. Yet, Newton has an offensive line keeping the defense away from him, and a number of different threats on the field that the defense has to consider before attacking Cam Newton. If the NFL were to allow “some” retribution, and perhaps allow Cam Newton to retaliate against the retaliation, that would result in a limited hockey-like scrum that the officials would allow for a period of time before it got out of hand, and league rules would prohibit anyone but the celebrant and the defensive player from participating in this scrum, Cam Newton could say something along the lines of: “You’re allowed to retaliate, I challenge you to retaliate.” As it stands, Cam Newton is protected from most hits by players, and rules, and he is allowed to celebrate in a manner that the defensive players are forced to walk away from, until it builds such resentment in the defensive player that a legal hit, such as the 10/2/2016 Deion Jones hit, is a lot more volatile than it would have been otherwise.

A Review of Suicide Squad

The first and last thing that the audience of the movie Suicide Squad should know is that Intelligence Operative Amanda Waller is one bad mujer (as opposed to hombre).  It is imperative to the plot of the movie that the audience member regard this paper pushing bureaucrat in a pant suit(?) as an intimidating figure that warrants such respect from the most ruthless, murderers of our society that they are willing to do whatever they have to do to prevent her from being cross with them.

If you are not convinced that a bureaucrat –a character that is often depicted as a bumbling fool in so many other movies of this genre that the creators of this movie knew that they would have to continually shove the audience over this otherwise insurmountable hill– can be intimidating, you will be inundated by the characters in this movie informing you that they are intimidated by her.

Advance-Ticket-Promos-Amanda-Waller-suicide-squad-39774461-500-281Operative Waller is respectfully trumpeted as “The boss” by a ruthless, murderous character in one scene.  The question that immediately comes to mind is, why does this bad guy care what the institutional makeup of the hierarchy constructed against him is?  If he is a ruthless bad guy, one would think his entire existence has been to thwart authority, regardless its makeup.  Waller is then depicted (by the same ruthless, murderous character) as an intimidating leader that knows how to fire up the troops in another scene.  Again, why does he care?  He’s being informed that he is going to be forced on a mission that stands in direct opposition to his principles.  One would think that his goal would be to thwart that mission, regardless who is delivering the steps of the mission to him.  In a third scene, in which Waller enters a room shrouded by ominous music, another ruthless, murderous character asks her if she is the devil.  Why a ruthless, murderous character would show such deference, respect, and intimidation to anyone, much less a paper pushing bureaucrat, is not explained.  Yet, as the movie progresses, we learn that it’s germane to the plot that the audience know that they do.

We then learn that Waller is not only respected and feared by “the worst of the worst”, but she is actually liked by them, as evidenced by one of the ruthless, murderous characters saying, “I like her.”  This is the only scene in which the audience is left to infer that Waller has the type of powerful, bad ass leadership qualities that a ruthless, murderous character can appreciate.  In the other scenes, the audience is pounded over the head with this idea so many times that it becomes redundant.

I write the word idea, as opposed to fact, because as anyone that has ever attempted to write knows, a fictional fact can be established in the minds of an audience by showing that character in action.  An idea, on the other hand, is transferred to the audience by having the characters tell the audience something.  Those that have attempted to write novels or short stories, are informed that telling an audience something, as opposed to showing them, is a violation of the highest order, and in movies this is an even more severe violation.  Unless, that is, there are future scenes of action to establish the idea to the point of fact.  If there is only telling, the audience will still be left with notion that the characterization has not been proven.

There is one attempt to prove, or establish, the bona fides of the Waller character in a scene in which she whips out a machine gun and ruthlessly kills some of her employees, and the characters that surround her are shocked by this action, and one of them says something along the lines of, “I thought I was supposed to be the bad guy.”  By this point, however, the movie has established the fact that these bad guys have ruthlessly killed so many men that one ruthless act should be considered relatively meaningless to them.  One can guess that anyone, even a murderous thug, would be shocked to witness a bureaucrat taking out the office with a machine gun, but one would also think that a murderous thug would follow such shock by either laughing at a paper pushing bureaucrat’s attempt to appear intimidating, or they might find some sort of camaraderie with her after such an action.  Neither is the case in this particular movie.  They gain so much respect for her that they’re intimidated.  It’s germane to the plot.

One could say that a portion of the fear, intimidation, and respect the ruthless, murderers have for Waller is based on the fact that she holds their lives in her hand, but since when do irrational, murderous thugs fear for their own lives, in the movies?  Such characters are supposed to have an unusual disregard for their own lives.  And since when do ruthless characters, purported to have no respect for anything, begin to respect anything or anyone?  We do witness these murderers disrespect their more immediate authority figures, early on in the movie, but when it comes time for them to meet their ultimate authority figure, they have respect for her.  One would think that a rebellious group of murderous thugs would hate and disrespect an ultimate authority figure more.  They don’t, because she’s a paper pushing bureaucrat in a pant suit.  It’s germane to the plot.

My guess is that the actor that played Ms. Waller either did not inspire fear and respect in market testing, or the creative powers that put this movie together feared that the audience would have a tough time making the leap to a pant suit wearing bureaucrat engendering such intimidation from the ruthless, murderous bad guys (turned good guys! Surprise!! Spoiler Alert!!!) that they would do whatever she says.  Whatever the case is, the actors that play the bad guys in the movie are forced to deliver stilted lines that suggest that they respect her more than any of the non-pant suit wearing contingent that attempt to take temporary leadership roles in the movie.

I understand that it is germane to the plot that these ruthless murderers go servile to a paper pushing bureaucrat, but in most movies any level of respect, fear, or intimidation a bad guy may feel for the ultimate authority figure is either unattainable for that authority figure, due to the ruthless, irrational nature of the bad guy, or it’s left unsaid and constantly rebelled against.  About the only time, a bad guy concedes to an authority figure, if ever, is after the authority figure has achieved unquestioned victory at the conclusion of the movie, and even that is often left unsaid.

Most movies attempt to define the relationship between the bad guys and the ultimate authority figures that they fear, or hate, in the movie, as existing by means of a tenuous thread.  This helps define the conflict of the movie, the relative nature of good versus evil, and further characterization for the characters involved in this conflict that is, for the most part left unsaid, with the action sequences saying more than lines of dialogue ever could.  The place we’re currently in, at this point on the timeline of movie making, dictates that we place females in a position of power, and that more often than not those females be some sort of minority.  The movie makers do this with a combination of bravado and insecurity, the latter being something they feel they have to compensate for with constant verbal references to the ultimate authority figure’s power, her ability, and the manner in which everyone that encounters her, backs down for no discernible reason, and they do so in a manner that ends up proving to be detrimental to the ruthless, irrational characteristics that they hoped to instill in the murderous characters.  If we are going to continue to insist that females be in positions of power, in our movies, we are all going to have to agree that this can happen, and it is plausible, if for no other reason than to end this preoccupation movie makers have for establishing the idea that it can happen, and that it is plausible with tedious, redundant, over-the top characterizations that supplement what the movie makers must fear is a lack of whatever they think makes us believe is impossible regarding characters in their movies.

Trickle-Down Economics or Trickle-Down Government?

“Trickle-down economics”, also referred to as “trickle-down theory”, is a populist political term used to characterize economic policies as favoring the wealthy or privileged.” –Google definition.

I appreciate the idea that one of the primary duties of a search engine is to provide concise definitions for their customers, and I do not fault Google for what I consider to be an incomplete definition, but to my mind the ideal definition of the term would be the following: ‘Trickle-down economics’, also referred to as ‘trickle-down theory’, is a populist political term used (primarily by opponents) to characterize economic policies (with which they disagree) as favoring the wealthy or privileged.’  (It should be noted that those that helped to write the definition of the term, for Wikipediahave included the first parenthetical addition.)

(Credit: Center for Media and Democracy)

(Credit: Center for Media and Democracy)

I realize that, in some ways, these additions might result in the perception that the search engine is taking a side in the argument, but as economist, Dr. Thomas Sowell, writes in his book Basic Economics, the term “trickle-down” is not a proper characterization of the laissez-faire, supply-side economists view that favors freeing up markets.  Their goal, attained through a lowering of regulations on business, a lower capital gains tax, and a lower corporate tax rate, would not provide benefit specific to the wealthy or privileged, as much as it would all enterprising risk takers, regardless of their income.

One of the biggest myths that those of us overwhelmed by the intricacies and complexities involved in understanding economic theory buy into is that an increased tax rate always leads to more revenue for the government.  It seems like simple math to suggest that if the government taxes a corporation one percent on 100 million in their profit, the government will receive one million dollars, two percent equals two million, and the higher the tax rate the more a government receives to then redistribute accordingly.  This is what economist Arthur Laffer has characterized as an “arithmetic effect”.

What the arithmetic effect does not account for is how much taxable activity is discouraged by higher taxes.  Economist Arthur Laffer points out that everyone knows that if you tax a corporation 0%, the government will receive 0% in revenue, but what may not seem as logical on the face of it is, if the government taxes a corporation 100%, the government will also receive 0% in revenue, because the taxed individual, or corporation, will begin to lessen their activity to avoid greater taxation.

What this illustrates, by means of exaggeration, is that there are points in between at which companies, and individuals, decide that it doesn’t make good business sense to continue to engage in taxable activity, at full capacity, if the tax rate on that activity is too high.  There is a point in between, suggests Laffer, a point that some now call the Laffer Curve, that suggests that there is a sweet spot in the tax rate that encourages greater taxable activity, broadens the tax base by encouraging greater employment, and can end up resulting in greater revenue for the federal government.

If the supply-side argument were solely about a “trickle-down” idea, one would think that they would be obsessed with the rich keeping more of their money to the point that it might make sense for them to suggest that there be a 0% tax-rate, or at least a single-digit tax-rate, but that is not what Laffer, Sowell, or any supply-side economists call for.  They call for a tax rate that encourages greater economic, and thus more taxable activity that they believe should result in more revenue for the government.  If their sole focus was directed at the rich keeping more of their money, their theories would focus more on the federal income tax rate. What they are more concerned with is lowering the corporate tax rate, the capital gains tax, and lessen burdensome government regulation to allow for a more stratified economy by encouraging more middle class investment and risk taking. The middle class risk takers comprise a large percentage of employers of our society, and most of them are not successful in their efforts, much less wealthy.  The politicians that state that they need to create jobs for Americans, rarely do anything for these employers.

Warren Buffett and the Already Wealthy

Ask any individual that is already wealthy, or privileged, about paying taxes, and they will inform that inquisitive person that they don’t mind paying taxes, that they’re not paying enough in taxes, and that they think they should be paying more.  The listener cannot help but consider such an an answer to be wonderful, altruistic, and patriotic.  What Warren Buffett will not add is that paying more in taxes will not hurt him, because he already has his money, and he doesn’t mind paying as many taxes as he could possibly pay, until the IRS tries to collect those taxes, and Warren Buffet takes them to court and succeeds in keeping more of his millions.

A person like Warren Buffett may have been for lower taxes, decreased regulations, and a lessened role of government in the economy when he was starting out, but it no longer benefits him in the manner it may the enterprising risk taker that deigns to compete with one of the blue chip companies Warren Buffett owns shares in.  The already wealthy and privileged few –like Warren Buffett– would be more apt to encourage federal regulators to regulate and tax the industries of the companies he has shares in more.  In doing so, a wealthy and privileged type like Warren Buffet hopes the government can help him diminish current competitors and drive away any future risk takers that may aspire to compete with a Wells Fargo, IBM, Coca Cola, or any of the other big, blue chip companies he owns shares in.  Yet, any time Warren Buffet appears on TV, everyone is surprised to hear him sound more like Barack Obama than Ronald Reagan.  Why wouldn’t he, I want to shout, he already has his.

The Straw Man Argument

Some believe the term “trickle-down economics” can be traced back to the humorist, Will Rogers, and his attempts to demonize the policies of President Herbert Hoover for the benefit of the Franklin D. Roosevelt campaign, and the term has since been used, in high profile circles, by those that voice opposition to such theories, as a straw man argument of what the other side believes. 

As Thomas Sowell writes in his book Basic Economics:

“No recognized economist of any school of thought has ever had any such theory or made any such proposal.  It is a straw man.  It cannot be found in even the most voluminous and learned histories of economic theories.

 “What is sought by those that advocate lower rates of taxation or other reductions of government’s role in the economy is not the transfer of existing wealth to higher income earners or businesses but the creation of additional wealth when businesses are less hampered by government controls or by increasing government appropriation of that additional wealth under steeply progressive taxation laws. Whatever the merits or demerits of this view, this is the argument that is made – and which is not confronted, but evaded, by talk of a non-existent ‘trickle down’ theory.

 “Whether in the United States or in India, and whether in the past or in the present, ‘trickle down’ has been a characterization and rejection of what somebody else supposedly believed.  Moreover, it has been considered unnecessary (by opponents) to cite any given person who had actually advocated any such thing.

 “The real effect of a reduction in the capital gains tax is that it opens the prospect of greater future net profits and thereby provides incentives to make current investments that create current employment.”

If one were to corner me in a supermarket and ask me about supply side economics, based on the curve that Arthur Laffer reintroduced to the world, that opponents call trickle-down economics, I might concede to the idea that this economic theory was intended to favor the wealthy and industrial types at first, but that we live in a stratified economy, as opposed to a top down economy (with the top being government), and a stratified economy calls for the success of the businesses across all classes, and when the government steps in with its invisible hand to determine winners and losers, it crushes the little guys first.  Thomas Sowell would say that even that is a fundamental misreading of the manner in which economic processes work.

“Economic processes work in the directly opposite way from that depicted by those that imagine that profits first benefit business owners and that benefits only belatedly trickle down to workers.

“When an investment is made, whether to build a railroad or to open a new restaurant, the first money is spent hiring people to do the work.  Without that, nothing happens.  Even when one person decides to operate a store or hamburger stand without employees, that person must first pay somebody to deliver the goods that are being sold. Money goes out first to pay expenses and then comes back as profits later – if at all. The high rate of failure of new businesses makes painfully clear that there is nothing inevitable about the money coming back.

“Even with successful and well-established businesses, years may elapse between the initial investment and the return of earnings.  From the time when an oil company begins spending money to explore for petroleum to the time when the first gasoline resulting from that exploration comes out of a pump at a filling station, a decade may have passed.  In the meantime, all sorts of employees have been paid – geologists, engineers, refinery workers, and truck drivers, for example.  It is only afterwards that profits begin coming in.  Only then are there any capital gains to tax. The real effect of a reduction in the capital gains tax is that it opens the prospect of greater future net profits and thereby provides incentives to make current investments that create current employment.”

The ignorance of the many (myself included) of the complications inherent in economic theory allows opponents of that economic theory to fragment and frame that economic theory in such a way that it can be reduced to a misleading soundbite: Trickle-down economics.  I do not think I’m alone when I write that even though Dr. Sowell has a talent for making the complex understandable, the quotes I’ve provided here leave some forms of cerebral indigestion for which rereading is the only remedy.  In the midst of such confusion, opponents step in to provide relief from this confusion, and arduous reading, by giving us a ‘benefit the wealthy and privileged’ soundbite.

The Big Corporation and Big Government Relationship

One of the methods novices can use to try and understand a complex economic theory, such as that espoused by Dr. Sowell and others, is to understand what it is not.  What is the opposite of lessened regulations, and lower business specific taxes?  Some call it Keynesianism economics.  Keynesian economics is often employed in times of crisis (i.e. recession or depression) and it basically calls for government intervention in the economy to resolve that crisis.  Keynesians often call for “work ready jobs” that have been characterized as one group of employees digging a hole, while another group covers that hole.  The short-term purpose of such infrastructure jobs is to get us over the short-term, temporary, bump of a failing economy.  The problem that results from these temporary, short-term resolutions is that when government establishes a role in the economy, for emergency purposes, it rarely rolls those temporary measures back when the emergency has been resolved, as most politicians will not concede that an emergency –that they have been called upon to fix– is ever resolved.

This ends up establishing a greater, accepted involvement of the government in the economy that Big Corporations learn how to operate within, until they begin using it to their advantage, and a mutually beneficial relationship is established that allows Big Government to grow bigger, and AND Big Corporations to grow bigger in an incestuous relationship that creates the climate some call crony capitalism.  Some may find this hard to believe, but Warren Buffett, his blue chip companies, and all of those listed in the Dow actually favor more regulations, higher corporate tax rates, higher capital gains rates, and a larger role of federal government in their respective industry.

‘Why would a Big greedy Corporation call for more taxes, more regulations, and more complications within their own industry?  Doesn’t that affect their profit margin?’  The answer is the reason that there are now more millionaires in Washington D.C., per capita, than in any other place in the United States.  It is also the answer to the question how the economy can continue to grow at an anemic rate while the stock market soars to record levels.  Crony capitalism results in Big Corporations (and their lobbyists) joining hands with government officials (and their agencies) to pass onerous regulations and high corporate tax rates, so that the rich can get richer and the poor get poorer, and a truer form of trickle-down economics could be said to exist with the government at the top.

When the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently passed regulations on E-Cigarettes, or Vapor cigarettes, for example, they did so in a manner that shocked those that normally loathe corporate America and favor regulating Big Corporate America in a way that they believe, somehow, benefits everyone else.  The FDA regulations actually ended up favoring the Big Three Corporations in the smoking industry, or those that have the means, and the set aside money, to comply with those regulations and the resultant applications.  The Little Guys that attempted to establish brand names in the industry, and carve out their own niche, will eventually be unable to afford these expenses and still turn a profit on the product, so the Big Three will be the only ones left that can afford to sell and distribute E-Cigarettes and Vapor cigarettes.  Why would these Big Three corporations do this, if they are already in the E-Cigarettes segment of the market, but not dominating it yet, or if they are not already in the market, but they have plans to be?  They were utilizing Big Government to crush the little guys in their industry?  The very definition of what some politicos call crony capitalism.

Some may say that the FDA’s regulations in the E-Cigarette, or Vapor cigarette industry may have inadvertently helped the Big Three in their plans to dominate this segment of the industry, but that the primary goal of the FDA was to help the consumer understand that E-cigarettes and Vapor cigarettes either contain toxins that are harmful to their health, or that the companies in the industry must prove that they don’t, and they must warn the public if they can’t.  In the case of this particular FDA regulation, however, Michael Siegel writes that there were alternatives to protect the consumer in the ways the FDA stated that these regulations would, but that the FDA chose the most the route most beneficial for the Big Three.  One could deduce, based on the particulars of the regulations listed in Siegel’s piece, that the FDA acted in a manner that the Big Three’s lobbyists called for, as these regulations helped the Big Three crush the little guys in the segment in such a manner that will leave the Big Three as the sole competitors.

Some are also suggesting that the manner in which the Big Three in this industry conspired with the government to take over the E-cigarette segment of the business, lays a road map for how they will take over the marijuana industry if that product is legalized in the United States.

So the next time a powerful politician suggests that “trickle-down economics” does not work, remember that is in their best interests to mischaracterize the supply-side economic theory, without informing their audience of the particulars of that theory.  Also keep in mind that if their theory on economics continues to prevail, the government will remain atop the various industries in this country, and that politician will be in a seat of power that will continue to allow that politician to “trickle-down” benefits in all the ways listed above, and in the form of tax payer subsidies, bailouts, and no-bid contracts that benefit the corporations that meet the politician’s political bullet points.  Remember if supply-side economists had their way with the government’s economic policies, the regulations and tax code would have more comprehensive appeal for those that aspire to take a risk in our economy that would result in more wide-spread prosperity that may make significant strides to resolving some of the income inequities in our culture in that it would remove some of the roadblocks of middle class risk takers that would result in a broader tax base, more diverse forms of employment for individuals across economic classes, and it should end up resulting in more money in the coffers of government.

The opponents have learned, however, that the best way to pettifog an issue is to get out in front of it, and proactively define the debate in question.  When a person defends their personal motivations on an issue by saying it’s not about the money, the first thing the listener knows is that it’s all about the money.  On a similar note, when a politician allocates tax payer’s hard earned dollars –in the form of tax payer subsidies– to one company in an industry, and they say it’s not about picking winners and losers, the listener can be assured that it’s all about picking winners and losers.  That particular company just managed to hit most of the politician’s political bullet points, and this politician began transferring wealth to the company in a form of trickle-down economics in which the politician is left standing at the top of the pyramid.

I don’t know what the goals of other side of supply-side economics were hoping to accomplish in their end game, but I would guess that most honest businessmen now find it disgusting to watch their fellow businessmen panhandle government officials into drowning their competition in legal red-tape, onerous regulations, and tax rates.  I would think that most honest businessmen would, at least consider the practice unethical.  I’m quite sure that the other businessmen –those declared to be unethical by their peers– would turn to their friends and say something along the lines of, ‘To succeed in this climate, you need to learn how to operate within it.  It’s called crony capitalism.’

Impulsive vs. Reflective

I have learned, the hard way, to avoid the impulses that drive one to make impulsive purchases.  I have learned to define my desire for said product through separation.  Take a step away from it, I say to myself, think about it.  Try to take the “newness” element out of the product and imagine it on you, in you, or under you for long stretches of time.  The problem with these impulses I have is that they drive me to purchase some shocking, ridiculous, and useless products that satisfy some sort of short-term need for characterization.

Craftsmanship means as much to me as anyone else, but when it comes time to purchase something, the subtlety of craftsman’s curve in a rocking chair has never spoken to me.  I prefer a new-age piece of furniture that has some innovative sex appeal that has an exclamation point behind it.  I want a piece that causes people to ask questions that have no suitable answers.

shoesHad I followed the impulses that have controlled me at various points in my life, I would now be driving a bright orange Jeep with black trim.  I might even have a bright yellow colored living room with equally bright orange furniture, and some kind of multicolored carpet that accentuates that theme.  I might also have a visually striking painting of a screeching gargantuan, gold eagle, with beaming blood red eyes, flying above shadowed villagers scampering to safety on a red felt background.  Those products would fulfill a definition I have of the immediate, shocking, discomfiting, and shocking elements of beauty.  It’s a definition of who I was, and who I am, that I know would shock my visitors into thinking there might be something we need to sit down and discuss before it gets out of hand.

Two things currently prohibit me from following these impulses: A wife and a child.  A wife, or any person on the inside looking in, tempers these impulses with rational refutation.  When a single man, with no children, follows his impulses, people assume that he may be psychologically damaged, and they laugh it off.  When that man has a child, however, that child has extended family members that care about that child and worry about that child’s well-being when they see that one of his role models has created a living room that requires sunglasses, and when one of that child’s role models also has a painting of a bloodthirsty eagle flying above doomed villagers, they begin to worry.

The other thing that prevents me from following these impulses now, is that I’ve been there, and done that.  I’ve been that person that others tried to understand.  I’ve been a person that others gave up trying to understand, until they conceded that the person they thought they knew is a lot weirder than they ever thought.  I’ve purchased a shockingly bright, baby blue pair of shoes that I considered an expression of my personal definition of beauty.  I tore these shocking baby blue pair of shoes off the shelves on sight and without thought.  I knew I was in for a psychological pummeling from those that consider anything different to be a source of ridicule, but I was willing to ride it out for the effect I thought the pair of shoes would have on my essence.

I was told to expect the worst from my classmates, if I had the temerity to wear these shoes to school.  “People do wear such shoes,” this friend warned.  “When they workout.  They don’t wear them at work, in school, or on the path to and from.”

Hindsight maybe 20/20, in this case, but I remember tingling with anticipation over the effect I thought this would have on my classmates.  I couldn’t wait to introduce them to the new me.  I then made a statement about the old me, by throwing away my old, sensible shoes.

Those that tried to prepare me for the psychological pummeling that would follow, would have been shocked at how successful my attempt to shock people was.  I lost loyal friends over it, as they attempted to distance themselves from me, for the purpose of avoiding the shrapnel.  I thought of a short story called The Boy with the Bright, Baby Blue Shoes.  I remembered a nature documentary in which a pack of hyenas brought a zebra down bite by bite.  My sympathy for that beast churned to empathy after this moment in my life.  For those that have pined for a moment in my life in which I was judged for my actions, this was one of the many.  It did not feel good.  It felt pretty awful.  If you’re going to judge others, however, you had better be prepared for them to judge you.  I wasn’t then.  I am better prepared now, thanks –in part– to a moment like this one that I’m sure some of those that were there still remember as a ‘Do you remember where you were when …’ moment.

I did not have the confidence, or temerity necessary to stare these people down.  They broke me.  I learned from it.  I learned that when one dares to be different, there are whole bunch of guidelines and borders, and most of them are superficial.  A wearer of bright, baby blue shoes becomes a wearer of such shoes, until that person becomes a barometer of agreed upon truths that need to be agreed upon in the most brutal fashion possible.

At some point, I did find the subtle beauty of a craftsman’s curve in the gap of others’ writings, in certain lyrical phrases, and in the margins of dialogue and characterization.  I discovered something in the intended, and unintended, philosophical truths of various artistic expressions of craftsmen.  In those phrases, lines, paragraphs, and comprehensive thoughts, I discovered a shockingly different beauty that replaced my need for superficially shocking modifications.

I am also a sucker for innovation.  My impulses drive me to purchase the latest and greatest technology my fellow man has devised for me.  This has led me to spending a great deal of money in the “As Seen on TV” aisles of prominent stores, and the “As Seen on TV” stores in malls.  I purchase these products in the hope that they will simplify otherwise arduous and mundane tasks, but I’ve purchased these types of products so often that I now know that whatever short-term convenience these products provide pale in comparison to their suspect long-term durability.  These innovations do sell, of course, because people, like me, get amped up on the idea that a collapsible garden hose will free up so much space on my back patio.  The question I ask myself, now, when faced with the impulses that drive me to purchase anything that will make my life easier is, ‘If this product were as great as the more traditional products in the aisle, these products would be in the aisle, and the boring, traditional products that my dad and my grandfather used, would now be on the end cap of the aisle, or the end cap of a mall, for those that insist on using the more traditional and ‘less convenient’ products.’

A bright, baby blue pair of shoes will eventually become nothing more than a pair of shoes, in other words, a Jeep will become a vehicle for transportation, and a chair will eventually become something to sit in, until the effect of being shocking is drained from it, and you’re left looking at a pair of shoes that you’re now embarrassed to wear to school, to the office, and to and fro.  The person also realizes that these products provide onlookers a lot of data about the person that purchases them in a manner that the purchaser did not intend to make every day over the long haul.  It was just an impulse that drove one person to make a short-term, and not very well thought out, statement about who they were that day, and at the time of purchase.  Every day beauty requires the subtle forms of beauty that grow on a person, and they learn that over time.  I decided to go with a white Jeep.

It’s ‘Okay to Like’ Guilty Pleasures

“It’s okay to like your favorite shows again, even if they have no cultural value or societal significance,” a person informed my friend.  “As long as the preference for the show is characterized as a guilty pleasure.”

After receiving permission to enjoy the show my friend once so enjoyed, she began binge watching the show on Netflix.  She watched this show in the manner of one catching up with an old friend, after a prolonged absence.  She knew the show was a silly sitcom, and she also knew that the premise of that show –though somewhat relevant in its era– had become dated and insignificant.  So, even though she had always loved the show, she stopped watching it, even in private, until that friend of hers ‘gave her permission’ to end that prolonged exile, informing her that ‘it is now okay’ to enjoy that show again.

o-GILLIGAN-facebookAs with ubiquitous idioms of this sort, I heard the terms ‘given permission,’ ‘guilty pleasure,’ and ‘it’s okay to like’ before.  When everyone begins saying such things, however, I’m left wondering where I was in the gestation cycle of the phrase.  I didn’t think the phrases funny, when I first began hearing them, or if they were intended to be funny.  I didn’t think they provided an interesting twist on the art of decision-making, and I didn’t think that I would ever be incorporating them into my decision-making process, or the explanations to others regarding my choices.

I just thought it was an odd way for one person to frame the dietary decisions she had made, and that’s where it started for me.  I’d heard people, largely women, framing dietary cheats this way.  ‘I’ve been good,’ they would say before they took a bite of something they knew damaged the discipline they had exhibited to that point.  They then gave themselves permission to eat what they wanted based on that established discipline, and they called those cheats guilty pleasures.  At some point, these phrases made a crossover into other decisions, until people began framing all of their decisions with these qualifiers.  They also began informing me that I should frame my decisions in this manner, that I should give it a spin, as it were, and that with these qualifiers, I could now make my decisions free from the guilt associated with prying eyes.

“Why wouldn’t it be okay for me to like the television shows I enjoy?” I would ask when the phrases began crossing over into entertainment choices.  At this point in the gestation cycle of these phrases it was obvious that something had already happened.  I didn’t know if it happened in the shows I never watch, some movie I missed, or if the phrase had been repeated in a commercial, or a number of commercials, but some vehicle had imprinted these phrases so deeply into the craniums of the people I speak with that they were using the phrases without knowing why.  I’ve usually found that the best way to cut to the heart of the matter is to ask a question so obvious that no one ever thought of it before.  ‘Why isn’t okay for me to like what I like?’ and ‘Why am I then required to qualify my choices in a manner that prevents you from thinking less of me?’  I began asking variations of these questions of those that posed these notions to me, and as with most idioms of this sort, no one knows why.  They just hear other people framing their decisions in this manner, until they find themselves doing it.

After questioning a number of these people, I made the mistake of dismissing these phrases on the basis that no one understood why they did it, and I assumed that it would have a very short shelf life, until everyone I knew began repeating these phrases in almost the same context, and Google searches began revealing websites that were being built around the idea that ‘It’s ok to like’ this today, and ‘it’s okay to dislike’ other things.  I even found a Twitter page that gave its visitors permission to like some things and to like other people that like other things.  It’s difficult to determine how tongue-in-cheek these grants of permission are, or if these people enjoy being on the cutting edge of cultural trends.

Then, I hear that my friend is now binge watching her favorite show of all-time again, and she’s characterizing it as her ‘one guilty pleasure’.  She drops that phrase, I could only assume, to prevent me from thinking less of her for watching such a dated, irrelevant show.  She cared what I thought of her, in that instance, and I rationalized that unless we have a master plan of dropping out of the human race, we all care what others think to a point where we need to develop some kind of shield to protect our inner sanctum from prying eyes.  Those that have attempted to loft the very high school era idea that they don’t care what anyone thinks of them have inevitably run into the ‘thou doth protest too much’ wall that reveals that they probably care more than anyone else.  One could say that this ‘guilty pleasure’ allowance has not only ‘given us permission’ to enjoy the shows we enjoyed so much at one time, it gave rise to an industry in which cable channels like TV Land could prosper, and a Netflix was born, and the whole idea of binge watching became a permissible and acceptable guilty pleasure.

The first question I would’ve asked this ‘guilty pleasure’ friend of my friend that granted her permission to like her favorite show again is, ‘How many guilty pleasures is one person permitted, and what happens to that person that violates the excessive quantity principle of the lack of quality edict?’  One would assume that the term guilty pleasure is intended to be exclusive to one, or at least a few, products.  Are these guilty pleasures exclusive within industries?  Can one have more than one television show they consider a guilty pleasure, and if so, is it specific to genre?  If one has more than one ‘60’s era, silly sitcom, that they characterize as a guilty pleasure, is that a violation of guilty pleasure principle, and if the person has too many guilty pleasures will they end up spending so much time pleasuring themselves that they may find themselves walking around with burdensome guilt?  Would that person be deemed unimportant, and would that lead them to being ostracized from the hip, in touch groups in a manner reminiscent of a Nathaniel Hawthorne novel?’  Who are these social architects that dictate to society what is and what isn’t okay to watch?  And how did this need for the ‘guilty pleasure’ qualifier come about, so that we can watch what we want without undue scrutiny?

We’ve all been informed that The Brady Bunch and Gilligan’s Island are okay to dislike, by these people, because these shows, and all shows like them, are impossible to take seriously.  They say that these shows depict a silly and foolish era that we’ve all moved beyond, and ‘good riddance!’ they often add.  At some point, however, they decide there is some quaint, retro glory in these shows, and they decide that ‘it’s now okay’ to go back and like these shows again, as long as the individual qualifies those viewings as a guilty pleasure. I would not listen to these people regardless how prestigious others deem them to be, but to those that do listen, I would ask, ‘What gives them the credibility to decide for you?’  It would seem to me that they gain their bona fides solely by making the claim that they know what it is that’s ‘okay to like’ and what is not, and what should be listed as a guilty pleasure.


My lifelong enjoyment of Gilligan’s Island could be called a ‘guilty pleasure’, if the term is defined as: “Something, such as a movie, television program, or piece of music, that one enjoys despite feeling that it is not generally held in high regard.”  I know how dumb and silly the show is.  I also know that in the broad, cultural sense it has no redeemable qualities.  Yet, I do not feel guilty about any association I may have had, or will continue to have with the show, and I have no problem floating back in time to that place in time when I watched Gilligan’s Island every day for years.

This leads to that silly argument of extension that suggests that anything one is not ashamed of, must be something for which they hold such a sense of pride that they should be willing and able to defend, and those that don’t do either are taking the spineless, Switzerland position of critiquing both sides while trying to avoid vulnerability on the point.  I understand that complaint, but remember we are talking about television shows here, and if I were forced to mount a defense for this television show –to avoid the spineless Switzerland position– it would be made in defense of silliness.

Gilligan’s Island was silly and dumb, as I’ve said, but so was one of the most celebrated, critically acclaimed, and award winning shows of our time: Seinfeld.  If we were to break this brilliant show down to its core, we would find silliness.  The keys to Seinfeld’s success, it would seem to me, lay in its creative way to turn a phrase, and its ability capture a comprehensive thought with creative brevity.  The writers were also hell bent on making a story flow through an arc and return to the theme of an episode with a “no hugging and no learning” themed resolution.

Gilligan’s Island could be said to be one of the predecessors of this “no hugging and no learning” theme that would later specifically be employed Seinfeld.  It could also be argued that most of the shows of that era were based on this “no hugging and no learning” theme, and that the cultural relevance brigade with their “applause ready” soundbites, “poignant, thought-provoking, and very special” plot lines, with lots of hugging, and learning, and crying came later.  It could also be argued that Seinfeld, and its “no hugging and no learning” theme was a return to that era when sitcoms didn’t try to be more than they were.  They just wanted to make people laugh in an era when no one felt guilty about doing just that.

If the reader knows anything about Gilligan’s Island, and a growing number of people do not, they know that Gilligan’s Island would never be confused with having anything to do with cultural relevance.  The creator of the show, Sherwood Schwartz, stated as much when he said that if there was anything political about the show it existed in an intended apolitical theme.  His exact quote, as listed in a Mental Floss piece on the show, was that Gilligan’s Island represented, “A metaphorical shaming of world politics in the sense that when necessary for survival, yes we can all get along.”

As a political person that has been reminded, throughout my life, how divisive politics can be, I think we could all benefit from more “no hugging and no learning” shows.  The problems with such shows is that no one feels important watching them, and we all have a need to feel important.  Some of us even strive so hard for importance that we claim that we watch shows we never watch, read books we have not read, and listen to important music that no one listens to.  Silly shows will never make a person feel important, they will not win awards, TV critics won’t talk about them, and water cooler speakers don’t often talk about “no hugging and no learning” shows, or if they do, it’s not reported on by TV critics that consider these type of shows guilty pleasures.

Seinfeld is the exception to all of these statements, of course, but that show developed such a groundswell of popularity that it caught people by surprise.  The quality of the writing on the show was never in question, but there was never a “very special” plot line that critics could wrap their arms around.  Critics sought a seminal episode to explain the ethos, and the manner in which it intertwined with the culture, explained it, or rose above it.  When none of that happened, they decided to ‘give us permission’ to like she show based on the ‘guilty pleasure’ of watching a show about nothing.

The problem for the other silly, non-award winning, and panned by TV critics’ shows, is that quality writers don’t want to write for them, as most formulaic shows that eschew politics in their “no hugging and no learning” apolitical themes offer little in the way of sprucing up resumes.

What’s hilarious about the world these cultural doyens draw up, with their ‘it’s okay to like’ and shows ‘it’s okay to dislike’ parameters, is that they’re often aghast when a cultural figure from the other side of the aisles decree that there are shows ‘it’s okay to like’ and shows ‘it’s okay to dislike’, based on that cultural figure’s political and psychological underpinnings.  With no objective understanding of what they do, the cultural doyens chastise the cultural figures for having the temerity to suggest that they can dictate what anyone should or shouldn’t watch.  These people then ask us to join them in directing a “very special” special finger at the dastardly decision makers that they believe should be granted exclusive rights to that finger.  Yet, I believe if we viewed these arguments in an objective manner, we should be able find a “very special” place in our hearts to provide both sides that finger.

As Jennifer Szalai details in her The New Yorker piece, the term guilty pleasure is almost exclusive to America.  She provides an example in the way of a Frenchman interviewing for a job in America, in which he was asked what his guilty pleasures were.  The Frenchman was confused.  He claimed that he had never heard the term, and that the best translation he could find applied to matters no one he knew talked about.  If a Gilligan’s Island was popular among the cultural elites in France, in other words, no one would knew it, because they didn’t talk about it.  In America, on the other hand, it’s something we enjoy talking about almost as much as we do watching the shows.

“You make sure to talk about (your guilty pleasures) –which is why the term exudes a false note, a mix of self-consciousness and self-congratulation. Aside from those actively seeking out public debasement, if you felt really, truly ashamed of it, you probably wouldn’t announce it to the world, would you? The guilt signals that you’re most comfortable in the élite precincts of high art, but you’re not so much of a snob that you can’t be at one with the people. So you confess your remorse whenever you deign to watch (a show like Gilligan’s Island) implying that the rest of your time is spent reading Proust.”

Rock and Roll is Dead!

“Rock and Roll is dead!” is a line most of us have heard for most of our lives. From the anthemic screams of punk rockers to the classic rockers suggesting, “Today’s music ain’t got the same soul,” everyone has enjoyed repeating a version of this line. For most of our lives, however, this has been little more than snarky criticism of the current status quo. For some of us, this has been based on the idea that our favorite strain of rock is no longer prominent, that we don’t appreciate the new direction rock was headed in, or that we have simply aged out of it. Looking at it from a rational perspective, rock and roll has always been able to survive based on young individuals developing creative derivatives of what came before them, and those derivatives have developed movements that led to greater sales and continued power, for rock in the music industry. On both planes, it does appear as if rock is either in a severe and prolonged downtrend, or that it may, in fact, be dead in terms of it being a powerful force in the music industry.

TS-RNR_final_1200“For generations, rock music was always there, and it always felt like it would come back, no matter what the current trend happened to be,” Eddie Van Halen informed Chuck Klosterman in a 2015 interview. “For whatever reason, it doesn’t feel like it’s coming back this time.”

As Klosterman writes, in his book But What if We’re Wrong, Eddie Van Halen said this at sixty-years-old:

“So some might discount (Eddie Van Halen’s) sentiments as the pessimistic opinion of someone who’s given up on music. His view, however, is shared by rock musicians who were still chewing on pacifiers when Van Halen was already famous.”

Thirty-seven-year-old singer of the band Muse, Matt Bellamy, echoed Eddie’s statement saying:

“We live in a time where intelligent people –or creative, clever people– have actually chosen computers to make (sic) music. They’ve chosen (sic) to work in tech. There’s an exhaustion of intelligence which has moved out of the music industry and into other industries.”

Chuck Klosterman then adds:

“We’ve run out of teenagers with the desire (and potential) to become (the next) Eddie Van Halen. As far as the mass culture is concerned that time is over.”   

If the reader is as shocked as I was to read a high profile, classic hard rock performer, coupled with a more modern artist, and a rock enthusiast on par with Chuck Klosterman, discuss the end of an era in such a rational, and persuasive manner, you’re not alone. Reading through these quotes, and other perspectives on the topic, it appears that the authors of these statements were not intending to be provocative. They were suggesting that it now appears that those of us that proclaimed that “Rock and Roll will never die!” were wrong, and that rock and roll may be viewed as nothing more than a prolonged, influential, and cultural trend. That trend may have been such a prolonged staple that it’s been around longer than most of us have been alive, but if we remove the emotion we have vested in the art form and examine it from the perspective of creativity and album sales, it is more than likely that hundreds of years from now historians will view rock and roll as a trend that began in the mid-to-late fifties and ended somewhere around 2010.

The Creative Power 

The one aspect of Bob Dylan’s memoir Chronicles that an interested reader will learn about the man, more than any other aspect of his life, is how much depth went into Bob Dylan’s artistic creations. Dylan writes about the more obvious, influential artists that impacted him, such as Woody Guthrie, but he also writes about the obscure musicians he encountered on his path, that affected him in ways large and small. He also writes about the manner in which reading literature informed his artistic persona, reading everyone from prominent poets and fiction writers, to the Ancient Greek philosophers, and he finally informs us of how experiences in his life informed him. The reader will close the book with the idea that the young Dylan wasn’t seeking a road map to stardom so much as he was learning the art of craftsmanship.

On this subject of craft, as it pertains to the death of rock and roll, the bassist from Kiss, Gene Simmons, informed Esquire:

“The craft is gone, and that is what technology, in part, has brought us. What is the next Dark Side of the Moon?  Now that the record industry barely exists, they wouldn’t have a chance to make something like that. There is a reason that, along with the usual top-40 juggernauts, some of the biggest touring bands are half old people, like me.”

On the subject of craft and being derivative, it could be argued that Dark Side of the Moon was derivative, it could be argued that Elvis Presley, Bob Dylan, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, and Led Zeppelin were all derivative. It could be argued that rock and roll, itself, was derived from rhythm and blues, which was derived from the blues, jazz, and swing music. There is no sin in being derivative, in other words, as most of what an artist does is derived from influence, but the question of how derivative an artist is has often haunted most artists that derived their craft from other, more obscure artists. The question most artists have had to ask, internally and otherwise, is how much personal innovation did they add to their influences?  And perhaps more important to this discussion, how much room was left in the zeitgeist for variation on the theme their influence created?  To quote the cliché, a time will arrive in any art form, when a future artist is attempting to squeeze blood out of a turnip, and while the room for derivatives and variations on the broad theme of rock and roll seemed so vast at one time, every art form eventually runs into a wall.

One could say that the first wave of rock and roll that didn’t spend too much time worrying about being derivative was the Heavy Metal era of 80’s hair metal bands. One could also say that they didn’t have to search too deep, at that time, because the field still yielded such a bountiful harvest. All they had to do was provide a decent derivative of a theme some 70’s bands derived from some 60’s band that were derivatives of 50’s bands, and so on and so forth. There was still something so unique at the heart of what they were doing, in that space in time, that they could develop what amounted to a subtle variation of a theme and still be considered somewhat unique.

At some point in this chain of variations and strains, the wellspring dried up for 80’s hair metal bands, and they became a mockery of former artists, until rock and roll was in dire need a new template. At this point, right here, there were many that proclaimed the death of rock and roll. They claimed that rock and roll was now more about hairspray, eye-liner, and MTV than actual music. Into that void, stepped Guns N’ Roses, Faith No More, The Red Hot Chili Peppers, and others. They provided unique variations at the tail end of the 80’s and early 90’s. At various points in the timeline, a variation always stepped up to keep the beast alive, but hindsight informs us that rock and roll was, indeed, on life support at this time. Hindsight also informs us, that when the 90’s Seattle bands, and The Smashing Pumpkins, stepped to the fore, their derived variation on the theme was, in essence, a reset of the template that had been lost somewhere in the late 80’s, as they brought rock back to the early Kiss, Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin, and Aerosmith records of the 70’s.

This begs the question, would Nirvana have been as huge as they were, if they had appeared on the scene around 1983-1984, or would that have been too early for them?  Are musical waves little more than a question of timing?  Did Nirvana hit the scene at a time when the desire to recapture whatever was lost in the late 80’s was widespread?  The Nevermind album may have been so good that it would’ve sold in just about any rock era, but would Nevermind have outsold Quiet Riot’s Mental Health and Twisted Sister’s Stay Hungry, or would it have been deemed too derivative of an era we just experienced?  Would Nevermind have been the ten million copies shipped phenomenon it was if it had been delivered in 1984, or was it a valiant attempt to recapture what was lost in rock that was needed at the time?

Most of the musicians, in what rock critics called the grunge movement, had varied tastes, and some of their favorite artists were more obscure than the general public’s, but the basic formula for what would critics called grunge could be found in those four groups of musicians, from the 70’s, that had deep and varied influences. The grunge era, it could be said, was the last innovative movement for nuanced rock.

Talk to just about any young person in America today, and they may list off some modern artists and groups that they listen to, but most of those that could be considered rock connoisseurs will provide “classic rock” band as one of their favorite genres. When someone my age hears the term classic rock, they’re more prone to think of one of the 70’s bands mentioned earlier, but these young people are referring to bands that were brand new to me somewhere around yesterday, yesterday being twenty years ago.

I know I run the risk of being dismissed as an old fogie when I declare rock dead, or something along the lines of “Today’s music ain’t got the same soul”, but there is something that is missing. There is something that is gone. In fairness to modern artists, and in full recognition of my old codger perspective, I have to ask how the “next big thing” will pop out, right now, in 2016, and offer the world a perspective on rock that no one has ever considered before? Such a statement does undercut the creative brilliance that young minds have to offer, but to those of us that have listened to everyone from top of the line artists to some of the more obscure artists in recording history, it seems to me that every genre, subgenre, experimentation, and variation has been covered to this point.

Gene Simmons asked where the next Dark Side of the Moon is going to come from, I ask where the next Melon Collie and the Infinite Sadness is, and it may be a redundant question that led those of another era to ask what artist is the modern day equivalent to The Carter Family?  I never thought I’d be this guy, but most of the modern rock music sounds uninformed to me and lacking in the foundation that previous generations had. I know this is largely incorrect, but when I listen to the rock bands of the current era, I don’t hear that long, varied search for influence. I don’t hear artists hearkening back the rich and varied tradition old blues singers, folk musicians, and country artists learned from their family and friends in gospel songs at church, at campfires, and at night before going to bed. I don’t hear an informed artistic persona. Their music lacks some of the organic funk R&B musicians brought to the fold, and the intricate instrumentation that the 50’s and 60’s jazz musicians left for their successors to mine.

Some consider this entire argument moot, however, and they say that the nature of music, and art in general, suggests that there will always be an innovative, up and coming star to develop variations and derivatives of former artists if there is money in it. Naysayers would echo their favorite artists and say it’s not about the money, and true art never should be. While that may be true, it is also true that when the money is removed, as the Gene Simmons quote below states, there may not be people in the upper reaches of the chain that are willing to develop that talent, when the whole model is thrown into chaos, and the structure of it is destroyed.

It’s About the Money. It’s Always About the Money.

“You’re (now considered) a sucker if you pay for music,” one of my friends informed me at what was, for me, the advent of file sharing. 

My friend did not say the words “now considered” but that was the import of his statement. I was no Luddite. I knew about the file sharing sites, such as Napster, but for me, Napster was a place to find obscure throwaways, bootlegged versions of the songs I loved, and cover songs, by my favorite artists. I had heard of the Metallica lawsuit against Napster, and some talk of file sharing among the young, but I had no idea that the crossover to file sharing had already begun, for most music enthusiasts, until my friend dropped this line on me.

The line did not inform me of the new way of attaining music, as I already knew it was out there, but it informed me of the new mindset in regards to accessing music. After scouring these sites for my favorite songs, albums, and artists, (and finding them