Thief’s Mentality II: Whatever Happened to Kurt Lee

“Who is the greatest thief in history?” was a provocative, party question I heard that invited a number of speculative answers. Those answers didn’t lead me to spend so much time thinking about this that I ended up correlating it to the first, true thief I ever met, as much as one attempt at a provocative answer did. Those that offered speculative answers, quantified their answers by the amount the thief stole and the historical notoriety they achieved. On the latter, I figured that our focus on notoriety, the amount of media coverage, and subsequent historical analysis, leads us to believe that the most successful thief must be the most famous. That answer also provides an impetus for the most provocative answer I’ve heard on this particular subject. It suggests that too often we intertwine fame, or in this case infamy, with success. Thieves are human, of course, and the desire to be famous may drive some of them, but the overwhelming desire of an accomplished thief should be to escape unwanted attention of any kind, particularly when it leads to a level of notoriety or infamy that might lead their incarceration. Thus, my final answer would be that we probably don’t know who the greatest thief of all time is, because they are as unknown to history as they were to law enforcement officials at the time. The reason I consider this theoretical answer perfect, is that I knew a skilled thief, and I saw what he fell prey to in his formative years.

Law enforcement officials inform us that the crimes that keep them up at night are the random, or seemingly random, crimes that are almost impossible to solve. Law enforcement officials count on a number of factors to help them solve a crime, but the most prominent ones involve the character flaws of those with a criminal mind, or the thief’s mentality. Most criminals have never had any real money, for if they found a way to make real money, they probably wouldn’t be thieves. Thus, when they manage to steal money, most thieves spend it in a manner that draws attention. They have never had any real money, so they do not know what to do with it when they get it. 

When they flaunt those extravagant purchases to friends, family, and associates, those people begin talking. They may not speak directly to law enforcement officials, but talk leads to talk. If the thief displays some restraint in this regard, they are apt to fall prey to another human conceit of wanting to tell others about their accomplishment, especially to those that suggested that they would never amount to anything in life. The natural byproduct of those forced to endure the bragging is jealousy, and jealousy often leads to their trusted people making anonymous calls that can change the direction of an investigation. In the event that those with a thief’s mentality are able to avoid the typical pratfalls of criminal success, law enforcement officials will often sit back and wait for greed to take hold.

If a true piece of work (a POS) manages to pull off a $10,000 heist, in other words, $10,000 dollars will not satisfy a thief. The nature of the thief’s mentality –as taught to me by Kurt Lee­– is such that they will probably be planning a $20,000 heist in the getaway car. Kurt Lee’s mentality suggested to me that a true POS would have so much wrapped up in that $10,000 theft that they would fall prey to all that listed above, with greed being the most prominent.

I knew Kurt Lee, on a superficial level, for years. He was good friends with my best friend. He and I spoke just about every day for years, but we were never so close that one would characterize us as friends. It wasn’t until Kurt Lee invited me, and my best friend, to join him at the baseball card shop that I received a window into Kurt Lee’s mentality. As detailed in the first installment of this series, by the time Kurt Lee and I were in the car driving over to the baseball card shop, shoplifting had long since lost its thrill for him. It bored him so much that he asked me if I wanted to watch him shoplift. I will confess to not knowing many true thieves throughout my life, so my reference base is limited, but I have to imagine that more experienced thieves would suggest that this was the on ramp to a bad road for Kurt Lee.

More experienced thieves might also suggest that the very idea that Kurt Lee was attempting to accentuate the thrill of theft, by having another watch him do it, suggests that Kurt Lee wasn’t motivated by what they might call the philosophical purity of theft. He wasn’t doing it to balance economic equality, in other words, as some more experienced thieves manage to convince themselves that there is nothing wrong with stealing from someone that has so much that they don’t know what to do with it anymore. He wasn’t doing it to put food on a table, or any reasons that a more experienced thieves might consider a more noble motivation. Kurt Lee was simply doing it because he wanted the stuff that was on the shelves, and he enjoyed the thrill of it all. Once that thrill was gone, he needed to supplement it. A casual observer, just learning of Kurt Lee, might also suggest that he asked me to watch to quell some deep seeded need he had for approval or acceptance. I would’ve considered that notion foolish at the time, for the Kurt Lee I knew displayed no visible signs of caring what anyone thought of him, much less me. With the advantage of hindsight, however, I have to consider that possibility.

The young man I knew was also adamant that we all needed to spread the wealth. These words came out of his mouth most often when another had something of excess that he wanted, but he did practice what he preached. He was a generous man. This leads me to believe that if the adult Kurt Lee managed to pull off a $10,000 heist, he would begin spreading the wealth around. He might hire the services of a prostitute for a night, he might give some of his newfound largess to a homeless person, or he might generously tip a waitress or a housekeeper, and he would probably do it in a manner that would lead people to talk. He would spread the wealth around just to be a guy that could, for one day in his otherwise miserable existence. He would do it with the hope that his various acts of generosity might say more about him than the criminal act he committed to attain the money. His motivation for sharing would not be truly altruistic, in other words, and he would do it regardless if he considered the idea that these actions might lay some breadcrumbs for law enforcement.

The point is that this greatest thief in history, one presumably imbued with the same thief’s mentality, wouldn’t fall prey to these any of these conceits. The point is that that legendary thief would be such an exception to the rules governing one with a thief’s mentality that he might be able to achieve something historic in the field of criminality.


Those of us that knew the as of yet unformed, maladjusted, high school-era Kurt Lee wouldn’t need the prophetic words of a skilled thief to know where Kurt Lee would end up. We also didn’t need the list of fatal flaws from law enforcement officials to know that Kurt Lee was susceptible to falling prey to these conceits. As evidence of this, Kurt Lee became the center of attention in high school.

Someone at our school learned of the ways of Kurt Lee, and they spread the word. I don’t know what they said to spread the word, but I have to believe that it had something to do with the idea that for all of Kurt Lee’s humor and charm, he was not a nice guy. ‘Far from it,’ I imagine these people saying to the others. ‘He’s actually quite a POS.’ I imagine them feeling the need to bolster their presentation in this manner, because if they told their friends that they found a guy that was dishonest, duplicitous, and a something of a POS, but they added that he was actually a pretty nice guy, those listening to the presentation would have no interest. Whatever that person said to describe Kurt Lee clicked, because he ended up becoming something of a celebrity in some quarters. The top athletes at our school were dying to know what he was going to do, or say, next. They found him hilarious. The cool kids even stopped by to get Kurt Lee’s reaction to the current events of our school. They had never seen anything like him before. He was like a real life Al Bundy in our midst. Those of us that tried to deny that such people were impressive couldn’t believe the amount of attention Kurt Lee was receiving. Kurt Lee couldn’t believe it either, and more important, he couldn’t understand it.

Those of us that witnessed the effect Kurt Lee could have on young, unformed males would consider the idea that young males have an attraction to a true POS with a thief’s mentality irrefutable. I don’t make any claims to being immune to this either. As the previous entry suggests, I found Kurt Lee hilarious. Some may consider it a bit of a stretch to suggest that the young, unformed male mind wants to witness a bully, hurt, and humiliate others, but if it happens most young males want to be there to witness it. The manner in which those that were there tell the story of the incident to those that weren’t, bolsters this idea. In their play-by-play rundown, they would have trouble stifling their laughter, because they know no one enjoys hearing a story from a guy that can’t stop laughing as he tells it.

Kurt Lee opened a wormhole in our understanding of what it took to be an honest man. He was so unflinching in his dishonesty that some of us considered him the most honest guy we ever met. He was a genuine article of consistent, and unflinching, dishonesty. When Kurt Lee learned that these aspects of his personality appealed to a wide swath of fellas our age, he exaggerated these characteristics in a way that suggested he didn’t understand their appeal any more than anyone else did. His answer to whatever dilemma plagued him was to try to live up to the caricature that we built for him, and he attempted to play it up too.

Kurt Lee became that bully, thief, and POS that every young, unformed male dreamed of being but dared not stretch to the point of violating societal norms. Kurt Lee mocked the mentally challenged, he picked fights with guys that were so much smaller than him that they presented no challenge, and he openly challenged anyone he considered at the bottom of the food chain to bolster his POS profile for those in attendance. Prior to this brief taste of popularity, Kurt Lee was a POS in all these ways, but he displayed a bit more discretion. Once he discovered how much the athletes and cool kids loved it, he was balls out.

The problem with becoming such a character is that, inevitably, an ugly truth will rear its head. Young, unformed males eventually grow bored with a consistent character no matter how consistently offensive and insensitive that individual may be. When that happens, the instinctual response of such a character is to up their game even more, and exaggerate those characteristics that everyone loved fifteen minutes ago, until the character ends up doing it so often, and to such excess, that he ends up revealing a desire to be accepted. This new game face stood in stark contrast to the very characteristics that made Kurt Lee so appealing in the first place, to those in the upper caste system of high school. It also resulted in the implosion I alluded to in the first installment.

This implosion occurred when something went missing in our school. Kurt Lee plead innocence, on numerous occasions, claiming that he was being unfairly singled out by our school, and he may have been, but Kurt Lee made a name for himself for all the wrong reasons. He may have been such an obvious suspect that he was too obvious, but the school ended up expelling Kurt Lee for it.

If Kurt Lee permitted me to caution him, prior to this incident, I would’ve informed him that these athletes and cool kids don’t give a crap about you. They may like you in the short-term, as they take what they want from you, in this case entertainment, but once they have expended you as a resource they will leave you out at the curb. They don’t care if you’re an actual POS, or if you’re just playing that character well. They don’t care if a person wants their attention. They won’t pay as much attention to them as they did fifteen minutes ago, once they see through the veneer. This long-term view would not have mattered to Kurt Lee however. He wanted to bask in the glow. When that brief spell ended, it wounded Kurt Lee, and he attempted to up his game even more, until he ended up with an expulsion and an incarceration for another, unrelated matter.


Decades later, those of us that went to school with Kurt Lee were all standing around a funeral engaged in a ‘What ever happened to’ conversation regarding our old classmates. Kurt Lee’s name happened to come up. Laughter erupted at the mere mention of his name, as we all remembered the awful things he did to people. Someone in our group attempted to quell that laughter by mentioning that he thought Kurt Lee was actually a pretty awful person. No one said a word. That silence, I can only presume, occurred because everyone considered that characterization so obvious. Another spoke about Kurt Lee’s expulsion from our school, and the incarceration for an unrelated crime. Those that didn’t know about the incarceration laughed when they heard about it, but it wasn’t the bitter schadenfreude that often comes from those that were bullied, ridiculed, and beat up by the guy in high school. This knowing laugh came from those figured that’s where Kurt Lee would eventually end up. Then the subject changed, and it didn’t change because some of those, at the gathering, harbored ill will towards Kurt Lee, and they wanted to move on in life. The sense that they had already moved past all that was palpable. The subject changed because no one truly cared what happened to the man.

I have this notion, that if Kurt Lee were a celestial being, witnessing this conversation, with the ghost of Christmas past over his shoulder, he may have offered a number of excuses for why people thought he was so awful. He could’ve informed the ghost of Christmas past that he was just a dumb kid at the time, and he could’ve said something along the lines of the idea that his bullying made some of those in attendance at the funeral stronger in life. Kurt Lee might have experienced a slight twinge of guilt, hearing our accounts of him, but I don’t think so. I think he would’ve enjoyed hearing us talk about him. Seeing how quickly we changed the subject, however, and all that it intoned about how we felt about him long-term, probably would have stung.

The fundamental mistake that Kurt Lee made, a mistake that most of us make at that age, is that we don’t understand human nature. We don’t understand how few people truly care about what happens to us, and we fail to grasp that nothing –including internal squabbles, politics, and the desire to be more popular– should keep us from these people. The mistake we make occurs when we seek the approval of others, because we often direct that effort at those that don’t give a crap about us in any kind of comprehensive manner. Kurt Lee made the fundamental mistake of believing that those cool kids were were laughing with him. He made the mistake of believing when others were interested in what he had to say about something that they were interested in him, and I can only presume that when these truths became evident, he attempted to double down on those characteristics they enjoyed, until they ended up destroying him from the inside out.

As evidence of this, one of the members of this conversation knew some things about the adult, post-high school Kurt Lee. He told a couple of stories about how Kurt Lee began stealing bigger and better things more often.

“He didn’t learn his lessons from high school,” this storyteller informed us. “He grew so bold that one could call some of the things he did stupid.” Some may place whatever it was that drove the adult Kurt Lee to steal more expensive items, at a greater rate, under the umbrella of greed, but I think it goes much deeper than that. I think that expulsion, and the end of the life he once knew, drove him to neglect those mountain lion skills he once displayed by refraining from launching on his prey, until he could determine that there was absolutely no chance of any harm coming to him. The stories I heard, that day at the funeral, of Kurt Lee stealing such conspicuous items were so confusing that I couldn’t help but think they were troubling and obvious cries for help.

Kurt Lee was the best thief I’ve ever known, and he influenced my theoretical view on what the greatest thief in the history of man might do to get away with it all, with a sound mind and a guilt-free heart. For if this theoretical thief were to fall prey to some of the same things Kurt Lee did, in his formative years, that thief would have to learn the lessons from his formative years well. The Kurt Lee I knew never did, and the fact that he ended up doing time suggests that the adult, post-high school Kurt Lee didn’t either. It suggests that he imploded under the weight of whatever he was when I knew him.


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. 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. The prejudicial notions of those born under the Scorpio ecliptic will no longer burden me. 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 the realignment of the stars declare me a perfectly balanced specimen of a man, a man of partnership, equality, justice, and objectivity man. The rereading of the stars declare me Libra Man.

I 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 forced to endure the toxic climate 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 don’t often 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 she declared this progress, then 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 to 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 detailed some of the documented progressions those suffering from similar, post-traumatic stress disorders (PTSDs) had made in an ESA program, and she said 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 that she would permit me to rent for a weekend. She said that they changed the laws in our state to allow Gordon to accompany me in restaurants, where I had informed her of my exaggerated feelings of loneliness, 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. They changed the laws, as she suggested, but the law also required the ESA patient to write a therapy letter that required a mental health professional evaluation. 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 she placed the bill 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 the sanctioned companionship of this dog might help me progress through mental health channels was such that I thought it could change my life.

Gordon’s size was intimidating, but the almost comically sad face that graced this Newfoundland and the very sweet disposition countered that. 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. 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. It confused her. The facts of my being confused the woman. 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 dilemma at hand absorbed me, 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 might 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 full-fledged, pore-penetrating lick 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, 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 Friday, the day shift on Saturday, and a short shift on 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 next Scorpio Man group session I attended quelled those fears. 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 feel 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. I also informed her that I considered them too 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 timetable for payment, which she never did before, and she placed me on a timetable 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 quickly 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 might 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. I wanted 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. As excited as I was, I tried to be skeptical. I tried to determine how anyone could consider this anything but primary source information. I watched YouTube discussions on the matter. I watched news clips from local and national broadcasts.

That idea that this piece was from NASA should’ve been sufficient. After everything I had been through, however, 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 the cooperation his fellow men and women are more than willing to offer. I felt more diplomatic, and gracious. I felt like a social man that no longer needed the accompaniment of a dog in a Denny’s restaurant. 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. If the use of that term pertains to something that 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? At what point 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 coming forth with this information sooner could’ve eased a lot of my pain 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 parents that best define a person, and that family and friends are almost as influential. 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. As a newfound Libra Man, I would like to direct my first grudge 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 because of their delay, to prove that the Mars the god of war and Pluto the god of the underworld didn’t rule us, and that no dark forces that ruled some part of 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. 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 might be one of the few lawsuits that they toss, 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? 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 conjure up. 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 moneymaking 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 the stars now consider me 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.

{Update: For those readers that happened upon this particular entry and are confused, this is the third and final entry, the first one can be found here, and the second testimonial is listed here. It was never the author’s intent to do more than one, but the author decided to chart the character’s progress one year later, and one year after that. If the reader would like to drop a line and tell us how much they’ve enjoyed reading about the progress, we’re always receptive to a kind word or constructive criticism. If not, thank you for reading.}

Platypus People

“Did you know that your friend’s dad is an infidel?” Mrs. Francis Finnegan asked me, as I stood at the door of their home. This was not an unusual greeting from Mrs. Finnegan. It was the greeting I received whenever she had some topic of the day to cover. I called it her headline hello.

Mrs. Finnegan may have met me at the door with more traditional forms of greeting in the beginning. If she did, I don’t remember it. She may have used the more traditional, “Hello!  How are you doing?” greeting with other people, but I never saw it. As far as I was concerned, she greeted everyone at the door with a provocative introduction to the discussion of the day. A provocative introduction similar to those used by newspaper editors to draw attention to a story.

“It’s mister smoker!” she said to introduce me to the discussion the Finnegan family would have on that day, regarding my smoking. “It’s the heavy metal dude!” she said on another day to introduce me to the Finnegan family discussion that would involve my decision to wear a jean jacket, a t-shirt of whatever band I was listening to at the time, and jeans, or as she put it ‘my heavy metal dude gear’. I was fair game for these family discussions, she informed me, because I had such a heavy influence on her beloved son. She also informed me that with the state of my home, I was in need of some guidance.

This ‘Your best friend’s dad is an infidel’ greeting informed me that the Finnegan discussion of the day would involve a detailed account of her husband’s recent business trip to Las Vegas, in which “he happened to get himself some (girl)”. The word ‘girl’ is written here, in place of the more provocative ‘P’ word that Mrs. Finnegan used to describe Greg Finnegan’s act of adultery.

Mrs. Finnegan was a religious woman that used profanity or vulgarity sparingly. She reserved those words for those moments when she needed to wound the pride of the subject of her scorn, and those times when she felt she needed to pique the ears of the listener. She used these words with a ‘look what you’ve caused me to do with your actions!’ plea in her voice to further subject the subject of her violation to greater shame.

Hearing her use such a vulgar word was not as shocking to me as hearing her use the word ‘infidel’ in an incorrect manner. As a self-described word nerd, Mrs. Finnegan prided herself on proper word usage. She informed me on another occasion, half-joking, that I was her apprentice. I took this as the compliment it was, in the beginning, but as the years went by, I began to believe she said to it relieve her of whatever guilt she may have felt for correcting every word that came out of my mouth.  There were times when I was almost afraid to say anything around her, lest I be corrected, but for the most part, I was an eager student of her mastery of the language.

My initial thought was that the turmoil of this moment had caused her the faux pas, but her diction was so proper and refined that I didn’t think she was capable of a slip. She spoke in a manner, at times, that I thought violated the conventions of our language. I would go home, look it up, and see that she was correct. Even during the most tumultuous moments, the woman managed to mind her rules of usage well. Thus, when she made the error of attributing the word infidel to her husband’s act of infidelity, I assumed that the slip up was intended to pique the interest of the listener in the manner her sparing use of profanity and vulgarity could. Either that, I thought, or she was attempting to creatively conflate the incorrect use of the word, and the correct one, in that not only had her husband violated his vows to her, but his vows to God.

My friend James had been sitting on the couch, next to his father, when I was allowed entrance into the Finnegan home. The two of them were a portrait of shame. They looked like Puggles, sitting in the corner of the room after having made a mess on the carpet.

James mouthed a quick ‘Hi!’ at me. He pumped his head up momentarily to issue that greeting, and he then resumed his shame position of looking at one spot on the carpet.

“Mr. Finnegan, decided to go out to Vegas and get him some (girl)!” Mrs. Finnegan said when I entered the living room. I had not had enough time to sit at that point. When I did, I sat as slow as the tension in the room allowed, an air that did not permit quick motions.

“Tell him Greg,” she said.

“France, I don’t think we should be airing our dirty laundry in front of outsiders,” Greg Finnegan complained. The idea that he had been crying prior to my entrance was evident. His eyes were rimmed red, and they were moist. He did not, however, look up at Francis, or me, when he complained. He, like James, remained fixated on a spot on the carpet.

France was the name she grew up with, and she hated it. It was the name her immediate family members called her, and her husband. She had very few adult friends, but to those people she was Francis. To everyone else, it was Mrs. Finnegan. She may have allowed others to call her less formal names, but I never heard it. Mrs. Finnegan was not a person that permitted informalities.

“NO!” Mrs. Finnegan yelled. That yell was so forceful that had there been any actual Puggles in the room, they would’ve raced from it, regardless if they were the subject of her scorn or not.

“No, he has to learn,” she said pointing at me, while looking at her husband. “Just like your son needs to learn, just like every man needs to learn the evil ways of their nature.”

This display was followed by an actual display, brought into the living room by the daughter. The daughter appeared as unemotional about this particular event as she had all the events that occurred in the Finnegan home.  She was more of an observer to the goings on in the Finnegan home than a participant. She rarely offered an opinion, unless it backed up her mother’s assessments and characterizations, and she was never the subject of her mother’s scorn. She was the dutiful daughter, and she walked into the room, carrying the display, in that vein. She carefully positioned it on living room table and pulled the supports out so that it could stand without manual support. After completing that action, she sat.

Mrs. Finnegan allowed the display of Greg Finnegan’s shame to rest on the living room table for a moment without comment. It was a multi-tiered, wood framed, structure with open compartments that allowed for wallet-sized photos. The structure of the frame was also constructed in a manner of a triangle, but anyone that looked around the Finnegan home knew of Mrs. Finnegan’s fondness for pyramids. It was a triangle that was intended to feed into Mrs. Finnegan’s fascination with pyramids.  It didn’t have the full dimensions of a pyramid, but the supports behind it allowed it to rest at such an angle that it appeared to be one side of a pyramid.

Before this day began, Mrs. Finnegan had managed to gather enough unique photos of the “harlot, slut, home wrecker” to fill each of the compartments in the pyramid, so that the bottom level had five photos, the next level up had four, and so on, until one arrived at a single photo at the top. Each photo had a votive candle before it to give the shrine of Greg Finnegan’s shame an almost holy vibe.

“It’s the pyramid of shame,” Mrs. Finnegan informed me with a confrontational smile. “What do you think of it? The frame was Greg’s gift to me on my birthday. Isn’t it lovely? I’m thinking of placing it in our bedroom. I’m thinking of placing it in a just such a position that if Greg is ever forced to have sex with me again-” (Except she didn’t say sex. She said THE word, the big one, the queen-mother of dirty words, the “F-dash-dash-dash” word.) “-he can look at those picture while he’s (sexing) me.  Do you think that will help your performance honey?” she asked her husband.

There was an inopportune knock at the door. The Finnegan duplex was constructed in such a manner that when the drapes were open, those inside the Finnegan home could see the knocker. We saw the knocker. It was Andy, the third party of the adventure James and I had planned for the night.

“Welcome to the home of Greg Finnegan, the adulterer and infidel,” Mrs. Finnegan said after leaping to her feet to beat all the people that were racing to the door, except no one was racing. We were all ensconced in the shame of our gender. We were all staring at our own spots on the carpet. “Come on in,” she said to Andy.

Andy left. He just turned and walked back down the steps, got in his car, and drove away. Just like that, Andy escaped all that I was forced to endure. He didn’t respond to Mrs. Finnegan’s greeting. He didn’t go out of his way to be respectful to one of his elders, but he really wasn’t disrespectful either.  He just turned and left.

I didn’t know we could do that, I thought watching Andy leave.

I knew what I was in for, before I entered the home. Andy knew what he was in for. His departure was not only bold, as far as I was concerned.  It was unprecedented. I didn’t know we could do that.  I would ask him about it later.  I would say “Why did you do that?” when my greater question was how could you do that?  He informed me that he didn’t want to go through all that again with her.  I gave a “Well, of course, but …” response.  His reaction wasn’t any more complicated than that, and I realized that I would have to do a much better job of evaluating my options in life.

When the confessional phase of the Finnegan family conversation began –a confessional that required Mr. Finnegan to confess to me what he had done– I looked out that window and imagined that I had evaluated my options as well as Andy had, and the two of us were now in Andy’s car driving away, laughing at the lunacy of these people.  I imagined that I would call them platypus people at one point in our round of jokes, and that that would eventuate into a laugh riot at the Finnegan family’s expense.

What is a platypus, I imagined myself saying to expound upon our laughter, but an animal that defies all categorizations. One look at them, informs the world of science that they should fall into a category, until they do what they do to prove the scientific community wrong. Further study only yields more surprises with the classification defying animal, until even the most seasoned naturalist throws their hands up.

The platypus was even thought to be a joke when it was first introduced to the world. It was introduced in an era when naturalists would regularly stitch together body parts of different animals to leave the curious world with the notion that the naturalist had discovered an entirely new species. When the platypus was introduced to the world, it was believed that the platypus was an elaborate hoax of taxidermy in that vein.

Those that wouldn’t fall for this platypus hoax, even had a tough time believing it was an actual species when they saw a live one. I figured that I might have a tough time selling the ‘Finnegan Family are platypus people’ joke to Andy, for he may have considered my tales to be creative stories with stitched together details, or a story I enhanced with exaggerated details for the purpose of telling one hell of a story. He might not even believe it if he saw it for himself, I imagined while listening to Mr. Finnegan’s confession.

The introduction of Mr. Finnegan’s confession involved Mrs. Finnegan informing me that Mr. Finnegan had already confessed his transgression to his children, and that he would be required to offer this confession to any other friend, mailman, or traveling salesman that happened upon their door that day. I was informed to look at her when she said this, and we did. I was forced to acknowledge that the only reason the Finnegans married in the first place had to do with the fact that no one else would play with young Mr. Finnegan’s penis.

“He was lonely,” she said with tones of derision. “Mr. eighty dollars an hour consultant fee, and Mr. professional student with eight degrees would be nothing without me, because he was nothing when he met me. He was a lonely, little man with nothing to do but play with his little computer products, designs, and his little penis, because no one else would.”

“That’s enough France,” Greg said standing.

“Do you play with your penis?” Mrs. Finnegan asked me, undeterred by Greg’s act of defiance. “Do you masturbate? Because that’s where it all starts. It all starts with you men, and all of your pornographic material, imaging that someday someone will come along and want to play with your penis.

“You think it’s about love?” she asked. She had a huge smile on her face. She was aghast at a statement I hadn’t made. “You think every couple has a story of love, and dating, and that hallowed first kiss? Go rent a gawdamned Meg Ryan movie if you want all that. And once that love conquers all movie is over, you come to Mrs. Finnegan with your questions, and she’ll introduce you to some reality. I’ll tell you the tales of men, grown men that marry because they’re desperate to find someone to play with their penis. Isn’t that right Mr. Finnegan?” She called after him, once he mustered up the courage to walk away from her. When he wouldn’t answer, or even turn to acknowledge her, she took off after him.

It was not a feat of strength for Mrs. Finnegan to push her husband down a flight of stairs. We didn’t see it, but we figured that he may have been off balance, as a result of his refusal to turn and face her in his flight to the basement. He was not expecting to be pushed down the flight of about twenty stairs. We did see her pull him up the stairs, however, as we all came running to the top of the stairs when the sounds of him hitting the stairs shook the house in such a manner that we all put a hand on the armrests of the furniture to brace ourselves.

We did hear Mrs. Finnegan’s scream when she pushed Mr. Finnegan down the stairs, and it was a shriek that let you know that whatever frayed vestige of sanity she had clung to for much of her life, had just snapped. We could not hear her obscenity laced grumblings, as she pulled him up the stairs by his hair. Those grumblings were drowned out by the screams of her husband and her children.

“France!” Greg screamed in pain. “France, for God’s sakes!” he screamed over and over.

I saw her face, as she approached us at the top of the stairs, and it was a display of rage that I can only guess that those not engaged in some sort of civil service work see once in a lifetime. She was lifting a six-five, two-hundred pound man up the stairs, by his hair, with one hand. Her body blocked any view we might have had of Greg Finnegan, but I had to assume that he was back-stepping the stairs to relieve some of the pain of having his hair pulled in such a manner, and thus assisting her in pulling him up, but it was still an impressive display of strength fueled by a scary visage of rage.

She was in such a state, once she reached the top step, and she was standing in the kitchen, with her children trying to calm her, she couldn’t speak.  The master of language couldn’t think up a word to say, and when she finally did, it came out as gibberish.  She would later say that that gibberish was as a result of her being overcome by spirits. She believed that that gibberish that came out of her, once she escaped the catatonic state, was her speaking in tongues.  She believed that that divine intervention had prevented her from harming her husband further, in the same manner divine intervention prevented Abraham from harming his son Isaac. I believed it too, at first, in the heat of the moment, but I would later learn that I had just witnessed my first psychotic episode.

I don’t know what happened in the aftermath of this incident, in the Finnegan home, as I never went to the Finnegan home again, but I do know that the Finnegan marriage survived it, and I can only guess –based on what I knew of Mrs. Finnegan– that it was all about that intervention, the divine one, as opposed to the one by the civil servants.  And I’m quite sure that if any future visitors of the Finnegan home doubted that they would be greeted at the door with a “Welcome to the home of the divine intervention!” to introduce them to the Finnegan family discussion of that day, and if those potential visitors were to come to me for advice on this matter, I would tell them to weigh their options before entering.

Find Your Own Truth

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

Most people loathe vague advice. We want answers, we want an answer the helps us over the bridge, and a super-secret part of us wants those answers to be easy, but another part of us knows that the person that seeks easy answers often gets what they pay for in that regard.

When we listen to a radio show guesting a master craftsman, however, we want some nugget of information that will explain to us how that man happened to carve out a niche in the overpopulated world of his craft. We want tidbits, words of wisdom about design, and/or habits that we can imitate and emulate, until we reach a point where we don’t have to feel so alone in our structure. Vague advice, and vague platitudes, feels like a waste of our time. Especially when that advice comes so close to a personal core and stops.

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

If the reader is anything like me, they went back to doing what they were doing soon after hearing advice, but the quality of deep, profound advice starts popping up in the course of what a person does. It begins to apply so often that we begin chewing on it, and digesting it. Others may continue to find this vague advice about a truth to be nothing more than waste matter –to bring this analogy to its biological conclusion– but it begins to infiltrate everything an eager student does. If the advice is pertinent, the recipient begins spotting truths that should’ve been so obvious before, and they begin to see that what their thought was the truth –because it is for everyone else– is not as true for them as they once thought.

Vague advice may have no import to those that don’t bump up against the precipice, and for them a platitude such as, “Find your own truth” may have an of course suffix attached to it. “Of course an artist needs to find their 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 pieces they attempted. Then, once they’ve completed that project, go ahead and ask them if they’re any closer to their truth. The interrogator is likely to receive a revelation of the artist’s frustration in one form or another, as most art involves the pursuit of a truth coupled with an inability to capture it to the artist’s satisfaction. Yet, it could be said that the pursuit of artistic truth, and the frustration of never achieving it, may provide more fuel to the artist than an actual, final, arrived upon truth ever could.

Finding your truth, as I see it, involves intensive knowledge of the rules of a craft, locating the parameters of the artist’s ability, finding their formula within, and whittling. Any individual that has ever attempted to create art has started with a master’s template in mind. The aspiring, young artist tries to imitate and emulate that master design, and they wonder what that master of the design might do in moments of artistic turmoil. Can I do this, what would they do, should I do that, and is my truth nestled somewhere inside all of that awaiting further exploration? At a furthered point in the process, the artist is hit by other truths, truths that contradict prior truth, 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 whittler 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 others’ stories to what he believes to be 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 within a study of a 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 as I’ve always known that the strawberry existed, I knew about the form some call memoir, that others call creative non-fiction. The question I have, is have you ever tasted a strawberry that caused you to flirt with the idea of eating nothing but strawberries for the rest of your life? If you have, I’m going to guess that it had more to do with your diet than it did the actual taste of that strawberry. A person may go long stretches of time carelessly ignoring the nutrients that this gorgeous, little heart-shaped berry has in abundance for. They may suffer from a vitamin C depletion, for example, in ways that were not apparent to them, until they took that first bite of this gorgeous, little heart-shaped berry.

That first bite caused a person inexplicable feelings of euphoria that they didn’t understand, until they learned of the chemicals of the brain, and the manner in which the brain rewards the person for fulfilling a biological need. The only thing they may have known at the time was that that strawberry tasted so glorious that they stood at the strawberry section of a buffet line gorging on strawberries while everyone behind them waited for them to starting moving.

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. The only answer I can give the reader is that if they’re suffering a depletion, one essay will not quench this depletion any more than one strawberry can. One narrative essay did not provide a eureka-style epiphany that led me to an understanding of all of the creative avenues worthy of exploration. One essay did not quench the ache my idea-depleted mind endured in the more traditional parameters, with the time-tested formulas and 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 a manner equivalent to the effort I put into exploring the maximum benefits the strawberry could provide, until a grocery store checker proclaimed that she had never witnessed one man purchasing as many strawberries as I had at one time. She even called a fellow employee over to witness the spectacle I had laid out on her conveyor belt. The unspoken critique being that no wife would permit a man to purchase this many strawberries at once, so I must be single and self-indulgent.

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

It is difficult to describe an epiphany to a person that’s never had one. Even to those that have had one, I would say that the variables within an epiphany are so unique that they can be difficult to describe to a listener with an “of course” face on. I could’ve informed 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 their “of course” face, we can only concede that epiphanies are personal.

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

You’ll figure it out.”

If a vague piece of advice, such as these two nuggets, appear so obvious that they’re hardly worth saying, or the recipient of such advice can’t understand how it might apply, no matter how often one thinks about it, does it, attempts to add to it, or whittles 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

“That’s David Hauser,” my friend Paul responded when I asked about the guy who sat in the corner of the liquor store, the one who appeared to have full-fledged conversations with himself. “He’s crazy, an absolute loon. Went crazy about a year ago. People say he got so smart that he just snapped one day.” Paul snapped his fingers. “Like that!” he said.

I frequented The Family Liquor Store for just this reason: I loved anomalies, and I learned that The Family Liquor Store was a veritable breeding ground for them. In the sheltered life I lived, I knew little to nothing of anomalies. I knew that some people succeeded and others failed, but the failures in Dad’s inner circle were a rung or two lower. I knew nothing of the depths of failure and despair that I would encounter in the liquor store owned by my friend Paul’s parents, where Paul also worked.

Even while immersed in that world of despair, I encountered pride, coping mechanisms, and lies. A customer named 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 these tales informed those in The Family Liquor Store that I was almost as laughable as the fools that told them.

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

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

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

“You see these guys here,” Paul’s father whispered to me on a previous day at The Family 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 for the wrong woman.”

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

“What’s the wrong woman?” I asked. “And 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 you listen to what they say.”

In the life I spent following that advice, I met a number of fussy guys. Some wouldn’t even look at a woman below an eight, on the relative scale of physical appearance. Others looked for excessive class, intelligence, strength and weakness, and still others were in a perpetual, perhaps unconscious, search for their ma. For me, it’s always been about sanity. I’ve date some beautiful women throughout my life and some strong women who could school me in intelligence. Most of the women I decided to date brought that sassy element I so enjoy, but it’s always came back to the FrootLoopery 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 that sage advice from Paul’s father would weaved its way into my calculations. 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, but none escaped.

For all of the questions I asked in The Family Liquor Store, there was 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 one that answered. One answer I did receive, over time, and in a roundabout way: Surrounding one’s self by failure and despair does make one feel better about our standing in the world by comparison.

“How does one become so smart that they go crazy?” I asked Paul, still staring at David Hauser, the man who was still discussing things with himself

“I don’t know,” Paul said. “They say he had a fantastic job, prestige, and boatloads of money, but he got fired one day, and no one knows why. His wife divorced him when he couldn’t find other work, and he ended up sitting in the corner over there, talking to himself for hours on end, and drinking on his brew.”

Among the possibilities he listed was the idea that a woman might have led to David’s fall. I latched onto that possibility, because it suggested Paul’s father was right. I was satisfied with the answer, but Paul and those who informed him wouldn’t let the too-smart angle go in regard to David Hauser’s condition. They declared that was the, “The nut of it all.”

Speaking to oneself was a common practice of The Family Store patronage. Those who didn’t do so, in fact, stood out. The interesting and unique thing that separated David Hauser from the pack was that he was a good listener in those one-sided conversations, a characteristic that made him an anomaly in a world of anomalies. There were times when David looked to the speaker whom no one else could see, but he reserved those shared glances with the speaker for the introductory portion of the speaker’s conversation. When the purported speaker’s dialogue progressed, David Hauser’s gaze then took on a diagonal slant, and it morphed into an outward glance, followed by an inward one that suggested he was contemplating what the other was saying. At times, David Hauser and the purported speaker said nothing at all.

Prior to David Hauser, I assumed that people who speak to themselves do so to fill a void. In a world of people with no listening skills, most intangible friends are excellent listeners. David Hauser filled that void, but he and his companion created other voids, what some might call seven-second lulls. At times, the lulls in those conversations ended with active-listening prompts on David’s part. This display suggested that the purported speaker ended the lull, and David’s listening prompts encouraged the speaker to continue. At other times, David stopped speaking abruptly, as if someone had interrupted him. Those elements deepened my already deep fascination with David Hauser. I knew the abuse I took for this would be brutal, but I couldn’t take it anymore. I had to know what this guy 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 need to know what David Hauser was saying grew into a full-blown obsession to understand something about humanity, something I didn’t think I could learn from my otherwise sheltered life of books. I needed to know if a person as incapacitated, as David Hauser appeared to be, speaks to himself to sort through internal difficulties, and if such an individual recognizes it for what it was on some level, or believe they are talking with someone else.

“For God’s sake,” Paul said. “Why?”

I’m don’t recall what I said at that point, but I know it was an attempt to defuse the situation, so Paul wouldn’t have material on me later, when it came time to mock me for my odd curiosity. I think I said, “I don’t know, I just do.”

I didn’t know what would’ve satisfied my curiosity. I didn’t know if I was searching for listening prompts or seeking the particular words that David Hauser would use to answer my questions. Is there a word that can inform another that a person genuinely believes another person is there? Is there a word, or series of words, that will inform an observer that a person has manifested another person to satisfy a psychological need? The latter was so far beyond my comprehension that I didn’t want to spend too much time thinking about it, but I figured David’s mannerisms, his tone, and the context of his active-listening prompts would somehow form a conclusion for me.

“Be careful,” Paul said.

The two words slipped out as if Paul was repeating a warning he received when he considered further investigation, and he focused his attention on me and said, “Be careful” again.

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

“Why?” I asked.

“I don’t know,” he said. “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?”

Perhaps Paul was messing with me and my obsession kept me from seeing the joke, but it was just as probable that he believed it. We were both avid fans of the horror genre, and we were both irrational teenagers who still believed in various superstitions, black magic, curses, elements of dark art, and the supernatural. Our minds were just starting to grasp the complex, inner workings of the adult, real world, but we were still young enough to consider the childlike belief in the possibilities of how reality occurring under an altogether different premise.

Long story short, Paul’s attempts to warn me, followed by his questions, 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. My curiosity was insatiable, 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 man 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 in the brief moment that followed Paul’s warning. It seemed like one of those foolish, rhetorical questions I ask that results in ridicule, but I found the question fascinating. If there was an intellectual peak, I figured that hadn’t even come close to mine at that point in my life, but I thought that I should work through the dynamics of it in the event that I ever brushed against that border. Will a person know when they’ve arrived at an intellectual peak? I wondered. Is there a maximum capacity one should be wary of crossing? If they do cross it, do they risk injury, similar to athletes who push themselves beyond the actual limits of their physical ability? I thought of a pole-vaulter, sticking a pole in the ground, attempting a jump he should have reconsidered and the resultant physical injuries that could follow.

When I put those irrational fears aside, other irrational fears replaced those, as I walked over to David Hauser. Paul’s “Be careful” played in my head, along with the realization that prior to building the courage to step near David Hauser my fear of him was speculative in nature. It dawned on me that all I did was brave my fears of an unknown quantity, I had no idea how I would deal with whatever reality lay ahead. His volume lowered a bit, as I neared his sphere of influence. I considered that a coincidence and I progressed, pretending to look at something outside the window behind him. As I neared closer, his volume dropped even more. I didn’t that was a coincidence, but I wasn’t sure. I wondered if he was trying to prevent me from hearing him.

Whatever the case, I couldn’t hear what he was saying, and I was more than a little relieved about that. I felt encouraged by the fact that I had neared him, even though I was afraid. I was wary of getting too close, because I feared the idea of having his overwhelming theories implanted in my brain. I assumed such an implantation might be equivalent to an alien putting a finger on a human head and introducing thoughts so far beyond that brain’s capacity that it could cause the victim to start shaking and drooling, like that kid in The Shining. I considered it plausible that I could wake in a straitjacket with that theory rattling around in my head, searching for answers, until I ended up screaming for a nurse to come in and provide me some relief in the form of unhealthy doses of chlorpromazine to release the pressure in my head.

I later learned that David Hauser achieved a doctorate in some subject, earned from some northeastern Ivy League school. That fact placed him so far above those trapped in this incarnation of hell, known as The Family Liquor Store, that I figured everyone involved needed a way to deal with his story, and everyone did love the story.

I wasn’t there when David Hauser told the story of what happened to him, so I don’t have primary source information of his fall from grace. The secondhand story of this once prominent man of such unimaginable abilities falling to a level of despair and failure was on the tip of the tongue of everyone that heard it. “Like that!” they said, with a snap of their fingers to punctuate the description. Bubbling beneath that surface fascination were unspoken fears, confusion, and concern that if it could happen to a guy “Like that!” it could happen to any of us. In place of traveling through a complex maze of theories and research findings to find the truth, there was an answer. No one knew who came up with it 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 that no one knew the undisputed truth of what really happened to David Hauser. We knew some truths, the ones he purportedly revealed, but he didn’t give us an answer, because he likely didn’t have one. My guess was that even if we could’ve convinced David Hauser to sit down in a clinical setting or create some sort of climate that would assure him that no one would use his answers to satisfy a perverse curiosity, we still wouldn’t get answers out of him, because he didn’t have any to offer.

The man who spent most of his life answering the most difficult questions anyone could throw at him reached a block, a wall, or some obstacle that prevented him from finding 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.

That led me to believe that the reason his volume dropped as I neared was a mixture of pain and embarrassment. If David Hauser’s mind was as complex as those in The Family Liquor Store suggested, and it was stuck on a question repeating in his head, to the point of needing to manifest another presence to help him work through it, how embarrassing would it be for such a man to have an eavesdropping teenager, that knew little to nothing about the world, find that answer for him?

I did have an answer for what happened to David Hauser, we all did, but I’m quite sure our answer didn’t come anywhere close to solving the actual question of how a man could fall so far. I’m quite sure it was nothing more than a comfortable alternative developed by us, for us, to try to resolve the complexities of such an intricate question that could’ve driven us insane “Like that!” if we tried to figure it out and it trapped itself in our brain.

If you enjoyed this piece, you might enjoy the other members of the seven strong:

The Thief’s Mentality

He Used to Have a Mohawk

That’s Me In the Corner

You Don’t Bring me Flowers Anymore!

… And Then There’s Todd

When Geese Attack!

Scorpio Man II: The Second Testimonial

My life has taken quite a turn, since last we spoke. I might continue to 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 people ask what Sun I was born under, but I now understand that this might be due to years of patriarchal conditioning bred into my psyche.

Those of you that read the May 17, 2014 testimonial may have deemed me 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 becoming more open to balancing my summer and winter. This is an accomplishment most associate with the Pisces, according to Ms. Maria Edgeworth, and she 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.

As 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. I regret doing it, but I find that this temporary lie cleanses the palate for those worried that Mars the god of war and Pluto the god of the underworld might still rule me, while I undergo intense Level One training to face my limitations in order to transmute and evolve past them.

My hope is that we will find a way to move past our prejudicial and unconscious displays of emotional security that take the form of a silent scream when we find ourselves trapped in enclosed spaces, such as an elevator, with a Scorpio Man. The act of lying about my essence is counterproductive to my therapy, of course, but it’s just so frustrating that I haven’t witnessed any progress in others. 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 hours we have put into these sessions 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. Her name is Faith Anderson, and I might be premature with this, but I think she’s the best thing that ever happened to me.

She told me that she was a Pisces on our first date. She said it before our burgers arrived. I should’ve been suspicious. I wasn’t, until she sank a frozen to the rail cut shot, using a medium stroke in our first game of eight ball. When she proceeded to sink several near ninety-degree cut shots in the games that followed, I was onto her. I knew she was harboring secrets only a fellow Scorpio could see. 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 lied to her too. I told her I was a Virgo, so she couldn’t know that I have the same powers she does of detecting when people are playing mind games. She would later tell me that she was onto the fact that Mars the god of war, and Pluto the god of the underworld ruled my world too, the moment she caught wind of the articulate nature of my dark sense of humor.

As I stated in my previous testimonial, the pressure society places on Scorpio Men and Women forces us to conceal our nature. It’s you people that 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 vulnerability. She just wanted a chance, that non-discriminatory, judgment-free chance to find acceptance and love.

After a time, Faith agreed to metamorphose my limitations, with the proviso that I continue to work with Ms. Edgeworth to confront my preexisting limitations and make a commitment to grow past them. She stopped me, in the moment, and forced me to swear that I would seek a balance between summer and winter, while acknowledging that I was predisposed to cling to my blossoming previous life at the same time. I was also required to inform her that I would interact with others to delve beneath the surface and prepare for a more spiritual and fertile future.

While still in the moment, she informed me that I couldn’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,” she said. There was some exasperation in her voice, as she saw that I would need this further explained, “You are essentially raping the space between you and them. It’s called toxic hyper masculinity.”

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’ listed as one of the first words 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 a marginalized group membership, and until I confronted that offense, we were “totally incompatible”.

The argument extended into the night, and it included an impenetrable silent treatment that ended with threat that I might never have my limitations metamorphosed again. I was confused. I knew Faith’s philosophies, and even though I didn’t fall in lock step with her beliefs, I did my best to respect them. I was so confused that I brought the issue to Mrs. Edgeworth.

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

“Most people think that,” she said. “I think that misconception is based on the fact 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 because Pluto is relatively new to our interiority, and that we haven’t evolved our understanding of the quietly driving effect its 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, it can lead to some 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 no longer have time for sports, sitcoms, or beer with the buddies, I have empathy. I will tell you, however, that 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. I listed the first testimonial here, and I listed the third and final testimonial here. Thank you for reading.}


That’s Me In the Corner

I never considered the possibility that I might be witnessing a physical manifestation of me –that speculative writers might call a doppelganger– 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 band Kiss. I don’t know what I would’ve done, if that happened, as I had already reached a frequency of thought 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– just watching the kid. By watching the kid, to the point of an unusual, momentary obsession, some part of me thought I might be able to answer some unanswered questions I had from my youth.

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

“Look at the kid,” I heard some wedding patrons whispering to others. “Look at Kevin!” I heard others say. I was already watching him. I thought everyone was. How could one avoid it, I wondered, this kid was putting on a show.

There was a ‘something you don’t see every day’ element to this kid’s step that challenged the audience to look away. He didn’t look out into the audience, he didn’t smile, and he did not attempt to communicate with us in a manner I suspect a well-trained dancer might. There was, however, an element of showmanship in his step that should not have occurred in a normal nine-to-ten-year-old’s “conform as opposed to perform” step.

The kid’s shoulders dropped low in his dance step. I don’t know what this suggested exactly, but he did appear more comfortable on the floor than any of the other kids his age. His handclaps were also a little harder than the other kids were. I don’t know if it was the volume of Kevin’s claps, but the other kids appeared to be struggling to follow the beat, or his beat. His gyrations were so out of step with the rest of the participants that those of us not in the wedding party had trouble stifling our giggles. This kid was dancing.

“Who’s the kid?” I asked my uncle.

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

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

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 I was missing something.

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

“Because it’s cute.”

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

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

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

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 occasionally. It’s free form dancing. A trained chimp could do it.

When the kid made a beeline 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 might have been shocked at the manner he exited. I laughed. I thought it added to the spectacle. I laughed loud, believing that those that laughed while he danced would share my laughter. They didn’t. I received confused looks from those around me. His beeline exit did not elicit shock, or any other response. They’d moved on. I tried to, but I was fixated on this kid.

Some may have characterized this kid’s exit as a statement regarding what he thought of the art of dance, but I didn’t think that captured it. I thought that a desire to watch how this party would unfold fueled this kid’s exit.

The kid’s exit suggested that he was one that preferred to watch. It was aggravating to those of us that watched his initial dance steps and thought he had something to offer to this otherwise routine wedding reception. He didn’t appear to be the least bit embarrassed by his performance, 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 performing these actions. 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 an insecure, young man thinks that his elders 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 entertainment purposes, to a belief that when watching better performers attempt to be entertaining, we’ve achieved that level ourselves without having to deal with all the messy details involved in the trials and errors to get to that point.

I knew, even while I was doing it, how odd others might find it that I was obsessing over the actions of a nine-to-ten-year-old boy, in such an innocuous moment of the boy’s life, and I attempted to look away several times. Every time a member of the party made some kind of misstep, however, this kid would draw my attention by laughing harder than anyone else would. My guess was that the relief that he wasn’t one of those in the position to commit such errors fueled that raucous laughter. This kid would laugh so hard at every joke that it was obvious he wanted to be louder than any others laughing.

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

“What’s that?” my uncle said.

“What?” I said. “Nothing.” 

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

Whatever the case was, I hadn’t intended for anyone to hear that thought. I was embarrassed. I was embarrassed, but I also wondered if I intended to think that aloud, so that I might have it on the record if it went down the way 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 ‘cross over’ is the Houdini milk can of the observer’s world. It is an attempt to establish one’s self as a participant in the minds of all partygoers without participating.

The initial stages of a crossover are not a difficult to achieve. Anyone can shout out comments, or laugh in an obnoxious and raucous manner that gains attention. The crossover does require some discretion, however, for it can be overdone. When one overemphasizes an attempt, they could run the risk of receiving a “We know you were there. You wouldn’t shut up about it” comment. The perfect crossover calls for some comments and/or attention getting laughter interspersed in the emcee’s presentation to lay the groundwork for the stories the subject would later tell others regarding his participation.

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

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

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

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

“You were just integral to the party,” I wanted to shout out to that kid with such vigor that I would’ve revealed myself. “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 witnessed this idea that those roles can somewhat interchangeable in people’s memories? Unless the participants are so over-the-top funny, entertaining, or in all other ways memorable, observers have can manipulate the memories of participants, if they know how to enhance their role as an astute observer.

When one is an athlete, for example, the members of the audience may cheer their athletic exploits in ways that display the pride they might feel through vicarious connections. When an athlete commits an error, or underperforms in any way, they may feel sorry for the athlete, but they won’t associate with them in any meaningful way. 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 as the athlete was 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 those past 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 involve creative, entertaining nuggets, they might become a part of the narrative in a manner that listeners to join him in making the leaps of 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 already does this, on a conscious level, and his evolution is so complete that he’s already choosing vicarious participation over actual participation on a conscious level, then that is where the similarities end. I thought he was too young for all that however, but I did consider the idea that he might be slipping into an all too comfortable position where he is neglecting the importance of 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. I considered this portal equivalent to the type of learning one can experience 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 had 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. Then get out there and do it so often that you tailbone is on the line and you’re making an absolute fool out of yourself. Then, 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!’”

If you enjoyed this piece, you might also enjoy the other members of the seven strong:

The Thief’s Mentality

He Used to Have a Mohawk (This is not a prequel to this piece, but it is another story that occurred in the same wedding.)

A Simplicity Trapped in a Complex Mind

You Don’t Bring me Flowers Anymore!

… And Then There’s Todd

When Geese Attack!

Anti-Anti-Consumer Art

I may be in the minority, but I prefer the work of angry, bitter artists that tend to be maladjusted people. If I deign to offer an artist 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 OPINIONS ARE EXCREMENT!” rebuttal, I might begin to question if they have the artistic temperament I require of those that have no other way of venting their rage on the world than through artistic creation.

Margaret Roleke “Hanging”

If I am going to view their art in a serious manner, they had 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 view 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.

The path to artistic purity is different for every artist, of course, but most true artists do not set out to create pieces consumers enjoy. For most, the struggle of art artistic expression is to locate and expound upon unique, individual interpretation of nouns (people, places, and things). For these people, the idea that others may share their interpretations is exciting and fulfilling, but it is not why they felt the need to express themselves. Outside adulation is of secondary concern, but it is also gravy. Some, however, create complicated pieces of literature, or other forms of art, for the expressed purpose of airing their complications, and for these people the loathing they have for the common man’s opinion is so complete that they’re looking at something else before the common man can complete their second sentence. Even those authors that write bestsellers, for the sole purpose of writing a bestseller, will argue till they bleed that their intention was not to create something that consumers love. They will argue that they just happened to create something that consumers love. We can’t blame them, no matter how much we might disagree, for if they stated that they intended to create a product of universal appeal, few would consider them serious artists.

If a starving artist declares how much they love fans in their artistic statement –and they’re hoping to one day have their art exhibited in a New York City gallery– they may want to avoid the heartache, and headaches, and just consider another profession. They may want to consider trying out for the Atlanta Falcons instead, because they’re probably going to have a better chance of making that team than the ones that have their works considered for a New York City art gallery. A true artist can say that they value input from those that have experienced their piece, but they must word it in such a manner that avoids anyone interpreting their artistic statement as one of appreciation.

The best chance an artist might have for achieving the placement in a prestigious gallery is to condemn everything that that consumer purports to stand for. Their best bet might be to find an artistic method of denouncing everything everyone believes in. Their best bet might be is to find an anti-consumer theme.

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 attempting to be young and hip, will walk up to an artist in these galleries and try to find some way of telling them that they find the most disturbing pieces in their portfolio: “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 received such comments from a little, old lady. A rejection of such compliments, from such an artist could enshrine that artist in the word-of-mouth halls of the art world, and their opportunity for such prestige might increase, if the artist puts some sort of exclamation point on their rejection, by spitting on the old lady’s shoes.

Receiving a compliment from a little, old lady has to put an ant-consumer artist in an odd place. The intention of such a creation is to reject everything that old lady holds dear. Its purpose was to disturb her, and its intent was to shake up her conformist thoughts of the world. To hear that such a woman “gets” the artist’s piece denunciation of her generation, and the way her generation screwed us all up with their toys, and wars, and unattainable gender-specific imagery has to be vexing for the artist. The artist must feel a reflexive warm glow rising whenever someone compliments them on something they worked so hard on, but the artist knows better than to concede to that impulse.

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 could become the talk of the town if she pulled 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, were it 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 your generation has done to us.”

If the patron is not of the 50’s generation, and they deign to criticize anti-consumer art, they might want to consider if they’re part of the problem. They may want to consider going outside more often, or carefully considering the full scope of the artist’s narrative. It would seem that the sociopolitical theme of anti-consumerism is immune to criticism by its very nature. If that were the case, why wouldn’t a curator want their gallery lined with anti-consumer pieces?

The anti-consumer artist doesn’t have to worry about using current products in their art either, for an anti-consumer artist can use whatever consumer-related products they need to, to denounce the ethos of an era. A pro-consumer piece does not have 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 little more. If the artist is not willing to include some underlying, angst-ridden subtext regarding the ways in which eating Superman cereal created unrealistic expectations in the patron’s mind, and thus messed up patron’s childhood, the artist can be sure that their piece is not going to fetch the kind of price tag that a bitter, condemnation of being forced to ingest the cereal, and thus the ideals of Superman, will.

The question that I’m sure many anti-consumer, starving artists would love to know is, is there a sliding scale on anti-consumerist statements? If their piece contains sophisticated irony in its anti-consumer theme, with an ironic twist, what kind of return can they expect for their time? If the artist is vehement in the declarations they’ve made with this theme, how much more profitable will that piece be, and is there a percentage by which the price tag increases in conjunction with their bullet point adherence to the sociopolitical, anti-consumer theme?

Walking through these galleries, one can’t help but feel overwhelmed by the amount of anti-consumer art for sale. It has become the most consumer-related, rebellious, and radical theme in the art world. It’s become a staple in the art world. If a starving artist is not painting, sculpting, or putting together some sort of disturbing, anti-consumer collage, I’m guessing that their fellow artists have already approached them with the ‘what the hell you waiting for?’ question. It’s become the safest theme for an artist to explore if they want their work exhibited.

Curators don’t have to worry about fads or trends in the art world, for the very idea of fads and trends are anti-consumer, and that which an anti-consumer artist speaks out against in their work. All a curator has to do is 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 righteous rebel –looking to be capture a counterculture theme in their work, regardless what it said in their pocketbook– would take one look around at all the anti-consumer art in the art world and stick their artistic, middle finger up in the rebellion to expose it for the unintended parody it has become.

The question of how to frame such an artistic creation 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.

“Eat at McDonald’s”

“It says eat at McDonald’s,” a curator might say with absolute disgust.

“Right on,” the anti-anti-consumer artist would say. “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 the anti-anti-consumer artist’s piece would be prone to consider the artistic statement to be a stab at consumerism that contains sophisticated irony. They might consider it quaint, hilarious, and an incredible salvo sent to consumers around the world that don’t get it. If the artist were made available to answer questions, and they implored their artistic friends to accept their anti-anti-consumer theme for what it is, the hip, avant-garde smiles would likely flatten, and they might consider the anti-anti-consumer theme obnoxious, and they may even consider such an artist to be a whore for corporate America.

“I just want to celebrate the history and tradition of the McDonald land character Grimace,” would be the anti-anti-consumer artist’s intro to the patrons of their exhibit. “I also want to explore, in my painting, all the joy and happiness Grimace has brought to so many lives?”

“Is that sophisticated irony?” the patrons would ask.

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

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

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

If the anti-anti-consumer artist has the artistic temperament of one that doesn’t care about the sale, however, and they’re able to maintain focus on the artistic theme, they might be forced to engage in a substantial back and forth with the patrons of their piece before they came to the conclusion that the artist wasn’t putting them on, and that they weren’t being obnoxious. As stated earlier, being obnoxious in an anti-consumer stance is not just acceptable, it’s expected, but stubbornly pursuing an anti-anti-consumer stance will cause others to deem them obnoxious and pro-consumer.

I’m guessing that attracting patrons to the anti-anti-consumer exhibit would not even be the beginning of the artist’s problems, as no self-respecting curator would deign to showcase their work. I’m guessing that most curators aren’t bad people, and that they would have some sympathy for the anti-anti-consumer artist’s frustrations that would follow. I’m guessing that if the curator knew enough about his industry to be objective about it, they would sit the artist down, at some point, and say something along the lines of this:

“I know you are a passionate artist, but you should reconsider this anti-anti-consumer theme. I know that you built it to counter the counter, but you should know won’t play well over the long haul. If you want serious cachet in the art world, you have two genres to consider, the anti-consumerism theme and the anti-consumer works that are vehement with their theme. I’d suggest you drop this whole anti-anti-consumer statement and make it known that your works contain a sophisticated irony with an anti-consumer twist, if you ever hope to sell anything.”

If the anti-anti-consumer artist somehow managed to achieve some degree of success with their theme, they would likely become the scourge of the art world, and at some point, their fellow artists would form a consistent condemnation for their audacity. “You’re ruining this for all of us. What are you doing?”

At which point the anti-anti-consumer artist could look them in the eye and ask, “Is that sophisticated irony?”

Fear of a Beaver Perineal Gland

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

Those of us that have heard this line, in reference to what we are about to consume, know where this conversation is headed. When we hear 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, we know that we can’t just run away. We put up with it, all of it, because the alternative means conceding to the idea that there’s too much knowledge out there.

The premise of the idea that there could be too much knowledge makes us wince. How can there be too much knowledge? It makes no sense. If we thought this contention was limited to the idea 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. We might consider the idea of placing some kind of Orwellian governor on the information available on the net, but we won’t concede to the idea that there’s too much knowledge available to concerned consumers. Knowing that such an institutional governor on information outlays violates our personal constitution, we might want to ask informed consumers to place a cap on the type of information they provide others, insofar as it they deem it irrelevant to an audience that “simply has to hear about it”. We think the onus should be on the speaker to notice when their audience becomes visibly agitated that so few people recognize the violation of intruding upon the enjoyment of a meal with trivial information that is often vulnerable to contradictory studies.

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 couldn’t tell the difference between the strawberry flavoring in your shake and beaver taint?”

I did everything but close my eyes here. This type does not stop. It’s almost as if they have so much trivial knowledge stored in their cerebral tank that if they don’t hit the release valve every once in a while, they may implode. One cannot just say that you don’t want to receive this information dump, for we know that if we play ball with them 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. Those that enjoy eating strawberry, raspberry, and vanilla iced cream are, in essence, a big fan of beaver taint. And if they’re willing to pay a little bit more for a product that contains the words “natural flavorings” tagline on its product face, they should know that they’re either eating beaver taint, or a wide array of animal byproducts, that may shock them. The natural assumption is that the opposite of natural flavorings involves manmade, chemical enhancement, but does the average consumer know the true extent of the term ‘natural flavorings’ in the products they purchase? Chances are if they prefer natural flavoring in their strawberry shake, they’ve been devouring a yellowish secretion from the dried perineal glands of the beaver, in a gratuitous manner, for years now.”

The Castoreum Connection

Castoreum is the exudate from the castor sacs of the mature North American Beaver 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 is 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. Rather, enterprising young hands milk it from the castor sacs located in its anal glands. Those curious enough to pursue too much knowledge on this subject should know that entering the search term “Milking the beaver” in a search engine, to find in search of instructional videos on the subject, may not pull up videos displaying the action described here.

It’s important to note here that research scientists in this field, called flavorists, have developed synthetic substitutes for castoreum, and almost all of the natural additives listed throughout this article. Yet, all of these substitutes fall under the umbrella of artificial flavorings, and artificial flavorings fall under the umbrella of manmade, but these two terms are now 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 finding the difference between natural and artificial flavorings requires one to look to the original source of these chemicals used.

“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 hotdogs?” and “Do you know what they do to the animals you eat?”

“I used to be a vegan,” a friend of mine said. “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.”

On that note, how much does the average consumer enjoy M&M’s and jelly beans? Would their enjoyment of these products lessen if the tender, chewable morsels 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 we put on our wood furniture to give it that extra shimmer, is the same additive they add to our 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 they 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.

Does the average consumer 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 tested 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 some discovered the product to be a cochineal extract, a color additive derived from the cochina beetle’s shell. The process involved drying up the cochina beetles, grounding them up, and processing them to give the drink a more sustainable red flavoring. Informed consumers forced Starbucks to end the practice when informed groups caterwauled them into transitioning to lycopene, a pigment found in tomatoes.

As usual, all this caterwauling is 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 and Bitter Beer Face

Fish bladders to fight bitter beer?

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 consumers 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 the consumer, are often the difference between being able to deliver said products, and folding up shop. If an informed consumer that “DEMANDS!” more corporate responsibility along industry lines, they should be ready to pay for the alternatives they pass onto the consumer. 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 their ‘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 an uninformed consumer would step up, en masse, and say something along the lines of this:

“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, but I’ve been drinking this beer, and its fish bladder remnants, for decades. 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 Us in the Mood

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 us in the mood.

Castoreum gives off a musky scent 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. Ambergris is a bile duct secretion the whale produces to ease the passage of hard, sharp objects that the whale may have ingested. As such, enterprising souls often locate the ambergris used in perfumes floating on the surface of the ocean in whale vomit.

Well-known lover, and raconteur, Giacomo Casanova, often sprinkled 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 would add an extra coat of it on his collar.

The theory that Casanova, and research scientists in the field of perfumes and colognes, bought to the study was that our sense of smell once served the dual purpose of warning us of danger as well as attracting a prospective mate. Market research used these findings and expounded on them. They 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 found their chemical structure to be 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 the match received their reward, the 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 began huffing on that handkerchief with celebratory 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 stories of this moment depicted it as a symbolic one of a damsel giving her hand. The details of this “huffing on the handkerchief” moment suggest 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, the handkerchief received a coating of her smegma, and the jouster’s reward for victory was greater knowledge he attained of the damsel’s true essence.

Having said all that, man needn’t 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 ritual required staple of day-to-day bathing deprives us the very human scents that are, in many ways, attractants. Decide not to bathe very often and your visual cues will suffer, of course. Some might consider it a juggling act fraught with peril, but if we manage our bathing ritual in such a manner that our visual cues are still scoring high in the world of attraction, we might be able to maximize our smegma production if we lessen our bathing. Doing so, according to the research scientists quoted here, could land us atop the dating world without having to say 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 –located on and around our reproductive organs, and in our urine– on a day-to-day basis. The same, prospective dating community then requires us to replace those scents we wash away on a day-to-day basis, with the scents 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 had an inordinate attraction to whalers? Did this first 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 to their success rate? Did they find that there was something more 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 someone officially unlocked the alluring properties of ambergris? On that note, who was the first person to mix beaver taint juice and ice cream together and decide that it was such a winning proposition that it could be used in a pitch to corporations, and what was he forced to say in that pitch to make it persuasive? While we’re on this topic, how was the psychedelic and psychoactive properties of the toad discovered?

For those that don’t 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? How did they discover that this particular toad’s venom had these properties? Did they discover it by accident, or did they walk around licking the forest, the trees, the antelope, and the shrubbery trying to find a natural high that would lead to fame and fortune? We can make an educated guess that an individual that persisted in this manner, probably doesn’t care about money as much as they do achieving a state of mind where they no longer cared about money, or anything else.

We know that the idea that natural properties in plants and animals can provide homeopathic remedies, and that those theories date 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 environments that were not sterile, 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 questions that arise from this trial and error approach. How many people became ill due to the error, how many experienced short-term and long term paralytic effects? How many died before they found that it was the 5-methoxy-N, N-dimethyltryptamine (5-MeO-DMT), chemical that is a derivative of bufotenine located 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 there had to be a person, or a number of people, that began licking a wide variety of toads before they discovered the perfect toad, secreting the perfect venom, for those that wanted 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 the human being, otherwise viewed as the toad’s attacker, is susceptible to the same consequences of any other attacker if they ran up and licked it. The human attacker could become ill and paralyzed when attempting to milk 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 crossed out the words “lick it”? This researcher, or the researcher after him, must have tried drying it and smoking it, until word “got out” that someone found 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. This knowledge soon became so ubiquitous, and eventually so detrimental, that Queensland, Australia, placed possession of toad slime on its list of illegal items, under their Drug Misuse act?

My Advice to Informed Consumers

If the reader is anything like my informed consumer friend, from the restaurant, and they are interested in trivial information about consumable products, they already know that there are websites that will feed their hunger for such information. These websites provide tidbits, and warnings, on just about every product and service available to man, on a daily basis. If this informed consumer is so interested in this information that they feel an overwhelming need to share, just know that an ever-increasing segment of the population has reached a tipping point, based on the fact that most of this information has proven to be either a trivial concern or contradictory.

My initial fear, in publishing this article, was that it might contribute to what I deem to be violations of social protocol, 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, like my informed consumer friend, that are now so overloaded with such information that they don’t believe that sharing such information can do any harm. I also know that that moment of sharing will arrive soon after the unsuspecting sits down to enjoy those 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.”

Therefore, the next time someone approaches your table with a strawberry shake, a bottle of beer, M&M’s, or a fried Bufo alvarins toad that they plan to consume in some manner, let them do it in peace. I know it’s going to provide the informed consumer the biological equivalent of letting a kidney stone calcify in their system. If they were to ask me for advice, however, I would tell them to use discretion. I would tell them that ever-increasing segment of the population doesn’t care one-eighth as much about this information as most informed consumers do, and the discretion the informed consumer shows, by allowing the consumption to continue without comment, could go a long way to them making friends and influencing people.

We are not interested in whether or not you, the reader, want to click on another story. We think most readers are too obsessed with this idea of choice. Even if it is against your will to do so, you will now click on two of five stories below:  

The Real Back Pain Solution

Platypus People

Octopus Nuggets

Nancy Sendate (The story of an obnoxiously beautiful woman that was obnoxious.) 

Every Girl’s Crazy about a Faint Whiff of Urine

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 an entire day. It doesn’t matter to us that other people might be in more pain. Pain is 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 other 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 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 BalanceWorks 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. If the reader is serious about solving recurring lower back pain, a therapist at Balance Works Massage informed me of her opinion on the cure of my problem: The leg press. There are a variety of methods to avoid in the procedure, and a variety of optimal methods to use that appear to be relative to the person, but as one that experienced recurring, lower back pain, this machine has proved to be a cure all for me. There is no one fix for all, as they say, but this worked for me.

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, Louis C.K. 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,” he continues. “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 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 one might experience with something that large racing at them, the victim 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, but it is just a warning.

I would have to guess, however, that in the aftermath of a defensive bear attack, fruit will taste better, and the victim will begin to say ‘I love you’ to their loved ones more often, after park rangers inform them that the bear was not acting in a predatory nature, and all that that implies. If the victim is witnessing a bear acting in a predatory manner, and they don’t believe in guns, they might find it interesting that a brown bear 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.

If a potential victim is unsure as to whether an oncoming bear is acting in a predatory nature or not, they should know that there is no substantial proof to suggest that bears prefer us alive. Cannibals have refuted the notion that the adrenaline that courses through our system, as a result of fear, unnecessary suffering, and pain, makes humans taste any better. So, even though playing opossum may be the only tactic for a victim to explore at one point, it may not do any good if the bear regards us as food. Bears appear to have little regard for the state of consciousness of their victim 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 intestines, and other internal organs. To get there, of course, they will have to claw away at the skin casing, and the 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!” screams the victim of agonizing back pain. 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.

Working as an ice cream truck driver one day –a ding ding man, a good humor man, or whatever you would called me in your locale– I was pulled over by a couple of bandannas, beneath hats that were turned backwards, and sunglasses. I braced for the worst. I envisioned this encounter to be the modern-day equivalent of bandits pulling over a stagecoach. I flirted with the notion that the only reason they stopped me “just to talk” was to allow their stickup man enough time to sneak around the back of the ice cream truck and complete the robbery. As a result, I divided my attention between them and my mirrors, watching for any movement to occur behind my truck. When that didn’t happen, I began to wonder if they were feeling me out, to see if I was a soft and easy roll. All of that may have been unfair, but I have always been a nerdy guy, and these guys appeared to be 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 I was. 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 was. And if they were potheads, they probably spent a lot of time equivocating moral issues, and those that equivocate –I had had pounded into my head in school– have a fundamental flaw about them that they spend most of their time trying to hide. In this world of proper metrics, I thought 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. I wore this getup 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 often laughing at me. This casual conversation among men reminded me of those kids I escaped, and it revealed the shield that I held up whenever I thought they neared.

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. I realized that these two 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 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.

The Unfunny, Influential Comedy of Andy Kaufman

There was a moment, in the timeline of the history of comedy, when the subversive nature of comedy became so comprehensive that it became uniform, 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 lost their subversive quality.

Those “in the know” had a very distinct, sociopolitical definition of subversion before Andy Kaufman. They may deem the art form of subversion that 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.”

Many regarded being weird, in the manner Andy Kaufman was weird, 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 became defined as a transcendent 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 find a way to communicate to the audience that they were being weird. They used visual cues, in the form of a weird facial expression, or weird tones, so that “less sophisticated audiences in Omaha” could understand that the comedic actor was being weird.

One can be sure that before Andy Kaufman took to the national stage, on Saturday Night Live, those “in the know” warned him of the potholes that lay ahead of him if he didn’t find some conventional method of subversion, or weirdness, to let the audience in on the joke. Kaufman didn’t listen. For whatever reason, be it confidence, intuitive knowledge, 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 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 his furniture.

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

Being Unfunny in Situations

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The pause before her second sentence included an expression that every idiot strives to achieve. The pride of figuring me out, faded, as it dawned on her that everything she thought she figured out opened up more questions. I could only imagine flowchart she developed in her mind. A flowchart that ended in a rabbit hole that once entered into would place her in a variety of vulnerable positions, including the beginning. She pursued me after that, to inform me that she was onto this whole thing I was doing, until it became obvious that I was no longer the primary audience of her conviction.

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

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

The List

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

1) So’s your mother. Most idiots prefer the non sequitur made famous by The Office, “That’s what she said.” We define a non sequitur 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, as 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. Our goal, if we choose to accept the non sequitur, situational lifestyle of the idiot, is to seek that response that exists outside the patterns and rhythms of the norm. Another key, as expressed in the knuckleball analogy, is repetition. It takes patience and perseverance, to become locked in, but if we do it right often enough, we can become a “So’s your mother” guy, until those around us begin to believe that we have such unique rhythms and patterns that they’re irritated by us, and they dismiss us as a person that “Says weird things”. If we are able to maintain this façade through all of the ways that people attempt to dismiss us –and they will vary, and some of them may hurt a little– we may reach a point where someone, somewhere will deem us a total idiot.

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

This response is not a joke to us. We believe 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?” we will ask in a manner dictated by the situation.

If our audience has no reason to believe that we’re total idiots, they may attempt to determine if our confusion is genuine at this point. If we are successful in completing this portion of the conversation, they will say, “I said it was Martha that did this …” This is the crucial point in the conversation, that which is referred to in idiotic parlance as crunch time. We cannot smile, act comedic, or let them in on the joke in anyway. We 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 us to go into our grab bag of emotions to find the display of confusion that convinces our audience that we’re confused. If our audience knows our reactions, they will know how we display genuine confusion. They will know if we look them in the eye when we’re playing with them, and if our insecurities are such that we look away when we’re searching for answers. They will also know if we’re the type that pries into a subject to get to the heart of a matter we don’t understand, or if we’re the type that pretends that we know what they’re talking about when we don’t. This is no time to project an ideal image onto the listener. This is a time to be honest and pure, and objective in our understanding of our reactions. This is also a moment to realize that we’re not brilliant and perfect, and that the best standup comedians don’t get it right the first out. Watch their reactions to our reactions and take note of any failings we might have for the next time out.

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

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

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

Seasoned idiots, that have experienced some failure at this point in the situation, will tell us 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 us something of an idiot for attempting to play such a game on them this is not the elevated form of the joke that we seek, and we’ll find it far less rewarding. Emphasizing ‘he’, to go back to our analogy, will reveal the stitch in our knuckleball, and it will result in an eye roll, or some other form of dismissal that allows our audience to avoid stepping further into the rabbit hole we’re placing before them.

If our reactions are pitch-perfect, “It’s a girl,” is something they might say. “Martha is a girl.”

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

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

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

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

3) “What’s that?” The best way to explain this joke is to provide an example of it.

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

We say all three sentences. To accentuate the joke, we will want to punctuate the third sentence with fatigue. This suggests that we’re tired of repeating ourselves. Ninety-nine percent of the time, this joke will produce nothing more than confusion, but if practiced enough, it can produce an hilarious reaction.

“I did not say what. YOU DID!” 

The person that said this colored her response with an ‘I’m not the stupid one here, YOU ARE!’ intonation that suggested that my impatience with her was “uncalled for”. She afforded me one more opportunity to pull this joke on her, and she was more adamant the second time through. Unfortunately, I was never afforded the opportunity to do this as often as it may have been necessary to see this joke to fruition, and no other person has fallen for this as hard as she did. This one is the most difficult to pull off, for most people see the stitches of this knuckleball and avoid swinging at it.

Another important note to make, before we continue, is that most idiotic humor is not funny as a standalone. 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 lips of those reading this, a number of times, and if the reader confronted me with this assessment, I would agree. I would then ask them what they consider 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. How many people are? How many people have reached great highs in their life, believing that the sky was the limit on their potential? How many have done the same after recognizing their limitations? We untalented folks have learned that there are individualistic ways of achieving humor, and it can be found in the unfunny, common situations one finds oneself in.”

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

4) Recite an Inappropriate Song Lyric in an Appropriate Moment

Song lyrics capture a moment. This is such a staple in movies, and TV, that it has crossed over into our daily lives. It’s become a cultural trope. They use the device in marketing, business presentations, and in romantic gestures. 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, occurred in an episode of The Simpsons when Millhouse Mussolini Van Houten said, “So this is what it feels like … when doves cry.” It was humorous, because use of the device did have some application to the feelings of utter hopelessness and despair that Millhouse was experiencing after Lisa Simpson informed him that they would not be a romantic couple. It was also hilarious, because it was typical of a young person’s dramatic attachment to utter despair that the rest of us know is momentary.

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

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

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

The Idiostory

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

Some of us bought every VHS tape, book, and album attached to his name. We read everything we could about him online to try and figure out how he became such an idiot. We also learned 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. We followed his examples and teachings in the manner of a disciple, until it became a lifestyle that we thought we could use to confuse the serious world just enough to lead to some seminal moments in our pursuit of the idiotic life, based on the reactions our audience gave us.

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

Most of our friends considered it being weird for the sake of being weird, but they didn’t recognize the depth charges until they detonated. Even when they 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. It’s possible that most of us will 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

If the goal of the reader is that others consider them funny, they should never use this mindset. If this is your goal, you may want to learn how to incorporate your responses into conversations by putting acute focus on the beats and rhythms of your delivery. Quality humor, like quality music, should have pleasing beats and rhythms that find a comfortable place in the listener’s mind. After achieving that, the person might want to repeat the pleasing pattern that their listeners will recognize before hitting the punchline. This will allow the listeners’ brains to reward them for figuring out how you arrived at that point, before you did. That reward will be a shot of dopamine, and the joke teller’s reward will be their laughter. They may even say the punchline before you do.

If, however, the goal is to be an unfunny idiot that gets no laughter for the effort, the joke teller will want to know those same rules of comedy, regarding the beats and rhythms of humor, but they will need to know them even better than funny people do. 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 practice, practice in the art of practice. It takes an ear tuned to the rhythms and beats of a conversation, or situation, and it takes a lot of trial and error.

As expressed throughout this article, the rewards for being a total idiot are far and few between. If the joke teller manages to achieve total destruction, or distortion, of what others know to be the beats and rhythms of humor, the joke teller may encounter a sympathetic soul that considers us such an idiot that they consult us about the beats and rhythm of our delivery. For the most part, however, the rewards we will receive are damage to our reputation as a potential funny person. Some might dismissing us as strange. Others may regard us as weird, and most will want to have little to nothing to do with us. Women will also say that they don’t want to date us, because they prefer nice guys that are funny, “and you, you’re just kind of weird, or some kind of idiot.”

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 many residents of Omaha, Nebraska will inform anyone that wants to know, 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.

Without intending to do so, I initiated what would eventuate into a confrontation, by committing what I would be informed to be a crime against nature, after allowing my leashed dog to chase some of the park’s ducks into the water.

“Don’t do that!” A female voice shrieked, somewhere off in the distance of the park. 

After 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 that I was the target of the shrieking. The shriek was that faint, and distant. The park wasn’t densely populated, but it was plausible that the target could’ve been anyone. I knew it wasn’t. I knew I was the subject of scorn. I could’ve walked away from it, however, 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 it, while my dog sniffed the shore and my wife spoke of her concerns in the background, but I’d had enough.

Pursuing some confrontations can produce rewards. Some of the times a person’s character is on the line, and they need to come out swinging, with their best vocabulary. Some of the times, confrontation breeds greater definition. Some of the times, a person should not sit back and allow unwarranted, slanderous accusations to go unchallenged. Yet, we all make mistakes when we confuse perceived slights with actual, in-your-face accusations, in our quest for definition. This need for respect can be such a driving force, that we might engage in inconsequential confrontations that result in no gains for either party. Some of the times, 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 self-involved and inconsiderate, but if those on the receiving end of these inconsiderate actions take a moment to evaluate the situation, we will find that the word consider is at the base of the word inconsiderate. Most people don’t consider the ramifications of their actions, as there is a wide chasm between being rude and being inconsiderate, and it’s our perceptions that drive the two together. We read into the motivations of the inconsiderate, and we see our own. We think that everyone is as considerate as we are, and that others choose to violate these unspoken, social contracts we have with one another to the point of being rude.

We know that in most cases, it would be advisable to move on, past every 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 those that shriek, and their prosecuting attorney friends (that you’ll meet in due time) for the purpose of having an uneventful, non-confrontational day, and we do so without losing one minute of sleep, because we know that most confrontations won’t teach the inconsiderate social decorum, or the life lessons that they should know by now.

Those of us that choose to live peaceful, uneventful, and non-confrontational lives often have an outlet that most busybodies don’t. We have a group of people that live in a place we call home, and if we experience that which could make us miserable, all we have to do is return home and we will be happy again. We can also inform our loved ones of our near confrontation, and we tell them how we managed to avoid overreacting. We do this with the knowledge that those that do overreact to every perceived slight have something bubbling beneath the surface that is waiting to be unleashed. We even avoid confrontation on those occasions when we know we’re right, because doing otherwise could turn out to be a decision that affects our happy lives in ways that are unalterable, depending on who is the recipient of our response. Most of us prefer to let it go, and return home to play with our kids, love our spouse, pet our dog, and move on in our otherwise happy lives.

There is a tipping point, however, when the inconsequential, inconsiderate actions of others begin to pile up. The affected could be the nicest, most peaceful person on Earth, but everyone has a threshold. After a lifetime of experiencing inconsiderate people engaging in behavior that suggests that they don’t consider how their actions could affect others, the pressurized valve that exists in all of us can begin to build up, until it explodes in an inconsiderate manner. This moment will not cause the affected to become an irrational person that seeks confrontation, but even the most peaceful people on Earth reach a point where they believe they need to aid the inconsiderate into reconsidering their definitions.

After spending years listening to shrieking busybodies notify authority figures that they –or their children– have experienced perceived slights, I hit a threshold. The list of these perceived slights –filed under national catastrophes– is now so long that a compendium the size of War and Peace would have a Volume One subtitle. I reached my threshold of hearing about shrieking busybodies, in restaurants and malls, watch 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 might have had swimming around in our minds when we decided to engage in a perceived slight.

Shrieking busybodies have no problems telling others how to dress, what beer to drink, where to eat, and what to think of the companies that sell such products. They ask 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 our body mass index should be, what we should be feeding our children. They tell us if we should be drinking coffee, what kind of Environmental Protection Agency approved car we should be driving, how much money we should have, and when they believe we’ve have enough of whatever we enjoy having.

If the sole motivation, for these busybodies, were to be an information resource, a ‘we report, you decide’ outlet as it were, those of us on the other side of the velvet rope might have less of a complaint. 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. If the sole motivation of the busybody were to be an information resource, they wouldn’t grow so frustrated that they end up shrieking in a city park, at a stranger that has decided not to follow their edicts.

Most busybodies are the result of a peaceful nation that leaves its citizens with little in the way of greater concerns. 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 most busybodies 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 as if 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 escaped consequences. When others avoided capture, and the consequences were less severe than the busybody thought they should be, the percolating began.

“Don’t let Ms. Johnson catch you doing that, she’ll tan your hide,” busybodies informed us when we were kids in grade school. When Ms. Johnson did little to nothing to punish us for our transgression, the percolating began. The busybody believed that Ms. Johnson was fierce to the point of being authoritarian, and that was the primary reason that the busybody didn’t engage in nefarious activities. Thus, the busybody grew confused and resentful when Ms. Johnson failed to live up to the busybody’s expectations, to preserve their sense of order with fire and brimstone style punishments for the disorderly. They overestimated Ms. Johnson based on their need to fear authority, and the consequences for acting up. If Ms. Johnson didn’t witness the transgression, the busybody provided her explicit detail, and when Ms. Johnson did nothing after that, a begrudged feeling was born in the mind of the busybody that resulted in a festering boil they spent the rest of their lives trying to treat. 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.

A “That’s not fair!” mantra became their battle cry, and they used that battle cry to assist teachers, and other people’s 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, their parent teacher conferences last forty-five minutes, and their one-on-one meetings with management fall just short of screaming matches. They want order, they want fairness, and they don’t want anyone to get away with what they dare not try.

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 television 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 their neighbors arrive home, with whom they enter their home, how long they’ve been home, the neighbors they interact with, and how everything a person does 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 eyewitness 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!”

The buildup of these Gladys Kravitz-types telling to tell me how to live, reached my threshold 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 I was the target of that faint, anonymous shriek, 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 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, until I realized that faux pas. 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 targeted for my dog for attack, 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.

Some have accused me 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. Neither party proved their points. 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. In my own quiet way, I thought I informed busybody nation that some of the times they, too, 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 to tell 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 over react to every perceived slight, would’ve defended their pro dog-chase-duck position in the manner I did. A person that wants to be a nice guy would’ve viewed this a no-win position.

My only defense –a defense that I agree borders on the time-honored, political tactic of diversion– is to tell the reader that I’m not a pro dog-chase-duck guy. I’m a 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 those that want to take part in my new movement that regardless how inconsequential a 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 achieve 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 begin 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 their 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.

To those that have committed a “crimes against nature” by allowing their children, or dogs, a run at some city ducks, I challenge you to look back over your shoulder after the crime is committed. Those that have done this, have witnessed the otherwise unharmed ducks go right back to the exact shoreline that their dog, or child, scared them off moments earlier. An insecure bully –that experience some joy 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 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 the dog 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 of 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. 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 resulted from the mistakes of 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 the very 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 another man perceived to be causing an extreme situation, but if that other man informed the honorable man that it was “none of their business” 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 most did not follow up to that extent.

Our current generation had seen the deleterious effects of ignoring extreme situations in which the helpless incur irreparable harm that affects the rest of their life. 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 with this call-to-arms mindset is that extreme situations don’t come around as often as we 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 requires action. “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. 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, most will regard my actions as righteous. If that mother is a little more insecure, going forward, correcting her child in public, in a manner that might 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 didn’t know the whole story, but from their perspective, it appeared to be a situation that required someone to step in. Others take great pride in their ability to recognize a situation before it escalates, and they will intercede without concession. The difference occurs in the aftermath, when true busybodies trumpet their exploits to friends and family. This is 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 actually 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 in this manner:

“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 their defense. “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?” a 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 receive some protection. 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 why some of us loathe busybodies, and why we are willing to go to some extremes to roll the tide back. 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 lurk 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 we 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 ours. “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, why was I hit with the threat of prosecution? If the focus was 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, “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 expressed her fears with a measure of restraint, and she used a measured tone when expressing her concerns, 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 first shreiker’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. I am also sure that the partners in the second 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 begrudged 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. The non-verbal shrieks I hear, the attempts you people make to hide your children, and the not-so-subtle attempts you make to escape my company when I mention that the Sun positioned itself in the Scorpio in our birth chart has beat me down. We, Scorpions, are people too, with all of the same hopes and dreams as the rest of you. We want to have friends, and people that love us very much for who we are, but those of you in the twelve other sectors of the ecliptic have created a climate where the only way a Scorpio male can feel comfortable in his celestial phenomena is to lie about his Sun’s positioning.

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

Rather 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 nothing, not even an Aquarian Mars coming down on me hardcore, can disturb my Zen. 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 what you all want? It appears as though you do. I’ve thought about fighting it. I’ve thought about telling you about all of the peace-loving Scorpio brethren that litter history, but it’s an unwinnable war.

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

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

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

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

{Update: For those interested in charting my progress, this is the first of three testimonials. The second testimonial is listed here, and the third and final testimonial is listed here. If you would like to drop a line and tell us how much you’ve enjoyed reading these, we’re always receptive to a kind word or constructive criticism. If not, thank you for reading.}


The Conspiracy Theory 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.

I don’t know if the two NBA officials, in question, missed calls or made multiple bad calls that led to twenty-seven 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. I do think, however, that these officials had a bias towards the Lakers, reflected in the calls they made, that ended up affecting this game, and I think that latter point is near irrefutable. I also think it’s plausible 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 a fan 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. Most sport fans need to accept 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, 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. These findings, however, 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 be there in any NBA games I might watch in the future.

Corroborating Evidence?

When former NBA referee Tim Donaghy received a conviction for betting on games in 2007, my first thought went to Game 6, 2002. He was not an official in 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 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. He received a conviction for betting on games he officiated. Does that mean everything he wrote in this particular letter is false? How many times has a convicted felon provided evidence that that others have later corroborated? At this point, however, there are no corroborations for Donaghy’s allegations, 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 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 a sporting event in such a manner. I do believe, however, that Nader was right to warn Stern that public sentiment could turn away from his product, 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.

“There comes a point that goes beyond any random,” Nader wrote.

There comes a point that no fan can pinpoint when disappointment becomes outrage, and outrage progresses into conspiracy theory, and conspiracy theory becomes an outright lack of trust. There comes a point where those who still believe in a fair NBA where outcomes are not predetermined, and victories are granted based on merit, are laughed off, in the same manner WCW fans are laughed at for still believing in the integrity 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!” often follows this and what follows that is a statement like: “Your team’s job is to make it so the refs cannot determine the outcome.” Again, this is all true, but outraged Kings’ fans would admit 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 twenty-seven free throws in one quarter –the fourth 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 is, as we stare at those zeroes on the scoreboard, and we watch the other team celebrate, and we listen to the post-game interviews with a lump in our throat. This dream season can’t just be over, we think. There has to be more to it, but most of them time there isn’t. Most of the time one team loses and another wins, and the conspiracy theorist becomes more ridiculous every time we attempt to say that there has to be 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 will 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 because 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 game in a manner that the NBA might never be able to retrieve.

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 say in response to this Socrates quote. “I know myself. I know myself better than anyone I’ve ever met. Why would I waste my time trying to understand myself better? Other people that makes no sense to me. I have no problem with me. Trying to know thyself better, to the level the Ancient Greeks and Socrates speak of, seems to me nothing more than a selfish conceit for pointy-headed intellectuals with too much time on their hands.”

Philosophers say that the key to living the good life lies in reflection and examination. If an individual does not have a full grasp on their strengths and weaknesses, the changes they make will be pointless, or they might not be able to sustain them for long. Knowing is half the battle, to quote the cliché.

One of the measures that we might use to gain a better understanding of who we are is to understand how weird, strange, and different we are, in conjunction with the resultant feelings superiority and inferiority that derive from it, and it can provide us some relief from the confusion we feel about the world around us. If we were to use the Cartesian coordinate system, 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 comparative analysis might be the most common method we use to know ourselves better.

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’re not all that normal either. We know that no one that knows us would place us on the point or origin in this particular Cartesian coordinate system, in other words, because they’ve had experiences with people that are more normal than we are. The first question we could ask them is who are normal people? The second question we could ask regards the numerous ideas we have about being normal, weird, and strange. We consider those relative concepts nearly impossible to quantify. I’m sure that they would cede some points on that argument. If we are going to make an attempt to know a little bit more about ourselves, however, we might want to compare ourselves to those around us in a simple system that compares us to those that exude a confidence in their being that allows them to be more comfortable in their own skin than other people. Some describe such people as radiating self-possession.

If the majority of people we run into are more normal than we are, by our arbitrary definition of the two terms, we might define ourselves as a two on the weird to normal (‘X’) axis. If that were the case, where would we be on superiority versus inferiority (‘Y’) axis? We can guess that our point on the (‘X’) axis would have a corresponding effect, and that we would be a two on (‘Y’) axis if the relationship between being more normal leads to greater self-esteem, and thus a feeling of more superiority. Through comparative analysis we could say, with some confidence, that we are a (2,2) 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 we focus on? The answer is there is no solution, if you operate from the unstated assumption that your “2=2” comparative findings will reveal a true solution.

The true solution to all that plagues you do not lie in comparative analysis. Therefore, everyone can put their ledgers down. It is pointless. The true solution lies just outside plotting points, and inside a person’s individual Cartesian coordinate system. The true solution lies just beyond the analysis the reader has performed while reading this. It is inside some of the questions a person asks while plotting, and in some of the answers that they find. Ask more questions, in other words, and a person will arrive at more answers. The point plotter may never find the perfect question that leads to a truth of it all, but they’ll find some answers, to some dilemmas that plague them, until they 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 the Ancient Greeks granted them a gift in the form of a maxim. 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 to build the science of philosophy. It was a discovery that provided the student of philosophy a Rosetta stone for the human mind and human involvement, and the Ancient Greeks achieved it with two simple words:

“Know Thyself.”            

Perhaps a modern translation, or update, of the Ancient Greek maxim know thyself may be necessary. Perhaps, ‘keep track of yourself’ might be a better interpretation for those modern readers blessed, or cursed, with so many modern distractions, that keeping track of who they really are has become much more difficult.

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, few would argue that we have more distractions, from this central argument, than we have right now. It’s now easier than it’s ever been to lose track of who we are, who we really are.

The Holy Grail for those that produce images on movie screens, TV screens, and mobile devices is to produce characters that an audience can identify with so thoroughly that the viewers begin relate to them. Idyllic images litter this path to the Holy Grail. These images are ones that a consumer associates with so often that they begin to incorporate their idealism 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 eventually arrives when a person finds that they’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. The idea that we are not them follows, and what follows all of this is we don’t know how to handle a moment of personal crisis when it arrives.

When our moment of personal crisis arrives, we may project a screen image version of us into reality, and that version we have of ourselves might 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 we were fooling ourselves, 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 now capable of handling any situation that arises. These adjustments may be false interpretations of how we handled that confrontation, but we preferred our rewrite to 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.

We have all had moments in life where we felt the need to correct a peer on the specific manner in which an event our lives happened, because we overheard them tell a third party a version of that story that was incorrect. When they don’t believe us, we invite others into the argument to provide overwhelming corroborating evidence for this peer. Those of us that have done this have been shocked when our peer refused to believe the true account. At that point, we walk away from them, because we recognize that they’re delusional. Some part of us knows that our peer knows the truth, but they chose to view things different. We think less of these people from a distance, a distance that suggests that we’ve achieved a plane of honesty that they could never achieve. The only other alternative, we think, is that our peer had a need to colorize their role, in some way, for greater self-esteem. After thoroughly condemning this person, we experience a similar scenario. The difference in this scenario is the reversal of roles involved. It’s happened to the best of us. Those of us that strive for honesty in our everyday walks of life.

On the fourth layer of Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, we find esteem. 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 the fact that we realize that we’re not as capable of achieving as their peers? What happens when this becomes impossible to deny? If we are able to convince ourselves that these incidents are the exception to the rule, we might 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 might even find ourselves growing depressed. To avoid falling down this spiral, we develop defense mechanisms.

If these defense mechanisms involve nothing more than harmless delusions and illusions, say mental health experts, it can be quite healthy. The alternative, they say, occurs when the reality of a situation overwhelms us. This could 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 hope to achieve from delusional thinking, and an incorporation of idyllic images begins to foster their desired perception in an effort to thwart 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 to lose track of who they are … who they really are?

Most of the research dedicated to brain focuses on 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.

We could say that if it’s true that our lying peers might have remembered their embarrassing incidents differently 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 just as likely that at some point in the timeline they sought 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 opted for the bright and shiny delusional paths. They may decide to go down these paths so often, while blocking out embarrassing details and forgetting self-esteem crushing decisions along the way, that professional assistance is their only recourse. We could say that by replacing these embarrassing details and self-esteem crushing decisions with idyllic images and positive reinforcements– that these people has spent too much time in their bright and shiny forest of positive illusions and delusions. We could say that these idyllic images, are such 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. They also suggest that most of the time we spend investigating other, irrelevant matters is a waste of time, or superfluous minutiae for people with too much time on their hands.

Don’t Go Chasing Eel Testicles: A Brief, Select History of Sigmund Freud

We envy those who know, at a relatively young age, what they want to do for a living. Most of us experience some moments of inspiration that might lead us toward a path, but few of us read medical journals, law reviews, or business periodicals during our formative years. Most of the young people I knew preferred an NFL preview guide of some sort, teenage heartthrob magazines, or one of the many other periodicals that offer soft entertainment value. Most of us opted out of reading altogether and chose to play something that involved a ball instead. Life was all about playtime for the kids I grew up around, but there were other, more serious kids, who we wouldn’t meet until we were older. Few of them knew they would become neurosurgeons, but they were so interested in medicine that they devoted chunks of their young lives to learning everything their young minds could retain. “How is this even possible?” some of us ask. How could they achieve that much focus at such a young age, we wonder. Are we even the same species?

At an age when so many minds are so unfocused, they claimed to have tunnel vision. “I didn’t have that level of focus,” some said to correct the record, “not level of focus to which you are alluding.” They may have diverged from the central focus, but they had more direction than anyone I knew, and that direction put them on the path of doing what they ended up doing, even if it was as specific as I guessed.

The questions we have about what to do for a living have plagued so many for so long that comedian Paula Poundstone captured it with a well-placed joke, and I apologize, in advance, for the paraphrasing: “Didn’t you hate it when your aunts and uncles asked what you wanted to do for a living? Um, Grandpa I’m 5. I haven’t fully grasped the mechanics or the importance of brushing my teeth yet.” Those of us of a certain age have now been on both sides of this question. We’ve been asking our nieces and nephews this question for years without detecting the irony. What do you want to do when you grow up? Now that I’ve been asking this question long enough, I’ve finally figured out why we ask it. Our aunts and uncles asked us this question, because they were looking for ideas. I’m in my forties now, and I’m still asking my nieces and nephews these questions. I’m still looking for ideas.”

Pour through the annals of great men and women of history, and that research will reveal legions of late bloomers who didn’t accomplish anything of note until late in life. The researcher will also discover that most of the figures who achieved success in life were just as dumb and carefree as children as the rest of us were, until the seriousness of adulthood directed them to pursue a venture in life that would land them in the annals of history. Some failed more than once in their initial pursuits, until they discovered something that flipped a switch.

Those who know anything about psychology, and many who don’t, are familiar with the name Sigmund Freud. Those who know anything about Freud are aware of his unique theories about the human mind and human development. Those who know anything about his psychosexual theory know we are all repressed sexual beings plagued with unconscious desires to have relations with a mythical Greek king’s mother. What we might not know, because we consider it ancillary to his greater works, is that this theory might have originated from Freud’s pursuit of the Holy Grail of nineteenth-century science, the elusive eel testicles.

Although some annals state that an Italian scientist named Carlo Mondini discovered eel testicles in 1777, other periodicals state that the search continued up to and beyond the search of an obscure 19-year-old Austrian’s in 1876. Other research states that the heralded Aristotle conducted his own research on the eel, and his studies resulted in postulations that stated either that the beings came from the “guts of wet soil”, or that they were born “of nothing”. One could guess that these answers resulted from great frustration, since Aristotle was so patient with his deductions in other areas. On the other hand, he also purported that maggots were born organically from a slab of meat. “Others, who conducted their own research, swore that eels were bred of mud, of bodies decaying in the water. One learned bishop informed the Royal Society that eels slithered from the thatched roofs of cottages; Izaak Walton, in The Compleat Angler, reckoned they sprang from the ‘action of sunlight on dewdrops’.”

Before laughing at any of these findings, one must consider the limited resources these researchers had at their disposal, concerning the science of their day. As is oft said with young people, the young Freud might not have had the wisdom yet to know how futile this task would be when a nondescript Austrian zoological research station employed him. It was his first job, he was 19, and it was 1876. He dissected approximately 400 eels, over a period of four weeks, “Amid stench and slime for long hours” as the New York Times (3) described Freud’s working environment. His ambitious goal was to write a breakthrough research paper on an animal’s mating habits, one that had confounded science for centuries. Conceivably, a more seasoned scientist might have considered the task futile much earlier in the process, but an ambitious, young 19-year-old, looking to make a name for himself, was willing to spend long hours slicing and dicing eels, hoping to achieve an answer no one could disprove.

Unfortunate for the young Freud, but perhaps fortunate for the field of psychology, we now know that eels don’t have testicles until they need them. The products of Freud’s studies must not have needed them at the time he studied them, for Freud ended up writing that his total supply of eels were “of the fairer sex.” Freud eventually penned that research paper over time, but it detailed his failure to locate the testicles. Some have said Freud correctly predicted where the testicles should be and that he argued that the eels he received were not mature eels. Freud’s experiments resulted in a failure to find the testicles, and he moved into other areas as a result. The question on the mind of this reader is how profound of an effect did this failure to find eel testicles have on his research into human sexual development?

In our teenage and young adult years, most of us had odd jobs that affected us in a variety of ways, for the rest of our working lives. For most, these jobs were low-paying, manual labor jobs that we slogged through for the sole purpose of getting paid. Few of us pined over anything at that age, least of all a legacy that we hoped might land us in annals of history. Most of us wanted to do well in our entry-level jobs, to bolster our character, but we had no profound feelings of failure if we didn’t. We just moved onto other jobs that we hoped we would find more rewarding and fulfilling.

Was Freud’s search for eel testicles the equivalent of an entry-level job, or did he believe in the vocation so much that the failure devastated him? Did he slice the first 100 or so eels open and throw them aside with the belief that they were immature? Was there nothing but female eels around him, as he wrote, or was he beginning to see what had plagued the other scientists for centuries, including the brilliant Aristotle? There had to be a moment, in other words, when Sigmund Freud realized that they couldn’t all be female. He had to know, at some point, that he was missing the same something everyone else missed. He must have spent some sleepless nights struggling to come up with a different tactic. He might have lost his appetite at various points, and he may have shut out the world in his obsession to achieve infamy in marine biology. He sliced and diced over 400 after all. If even some of this is true, even if it only occupied his mind for four weeks of his life, we can feasibly imagine that the search for eel testicles affected Sigmund Freud in a profound manner.

If Freud Never Existed, Would There Be a Need to Create Him?

Every person approaches a topic of study from a subjective angle. It’s human nature. Few of us can view people, places, or things in our lives, with total objectivity. The topic we are least objective about, say some, is ourselves. Some say that we are the central topic of speculation when we theorize about humanity. All theories are autobiographical, in other words, and we pursue such questions in an attempt to understand ourselves better. Bearing that in mind, what was the subjective angle from which Sigmund Freud approached his most famous theory on psychosexual development in humans? Did he bring objectivity to his patients? Could he have been more objective, or did Freud have a blind spot that led him to chase the elusive eel testicles throughout his career in the manner Don Quixote chased windmills?

After his failure, Sigmund Freud would switch his focus to the field that would become psychology. Soon thereafter, patients sought his consultation. We know now that Freud viewed most people’s problems through a sexual lens, but was that lens tinted by the set of testicles he couldn’t find a lifetime ago? Did his inability to locate the eel’s reproductive organs prove so prominent in his studies that he saw them everywhere he went, in the manner that a rare car owner begins to see his car everywhere, soon after driving that rare car off the lot? Some say that if this is how Freud conducted his sessions, he did so in an unconscious manner, and others say this might have been the basis for his theory on unconscious actions. How different would Freud’s theories on development have been if he found his Holy Grail, and the Holy Grail of science at the time? How different would his life have been? We could also wonder if Freud would have even switched his focus if he found fame as a marine biologist with his findings.

How different would the field of psychology be today if Sigmund Freud remained in marine biology? Alternatively, if he still made the switch to psychology after achieving fame in marine biology, for being the eel testicle spotter, would he have approached the study of the human development, and the human mind from a less subjective angle? Would his theory on psychosexual development have occurred to him at all? If it didn’t, is it such a fundamental truth that it would’ve occurred to someone else over time, even without Freud’s influence?

We can state, without too much refutation, that Sigmund Freud’s psychosexual theory has sexualized the beliefs many have about human development, a theory others now consider disproved. How transcendental was that theory, and how much subjective interpretation was involved in it? How much of the subjective interpretation derived from his inability to find the eel testicle fueled it? Put another way, did Freud ever reach a point where he began overcompensating for that initial failure?

Whether it’s an interpretive extension, or a direct reading of Freud’s theory, modern scientific research theorizes that most men want some form of sexual experience with another man’s testicles. This theory, influenced by Freud’s theories, suggests that those that claim they don’t are lying in a latent manner. The more a man says he doesn’t, the more repressed his homosexual desires are.

The Williams Institute at UCLA School of Law, a sexual orientation law think tank, released a study in April 2011 that stated that 3.6 percent of males in the U.S. population are either openly gay or bisexual. If these findings are even close to correct, this leaves 96.4 percent who are, according to Freud’s theory, closeted homosexuals in some manner. Neither Freud nor anyone else has been able to put even a rough estimate on the percentage of heterosexuals who harbor unconscious, erotic inclinations toward members of the same sex, but the very idea that the theory has achieved worldwide fame leads some to believe there is some truth to it. Analysis of some psychological studies (5) on this subject, provides the quotes, “It is possible … Certain figures show that it would indicate… All findings can and should be evaluated by further research.” In other words, no conclusive data and all findings and figures are vague. Some would suggest that these quotes are ambiguous enough that they can be used by those who would have their readers believe that most of the 96.4 percent who express contrarian views are actively suppressing their desire to not just support the view, but to actively involve themselves in that way of life.

Some label Sigmund Freud as history’s most debunked doctor, but his influence on the field of psychology and on the ways society at large views human development and sexuality is indisputable. The greater question, as it pertains specific to Freud’s psychosexual theory, is was Freud a closet homosexual, or was his angle on psychological research affected by his initial failure to find eel testicles? To put it more succinct, which being’s testicles was Freud more obsessed with finding during his lifetime?

If you enjoyed this unique perspective on Sigmund Freud, you might also enjoy the following:

Charles Bukowski Hates Mickey Mouse

The History of Bloodletting by Mark Twain

The Perfect Imperfections of Franz Kafka’s Metamorphosis

James Joyce: Incomparable or Incomprehensible?

Rasputin I: Rasputin Rises

The Best Piece of Advice I’ve Ever Heard

“You’ll figure it out,” Rodney Dangerfield informed a young, aspiring comedian that sought his counsel on how to succeed in their shared craft.

The first thought that comes to mind when one reads the Dangerfield quote, is that the respected comedian was being dismissive. We can guess that aspiring comedians have asked Rodney various forms of this question so many times that he’s grown tired of it. Thus, when this comedian approached Rodney, Rodney said whatever was necessary to have this comedian leave him alone. Either that, or Dangerfield found the answer to that question to be so loaded with variables, and so time-consuming, that he didn’t want to go down that road again with, yet, another aspiring comedian. Dangerfield might have even viewed the young comedian’s act, and decided that it was so bad that he didn’t know how to fix it.

“You’ll figure it out,” does feel dismissive, but as with all good advice, and the perfect strawberry, it becomes tastier the more you chew on it.

Some advice is more immediate, and usable. Major League Pitcher Randy Johnson once talked about a piece of advice fellow pitcher Nolan Ryan offered him. Nolan Ryan informed ‘The Big Unit’ that the finishing step of his pitching motion should end an inch further to the left. Randy said that that trivial piece of advice changed his career. He stated that he wouldn’t have accomplished half of what he did without that advice. He even went so far as to say that he owed Nolan Ryan a mighty debt for that career-changing piece of advice. Some of us have received such advice, but for most of us, advice is more oblique and requires personal interpretation.

The best piece of advice I’ve ever heard combines an acknowledgment of the struggle to succeed with a notice that the recipients of such advice are going to have to find their own path to it. The best advice I’ve ever heard does not involve miracle cures, quick fixes, or the true path to instant success “that can be yours for one low installment of $9.99”. Most of the best pieces of advice I’ve ever heard, such as “You’ll figure out” how to be successful, are so obvious that the recipient often thinks that the adviser’s answer suggests that recipient of that advice wasted everyone’s time by asking the question.

The “You’ll figure it out” piece of advice has an underpinning to it that suggests that there are no comprehensive methods to achieving true success. A struggling individual can learn the “how-to” steps from a training manual, and they can watch how others use such steps in their process. They can also study the various techniques and interpretations of those techniques that experts offer, and they can internalize the advice that everyone, and their brother offers, but at some point an individual that hopes to succeed will have to “figure it all out” for themselves … if they want to achieve true, individual success.

Instant success is rare in the arts, as it is in every walk of life, but if an individual is lucky enough to be able to avoid having to “figure it out”, they’re apt to find that measure of success meaningless when compared to those that have struggled to carve out their own niche.

In the course of my employment, I’ve worked with a number of “flash in the pan” workers that didn’t have to bother with figuring anything out. These people considered themselves naturals. They were high-energy, fast-talking, glamour types focus so much energy to a new job that they burst out of the gate with thunderous resolve. Trainers and bosses love these people. “Look at Bret!” they say high-fiving Bret in the hall to inspire those around them to be more like Bret. The one thing these bosses and trainers often don’t see, or won’t admit, is that these high energy, fast talking, glamorous flash in the pan types often burn out after reaching immediate goals that define them as successful.

Instant success, immediate gratification types are often the studs of the training class that can answer just about every question asked, and they often enter the training seminar with a number of quotes on success from the successful. They treat training as one would an athletic event, and they’re not afraid to do touchdown dances when after the release of the initial productivity numbers. They wear the clothes, and drive the car that fosters the image. They may even go so far as to get caught by the trainer, reading a “personal success” guide that some of them may read to chapter two, but most instant success, immediate gratification types aren’t built for the long-term.

They’re bullet point people, and large idea people, that have no patience for the time it takes to figure out the minutiae that the rest of us will pine over in the agonizing trial and error process. Instant success types don’t “figure it out” in the manner Rodney Dangerfield advises, because they already have it figured out, or they have done so much to foster the image of one that already has it figured out that they don’t want to stain that image with new knowledge. They seek the “quick learner” perception, and most of what they attain after the “flurry to impress” stage, is knowledge that us dismissed as either “something they already knew” or inconsequential minutiae. They just know what they know, and that’s enough for the show.

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

“Do you have any tips on how to keep writing?” a fellow once writer asked me. My first inclination was to tell him about a book I knew that covered this very topic. I empathized with the idea that writing has few immediate rewards, and I enjoyed the perception of being a writer that knows what he is talking about when it comes to writing. I didn’t read the book, in question, but I was sure it was loaded with ideas. “Keep post-it notes on hand, so you don’t miss out on those little inspirations that could turn into great ideas,” is one idea most of these books have. “Write stories about your life, for your life is an excellent cavern that can be mined for constant gems,” is another idea these books often have. Then there is the ever present, “Read, read, and read some more.” I could’ve told this writer about this book, I haven’t read, but even if I had read it, and I found it invaluable to me, my recommendation would be half-hearted. This is based on the idea I have that true success in writing requires nuanced ingenuity and creativity that you’ll have to figure out for yourself, or you won’t, and if you don’t … go do something else. This idea would form my addendum to Dangerfield’s quote. “You’ll (either) figure it out,” or you won’t, and you’ll figure that out too.

I’m quite sure that the aspiring comedian that sought advice from Rodney –after I assume Rodney saw the comedian’s act– that would allow the aspiring comedian a shortcut in their attempts to exit their personal cocoon and transform into a bona fide star.

The “You’ll figure it out!” answer this aspiring comedian, named Jerry Seinfeld (1), received alludes to the struggle a butterfly goes through in their efforts to escape its cocoon. If an outside influence cuts our struggle short, we will not gain the strength necessary to survive in the wild.

On that note, some critics grow frustrated with the amount of self-help charlatans moving from town to town in their Miracle Cure stagecoaches, promising elixirs to those seeking advice, but these frustrations should not be directed at the charlatans, so much as those who seek the elixirs that provide them easier exit from their personal cocoons. The comedian that approached Dangerfield, the aspiring writer that approached me, and some of the people that want to learn how to succeed in a craft, seek an alternative route around the failures, and the resultant, almost imperceptible adjustments that a craftsman makes to separate their final product from the rest of the pack. The final answer, for those seeking a “quick-fix” is that there is no perfect piece of advice that one can give another unable or unwilling to display the temerity necessary to endure the failing, learning, and adjusting necessary. The final answer is that the struggle provides the answers. The struggle informs the craftsman if they are desperate enough to “figure out” if they are willing to do what it takes succeed in their craft.


When Geese Attack!

Those of us that have watched an episode of Shark Week –or one of the other, all too numerous home movie, reality-oriented clip shows that appear on just about every network now– have witnessed what happens when animals attack humans. Those of us that have watched enough of these videos know the formula. We know that all victims will discover one consistent truth about nature that there are no consistent truths. There are methods to handling animals that those more accustomed to handling animals will relay to an audience to lessen the risk, but even the most experienced handler will state that there are no steadfast rules if a person hopes they can use rules to prevent a wild animal from ever attacking. Those of us that watch these videos often enough also know to expect the survivor state that they have no hard feelings for the beast that attacked them in the testimonials they offer at the conclusion of animal attack videos.

“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.”

Some of us just stare at the screen in silent awe. These survivors either are the most wonderful, most forgiving people on the planet, or they’re just plain stupid. These survivors had the threat of having their limbs torn 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 begin to wonder if there isn’t a bit of gamesmanship going on here. We wonder if the networks of these shows test-marketed victims’ reactions, and they have found that the audience will find such violent clips a little less horrific, and thus more entertaining, if the survivor comes out on the other side of the clip with wonderful, forgiving sentiments.

We’ve all had friends that enjoy hearing us say mean things about others, but they will not laugh at a joke made at the expense of another, until they add the, “What an awful thing to say,” qualifier. The qualifier varies with the person, but the need a wonderful person adds to substantiate their characterization before laughing is a constant. On that note, it’s difficult for most individuals to say that they enjoy watching a video of an alligator tear a human apart, unless a qualifier is provided to those that don’t want to feel guilty doing so. “This video,” the after video qualifiers appear to be suggesting, “is nothing more than a study of the brutal realities of nature.” Neither party truly believes this. If some suggest that they do, it’s not the reason that we tune in. Viewers want to experience some schadenfreude by watching a fellow human suffer a wild animal attack, but we need to have a wink and a nod agreement with producers of such content, so they can feed into our primal need for violence with a qualifier that suggests that the viewer is not an awful person for enjoying it. 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. If they’re not reading from a script, we can speculate, the producers don’t air the testimonials that do not provide the show the qualifiers that they need.

We here in hysterical, emotional reaction land, know that it is reasonable to state that a bear is “Just doing what comes naturally to them” after it ripped that poor person apart for the delicious treats they happened to have on them when they happened upon the bear’s domain. We know that part of the victims’ testimonial involves them trying to avoid appearing foolish, as they would if they tried to suggest that they had no idea that a bear might attack might occur after they walked into a bear preserve. Even those of that are skeptical of this whole practice would admit that we would consider that person 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 the goal of those that give testimonials to appear reasonable when they say, “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 that they were acting in a manner other than instinctual, would make that victim appear foolish. We also 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 perfectly reasonable, even to those of us in hysterical, emotional reaction land, but it discounts the emotional, hysterical reactions one should have if a bear removed one of their limbs, or left their face in a condition that now causes small children to run screaming from them at the mall.

I do not think I’m alone when I state that if a bear ripped me apart to a point that I was on life support, in a coma, or clinging to life for months that I would spend the rest of my hysterical life cheering on bear hunters. Would it be reasonable, seeing as how I was in a bear preserve when the bear attack occurred? It would not be, but most survivors of bear attacks should not be so reasonable that they are now able to hide their new lifelong, irrational fear (see hatred) of bears in the aftermath.

If there is anyone that we might excuse 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 the attack, that occurred in a suburban neighborhood, this chimpanzee blinded Charla. He also severed her nose, ears, and hands. 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, remained forgiving. She wasn’t as forgiving as those that offer statements based on what I believe are a reaction to a “Do you want to be on camera? Then say this …” type of stated, or unstated ultimatum. Charla Nash does appear to be forgiving, and that forgiveness appeared genuine.

Charla Nash

“I’ve gotten angry at times,” the Today Show quoted Charla Nash 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 use as inspiration in dealing with our comparative trivialities. 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 what appears to be genuinely 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.

The goose guy, pro kayak angler Drew Gregory, was fishing in a lake one day when a couple of geese began swimming near him. Drew Gregory decided to feed the geese some of the contents from his backpack. 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. The goose, doing what a goose does, attempted to empty Gregory’s backpack, and in the process sent Gregory overboard. After that, the goose appeared to begin laughing at the goose guy. If it wasn’t laughter, the sounds the goose made sounds that one could confuse with an expression of dominance.

The first thing that struck me is why does a guy film himself fishing? I understand that fishing shows date back to an era that precedes me, but I have never understood how it achieved a level of popularity in a visual medium. The next question I have for the 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? If I were involved in this incident, 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 take the hit.

Some have suggested that we are now at a point in human history where human beings will do whatever they need to do for 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 Gregory made himself available for aftermath commentary 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 those chances are remote, 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 do something that would land a victim in the hospital? I can tell you one thing. I would not be calculating these possibilities in the perilous moment. I’m thinking that some primal, self-preservation tactics would rise to fight my attacker off.

I can also guarantee you that the networks, that run such shows, would deem my video unusable, as I’m sure that videos of goose beheadings don’t test well in the market research these shows probably conduct.

I would also not be that amiable dunce that found a way to laugh about it later. I would not view this moment in my life as entertaining in anyway. I would not qualify it by saying that I was in goose’s environment, and I deserved everything that happened to me. I would see such a 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. I also have to consider the idea that I would not think about any of this, not while in the moment. I have to think that my impulses would override rational thoughts. I would just act. I would just grab this thing by the throat, whisper Hannibal Lecter lines to it, and separate its 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 your network 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 it 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 find myself 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 I cannot control. I’ve lost arguments with those that state that no dog, be they Rottweiler, Pit bull, or otherwise are evil by nature. They cite science, and 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 such thoughts. Those that laugh at me, or form thoughts about my inferiority on this subject, inform me that my thoughts are in the minority, but I think our numbers would grow if more people witnessed such vicious attacks firsthand. I’m also quite sure that what I consider normal reactions to attacks, by wild animals, end up on the cutting room floor of these ubiquitous clip shows, for those that need to feel better about their enjoyment of such shows would not appreciate what I have to say, or what I do, in the aftermath of such an attack.

If you enjoyed this piece, you might enjoy the other members of the seven strong:

The Thief’s Mentality

He Used to Have a Mohawk

That’s Me In the Corner (This is not a sequel to Mohawk, but it is another story that occurred in the same wedding.)

A Simplicity Trapped in a Complex Mind

You Don’t Bring me Flowers Anymore!

… And Then There’s Todd


Charles Bukowski Hates Mickey Mouse

It was a shock for me to hear that some thought the Sesame Street characters, Ernie and Bert, might be gay. I remember thinking that the statement, whether true or not, was provocative, insurgent, and hilarious. I don’t remember the first person to say it, but I remember thinking that that person was on the cusp of something new, something insidious, and transcendent. I remember thinking that this person was part of an insurgent generation that revolted against civil authority, through pop culture, in a manner that was not belligerent. I remember wanting to be at the forefront of that which didn’t just break down societal barriers, but left a wasteland in its wake. I remember being unconcerned with collateral damage. Children be damned, I thought. I wanted to be one of those that shook this whole two-liter bottle up, and I considered this characterization of Ernie and Bert a good start. I remember wanting to convince the world, through repetition, that the reason Mr. Snuffleupagus talked and moved slow on the set of Sesame Street was that he was stoned. I wanted to inform anyone that would listen that the Bradys were all stoned, gay, and involved in incest and anything else we might be able to come up with, to poke holes in the traditional wholesomeness that led my fellow, broken home brethren to feel estranged. We were suffering on the other side of the tube, in our reality, and we found it disgusting that 60’s and 70’s TV should portray an idyllic image of a family that left the rest of feeling ostracized. I remember wanting to join these fights, until Hollywood vindicated us by producing The Brady Bunch Movie that had characters dealing with pot smoking, lesbians, and the realities we purported to be more in line with our experiences.

“I’m serious. I can’t stand Big Bird. He’s an (expletive)!” someone said.

I don’t know if the person said this in a serious vein, but that’s what made the insidious provocation so delicious. If it wasn’t serious, it was funny in a serious, seditious manner. If it was serious, on the other hand, it was funny in an unserious manner. Whatever the case was, this artful joke teller left it as a standalone. They did not preface their comment with the qualifiers that most insurgents I encountered were almost required to offer in the gestation period of the movement, when characterizing a child’s beloved creature in such a manner. Refraining from qualifiers, signaled to the rest of us that the age of qualifiers was over, and an insurgency was under way.

Charles Bukowski was not the first to speak out against the authority figures of the sociopolitical world, nor will he be the last. This mindset might date back to the Romans, the ancient Greeks, and beyond, but to my knowledge no one had ever attacked the soft underbelly of authority, through the pop culture staples of children’s entertainment as successfully as Charles Bukowski had. If Bukowski didn’t start this insurgent movement against pop culture, on a nation-wide scale, he did exert tremendous influence on my insurgent brethren. We raised our fist high with a scream, when we learned that the writer had the temerity to come out against the cultural icon that many believed to be the standard-bearer of cutesy America: Mickey Mouse.

“Mickey Mouse is a three-fingered son of a bitch with no soul,” Charles Bukowski once said.   

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

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

“Whaddya got?” Brando replied. 

That’s the stuff! Suck it Mickey!

Those that have read Charles Bukowski already know that Cute America began with an institution called Disney, which started with the institution created by the cartoon character called Mickey Mouse. “It all started with institutions for those that need to be institutionalized,” was a refrain of retro-hip haters. “Those that seek Mickey Mouse, as their form of entertainment, live in a soulless and philosophy free form of hell,” they said. They believed that a life of Mickey would lead to an uncomplicated life of laughter, frivolity, and fun, and soullessness. They thought it would lead a generation of Mickey fans, children and otherwise, to live without knowledge of the stark realities of poverty, drugs, disease, prostitution, and porn. They thought it would lead to a generation that wouldn’t understand the harsh realities of life.

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

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

We would watch such cool, retro-hip cats walk away from such conversations, with laughter, open-mouthed awe, and elongated stares trailing behind them. We didn’t know if the women believed them, but we saw that the women loved them, and we knew we had to get some of that.

These people appeared to have a formula for intriguing otherwise unattainable women, when they delivered such lines in a subtle and suave manner. The formula also appeared to be something we uncool fellas thought we might be able to use. I don’t know if others ever managed to use this technique, but any flirtations I might have had with using this tool ended when the retro-funny-nerd types stepped in with their “Elmo rocks!” and “Grover is a dude!” T-shirts. They would walk around the building with Sesame Street T-Shirts on that weren’t insurgent. Their T-shirts said genuinely funny things like, “Big Bird is my homeboy!” and “I was raised on The Street”, and they got laughs. Girls wanted to ask them about their T-shirt, and they got a ticket to ride. This left the rest of us confused. We were just learning how to use this insurgent humor formula. “We thought we had a formula here,” we wanted to say to the retro-funny-nerd types. “And you’re messing up the dynamic of what we just started to understand.”

Even if we had been able to use those insurgent statements, we would’ve intended them to be funny, quasi-funny, and serious to the point that women took us serious as a Rage Against the Machine soldier. We intended to be funny in a way that some strong, intellectual themes can be funny, in that it sends a greater message that we aren’t just trying to be funny. We wanted them to think we had a point that we wanted to transmit through comedy. I don’t know if every contra insurgent rebel was like me, and they just wanted to reach a higher plane of funny, but I did run across a few –and there are always a few– that took this insurgent movement a little too serious, and they didn’t seek humorous underpinnings.

I don’t know if Bukowski was one of them, or if he used the insurgent formula to rise to the throne of the insurgent rebels in a capitalistic venture, but the standup comedians took Bukowski’s fundamentals to the stratosphere. I don’t know if Bukowski would have found this a little unsettling, or if he intended these statements to be a launching point, but I’m sure that if Bukowski would’ve lived long enough to witness the insurgency permeate the culture to the degree that little old ladies began saying “Barney sucks!” at Applebee’s, he would’ve been proud. If it wasn’t pride, he felt, the idea that his insurgency became such a pop culture institution might have embarrassed him. Whatever the case was with Bukowski, his acolytes took this message a little more serious than the rest of us.

Few can pinpoint where movements such as these begin, and few can pinpoint their demise. We only know what happens in our inner circles. In my inner circle, the insurgent institution began to wane, but the Bukowski acolytes held true. “Barney still sucks!” they would say in dry tones and deadpan expressions, and they said it so often that some in their audience began to believe that this wasn’t some form of comedic shtick to them. They were true believers, and it was either the retro-funny-nerd types, or the little old ladies at Applebee’s repeating this mantra, that exposed these true believers as ludicrous, and a little too serious and self-righteous, to a point where we layman began to back away from our attempts to achieve orthodoxy.

“You do realize that Barney the Dinosaur wasn’t written for middle-aged men right?” we asked these ultra-serious types, waiting for dry tones and deadpan expressions to break into a smile.

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

“He sucks!” Miss Mary says. “He should have a hypodermic needle hanging from his arm, a mohawk, and the world would be a much better place if his father had been taught him the proper use of a condom.” Miss Mary’s learned version of cute sophistication often elicited laughter and “awws” from everyone at the table.

It’s at this point, or some points in between, that this observer began to realize that the true believer, insurgent has a bona fide opinion on the matter that he thinks is consequential. He is angry that any individual, of any age, seeks the soft entertainment that a Mickey, or a Barney, can provide.

They cannot abide by the fact that their children might giggle, on occasion at the humorous actions of a person in a Barney outfit. On the off chance that it happens, and their child accidentally laughs at a person in the costume, we can only guess that these types peer around their newspaper at Miss Mary and say, “What do we say about Barney?”

“He sucks,” they say.

“That’s right,” they say before going back to their newspaper.

At this point, or some points in between, the casual observer can’t help but question the parent’s motives. After the initial the back and forth reaches a crescendo, the casual observer says, “I think this is all very humorous, don’t get me wrong, but you don’t actually believe it do you?”

It’s been my experience with such types that such actions are more than just an exchange between parents and children to deter children from laughing at cute things. They want their children more prepared for the stark reality of the world. They might even indoctrinate their children into a world of violent and obscene movies to counterbalance all that cute Mickey and Barney material, so their children can understand violence and sexual identities better. They may do so under the guise of believing that this will lead to their children being less inclined to ostracize and hate differences in people. One has to wonder if one of their kids goes through a laughing spell at something Elmo did, if those parents might go so far as to sit these children down and remind them of the misery in the world. One has to wonder if those children cry as a result, and if that parent feels a sense of satisfaction by preparing their children for the misery that waits for them on the other side of their lives. One has to wonder if these children are more miserable based on the efforts of miserable parents, and if there is anything, anyone could do to prepare them for a life of that.

Bukowski’s goal was to create an Anti-Disney America that was awash in stark reality. By implication, we could say that if Bukowski were in charge of America, he would have her children awash in alcohol, sex, and violence. He would want America’s children to know the country he knew, and wrote about in his poems and books. He would want them to know the stark reality of abusive fathers, and the idea that alcohol is the only form of escapist entertainment that has any soul. “And the track,” Bukowski acolytes would remind us, “Don’t forget about Bukowski’s routine trips to the track.” We can be sure that the gospel according to Bukowski would include the belief that horses, not Mickey Mouse, can make all of your dreams come true, and if any child doubts that, they can look at the cast of characters at their local track.

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

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

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

Most would say that America is a better, happier place for having Disney in it, but the true believer, the Bukowski acolyte, insurgent types, believe it made America much worse, because fewer people drank, fewer people went to the track on a routine basis, and fewer people had miserable childhoods, at least for the one day they spent at Disneyland.

If Disney represents happy, cute America, as Bukowski suggests, could we suggest that Bukowski is miserable America’s ambassador? If Disney brought uncomplicated happiness to America’s shore, and laughter, and joy, what did Bukowski bring? Anyone knows anything about Bukowski knows that he had an abusive, alcoholic father, and he had a clinical case of acne in his youth that led him to a degree of misery that he mined to carve out a niche in the market that brought him fame and fortune. We know that while Bukowski may not have been the first to tap into this market, but he might have done it better than those that preceded him, for few people have relayed the unhappy mindset in such a comprehensive manner, and very few could express their hatred for happy people with such vigor.

Some believe that Bukowski created the current manifestation of anti-happy that led to a hierarchical web of minions displaying near-visceral hatred for The Brady Bunch, Leave it to Beaver, Disney, and all that is wholesome. These wholesome ideals, portrayed on screen, represented something that irritated these types so much that it revealed something about them they didn’t want others to see. Their anger hung out from beneath their skirt for all the world to see and it did nothing for them to learn that in many quarters of America it’s become popular and chic to hate happy and wholesome America, because it’s too cutesy. It does nothing for them to know they’ve won in some quarters, because their goal was never about winning, or achieving some form of satisfaction that led to happiness. No, the insurgent movement that I once considered attractive was about spreading the misery, so that they wouldn’t feel so much of it, percolating under their skin, while they sat on the other side of the tube seething in the juices of their reality.

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? Are you just going to sit there like a chump while the rest of us are living in the land of sunshine with fortune smiling down upon us? Go 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. I wasn’t running a con game. 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.

He 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 the constant “No’s!” I received from him developed into a minor psychosis. 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 the 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 bought me things. 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. The next time we went to a store, I had the same notion of being on the cusp of happiness again, and I believed 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 make that purchase. 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.

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? To what do we resort? 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 changed, and any observer could see that my attempts to relive our past bored her. 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.

“Could you achieve the same amount of happiness without those drastic changes?’ I would’ve loved to ask her. “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?

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 will tell you that they need more change, other changes, and a transformation into something they hadn’t considered before. The point of all these changes is to save them from what they were, or to prevent them from becoming what they might become if they don’t change. At some point in this process, they have too much invested in change, and they cannot turn back.

Are we ever happy? I mean happy! 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’ve suffered damages that leave us damaged, and we can’t fix it on our own. We have flaws, but there is hope. There is always hope. We can change, and those changes can change us. We have the money. We have the technology. We can rebuild it. Better than we were before. Better…stronger…faster…happier. We can make more money, with a better job, a different job. Change. We can have more love…more sex…better sex. We could have an affair, and that could lead to therapy, and a divorce, and more change. At that point, we may need pharmaceuticals, and alcohol. This might lead to use being more concerned about our beauty, and better products and supplements that could lead to more gym time that will lead us to be thinner and happier, until it dawns on us that we a tummy tuck, collagen injections, and more colonics. We’ll need more boob, or better boobs, at some point that will lead us to feel younger, better, and thinner. We’ll have more definition, we’ll be more feminine, or less feminine, and more masculine, and who cares about gender specifics anyway? We’ll live the rock and roll lifestyle. We’ll have more “me” time, but that will lead to some depression. It always does. It will lead us to focus on the fact that we need better appliances, more extravagant trips, and greater self-indulgence, until we get what we deserve. Something different. I’ll try anything once. Changehappinesschange…repeat if necessary.

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.”

What is a psychopath? The word drums up horrific images of 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 existence? Is there something we could learn from an 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,” the thesis of this book asks, “but an individual that exhibits ruthlessness, charm, mental toughness, fearlessness, mindfulness, and action.” The psychopath also exhibits a level of fearlessness unknown in most quarters.

“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 fear rules much of our lives, and the fears of what others might think of us.

Most of what we hear from others is ninety-percent self-involved gibberish, and psychopaths are no different. Their gibberish receives further damage by their other hysterical rants. Before dismissing them entirely, however, we might want to consider delving into their gibberish –that can border on hysterical at times– to see if they have something to add to our discourse. In doing so, we might gain some perspective on ourselves and learn 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. Most psychopaths have a callous disregard for the plight, the feelings, and the emotions of their fellow man, unless it serves them to do so. For this reason, Dutton doesn’t focus on the crimes these men committed. This may seem to be a crime of omission by some to placate a controversial argument, others may deem Dutton’s argument incomplete and immoral, 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 did not consider their crimes germane to his piece. It may also be worthy to note, 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, receives further illustration from 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.”

Although the patients Dutton interviewed do not appear to relish, or regret, the specific incidents that led to their incarceration, this reader believes that they do appear to enjoy the result. They appear to enjoy the fruits of their actions: 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 the 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 received an “every day” scenario by the author in which a landlord could not get an uninvited guest to leave his rental property. The landlord, in question, attempted to ask the guest to leave the property in a polite manner. When the tenant ignored the landlord, he 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 that councilman go to house and say that they are 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, I believe, 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 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 realizing our talent, in other words, and this causes us to forget to employ the methodical tactics that we’ve employed throughout the career that brought us to the bout in the first place. We have these voices in our head, 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 to the point that our own knockout punch is more effective.

The gist of this, as this reader sees it, is that we end up fearing failure and rejection so often that we 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 our familiar, routine world.

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. The prospect of quitting that job is scarier, and the idea of hitting the open market is horrifying, because we know the limits of our ability will come into play in every assessment and interview conducted. The ultimate fear, and that which keeps us in a job we hate, lays in the prospect of landing that other job for which we are either unqualified, and/or ill equipped to handle. What then? Are we to shut out all those worries and fears and just act, and is it possible for a human to do without some fear?

“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 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 informed 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 a person in a position for injury when, say, another car is barreling down on them. 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, or the communities that their actions alarmed, 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 incarcerated, on a certain level, but they don’t care what those reasons are.

Naysayers may suggest that empathy, sympathy, guilt and regret are almost impossible to shut off entirely. Caring is what separates us from the alligator, the bear, and just about every other life form. They might also suggest that psychopaths are not as immune to the emotions as they suggest, but that they’re playing to the characteristics of their psychological categorization. It would be impossible to deny this in all cases, as the individual cases of psychopathy are so varied, but it could be said that these people are, at the very least, so unaffected by their deeds that they are not incapacitated by them. We could also say that when casual observers evaluate the characteristics of others, they often make the mistake of doing so through their own lens. We all experience moments in life when we do not care as much as we should, and some of us that experience moments of apathy achieve a level of exaggeration that others might characterize as psychopathy. These moments are few, however, and loosely defined as psychopathic. Yet, our own limited experience with the mindset suggests that there are limits, and we find the exaggerations listed in Mr. Kevin Dutton’s book as incomprehensible, yet these psychopaths find it just as incomprehensible that we are so inhibited by the exaggerations of the opposite that we are 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 real world consequences of pursuing their philosophy. They do believe that they’ve lived a portion of their lives freer than we’ve ever known, however, 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.

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 would 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 been hungry … not in the sense that others have known hunger.”

Getting 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 probably 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 care. 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’ve never been hungry … 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 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. Your brother was the one that caused us worry. 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 reared its ugly head when onions appeared on his plate. 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 depression era parents –the last era in America when food could be associated with the term scarce– learned of the value of food. The horror stories they heard taught them to appreciate resources and the idea of scarcity, even if they never experienced it firsthand. They appreciated food, and they learned to be grateful whenever it was before them. Most of them grew up disgusted by grown men that displayed preferences because they could recite stories when such luxuries were not available to most. They also experienced their own limited selection in the military and the wars, and they hoped to instill this appreciation of food in the next generation. My dad might have been more diligent in his efforts that yours (see obsessed), but he considered passing this knowledge along to his boys 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 a meal. He even looked at the television set while eating. This was anathema to our dad. When food was on the table, the individual was to eat it without distraction, and by doing so, they were paying homage to all that went into the preparation of the food one had before them. An individual seated at my father’s table was 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 an individual, if they ate as if they didn’t know where their next meal was coming from at my dad’s table. It said that they appreciated those that came before them that gave up their lives to provide us 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 delicious. What separated one man from another, in my dad’s worldview, 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 afford little more than a meal of pork and beans on buttered bread. The pièce de résistance of his personal campaign to honor those that came before him arrived in the form of a sandwich. A sandwich that was otherwise flavorless and bare bones. This sandwich contained one slice of the cheapest slice of bologna he could find in the store, between two slices of the most flavorless bread that market forces had not defeated to the point of oblivion yet. There was no mustard, or mayonnaise, on this sandwich, 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 this manner put hair on one’s chest, but that was the thrust of his philosophical approach to food and eating.

Readers might infer that a part of my dad’s philosophical approach to eating involved a subtext of humor. While many aspects of my dad’s approach to life are subject to debate, I can say without any fear of refutation on this one subject, that this was never funny to the man.

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 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 might have been intended to allow the listener a pleasing bridge to the fourth repetition of the refrain, but my dad wasn’t one to create anything for aesthetic reasons. He was a former military man, and a former tool man, that created for the sole purpose of fulfilling a need. He composed no other lyrics for this song, and I think he may have sang this song one other time. Once it served its purpose, he had no plans of ever discussing it again. That purpose, again, had nothing to do with humor, unless that unintended humor furthered his goal of getting my brother to eat. If that was achieved, the song could whither on the vine for all he cared. The listener could enjoy the song if they wanted, that was on them, but they would be left wanting if they 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.”  

Sunny Land, George Grosz 1920

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 in the aftermath of those words. 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.

Another aspect of my dad’s code involved never calling another man out on his preferences. He might recite tales of men with preferences, but he did so in the privacy of his own home, and for the sole purpose of the lessons that he wanted to illustrate for his sons. He was the product of an era that did not permit one man to comment on the ways and means of another, lest anyone interpret that as one seeking some form of superiority over another. When I would comment on another’s ways, for the purpose of humor, and that other person’s ways placed them in line with my dad’s teachings, he scold me for calling another man out like that. Those days are so far in the rear-view mirror now, that no one remembers them anymore. In its place, are the endless 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 appreciated the luxury afforded to us, as long as we didn’t indulge in what he considered elitist preferences, and as long as we didn’t indulge in our preferences to achieve 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 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 we cannot blame them for that. 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 might not have had the same luxuries afforded to him.

The Thief’s Mentality

The woman who cheated on me more than any other was the woman who accused me of cheating more often than any other did. The individuals who lied to me more than others were the first to accuse me of being a liar. The man who accused me of stealing more often than most turned out to be the person who stole from me most often. These people know who they are, on a level they’ll never understand, and they know we’re not much better than they are. Therefore, no matter what we do or say to them, they’re not buying it, because they know who we are. It’s the thief’s mentality.

Kurt Lee introduced me to the confusing mind of a deceptive person, even though I wasn’t aware of it at the time. The art of deception was such a key component of his personality that he was hypervigilant to any signs and signals of possible transgressions occurring in the minds of others. He spent his life so attuned to this frequency that his instincts often led him astray.

Kurt taught me more about how a thief lives his or her life, than any other person I’ve encountered, movie I’ve watched, or book I’ve read on the subject. He would serve as my prototype for those who would exhibit similar traits, traits I would only later deem the attributes of the thief’s mentality.

The most interesting aspect about the man, a characteristic that may very well defy that which I will describe throughout this piece, was his charm. When it served him, Kurt Lee had the propensity to be nice, engaging, and infectious. He was also funny, and a funny guy can attract others in a manner that disarms those that meet him, until they stick around long enough to learn more about his sensibilities.

Those who knew Kurt Lee, on a superficial level, envied him for the ways in which he openly defied authority figures without guilt. Those who actually spent as much time around Kurt Lee as I did, however, witnessed that for all the charisma a POS can display, while destroying the conventions that all the squares live by, they do ultimately end up destroying themselves from the inside out.

One afternoon while on a city bus, Kurt Lee decided to play with the crocheted ball on top of the stocking cap of the elderly woman that sat in front of him. My reaction to this spectacle may be one of the things I have to answer for on Judgment Day, because I found his wicked, little act hysterical.

Hindsight now informs me that my attraction to Kurt Lee’s antics may have had something to do with learning about the mores and rules my mother taught me. Why haven’t I ever played with the ball on top of an old woman’s stocking cap? What’s the difference between Kurt Lee and me? Is it about morality, or does it have more to do with common decency? My mother taught me that when a young, healthy male sees an elderly woman, he should smile at her and try to think up something nice to say. My mother taught me to hold the door for her, and she said that I should consider it a privilege to give up my seat to a woman like that on the city bus, if no other seats were available. Those are the typical conventions good, decent, mothers pass on to their sons.

Not only did Kurt Lee ignore these conventions, he chose to pursue what could be termed the exact opposite. He decided to play with the most vulnerable member of our culture’s stocking cap. He violated her sense of security. Of course, it was wrong, but it was also a fascinating exploration of human nature. How would this old woman 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, but my fascination with the answers to the former led me to urge him on with laughter. That was wrong, too, of course, but I now believe my laughter was borne of curiosity. I wanted to learn more about the moral codes by which we all abide. I hoped to learn that by watching another solidify my rationale, with no regard for the consequences of violating them. At the time, I really didn’t have those thoughts, but I couldn’t wait to see how it would end, and I dare say that most of those who are more successful in abiding by the standards their mothers taught them would not have been able to look away either

The vulnerable, elderly woman did turn on Kurt, and she did so with an angry expression. She allowed the first few flicks of the ball atop her stocking cap go, presumably taking a moment 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. Egged on by me, 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!”

To that, Kurt began thrusting his hips forward in his seat, while looking at me, whispering, “She just wants unusual carnal relations!” As a teenager trying to elicit laughter from another teen, Kurt Lee did not use the term unusual carnal relations. He selected the most vulgar terms he could think of to describe what he thought her desires were.

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 man-on-the-street segments, taken up ten notches on the bold-o-meter. I would later learn that Kurt Lee was not the type to make profound statements about our societal conventions. He was more of a doer, and doers just do what they do and leave the messy interpretations of what they do to others. I would also learn, by the manner in which Kurt Lee selected his victims based on their inability to fight back, that Kurt Lee was something of a coward. At the time, though, I found his actions so bold that I couldn’t look away, and I couldn’t stop laughing.

As time wore on, I discovered a wide array of fascinating explorations of human nature, but those paled 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 the 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 for the rest of us, we have had this inherent part of our makeup denied so long, by parents and teachers instructing us to act differently, that we now believe we are different. The import of his message was that this was not about me, and it’s not about him. It’s about human nature and the thief’s mentality.

“If you could get away with it, you would try,” was his answer to any questions posed to him. “You mean to tell me you’ve never stolen anythingEver? All right then, let’s talk about reality.” Kurt Lee was a thief, and like most thieves, he did not defend his position from the position of being a thief. He would substitute an exaggeration of your moral qualms regarding thievery, claiming that any with the idea that a person who has stolen even once is in no position to judge someone who steals on a regular basis.

In short bursts, and on topic, Kurt Lee could lower the most skilled debater to the ground. He was what we called a master debater in that it was almost impossible to pin him down on specifics. It was a joy to watch. Prolonged exposure, however, opened up all these windows into his soul.

When we asked him how a guy from the sticks could afford the latest, top-of-the-line zipper pants, a pair of sunglasses that would put a fella back two weeks’ pay, and an original, signed copy of the Rolling Stones, 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 as top athletes, and top news anchors do, by hiring outside analysts to scrutinize the minutiae of their performance. He asked me to watch him steal baseball cards from the shop owner that we all agreed was in need of a good lesson because he refused to buy our cards 99 percent of the time. On those rare occasions when he agreed to buy them, his offers were so low they were almost insulting.

I posed a theory about our transactions with this shop owner. I theorized that the intent behind his frequent refusals to buy our cards was to establish his bona fides as a resident expert of value. That way, when he informed us that any of our cards were of value, we were ready to jump at the chance, no matter what amount he offered. “By doing so,” I concluded, “he actually makes us feel more valuable, because we think we finally have something worthy to offer.”

“You’re right,” Kurt Lee said. “Let’s get him.”

I felt validated for coming up with the theory Kurt Lee accepted, but in hindsight, I think Kurt Lee would’ve used anything I said to motivate me to conspire against the owner.

“One thing,” Kurt Lee said before we entered. “I don’t know if this needs to be said, but I’m going to say it anyway. Don’t watch me, don’t talk to me, and be careful about how often you look at me. Don’t try to avoid looking at me either.” When I laughed at that, a laugh that expressed confusion, he added, “Just don’t do anything stupid or obvious.”

It was an invitation into a world I had never known, and Kurt Lee’s provisos might have been necessary, because I was as nervous as I was excited. I considered the idea that my foreknowledge of this crime could implicate me as an accessory, 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 shop, Kurt Lee opened his pockets, in the manner a magician might, and he asked me to confirm that he had no cards in his pockets.

Throughout the course of our hour in the shop, and I didn’t witness Kurt Lee steal one thing. I mocked him. “What happened? I thought you were going to steal something,” I said. “I’m beginning to think you’re chicken.”

He allowed me to have my say without responding. When I was finished, he opened his jacket to show me his inner pockets.

He opened up his jacket and showed me his inner pockets. What I saw knocked me back a couple steps. I actually took a step back when I witnessed that baseball cards lined his inner pockets. It would’ve impressed me if he displayed one card, and three or four would’ve shocked me, but the sheer number of cards he stole without me noticing one act of thievery, led me to believe that Kurt Lee wasted his abilities on the petty art of shoplifting. I considered telling him to try his hand at being a magician for I thought what I was witnessing were the skills of a maestro of deception. If he could hone in on those skills, I thought the possibilities were numerous for Kurt Lee.

Soon after recovering from that awe, I began to wonder how one might acquire such a deft hand. As with any acquired skill, trial and error is involved, but nestled within that lies a need to find a utility that permits the thief to proceed uninhibited by shame. A skilled performer in the arts or athletics delights in displaying their ability to the world, in other words, but a thief prefers to operate in the shadows, and they acquire their skill with a modicum of shame attached. Success as a thief, it would seem to those of us on the outside looking in, requires either a defeat of that sense of shame or to find some way to manage it.

Shame, some argue, like other unpleasant emotions, becomes more manageable with familiarity. When a father introduces shame to his child, 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 the assessment. When such brutal assessments are then echoed by a mother’s concern that their child can’t do anything right, the combined effort can have a profound effect on a child. When those parents then console the child with a suggestion that while the child may be bad, they’re no worse than anyone else is, something gestates in the child. The moral relativism spawned from these interactions suggests that the search for the definitions of right and wrong is over, and the sooner the child accepts that, the more honest they will become. Seeing their mother scold the teacher scold a teacher for punishing their child for a transgression only clarifies this confusion a little more. In that relativist scolding, the child hears their mother inform the teacher that the child can do no wrong, and they see her unconditional support firsthand. Over time, the child will acknowledge that their parents will not always be there, so they must develop personal defense mechanisms in line with what they’re learned. The child also learns to accept these realities for what they are, for the Lee family has never had the courage necessary to commit suicide.

I hated discounting 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 contained a transgenerational foundation composed of sedimentary layers of grievance, envy, frustration, and desperation. Some may consider this a bit of a stretch, but how much of our lives do we spend rebelling against, and acquiescing to parental influence, and how many of us can say we are entirely free from it?

I was so obsessed with this, at one point, that I bridged a gap between being curious and badgering, something Kurt Lee made apparent in his volatile reaction:

“You think you’re better than me?” Kurt Lee asked, employing the universal get-out-of-judgment free card of moral relativism. This time-honored redirect relies on the lessons taught to us by our mothers, that we are no better than anyone else is, but Kurt Lee’s rant began to pivot out of control when he tried to follow the rationale to what he believed its logical extension.

If no one is better than anyone else is and everyone resides on the cusp of whatever Kurt Lee was, the logical extension required the inclusion of an individual that many perceive to be so harmless it’s almost laughable to suggest otherwise. The individual, in this case, was a kid named Pete Pestroni. If Kurt Lee’s arguments were going to hold water, the idea that Pete Pestroni was a wolf in sheep’s clothing would have to become an agreed upon fact. I’m still not sure why Kurt Lee went down Pete Pestroni Road so often, but I suspect it had something to do with the idea that if Pete was immune, in one form or another, everyone else had to be. Pete was just too weak, or too scared, to let his wolf run wild, in Kurt Lee’s worldview. We would laugh at the implausibility of Pete Pestroni having a Kurt Lee trapped inside, a thief dying to come out. Our intention was to laugh with Kurt Lee, but he wouldn’t even smile. This was a sacred 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 that might lead to a level of introspection they will not enjoy. An individual with a thief’s mentality may steal, but that person is just as apt to lie and cheat. The thief’s mentality begins as a coping mechanism for dealing with the character flaws that drive the thief 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, a means to explain the carrier’s inability to trust beyond the point that they should be trusted, but some thieves’ outward distrust of others reaches a point of exaggeration that says far more about them than those they accuse. Their cynicism is their objectivity, and others’ faith in humanity is a subjective viewpoint, one that we must bear. We live in a dog-eat-dog, screw-or-be-screwed” world in which those who trust anyone outside their own homes are naïve as to the point of hopelessness. If the listener is to have any hope of surviving in such a world, it is incumbent upon that person to see past the façades and through the veneer, others present. We must see the truth.

The truth, in Kurt Lee’s worldview, held that TV anchors with fourteen-inch parts, and perfect teeth, ended their days by going home to beat their wives. He didn’t believe that a person could attain wealth in an honest manner. He insisted that because the states convicted some Catholic priests as pedophiles that meant all Catholic priests were, and he had a particular fascination with infidelity in the White House. “You think JFK and Clinton are different? They’re just the ones that got caught is all.” There was also his contention that little old ladies who complained about having someone toy with the balls on the stocking caps just want it up the ass. As with most tenets of a person’s worldview, there was some grain of truth in Kurt Lee’s, but he often had to put forth a great deal of effort to support it.

In most such discussions, his audience is immune. “I’m not talking about you,” the thief will say so that all parties concerned will view the subject matter as an ally. If we do view ourselves as an ally, we might join them in convincing our world that he’s not that bad. Yet, our agreed upon immunity begins to fracture in the course of what the thief believes to be logical extensions. When that happens, the thief turns their accusations on us. We may consider ourselves virtuous and moral, but the thief knows everything there is to know about hidden agendas. 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.

Thieves may even believe their exaggerated or false accusations, regardless of all we’ve done to establish ourselves as good, honest people. The validity of their accusation, however, pales in comparison to a thief’s need to keep a subject of their accusations in a perpetual state of trustworthiness. They make this accusation to keep us in check in a manner they know we should keep them in check. The import of that line provides us a key to understanding why an individual with a thief’s mentality would make such a charge against us, and a person so honest it’s laughable to suggest otherwise. Some might call such accusations psychological projection, the inclination one has to either deny or defend their qualities while seeing them in everyone else. Some might also suggest that Kurt Lee’s accusations were born of theories he had about me, the people around him, and humanity in general. If that is the case, all theory is autobiography.

Whether it was as complex as all that on an unconscious level, or some simple measures Kurt Lee developed over the years to prevent people from calling him a POS, I witnessed some try to turn the table on the accusations by telling Kurt Lee that other people trust them.

Kurt Lee’s response to one particularly defensive combatant was so clever that I thought it 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 when he said:

“So you think if someone trusts you that means that you’re trustworthy?” is how Kurt Lee responded. He said the word trustworthy, as if the word itself was an accusation, but that wasn’t the brilliant part of his response. As brilliance often does, his arrived in that section of an argument when the participants say whatever they can to win, regardless what those words reveal. Kurt Lee suggested, in not so many words, that those who consider themselves a beacon of trustworthiness are suffering from a psychosis of another stripe. The reason I considered this response so perfect, as it pertained to this specific argument, was that it put the onus of being trustworthy on the person that challenged Kurt Lee trustworthiness. It also put any further questions regarding Kurt Lee’s character –or what his inability to trust people said about him– on the back burner, until the questioner could determine whether the level of his own trustworthiness was a delusion that group thought had led him to believe.

With all that Kurt Lee taught me about what I considered a fascinating mentality, always fresh in mind, I’ve had a number of otherwise trustworthy friends ask me how to deal with the thief in their life. They fail to understand why their beloved doesn’t trust them in even the most banal arenas of life. These worried friends say things like, “I don’t know what I did to damage our bond of trust, but they declare it irretrievable.” My friends are insecure about their trustworthiness, as we all are, yet they believe they did something to trigger the damning accusations regarding their trustworthiness.

“How do I win him back? How do I regain his trust?” they asked, with sorrow in their hearts.

“I’m sorry to say 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, one that requires them to spend long hours, days, and years with this person. I have explained, to the best of my ability, via my personal experiences with Kurt Lee, and it has helped these concerned and confused souls frame the accusations of their thief, but commingled in that short-term relief is the idea 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, and the idea that they can’t even trust the one person in their lives that they could, or should. On the flipside, this does allow them to spread their misery around a little, with such accusations. It lightens their load to transfer some of their toxins to others. It also gives them a little lift to know that we are a little less trusting than we were before we met them. They must find some relief in the belief that they are 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 red blood cells. Nevertheless, it must please them to know that after our interactions with them, we now view humanity in the same cynical, all-hope-is-lost manner they do.

If it’s true that a mere 2 percent of people are self-aware, then the lack of self-awareness, at least 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. Like the rest of us, thieves do not believe they live on an exaggerated pole of morality. Rather, they believe they reside in the middle, right alongside the rest of us, somewhere on the good side of the fuzzy dividing line. They also know that we’re all tempted to do that one thing that could place us on the other side. What separates them, to their mind, is their lack of fear, coupled with their refusal to conform to the norms our parents and mentors taught us. They are also keenly aware that we place most of humanity on their side of the fuzzy line because we all have problems trusting those we don’t know well enough to determine whether they will make moral decisions in life. Some take this natural state of skepticism a step further. Some thieves’ exaggerated, outward distrust for those around them says far more about them than about those they condemn and accuse. It’s the thief’s mentality.

(Editor’s Note: Someone once said,“If I wanted to know what happened to my high school friends, I’d still be friends with them.” There are standouts though. There are people we have not seen in years that pop into mind when we read a book, or watch a movie that reminds us of a character from our past. Due to the influence Kurt Lee has had on my life, I’ve always wondered what happened to the man. Attending the funeral of my friend’s mom, the subject of Kurt Lee rose, and it answered the question: Whatever Happened to Kurt Lee?)

If you enjoyed this piece, you might also enjoy the other members of the seven strong:

He Used to Have a Mohawk

That’s Me In the Corner

A Simplicity Trapped in a Complex Mind

You Don’t Bring me Flowers Anymore!

… And Then There’s Todd

When Geese Attack!

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 was? 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, not listed here. The question that we will answer here is how does a superior athlete achieve elite, Mount Rushmore status? 

Personal preferences often play a role in a person’s list. There are also those that achieved rarefied air during their era sportswriters often find criminally underrated in the historical record. Once we eliminate those two groups, we find that the list of elite athletes is very small. What is the difference between the professional athletes that achieved rarefied air in their era and that small pack of elite athletes that we consider the best of all time? 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 as instrumental as it once was in the separation between those in the upper echelon and the elite.

Most of us have participated in 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 some may consider 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. These learnings are inclined to learn more by doing than they will by studying, contemplating, or actualizing. Those that learn in this kinesthetic are learners we call “do-ers”.

Even most doers do not have a level of internal discipline necessary to achieve an elite level. Most parents attempt to cultivate the creative and physical gifts their children display, and those parents seek to keep that focus varied and well rounded. For the purpose of this discussion, such desires may prove harmful. As the child may have trouble achieving the tunnel vision necessary to achieve a level of discipline required to achieve what those in the field call “autonomic responses”. In the wide variety of concerns a parent may have for their child, achieving autonomic responses might not be in the top 1,000. They want their children to succeed, but not so much that they deprive them of the joy of being young.

The creative mind needs constant stimulation, nuance, variation, and entertainment. A creative mind can suspend that need for creativity to learn the basics of anything, when that something is determined to be fresh, new, and exciting. Once that knowledge loses its “newness”, it no longer excites the child. At that point, they may begin to tune out the information that follows. Learning sports is fun, and athletic achievement can be exciting to a young child, but every child experiences a breaking point when they learn that if they are going to succeed in sports they must learn to avoid their creative inclinations.

Achieving success in sports requires an 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. The creative mind does not want to be an automaton, in other words. They want to look cool, they want to have fun, and they want to introduce some creativity in the process of their swing. If the child achieves some success on the playing field, they may begin to believe that they achieved that level of success on their own, and this may lead them to ignore their coaches on some level. They might want to introduce some individual nuance into their game. They might develop creative desires that lead to ideas on how they can succeed. The ability to ignore such desires or to learn the problems inherent in falling prey to them leads to what some might call an 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 a 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, and 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. These descriptions of the proper return are what many consider elementary, even to those that play tennis for recreation. For most tennis players, most of these elementary aspects of a proper return go out the window when a serve is flying at them at 130 mph. Even most of those listed in the top 100 seeds of professional tennis are satisfied to return such a serve of that speed, but the elite of the elite can place it in a strategic position. How does one achieve the degree of mental mobilization necessary to return such a serve with a left turning topspin that hits the weakest point of their opponent’s court? 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 they now teach it 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 movies would’ve portrayed 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 might have practiced more than others would, but did he practice to levels that some may consider inhuman, cruel, and youth stealing levels? Many considered the hours he spent honing his game legendary, in other words, 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. We have known about some of these concentrations for eons, and the general idea behind them might not be a shock. The acute focus on the actions and reactions has increased tenfold over the decades, until the game 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.

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

Most normal humans haven’t engaged in 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.

Those involved in the science of sports clocked such a serve 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 other, more deliberate moments in sports. The time it takes a quarterback to throw to a receiver that a Deion Sanders is covering, for example. Depending on the quarterback, and the length of the throw, this could take a couple seconds from the time the quarterback releases the ball to the moment it hits Deion Sanders’ area. What happens in those seconds? I call this moment blank space. In the blank space, athletes on every level know 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 moments where they panic, and this may have caused them some confusion as they tried to come to grips with 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. After the weeks and years they spent practicing, they didn’t execute in the manner they know they should have. It can be painfully confusing. After reading 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.

Those interested in this subject might also be interested in:

The Conspiracy of the NBA Western Conference Finals, in 2002

The Psychology of the Super Sports Fan

The Balloonophilia Conflict

Balloon fetishists refer to themselves as balloonophiles, loonies, or loonatics. I learned these names soon after the group’s moderator, Olive Branch, 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 more high 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”. Except for a few anecdotal examples provided below, most balloonophiles engaged in these activities in conjunction with various sex acts.

After the brief, tedious introductions ended, 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.”

Throughout the course of this evening, I would learn of a philosophical conflict in balloonville between the popper and the non-popper factions. In some cases, the discussions grew heated. In others, there was an undercurrent of tension between the two parties. 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 repeatedly. They view the poppers enjoyment of popping a balloon as unnecessarily violent and even a little sadistic. I also gleaned from the many comments made, that non-poppers also tend to believe that they can attain more 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. Many in the non-popper community approached those ideas in many ways, however, 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 any form of publication that he would prefer to only 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, but I did attract most of the group’s attention. I still don’t know the answer to that question, but if the various speakers weren’t looking at me when they spoke, their energy appeared 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 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 with most denials on such subjects, the ballonophiles didn’t feel a great deal of need to back up their rejection of such theories 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 balloonophile informed the group that they might 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 itself must be anecdotal. Various members began offering other theories that they’d heard, or read on the internet. These theories appeared teed up 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.

I was a quiet observer at this point. Nothing more and nothing less. I smiled at many of the descriptions of the fetish, and my smile was polite. I even allowed most of the rejections of theories to pass by without comment. It wasn’t in my nature to remain silent for long periods, 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 were so 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. “It just gnaws at me that people invest so much energy on telling people what they are not, and they fail to invest any thought into how they came to be.

“Most people are so much more comfortable telling an interested party that other’s theories about them 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 will 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 suggest 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.”

One is never sure how others will receive such a rant. We’d like to think that what we’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 thoughtful, and that my conclusions were, at the very least, worthy of consideration. 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 positive energy of the room swung in her direction.

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

“You speak of a lack of examination,” Jim 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? Do you think you have everything figured out in life? On the other hand, you may have reached a point where matters such as these make so little sense that you have to jam sense into it. 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 seem to be random, we might find some correlations that lessen the randomness of it all.”

The idea that this group had never welcomed dissent into their origin of species discussions was obvious by their initial, silent shock and the follow up counterpoints. I won’t bore the reader with the details of the counterpoints, as most of them were redundant to previous points and circuitous. The only agreed upon conclusions of the counterpoints was that balloonophiles are what they say they are, and that we could all grew a little closer in the aftermath of the other conclusion 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 returned 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 saw 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 the popping camp, a biological inflation fetish occurs with sudden expansion of body parts.

“The pop can be violently dramatic when it’s done right,” a stage performer that engages in balloon immersion in her act said to agree with that popper’s assessment. “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 that watch my act and assume it’s 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 view the well-timed, loud noises as arousing, as opposed to the ligyrophobic terror they experience with sudden 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 he selected his name 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 believed I achieved dominance. 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 the supplication phase of this 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 no longer going to scream at them. 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 not sexual and tend to involve fully-clothed people, have both male and female subjects, and show people having fun blowing up or otherwise playing with balloons. It doesn’t always have to be a sexual thing,” 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 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, and be careful when using these sharp instruments that you don’t cut anything else off.”

As stated earlier, the balloonophiles that attended this particular meeting at a Starbucks weren’t very forthcoming with their predilection. 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 up 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 received an email that stated, “Although balloonophile meetings are open to the public, and I could still attend if I wanted to, the group has decided that it would be in everyone’s best interest if I decided not to attend.” 

The email stated “that the group decided that balloonophile 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.” This was my first excommunication, and I didn’t know how to deal with it.

The email went on to say that, “Some in the group determined that I could even be characterized as someone that was against balloonophilia.” This 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 wished I researched this material before the meeting, because I think it would’ve helped them understand what I was trying to say. 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 the direction in which we’re heading. We are now so attracted to the sympathetic, compassionate, and understanding lexicon that we’re no longer interested in what makes people different. We just walk around saying that everyone is different, and it says something about the person that cannot accept differences for what they are. This, I believe, ends up resulting 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.

I’m Disgusting, He’s Disgusting, She’s Disgusting, Wouldn’t You Like to be Disgusting Too?

I watched the show Seinfeld. I loved Seinfeld. I found the character’s peculiar demands for hygienic excellence hilarious, until I witnessed two grown men discuss their superiority on the matter and form a friendship on that basis. 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 they agreed 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 the Seinfeld character’s obsessive quirks, but these two men weren’t laughing. They had smiles, but they were beaming smiles, the kind of smiles that one gives in recognition of finding a like-minded soul at long last.

I used to think the national obsession with hygiene was just a well-designed, well-placed Seinfeld joke that we were all in on, with a wink and a nod, until I witnessed these two men form a friendship 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.

“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 people 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. A male said this. These sentences are 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.” “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? Furthermore, 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.

As CBS News Reports: “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.

She 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 probably safer to stay out of the house, unless that means 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 might 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 Seinfeld creators, Jerry Seinfeld and Larry David, brought to the American conversation is this hygienic conversation. These conversations did occur, in a sporadic manner, before the Seinfeld mindset 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!” the sympathetic 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 stating that some obsessives 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 someone used this shopping cart, at some point, since its creation. We all know, on some level, people use shopping carts, but we regard that evidence 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 were nothing more than a crumpled ad for that store, why would anyone 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 find that person to be somewhat attractive, the PT piece states that they would not be as 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, they would be more apt select another cart.

Those that engage in obsessive, hygienic practices also tend 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 had someone force them 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. We view our boss, for example, as a stranger that exists outside our immediate realm. We may interact with our boss on a day-to-day basis, but not in the intimate manner, we will a family member. The natural inclination we have is to place them below our family members, but the study also suggests we place our boss below the weatherman on the list of people that we would share a toothbrush with, if forced to do so. If our overriding concern were hygiene, why would we prefer to share a toothbrush with a weatherman we’ve never met to 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 we dislike our boss.

“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 area 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 “Exposure to benign bacteria stimulates the immune system so that it is better able to fight bad bacteria.” Perhaps the explanation resides in the word “benign” but other than that, the two purported facts appear to be a contradiction in terms.

The Origin of Disgust

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 we tell them. It’s the reason my brother and his wife had to keep my nephew away from the dog dish, and it’s why he didn’t know any better. 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 that knowledge occurs with experience and 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, these people 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?” {3}


{2}Herz, Rachel. “The Cooties They Carry.” Psychology Today. August 2012. Pages 48-49.


Esoteric Man

It would’ve been difficult for me to evaluate an advertising executive that was trying to sell my wife on radio ad space, because he dressed like every guy I hated in high school. I knew I was being unfair, but “We don’t see things as they are, we see them as we are.” Certain aspects of the way things are, are complicated by the way things were in our lives, and we cannot escape that fact.

The guy’s checkered pants reminded me of one of my many arch rivals in high school. The checkers were multi-colored, of course, but some of those colors were pink, and my arch rivals wore pink. I hated this ad exec. I hated him in the same manner I hated my arch rivals. The ad exec wore sensible shoes, chic eyeglasses, and he wore his hair in a coif. He was also a people person that knew how to relate to the folks, and I hated him before he said twenty words.

“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!” is 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 a dollar.

He decided he was losing me at one point in our conversation, so he decided to focus his energy on me. He directed his energy at talking more often, when his focus should’ve been on talking less. This esoteric ad exec struck me as the type that has always been able to talk himself out of a pickle. His modus operandi (M.O.), I can only assume, was focused on creating more chaos in the minds of his clients, so that they didn’t have time to consider if a sale would be beneficial or not. I think he watched the tactics that law enforcement officials use in a drug bust. Break in, crash things, smash things, and scream a bunch of things at high volume to dismantle the central nervous system of the alleged perpetrators, so they don’t know what is going on, until the scene is secure.

I’m not sure, if this ad exec decided to disregard transitions in his stories, or if he wasn’t a fella that employed transitions, 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. This suggested to me that his brain wasn’t receiving enough oxygen, but it was obvious that he preferred an oxygen depleted brain to 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 type of response that an esoteric man expects from a TV watching, soda drinking, Neanderthal. 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.

“You 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 “You 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 was all that prevented the outburst.

He engaged in an “aren’t we guys stupid?” chat 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, gender neutral 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 hometown. “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 “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. 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 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 that 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 strives to avoid labelling. He prefers the open-minded perception. He pities those simpletons conditioned to believe that there are actually very few forms of government from which to choose, and that there are only two viable 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, and they equate their intelligence with their morality. They are thoughtful, and they are wonderful. We are wrong. We attach these labels to them, and they are “truly” so much more.

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 a person has read, what movies they like, what music they enjoy, and what restaurants they frequent. I love top ten lists, the reasons why one ranks one over another, and the why’s and how’s that underlie those decisions. They have informed me that this is one of my more annoying attributes. This esoteric ad exec didn’t have to face any of my more annoying attributes, because he managed to achieve a nearly unprecedented place of me trying to avoid the subject of personal preferences. I just wanted him to stop talking.

The quiet types have something to hide, is an agreed upon truth that we’ve all come to accept in one form or another. It could be true, in some cases, but I’ve experienced a number of quiet types that simply don’t know what to say or when to say it. I’ve met other quiet types that have been slapped back for saying what they think so often that when they have a thought on a particular matter, 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. We can call that obfuscation and misdirection. It’s an art form considered endemic to the world 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 in a speech. “And I say the word consumer in the most condescending manner possible.” 

I’m quite sure that that sentence received some applause from the esoteric and refined consumers in the audience that would go onto buy this author’s esoteric and refined 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 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 musing included everyone but him.

“What is the difference between consumers that deign to purchase consumable products sold at McDonald’s and those 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 one happens to be a consumer. The import being that we are to pronounce the former in the most condescending manner possible. This distinction became clear to me when I informed 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 attend.

“Pshaw!” these friends –that read the aforementioned author– responded. They did not use the word Pshaw. They opted for more refined and somewhat polite (see condescending) words, but the import of their response was that they were more cultured than those involved in the blind taste tests. 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 confessed that I couldn’t taste the difference between beans, and that most of the products I consume would be more at home on a 1950’s table, before the research on food taught us what we now know about it. I told them that I watch broadcast television, and that I enjoy reading mainstream books, some of the times, and I may as well have admitted that I am something of a Neanderthal.

I am not much of a coffee drinker. These people are. They’re aficionados. They enjoy exotic coffee beans that are exclusive to urban coffee shops I’ve never attended. 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 Euro. They also feel a little sorry for bourgeoisie, like me, that know little outside the world of McDonald’s coffee PSHAW! They do not say “Pshaw!” as I mentioned, for elitists say Pshaw, 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. Posh, eclectic types don’t eat caviar anymore. Caviar is as a product consumed by wealthy consumers, in the manner the shows Gilligan’s Island and Scooby Doo might depict the wealthy. Caviar doesn’t provide prestige in community venues. Foie Gras is the new 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. This didn’t shock them. They heard of similar tests done with similar products, but that never led them to question their beliefs. They were confident that their tastes were more refined than Americans’ tastes (Readers should read the latter word 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 that titter may have made it out of 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 a little embarrassed for me, for attempting to step foot onto their home turf.

“We don’t like Starbucks,” they said, “And we’ve never heard of this Tim Horton’s (a 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 specific, exceptions to the rule. They were/are posh and eclectic. I couldn’t know to whom I was talking when I was talking to them. No one could.

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, incorporated cheap wines and expensive, exotic wines to see if professional sippers could tell the difference. The results were quite shocking, for it wasn’t just an inability to determine the difference, the brain scans of these professionals 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 sippers that the wine in bottle ‘A’ was an expensive, exotic wine, and bottle ‘B’ was a lesser, cheaper brand. The brain scans showed that the lighting up, of the subjects’ brains, was exclusive to product ‘A’. The conclusion that the controllers reached was that the professional sippers grew more excited by the expectation of sipping something more expensive.

The conclusion McRaney drew was that this elevated expectation is not limited to wine sippers, or even coffee drinkers. Elevated expectation leads us to prefer Pepsi to 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. Packaging, environment, and presentation procures expectation. 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 often cannot taste the difference, but we’ve been branded by marketing. We’re Pepsi drinkers, imported beer drinkers, expensive wine drinkers, and Columbian coffee drinkers. This defines us in a manner we find pleasing, but we’re all products of marketing, packaging, and environment. Expectation might also lead us to believe that a product can redefine us.

“Have you tried the latest lager from Djibouti?” Gucci asks Dior. “You simply must try it. It exhibits 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 narrative, Dior must have it. Is Dior so excited to try it, because Gucci’s narrative has elevated his expectation? That may be the case, but he also wants that aura and the identity of a drinker of a lager from Djibouti. He wants that prestige coated on his epidermis for all that attend the next party he attends. The fact that those that have even heard of Djibouti could not spot it on a map makes its lager even more alluring. If Dior doesn’t know anything about Djibouti either, a pregnant silence between friends, at that next party, won’t hurt anyone.

These people wouldn’t be caught dead sipping coffee in a McDonald’s, as those consumers that prefer a community venue, offering exotic coffee beans with exotic flavors for the exotic mind, could define that as consumerism in “the most condescending manner possible”. 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 consider the bean it produced 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 that same 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.” These advertisements may not have sports heroes clinking glasses, or horses kicking field goals, but that’s not who they want to be anyway. And they scoff at those American consumers that are susceptible to such blatant marketing, as they pass by them in a McDonald’s, and enter into the community venue that offers an environment more suited to someone with esoteric and refined tastes. They do this without recognizing the stratified American marketplace that appeals to consumers and consumers.

If an individual attempts to open a McDonald’s in their city, the franchise advisor will inform them that all McDonald’s have to be ‘X’ number of miles from another McDonald’s, and this is based on the idea that the marketplace cannot sustain two McDonald’s that are too close. Most of those that are placed in charge of franchise locations would inform a potential franchisee that the optimal location would consist of no fast food restaurants within ‘X’ miles of the franchisee’s desired location, but with the ubiquitous nature of fast food restaurants, they concede that that’s becoming a logistic impossibility. If that franchisee wants to open a McDonald’s right next to a community venue, however, the franchise locator will inform them that that’s a lot more feasible, as they appeal to such different demographics. The point is that those that believe that they are not susceptible to the “crass marketing schemes” employed by the famous golden arch franchise may be right, but their marketing schemes are just more immediate than the ones Foie Gras eaters prefer. They prefer a more subtle marketing scheme that appeals to their quieter sensibilities, and an environment tailored to their personality, and a presentation that speaks volumes with no slogans required. They are different from consumers, but they are just another link in the chain of this huge, monolithic beast we all call capitalism.

There may be a difference between the taste of the exotic Kopi Luwak bean and the beans used in McDonald’s coffee, but most don’t know the difference in quality to a degree that they 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 dung) 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 comparable, and in some cases superior, in blind taste tests.

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 ever tried McDonald’s coffee, they would know that it provided an inferior product. Their pshaw would contain elements of a messenger within a message, for they would assume that it was Americans that were involved in those blind taste tests, and those Americans were likely truck drivers and church goers from Iowa. They would know that everyone they knew 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 would prefer to think that I’m not one of these people. I prefer to think that I’ve made conscientious choices that have made me a Bud man, and a Pepsi drinker, based on the flavor of those drinks. I understand that 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 consume their products purport to enjoy, but have I enjoyed the projection of the lifestyle in those commercials so much that I began enjoying their products more? My friends would ‘pshaw’ at such reflection, for they know who they are. They know that they’ve made conscientious choices in the products that they’ve decided to consume, but the fundamental question remains: Are they buying their product based on the refined tastes that they profess to have, or the lifestyle that those products purport to produce? Anytime we purchase a product to a point of brand loyalty, are we making the statement that we are informed consumers that choose to purchase one product over another based on individual tastes, or are we attempting to purchase a lifestyle that some part of us knows we’ll never achieve, until we purchase it so often that we are?

Every Girl’s Crazy about a Faint Whiff of Urine

How much money, effort, and time do we spend to have others consider us attractive? How many deodorants, scented shampoos, perfumes, colognes, and body washes do we purchase to mask the natural scent of our body and smell attractive? There are five scent-masking agents listed here, and the reader could probably think up three or four that we missed. How many hours do we spend spraying, brushing, scrubbing, applying, lathering, and repeating if necessary? Recent surveys have reported 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?

What drives attraction if not scent? Our peer group suggests it’s all about 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, perfect teeth, and a strong chin have an advantage in the world of attraction, regardless what they smell like? Pablo Picasso believed that they did. He believed the basis of human attraction involved 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 the basis of sexual attraction centers 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.” We sense these pheromones in our 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 on the skin, in the skin’s apocrine sebaceous glands.

The skin produces more agents to attract than the entire line of the products in the beauty and grooming section of your local drug store combined. This notion is impossible to sell, however, so we don’t buy it. We don’t buy the idea that the subtle smell of underarm odor may be a valuable tool in attracting a mate. Yet, we don’t care for the smell of underarm odor, and we don’t think anyone else does either. On the surface. On the surface, we may find this whole idea humorous, yet even those laughing would admit that our understanding of why we do what we do, even on the surface, is subject to further review. If we entered the word subconscious into our argument, most people might stop laughing.

Even those open to the idea would be far too insecure to walk out of the house with even a hint of organic odor on them, knowing that even a subtle smell would lead them to be insecure when talking to a prospective mate. Therefore, 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 the smell with a general lack of cleanliness. We think the key to attracting a mate is convincing them we don’t have odors, and that we don’t engage in 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 those companies that spend 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, and they may be counterproductive.

Contrary to what the marketing arms of these companies sell to the public, the key to sexual attraction lies in the skin. The skin contains apocrine sebaceous glands that produce pheromones. Many believe the skin’s apocrine sebaceous glands 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 (pheromones) do tend to center themselves in six primary areas,” Melissa Kaplan writes in her Herp Care Collection Piece. “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 (body) hairs produce these pheromone messages, 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 many believe we have natural predilections to these pheromones, we are not attracted to them all of the time. Women, for example, are no more attracted to the smell of musk than men are, during a woman’s menstruation cycle. Ten days after ovulation, however, women become very sensitive to it. Production of this musk substance also occurs 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 the musk scent.

Production of musk tends to occur in the underarms, in a smegma substance 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, other stimuli can overwhelm the messages this organ receives. If a person provides no visual stimuli to a prospective mate, for example, chemical messaging will not have a dominant role in attraction. In addition, while the VNO’s functions link to the sense of smell, this 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. It is not true, for example, that fecal matter contains sexual attractants, even though it gathers some as it makes contact with areas of the skin believed to produce these pheromones. So dabbing a little fecal matter behind the 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 managed to gather sexual attractants as it makes contact with the skin.

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. As stated above, however, 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 from any other animal when it comes to chemical attraction, there is another study suggests that the definitive conclusions reached are not conclusive.

In the interest of enabling clickers, we here at have provided click bait to those that have a psychological need to click:

The Real Back Pain Solution

Fear of a Beaver Perineal Gland

Platypus People

Octopus Nuggets

Nancy Sendate

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 maid of honor echoed the best man’s sentiment, “I like Mark. I found out he used to have a mohawk, and I found out that he even colored it blue at one time. I couldn’t believe it. He seems so nice.”

What an odd, seemingly contradictory, thing to say, I thought when Mark’s friends finished their introductions. The best man was presumably one that Mark listed as one of his best friends, and the maid of honor clearly had a spot in her heart for him now, after presumably spending time around him as one of the bride’s best friends. Yet, these two chose to introduce us to Mark in a manner that suggested that there might be something wrong with people that have their hair cut into a mohawk, but not Mark. He’s nice. It was the theme of their intro and they added to it throughout the toast. We found out that not only did Mark have a mohawk at a time in his life, but he also colored it blue for a time and at another time, he spiked it eight inches high. No matter what form his hair took, however, he was always nice, and he would talk to you just like any other feller.

Mark appeared to take this all in stride. Either he agreed with the sentiment of the theme, or he didn’t hear the underlying condescension. Whatever the case, Mark appeared to miss the associations, the looks, and the reactions back in his mohawk days.

I attended this ceremony at the behest of my uncle, who 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 the haircut was a result of some sort of an identity crisis, or the psychology that chased Mark after he relented to chop it off and begin mingling with common folk again. My uncle only met Mark a few times, but he assured me that the man was nice.

Based on the idea that my one conduit into Mark’s mind was almost as unfamiliar with him as I was, I was forced to draw on personal experience with like-minded souls to try and dig into Mark’s essence. The obvious goal of adorning one’s body with an attention-drawing tattoo and hairstyle is to gain attention, but hearing all that I heard at this wedding reception and watching Mark react to it, I realized that might only be half of it. I thought Mark’s goal might have been to change the perception he had of being a wallflower that sits in the corner of a party and leaves such a poor impression that no one recalls them ever being there.

To distinguish themselves in the beginning, those that Mark reminded me of tried to establish some sort of association. They might start by displaying a fiery temper, so others might say, “Don’t mess with Jed, he’s insane.” If that display doesn’t work, they feel compelled to provide a visual to promote it with a quick mean-faced punch. I’ve even witnessed some going 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 the end game is obvious to those on the receiving end. If this chain of events does not produce the desired effect, 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 mohawks speak of sitting in front of a mirror, for over an hour to gel those eight-inch spikes up just right, to achieve a perception that is exclusive to an eight-inch Mohawk. The unspoken goal is to entice someone, somewhere to look at them. Some consider them strange, but at least they’re looking. Some ask questions, but at least they’re asking. Some might even ostracize them, but even that is evidence of a concerted effort directed toward them.

“For God’s sakes, Helen, the boy’s got a blue mohawk!” a senior citizen, unfiltered by social graces might say to his wife. The rest of us whisper it for fear that a mohawk man may hear and feel further estranged, but in my personal experience, they love it all. Mark, I can only speculate, was no different.

“It turns out Mark has a great heart,” the best man said to complete the circuit of the clichéd best man toast, “Who would 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. 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’ to punctuate the joke. He received some laughter for the effort, but there was nothing raucous about it because there was nothing raucous, shocking, or rebellious about Mark anymore. The mohawk was gone.

Men with sensible haircuts now felt so comfortable with Mark that they felt free to laugh at him without fear. They thought they were now laughing with him, and he had to sit there and take it, nodding in silent vulnerability from his proverbial corner of the room. His nod had an unspoken “Yep!” to it that suggested either Mark regretted giving up the mohawk, or that he regretted trying it out in the first place. My money was on the former.

In the years since this wedding, I’m betting that Mark still tells people, “I’m an old, married man now, but I used to have a Mohawk, and it was eight inches high, and it was even blue at one time,” when they ask him questions about himself.

The ceremony that preceded those odd, contradictory toasts was also unorthodox, but one look at Mark and his bride, Mary, should’ve informed any observer that they were, at the very least, in for something unorthodox. Then again, most of the attendees were unorthodox too. The church was unorthodox, and it appeared to have seen its best days thirty years prior, 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, memorable way.

Those of us that put some thought into it found that unorthodox core and appreciated it for what it was. We believed that we grasped the individualistic statement Mark and Mary wanted to make to one another and their friends and family. We thought there was something unique and beautiful about the ceremony, and that something influenced us to think about the ways in which we could make our own individualistic statements in our own ceremonies. I must admit I went through all of that, but my appreciation of what Mark and Mary accomplished ended when two singers stepped to the mic stands positioned at the side of the altar.

The songs performed by two teenage girls sang weren’t Gershwin or Schubert. They were as hip and nice as Mark and Mary wanted the congregation to believe they were. They were informal, and the best way Mary could find to express her love for this man who used to have a mohawk. The songs were also terrible.

A song can provide a brief, abridged interlude to any ceremony. In such a special ceremony, a song can add 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 offered by Mark and Mary’s union, is to condense those songs to the meaningful lyrics, or the meaningful portion of the song, that the couple hopes will capture the essence of their ceremony.

Wedding architects should maintain focus on the song’s refrain to establish some familiarity with the audience, but these same architects should avoid including the entire song. I’ve been there. We all have. As an enthusiastic music fan who regards some songs in the devout manner some view religion, I have a list of songs that I regard as unique definitions of who I am. I’ve fantasized about using them in my ceremonies, to provide my friends and family members a window into my soul. Common sense has prevailed upon me though, and logic tells me these moments might not be the time or the place to proselytize on the virtues of the undiscovered, aberrant songs I enjoy.

Mark and Mary obviously did not receive such objective perspectives, and the audience had to listen to songs that these tone deaf, teenage girls sang in a kitschy, wonderfully amateurish, and endearing, and embarrassing manner. I could hear their earnest effort, but it didn’t work for me. I can’t sing, and I do harbor some empathy for anyone attempting to do anything artistic in a public forum, but that display made me cringe.

“But, it was sung from the heart,” a sympathetic listener might have said, in an effort to give this rendition of whatever song they sang endearing qualities. “Fine,” I would say, “Keep it under two minutes.”

“But this was Mark and Mary’s ceremony,” they might have countered, “and even if it was unorthodox, it was unorthodox to your conformist orthodoxy, and who put you in the seat of professional critic. Get over yourself man!”

The duet sang a second song, ten minutes in. The second song was as painful as the first, yet another interruption the flow of the ceremony. It was agony for those of us that didn’t know Mark and Mary, and it altered a moment the bride and groom were supposed to cherish into the introductory segment of American Idol for all of us to try to avoid becoming frustrated, mean-spirited Simon Cowells.

Bereft of Brevity

The groom was so shaken up during the wedding ceremony that he couldn’t maintain his composure while reciting his vows. The evidence that Mark wanted this moment was so palpable that all but the cold-hearted felt it. I was so into this ceremony, and so deep into my effort to understand this man from afar, that his tears moved me. I considered the idea that Mark thought if he could get this one moment in his life right, it might help him move beyond whatever drove him to get a mohawk in the first place. I thought about those precious few moments we all have to rewrite the course we’re on, and I thought about what we do when they arrive. I also thought that if such a moment did exist for Mark, it was gone. In its place were two four-minute songs that the bride selected for this ceremony, to attempt to make the moment even more seminal than it might have otherwise been.

The bride, the groom, and the priest stood up there like jackasses, 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 trying to make more of this moment than it might otherwise have.

Less is more when we’re seeking a moment, I realized, watching as all of the moments failed to accumulate into something seminal. A seminal moment occurs when one is engaged in a moment, and no amount of choreographing will move it there. We can try, and we shouldn’t fall prey to the less-is-more principle to a point that we do nothing, but as we continue to add moments in the hope of achieving the seminal, we encroach upon a tipping point.

That tipping point may never become apparent to those who choreographed their moment. If it does become apparent, that clarity often arrives soon after it’s too late to change, and the only people who learn anything from it are those who witness the fact that brevity allows all participants to define the beauty for us, and with us, through the contrast of our efforts.

When we lose our moments, or see them redefined, we try to take them back. Cheesy, choreographed lyrics about tenderness, togetherness, love, and always being there for one’s partner, appear beautiful and thematic on paper. In reality, they’re show-stopping, moment stealing, and over-wrought ideas that we later come to regret, even if we refuse to admit it. We find ourselves trying to disassemble and reassemble our moment any way we can, until our ability to take it back and relive those seminal moments lead us to ache for the days when we used to have a mohawk.


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 our school’s 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 is, 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 favor students either. I didn’t love too many classes throughout my school years, but I loved his class. He didn’t care. He was a teacher that was at the tail end of his career, and much of the passion he had for teaching was gone. He was still a great teacher, however, and I wanted him to know that I was a willing and eager student. He didn’t care. It was frustrating.

When we tell people others those crucial, crisis moments of our lives, we expect them to side with us, regardless how they feel about it in private. This old man didn’t bother with such pleasantries. It was annoying. I reached a point where I wanted him to tell me that I was correct about one thing, and I wanted him to acknowledge it in an unequivocal manner. 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.

He 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. 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 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 any way? 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 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. You shouldn’t trust anyone outside your immediate family, he said. This mindset will prepare you for that slime ball you encounter that attempts to dupe you out of everything you hold sacred. 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. I stayed on topic with this professor. I didn’t consider that a quality answer, at the time, and I continued to belabor the point until I drove him down into what I considered his core answer. Long story short, I don’t remember anything he said after that short, quick response. I forgot that response too, until it started to pertain to more and more situations in life, and I had to admit that it was a relatively profound assessment.

Most of us know, on a certain level, that the people around us don’t give a crap about us. On another level, we know we don’t give a crap about them either, but how many things do we do in one day to convince the others around us that we’re wonderful people? How many times do we stop all laughter at the bar to say something important, so someone might think we’re more intelligent, more politically astute, and savvy, and crafty, and how many posts do we put on Facebook to convince those on the other side of the political aisle that they are, in fact, wrong? How many times do we read and write sentences, such as those, with the belief that we’re discussing others, as if we’re above it all? We’re right, they’re wrong, and they’re fools for believing that anyone gives a crap what they think.

Depending on the nature of our interactions, most people don’t care that we have an optimistic outlook on them that offers them a chance to be wonderful. Most people won’t approach us based on whether our perspective is positive or negative. Most people don’t give a crap about us, or our perspective on life. The slime balls and shysters of the world don’t give a crap either. They aren’t more wary of us based on how prepared 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 compensation, knows that a majority of the population prepare for slime ball, sales people. Most people employed in sales aren’t slime balls, but they prepare for us that think they are.

On day one, those training for sales positions receive a massive binder that could kill a thirty-pound dog if dropped from a decent height. This binder contains a training manual that contains a reactions chapter, 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 that the reactions chapter is the chapter that the training team spends the most time on in training sessions.

The “No thank you” chapter of this massive training manual teaches the incoming salesperson how to deal with polite refusals. To find this information, the salesperson learns to turn to page twenty-three of the “reactions” section of this sales training manual. If the salesperson receive a “hell no!” they’re instructed to turn to page forty-six 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 sixty-nine. If the reaction they receive is a rehearsed one that calls a sales person out for being the slime ball that they know salespeople are, “Because I know slime balls,” salespeople learn that all they have do is to turn to page ninety-two for a suitable response.

The best defense, for those potential clients that do not want to become 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. This defense also requires an acknowledgement from the potential client that they cannot play this game better than salespeople can. This is our home turf, and we know how to play this game better than most of those we call. The trainers instilled responses in us that were focus group tested, and the best way to summarize these responses is that they teach us to avoid giving a crap about you.

We, salespeople, don’t give a crap that you may be the smartest man that ever walked the earth. The training team, and the manual, teaches us to avoid considering that the potential client on the line, might be a good guy that knows the worst of humanity when they happen upon them. They train us to make the sale, regardless what the call recipient might think of us, or our abilities. If a potential client wants to know the super-secret way of 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 cannot 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 on the other end of the line, 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 doesn’t cover, because it can’t, is the hang up. It is fool proof, I told my friends. 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. Some people appear to believe that hanging up phone violates everything their mother taught them about phone etiquette. They may be nice people, and they might have some compassion for those of us that are working so hard to make this sale. There are others, however, and they are the focal point of this piece. They are the ones that 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 no smarter, or craftier, than anyone else is, 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. Therefore, the next time a potential client receives a phone call from a potential slime ball. My advice is to hang up the phone. The potential client may consider this a battle at the O.K. Corral, and they are prepared to do battle with nothing but their wits. If this is the case, they may want to consider the idea that their adversary has a focus-tested, rapid-fire machine gun.

If a potential client is fortunate enough to run across the salesperson that cannot match the potential client’s perspicacity and insurmountable wit, and the salesperson cannot respond to the witty retorts that they thought up that day in the mirror, that salesperson might land themselves in a boardroom for coaching tips. These coaching tips will revolve around the concept that the salesperson should stop caring so about what potential clients say. If that salesperson cannot overcome this sense of intimidation, one that isn’t intimidated will replace them.

For those “slime balls” that strive to excel in sales, a sales call 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 they consider this fortress 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 you on their lunch hour, and they take 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 your wit and intellect home with them, they will discuss you with their spouse, 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 interested, 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 levelheaded 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 suffered from burn out. I also wondered if I was suited for the job, for if this otherwise this levelheaded 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.

“Are you all right?” I asked.

“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 “Are 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 potential 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, schooled in the art of understanding a potential client’s psychology, learn so many ways of flipping potential clients into the sale that doing so becomes nothing more than something they do in the course of a day.

Enter the panhandler.

A panhandler also doesn’t give a crap about the person that hands 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 to the next pedestrian on the street. They won’t remember anything about that initial transaction. 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 only change the calculations of how much money they’ve received to that point. They may be fond of the charitable giver during the time it takes to complete the transaction. They may even give that person some of the obligatory responses that are sought, but that’s to feed into the ego of their giver, and the general sense of altruism that may encourage the giver to believe their altruistic enough to give out another twenty in the future. When a panhandler proceeds to 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 consider that person bad 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 a similar transaction.

Enter the fashion aficionado.

Nobody gives a crap what we 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 compliments and mockery. 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 we’re the type that wears the finest clothes known to man, and we constantly remind our peers that we will wear nothing but, a greater percentage of the people we run across will not remember anything about another person’s wardrobe choices. Some will, of course, and they are the people we consider when we dress. We dress to impress, but how many notice? How many people, in a room full of let’s say twenty, will notice anything about our clothing choices for the day? Our conceit leads us to believe 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 wore a flamboyant Barry Manilow T-shirt, as instructed. Others 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 received instructions 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 same experiment McRaney cites, a subject received instructions to wear the finest duds available to man and interrupt a 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 we’re wearing, and even fewer will remember what we wore yesterday, because most people don’t give a crap about us.

Nobody gives a crap that we just messed up in our speech. They don’t even care when we apologize for our 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 us to get on with it, so they can go home to watch their shows.

How many of us have committed a show stopping error that we assumed everyone in the auditorium noticed? We stopped in our speech, under the assumption that it would be pointless to continue. We believe that we have just lost all credibility with our audience. We look out onto our audience with an overwhelming sense of shame. Yet, how many times have we witnessed an individual commit an error? How many times have we wanted that speaker to go back and correct the error? It’s been my experience, as an audience member, that we just want the speaker to get on with it. Most people in an audience don’t care that we just mispronounced “Nucular”, or “Eckspecially”, or that we may have mixed up our tenses, or lost our place. They just want us to get to the reason they decided to attend our seminar in the first place.

How many errors do professional speakers committed in one hour? How many of those errors did we consider egregious? Yet, we watched the professional speaker move on, as if nothing happened? ‘How can they do that?’ we wonder with amazement. ‘That was an egregious error that would’ve crippled us.’ The professional speaker knows that most people aren’t paying near as much attention as we are, and the fact that they are able to move on is what has separated them from the likes of us. That hutzpah is what has made them a speaker that people are willing to pay to hear.

The very idea that the speech we are delivering should’ve been perfect was our dream scenario. If we can find a route around our self-indulgent desires that this speech may have been the greatest speech delivered since they laid Winston Churchill to rest, we might find that most people care far more about how a speech is 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 do we hear a 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 enough attention to one another. We just want our workday to end, so we 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 something evil lurks 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!”

The music that cues Dougie’s impending doom spills out of the speakers of our movie theater. A subtle roar follows. We tense up. We grip the armrests so tight that we flex our forearms. 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 the warnings. 

The trouble is the actor that plays Dougie is unattractive and chubby. 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 idea 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 want them to move, but I realized that they receive instructions from 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 closer to the truth than anything we horror movie aficionados call for. The book, You Are Not so Smart, suggests that the one detail of our story that is incorrect, in many stories similar to Dougie’s, is the 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 fight to save themselves, in a selfish manner, and those that act in a heroic fashion to save others, but casual, non-psychology types insist there are but two reactions to such situations.

McRaney argues that there is a third course of action, and casual, non-psychology types will be more apt to view this course of action as little more than an extension of choking. Psychologists call it fear bradycardia. The difference between fear bradycardia and choking is that a victim of fear bradycardia experiences a heart deceleration, as opposed to an acceleration that may cause one to fumble about and select an incorrect reaction. A victim of fear bradycardia experiences a freezing, or an attentive immobility. Fear bradycardia is an involuntary, automatic instinct that often occurs in moments that contain unprecedented aspects of chaos and horror for the unprepared.

Put succinct, fear bradycardia is the idea that a person, a Dougie, will stop moving and hope for the best. This psychological state occurs when we encounter a moment of unprecedented, abject horror. It is based on the idea that in those moments, most of us will not know what to do, and we will freeze in place with the hope that that moment will 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. Some refer to this state as tonic immobility, but no matter the name, 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 shut down and go to a safe, more normal space 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 calm evacuating survivors exhibited, and how most survivors followed instructions to allow for a safe exit. Some first responders said that the nature of these survivors saved lives. They suggested that the nature of this exit should be a model for future survivors, and first responders, to learn the proper evacuation process.

Other first responders agreed with the general sentiment, but they added that the unspoken sense of order was so calm and quiet that it bordered on eerie. Very few survivors were screaming, they said, and though there wasn’t much room to sprint, very few added to the chaos by complaining about the slow, orderly exit, and even fewer attempted to find another 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 complete the log out procedures on 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, when reading that. If I were in that situation, I would be running. I might be crying, even screaming, and I may even knock the occasional little, old lady down in my departure, 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 watched such scenes in movies, and TV shows. We’ve all placed ourselves in the mind of the characters involved, and we’ve all done things a little different from them. We’ve all shouted things at our various screens when the Dougie characters 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, or do we think we know? How prepared are we for a moment of unprecedented horror and catastrophe, and how much of what we think we know conflicts with the reality of what we really know?

“If you haven’t (experienced a worst case scenario firsthand),” writes McRaney. “You can never know how prepared you will be, and you can never know how you’ll react. The ideas of how we will react may be lies we’ve told ourselves so often that we might end up knowing the actual truth of these questions after it’s too late to rectify it.”

Shutting down computers, gathering coats and having mundane conversations are automatic and involuntary responses that occur because 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. We shutdown 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 stated previous, most casual, non-psychology types would characterize this as choking in the clutch, but McRaney states that it goes beyond this, because you may not be 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. This reflexive incredulity 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. Doing so, will lead you to underestimating it.

One such incident to illustrate 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 was due, in part, to precedent. Thanks to the terrorist incident that occurred on 9/11/01, in other words, those heroic passengers lived with a post-9/11 mindset.

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 they knew it 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 believed this too, 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 may not have been 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 those passengers what they were witnessing on TV. Those passengers then informed other passengers, until all parties concerned defeated this reflexive incredulity acted in the manner they did.

According to reports, there was a great deal of discussion on flight ‘93. There was discussion among the passengers, relaying the reports they were hearing with others on the ground that prompted Todd Beamer to say, “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, “You are more prone to dawdle if you fail to follow these steps and are not informed of the severity of the issue.”  Failing to gain the necessary information leads to speculation and to the inevitable comparisons and contrasts of other incidents for 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 a previous experience I once had?” 

The culprit they assign to unwarranted fear is hype. The type of hype, they will suggest, comes from the media and politicians. The media wants viewers and 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 true, but it’s also true that the terrorist incident that occurred on 9/11/01 was one of the most horrific to happen in our country.

We only add the political section of this discussion to illustrate the mindset of those that rationalize horror away. They do so to lighten the load such an incident could have on their minds if they didn’t deal with it in the manner they do. The problem arises when we face the type of horror we’ve rationalized for most of our 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 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. Most of us 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’ve prepared ourselves 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 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 we call mini-disasters in the grand scheme of things, and most people have a 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 may rationalize themselves to death.

Groundhogs, Led Zeppelin, and Our Existential Existence

We love to define ourselves through artistic venues. It’s who we are, and we believe that listing off our current preferences provide our audience a concise definition. Our tastes in all of the art forms define us, of course, but the appreciation of music appears to have a greater universal appeal than other art forms, and this provides us a more common denominator of what we are versus other fans of music. The question this idea spawns is do we control our characteristics, in this manner, if music is this great barometer? In high school, our favorite music artists changed by the day, dictated to us by the prevailing winds of “cool”. We might 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.

What 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 slapped around by the prevailing winds of cool and uncool. This spawns 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 who 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 rebellious thoughts?

Research scientists often study other animals to get to the root source of human psychology. They prefer to study animals, based on the idea that their actions and reactions are more primal in nature. Humans are often more difficult to test in such groups, because human tend to project idyllic images of who they prefer to be, rather than what 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 something eat one of their own, and we’ve assumed that this desire was born of simplicity. Could their desire to watch be more complex than we’ve ever imagined? Is this desire to watch similar to our complex desire to rubberneck an accident on the interstate, or is that a primal, base desire on our part?

We’ve all heard groundhogs screech and chatter when something eats one of their brethren, 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 also assume 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 something slaughter one of our own in a slasher flick? Is the fascination they have to horror similar to ours, in that they’re horrified, but they can’t look away? Do they speak about the images they saw later, in the manner, we might when walking out of a theater, and do they mourn the lives of former friends and family members in the aftermath?

When humans die, we attempt to minimize the individual so we can all live better lives in the aftermath. “Yeah, but he was old,” is something we might say to minimize the horror of death. We might say something along the lines of, “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 building and rebuilding his home was one of his lone forms of exercise. I knew he was going to die, and to be frank, I say good riddance.”

Do groundhogs like and dislike other groundhogs based on personality traits? If this is the case, how far do they take it? Do they ostracize other groundhogs that have strange growths on their head, or are they more accepting than us? 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 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 probably 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 gave a titty twister 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 we all needed a random shake.

A reaction like that might have left me doubled over, on a normal day. 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 rejected everything I valued, and our friendship never recovered. I’m sure groundhogs reject other groundhogs’ over over-the-top attempts at humor, but do they hold grudges? This guy told people he hated me after that.

Does a groundhog do anything to shake up the norm, or is his existence so primal that he’s happy to be alive for one more 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 be alive? Is this desire to shake our lives out of the norm a complex desire, or is it a simplistic, biological need we have to keep our brains firing at a rapid pace?

If a groundhog decided to perform a sexual act in a different position, for example, would we document this decision as simple or complex? If the groundhog displayed a sense of listlessness prior to trying the new position, how would we document that? If the groundhog performed his act on other groundhogs when his selected mate wasn’t around, would we view this adulterous act as complex or simplistic? If we could see inside the groundhog’s brain, and view his dreams of an army of aliens shackling him to a wall, while 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 would be enough for some sort of lifelong association. I was wrong. Most of the people I grew up around were heavy metal dudes. Hessians is what we called ourselves. I wanted to be a hessian so bad I was willing to do just about anything to make that happen. I had a tough time getting in. I didn’t like Rush or Iron Maiden, but I did like Kiss. Kiss was not enough to get into those circles. 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’, but I didn’t give a durn about nothing, and I thought authority figures were laughable. I thought that would be enough.

One thing I learned, in the beginning of my public square humiliation, was that calling my grandma “My Nana” would be out, if I wanted to be a hessian. I didn’t have to hate my grandma, 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 after that, 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 simplicity 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 a hessian character and complexity. “You don’t like Phil Collins?” “No, I think he’s gay.” Loving something gains one scorn. Loving something gives other hessians license to hate another for, whether it’s loving Kiss, Happy Days, or their Nana. Loving something gives hessians a weakness to poke and prod, until the recipient of such scorn is too embarrassed to love anything, unless it’s Metallica. One can say that they love Metallica and still be a hessian, but that’s it.

If the scorned has never heard the music of Metallica, friends will instruct them to run out to the store tomorrow and buy Master of PuppetsRide the Lightning, or And Justice for All… If that listener stubbornly refuses to worship these three albums, after repeated listens, they run the risk of having the ‘poser’ label cast upon them. They may as well take the jean jacket off, cut their hair, and start calling their grandma ‘My Nana’, because they’ll have their entrance into the hallowed halls of the hessian blocked.

Hessians can smile, and they can laugh, but they need to reserve that for moments when someone is the subject of scorn and ridicule. 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. I assume that Facebook has made life for teens in America easier by comparison, for a person can now block those people that question the constructs we have about our personality on Facebook.

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

“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 enter. It was a world of opportunity, a world where girls existed, and a world where one 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, laugh, and listen to the greatest music ever produced, for as all Zeppelin guys know, all music stems from Zeppelin.

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

A Zeppelin guy still had to fortify their Zeppelin guy status, then the Zeppelin guy status if they were lucky enough to achieve it. A Zeppelin guy still had to guard himself against complacency in the Zep guy world, or they could lose their status. It was right to enjoy the music on the album In Through the Out Door, for example, but a true Zeppelin guy 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 a fella wanted to maintain their The Zeppelin guy status, they had to know that.

We all realize that the brain of a groundhog is less complex than that of the human’s, but we also 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? Will they begin to ostracize Genesis lovers for the mileage it gains them in their group? 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? If it did, would it reach a point where one could characterize it as complex, or, would we deem it a simple desire to belong to that group of groundhogs that listened to that form of music, and would the groundhogs ever begin to see the distinction for what it was?

Are you Superior?

If an individual is strong or gifted in the athletic arena, they already know the feeling of superiority, as most of us regard those physical traits superior. For the rest of us, the search is not as simple. 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 this quest is that we gain definition on the backs of others.

Most people we encounter will dress us down psychologically, soon after we meet them. Why do they do it? Most of them don’t know why, and those that do have something of an idea might not attribute it to a search for superiority, but they do know that they’re searching for something that will give them a lift for the day. 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 socially accepted hairdo? How much did we pay for it? How much did we pay for the clothes we wear? Do we wear fashionable clothes? If clothes make the man, what kind of man are we? Some say it’s all about the shoes. Others say that by creating a pleasing dimple in the tie, by denting that tie with the thumb in the tying process, a person can create quite a first impression. Most people don’t speak in terms of superiority or inferiority in polite company. Yet, most people are worried about the impressions they make. What are impressions, but an attempt to define one’s self among their peers?

Is it all about the clothes, or do we making better first impressions with 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 what we say after the first impression has greater import. 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 redound to the benefit of a strong follow up impression. The subtext involves the idea that doing so will end their search for our weakness, and the feeling of superiority they gain will allow them to feel more comfortable with us. This, we hope, will result in them enjoying our company more. 

Comedian Louie Anderson turned this into an art form. Moments after stepping foot on stage, Louie Anderson informs his audience that he’s overweight in the form of a well-rehearsed joke. The first impression we have of Louie is that he is overweight. When he follows that first impression up with a quality, self-deprecating joke it disarms us. We thought we were superior to him, based on his physical flaw. By acknowledging that flaw, Louie takes that feeling of superiority away from his, and he gives it back to us with his definition of it. That re-definition of our superiority allows him to go ahead and manipulate us in all the ways a comedian needs to manipulate a crowd. The distraction of our physical superiority is gone, and we’re now free to enjoy the comedic stylings of Louie Anderson.

The problem with such a successful, follow up presentation rears its ugly head when we begin to overdo it. When our self-deprecating humor works in the second stage of impression, and we attempt to move into the more substantive third and fourth stages of impression we might find that most people are not as entertained by us as they were in the second, self-deprecating stage of impression. As a result, we may begin to fall back on the more successful, second impression. “Of course I’m nothing but a fat body, so what do I know,” is a qualifier that we insecure types add to jokes when we find that we’re no longer entertaining our audience. When that proves successful, and our counterparts begin laughing again, we begin committing to this qualifier so often that we become that weakness in their eyes. They can’t help believing this is who we are, it’s the repetitive impression we’ve given them so often that it becomes what they think of us. One way to find out if we have fallen prey to this progression is to remove that successful, qualifier that we have been adding to the tail end of our jokes and stories to gain favor with them. If we have been adding it too often, they might add, “That’s true, but aren’t you fat?” to the tail end of our story for us.

Some of the times, we commit to these additions 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 because 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’ve heard that statement many times, but I rarely heard someone use it as a weapon of superiority. 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 the American way of life. She would ask 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 might be due to the fact that David was much younger than we were. Steve agreed with that to an extent, but he stated that he thought it had more to do with David’s education level. 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 when it dawn on me that Steve’s greater goal was not to insult David, or compliment me, but to attempt to define his own feelings of superiority through comparative analysis. I thought of confronting him with this, but I’ve always felt guilty about revealing others in this manner. It’s never gained me anything more than a 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.

Upon reflection, I realized that my college graduate friend, Steve, had been on the outside looking in of 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 as a result, 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 we did.

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, we dismissed his opinions 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. Some even gain feelings of superiority based on the manner they brush their teeth. Those that brush their teeth top to bottom are not doing it in the manner advised by the American Dental Association. Others base their comparative analyses on the manner in which a person shaves their pubic hair. If one person leaves a strip and another 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. If I ever doubted his superiority, he offered me constant reminders.

This modern battle for psychological definition often calls for a type of guerrilla 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 modern age mind would never risk their troops in the type of toe-to-toe battles that former battalion leaders considered the gentleman’s way to fight. On that note, no one, of the modern age, would ever ask their counterpart if they think they’re superior, in other words, for that might 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 guerrilla warfare-style pot shots.

For those, like me, that feel guilty about cashing in on those opportunities to nuke another person’s argument for the purpose of gaining superiority, my advice is to refrain judiciously. Some of us will take any opportunity afforded us to make another person look bad. They enjoy it, especially when they consider that other person to be superior in some way. Others don’t enjoy this, as we have intimate knowledge of the embarrassment that can accompany looking bad in front of others. We also feel some empathy for those that say easily corrected things. We hold our fire. In a perfect world, others would value such judiciousness, and they would return it. For various reasons, including the idea that most people do not know when we’re refraining, it is not valued. Some may even consider it a display of weakness on our part.

In a perfect world, our interactions would call for facets of the modern definition of warfare. Most people would wait for enemy fire before firing, to win the battle off the field as well as winning the one on it. The problem with refraining too often, or only firing in self-defense, with those we do battle with in the psychological wars, is that most enemy combatants do not view refraining as an order to ceasefire. One would think that in the absence of pot shots, the other party would recognize the cease and desist order. In my experience, they don’t. They sense weakness, and they open fire. Something about the human condition suggests that even the most empathetic and sympathetic to stay vigilant, and fire off a few rounds occasionally just to keep our enemy combatants down. Even if it is just to keep them level with us, the individual with their mind’s eye open to the psychological games we all play must keep firing, if for no other reason than to remind all of our opponents of the arsenal we have at our disposal. 

After tiring of all the games that Steve and I played over the years, I finally broke down one day and said, “Do you think that you’re superior to me?” I realized that this was a violation of the modern rules of psychological warfare, but I couldn’t take the ever-present chess match anymore. Being a good friend, and a modern psychological warrior, schooled in the PC/HR tactics of guerrilla 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 that shatter your beliefs to such a degree that you asked me what had changed? Would you ask me if I received a promotion, won the lottery, or if I had sex 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 began 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 a “you don’t have a shot in hell” ray at me, 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 my elliptical machine. 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.

She 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 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!

She did return the wave. She fulfilled her portion of polite protocol, but she did so in a guarded manner. 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 would she do that? 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 was the one saying hello. I was the buddy. I didn’t enjoy the limitation, but I abided by it just to have her talk to me on one otherwise innocuous afternoon. I was the one that listened her stories, and her honest confessions, without once 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 that 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. It’s possible that others flirted with her a couple times before she saw me, and I sympathize with the idea that the constant barrage fatigued her, but I was at a point in my life where I 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 that good friends don’t deserve the “you don’t have a shot in hell” ray no matter what the 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 the constant barrage of men hitting on her so often has led her to hone her defense mechanisms, 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!

Part II: We’ll Call Her Katie

Leonardo’s Lips and Lines

My takeaway from Walter Isaacson’s Leonard da Vinci biography is that hypervigilance is not a switch an artist turns on to create. Artistic creations are often a display of one’s genuine curiosity about the world, a culmination of obsessive research into the miniscule details that others missed, and a portal through which the artist can reveal their findings. Did Leonardo da Vinci’s obsessions drive him to be an artist, or did he become obsessed with the small details of life to become a better artist?

Da Vinci might have started obsessively studying various elements, such as water, rock formations, and all of the other natural elements to inform his art, but he became so obsessed with his initial findings that he pursued them for reasons beyond art. He pursued them, the author states, for the sake of knowledge.

I don’t think I’ve ever read a book capture an artist’s artistic process as well as this one did. The thesis of the book is that da Vinci’s artistic creations were not merely the work of a gifted artist, but of an obsessive genius honing in on scientific discoveries to inform the minutiae of his process. Some reviews argue that this bio focuses too much on the minutiae of da Vinci’s work, but after reading the book, I don’t see how an author could capture the essence of what da Vinci’s accomplished without focusing on his obsessions, as focusing and obsessing on the finer details separated him from all of the brilliant artists that followed.

Some have alluded to the idea that da Vinci just happened to capture Lisa Gherardini, or Lisa del Giocondo, in the perfect smile for his famous painting The Mona Lisa. The inference is that da Vinci asked her to do a number of poses, and that his gift was merely in working with Lisa to find that perfect pose and then capture it, in the manner a photographer might. Such theories, Isaacson illustrates, shortchange the greatest work of one of history’s greatest artists.

Isaacson also discounts the idea that da Vinci’s finished products were the result of a divine gift, and I agree in the sense that suggesting his work was a result of a gift discounts everything da Vinci did to inform his work. There were other artists with similar gifts in da Vinci’s time, and there have been many more since, yet da Vinci’s work maintains a rarified level of distinction in the art world.

As an example of Leonardo’s obsessiveness, he dissected cadavers to understand the musculature elements involved in producing a smile. Isaacson provides exhaustive details of Leonardo’s work, but writing about such endeavors cannot properly capture how tedious this research must have been. Writing that da Vinci spent years exploring cadavers to discover all the ways the brain and spine work in conjunction to produce expression, for example, cannot capture the trials and errors da Vinci must have experienced before finding the subtle muscular formations inherent in the famous, ambiguous smile that captured the deliberate effect he was trying to achieve. (Isaacson’s description of all the variables that inform da Vinci’s process regarding The Mona Lisa’s ambiguous smile that historians suggest da Vinci used more than once is the best paragraph in the book.) One can only guess that da Vinci spent most of his time researching for these artistic truths alone, and that even his most loyal assistants pleaded that he not put them on the insanely tedious lip detail.

Isaacson also goes to great lengths to reveal Leonardo’s study of lights and shadows, in the sfumato technique, to provide the subjects of his paintings greater dimension and realistic and penetrating eyes. Da Vinci then spent years, sometimes decades, putting changes on his “incomplete projects”. Witnesses say that he could spend hours looking at an incomplete project only to add one little dab of paint.

The idea of a gift implies that all an artist has to do is apply their gift to whatever canvas stands before them and that they should do it as often as possible to pay homage to that gift until they achieve a satisfactory result. As Isaacson details this doesn’t explain what separates da Vinci from other similarly gifted artists in history. The da Vinci works we admire to this day were but a showcase of his ability, his obsessive research on matters similarly gifted artists might consider inconsequential, and the application of that knowledge he attained from the research.

Why, for example, would one spend months, years, and decades studying the flow of water, and its connections to the flow of blood in the heart? The nature of da Vinci’s obsessive qualities belies the idea that he did it for the sole purpose of fetching a better price for his art. He also, as the author points out, turned down more commissions than he accepted. This coupled with the idea that while he might have started an artistic creation on a commissioned basis, he often did not give the finished product to the one paying him for the finished product. As stated with some of his works, da Vinci hesitated to do this because he didn’t consider it finished, completed, or perfect. As anyone who understands the artistic process understands, the idea that art has reached a point where it cannot be improved upon is often more difficult to achieve for the artist than starting one. Some might suggest that achieving historical recognition drove him, but da Vinci had no problem achieving recognition in his lifetime, as most connoisseurs of art considered him one of the best painters of his era. We also know that da Vinci published little of what would’ve been revolutionary discoveries in his time, and he carried most of his artwork with him for most of his life, perfecting it, as opposed to selling it, or seeking more fame with it.

After reading all that informed da Vinci’s process, coupled with the appreciation we have for the finished product, I believe we can now officially replace the meme that uses the Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band album to describe an artist’s artistic peak with The Mona Lisa.

Boring Investment Advice from a Know Nothing

“You don’t know what you’re talking about,” is one of the most valuable pieces of advice I made up for myself, while working at an online brokerage company. Soon after I landed this job, I entered the training room. The information overload I experienced in the training class was intimidating, overwhelming, frustrating, understandable, illuminating, and intoxicating. I thought I knew something when I finished these grueling classes, and I was eager to put that knowledge into play. Every time I did, throughout my tenure there, “You don’t know what you’re talking about,” became the refrain of my pain.

Watching the brokerage’s customers put their knowledge into play in the stock market only reinforced the idea that I didn’t know what I was doing, because some of these callers knew a lot more than I did and they spent a lot more time studying trends. They could recite a company’s tiny, accounting numbers and explain to me how those numbers were indicators for future success. They could explain cyclical trends in the company’s industry and how those trends and numbers coupled with prevailing winds in the market and the nation’s politics could indicate that the company’s stock was ready to explode. They were eternal optimists on the subject of their stock, yet their results ended up being as unimpressive as mine were.

Some of these callers didn’t have the money to pursue their once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, some didn’t have the stomach to pull the trigger, and others didn’t have the brains as evidenced by the fact that they asked me for advice on what they should do. Those in the latter group were more memorable for the creative ways they tried to blame the company, and me, when their too primed to fail moves fell through. The theme of these calls was, “You, and your company, shouldn’t have permitted me to do this.”

My lifestyle at the time was such that I provided friends the opportunity to use all of the clever and humorous variations of the word frugal. I had money at my disposal in the post-Reagan era that preceded the tech bubble bursting. Momentum stocks were exploding all over the place, and the excitement from these gamblers was infectious. I forgot everything my grandpa and dad told me about investing, and I put my foot in the tide. I learned the hard way, that if I was going to make any money in the market, the last things I should be counting on were my knowledge, or my knowledgeable instincts.

Invest in What you Know

“Invest in what you know,” The wizard of Wall Street, Warren Buffet, advised those of us overwhelmed by the information required to invest in the stock market. The question I ask those that follow this wisdom is how often do your personal preferences align with the popularity of products?

An aficionado of coffee might know that the blend corporation ‘X’ puts together is superior to their competition, but do they really know that, or do they think that? More vital to the subject of personal investing is the question, does the coffee aficionado know anything about the business practices of ‘X’. They might know that ‘X’ makes a superior blend, because ‘X’ only uses the finest quality bean, but do they know how much that bean costs the company? Do they know what percentage of that cost the company passes onto the consumer? The idea that ‘X’ might charge the lowest possible cost possible to the consumer might be a key component to their personal loyalty to the brand, but how does this action affect ‘X’s profit margin? Repeat after me, “I know nothing.” Buffet’s advice might be great for novices who have some money to play around in the market, and for them investing in ‘X’ is a great way to show brand loyalty, but for serious investors seeking a path to some level of financial independence, it’s been a formula for failure in my experience.

Why do our employers provide us a select list of mutual funds for our 401k? They do it to protect us from indulging in our creative impulses when investing. They know that the key to long-term investing involves the slow growth, and they study the mutual funds market to determine which funds will produce long term and consistent growth.

“Investing doesn’t have to be boring,” I’ve heard creative investors say in response to the adage that if you find investing exciting, you’re probably doing it wrong. Creative investing involves an otherwise intelligent person finding creative end arounds to prove they are as skilled in the investing world as they are in their profession. Creative investors seek to impress their friends with exclamation points!!! They want to tell their friends that they were in on the ground floor of an idea that made them millions, they want to show their friends a physical product to “wow!” them, and they want their friends and family to talk about that investment that put them over the top in the arena of accumulated wealth. Any common Joe can invest in a slow growth, blue chip companies that have an extensive record of paying consistent dividends. Investments in those companies require no creativity or ingenuity, and they are the antithesis of sexy, creative investing. Watching such companies plod onward with miniscule, but consistent profits is about as boring as the professions, most common people have, but seasoned investors will say that that long-term boredom might provide the most probable route to long-term success.

On that note, a vital mindset that an investor should have is one that recognizes the continental divide between investing and gambling. Some seasoned investors might say that all investing is gambling. If that’s true, we maintain that there is a continental between gambling on an upstart and gambling on a blue chip stalwart that has a proven history of consistent returns. There’s nothing wrong with investing in momentum and growth stocks versus defensive stocks, but most momentum/growth stocks are more volatile than defensive stocks.

The difference between stalwart, blue chip stocks that some call defensive stocks and momentum, or growth stocks are often found in their volatility. A theoretical measurement of a stock’s volatility is the beta number. If a stock  has a .44 beta number, for example, the investor knows that that company is theoretically less volatile than most of the stocks listed in the market, a .62 is a little more volatile, but not as theoretically volatile as most stocks. A 2.15 beta, on the other hand, is a number that suggests that that company’s stock is theoretically more volatile than the market. This number is a theoretical variable that suggests that a 1.0 stock moves in line with the market.

The opposite of investing in growth stocks that promise growth based on momentum are the defensive stocks that generally sell the staples of consumer related products. Defensive stocks generally provide more stable earnings when compared to those in growth stocks, and they generally provide consistent dividends to the investor, regardless what’s happening in the rest of the market. There is always going to be some volatility in a company’s stock, of course, but some would say that a blue chip, defensive stock that offers a dividend could be a better investment for a potential investor than a bank’s certificate of deposit (CD). At this point, many of these companies offer a yield (dividend) that is better than what most banks can offer in the form of a CD, and taxes are lower on dividends from stocks than they are on interest from a CD. The one caveat on investing in a dividend paying stock is the prospect of losing some, or all, of the principle investment in the stock, whereas a bank enters into a locked in agreement on the principle with the consumer when providing a CD for a specified amount of time.

Some call blue chip companies the major players in their industry, or the household names. The Dow Jones Index lists thirty of the major players that have a propensity to either move with the market, or dictate the movement of the stocks in their industry, and the subsequent moves of the overall market over an unspecified amount of time. The stocks listed in the Dow Jones Index are blue chip stocks that generally offer slow growth and dividends to its investors. These investments are what a creative investor might call boring investments.

Be Boring 

I am not an investment advisor, and I don’t pretend to be one on this site, but when I talk about investing it inevitably leads some to ask me what particular investments I would advise they put their money in. I tell them that I wouldn’t be able to sleep at night thinking that they might purchase a stock I’m tracking, because I know how much their family is counting on them to make wise investments choices. My one piece of general advice is that they avoid creative or sexy investing and develop an investment strategy that involves getting boring. I tell my friend if he wants to up his income, his best economic opportunities available to him are at the office and in his work ethic and loyalty to the company, for that might result in raises and promotions. If he wants to get filthy, stinking, and “I hate you now because you have so much money” wealthy, the best route to accomplishing that is to have your money working for you. “Working for you” can mean a variety of different things to a variety of different people, but I would advise that an investor in an optimum situation that entails having some disposable cash on hand find the least volatile, blue chip company that pays a consistent dividend. If they are in this optimal situation where they don’t have immediate need for the money from those dividends, they set up a Direct Reinvestment Plan (DRIP) on that stock to watch the slow growth accumulate over the long term.

Those readers that blanch at the notion that “You don’t know what you’re talking about” is solid investment advice, should know that it parallels the advice Warren Buffet gave elsewhere. “If you’ve got 150 IQ and you’re in my business, go sell 20 or 30 points to somebody else, ‘cause you really don’t need it,” he said. “You need emotional stability. You need to be able to detach yourself from fear or greed, when that prevails in the market. You’ve gotta be able to come to your own opinions and ignore other people. But you don’t need a lot of brains.”

I agree with everything Buffet says here, except for the idea that the novice investor should ignore the advice of others. I advised my friend to  create a fake portfolio on one of the platforms that provide that function. I advised him to input data that suggests that he’s made a purchase of some shares at the amount of that day, and then chart that stock’s progress for however long he finds necessary and read all of the data and analytical reports that the chosen platform provides. Then, allow some earnings quarters to go by and read, or watch, interpretations of the company’s quarterly report, and digest all of the negative and positive data provided. (The optimum is to read the company’s own quarterly report, but most of these are about as long as Ernest Hemingway’s Old Man and the Sea and about one-tenth as interesting.) If he is still uncomfortable with his knowledge regarding individual stocks he chose to fake invest in, I told him to delete the stocks in that fake portfolio and start charting mutual funds and index funds in it. Investing in these vehicles requires as much homework as investing in an individual stock, but some outlets like provide comprehensive ratings on various mutual funds. They also provide a description of the risk the potential investor will experience if they push the button on a buy, a full breakdown on the mutual funds’ investments, or asset allocation, and an outlook that ranges from one month to ten years.

Investing in mutual funds and index funds might be even more boring than investing in blue chip stocks, as it takes away the personal rewards investors seek when picking an individual stock and riding it to the top. If the investor is using the art of investing to prove their craftiness, I suggest that they might want to consider the far less expensive route of downloading one of the thousands of strategy and war games in app stores to satisfy this need. If they are seeking immediate returns on their money, just about every state now has craps tables and roulette wheels in their casinos that provide gamblers a guaranteed payout. For those that have worked hard for their money and now want their money working hard for them, it’s vital that the investor take stock of what they don’t know, as opposed to what they do, or what they think they do. For those people, “You don’t know what you’re talking about” is the best advice I’ve ever heard.

Da Vinci’s Sfumato and Chekov’s Razor

Leonardo da Vinci introduced a mindset that every author should be employing in their writing, if they are not already. This mindset resulted from a technique da Vinci used in his paintings called sfumato, or “gone up in smoke”. I use it so often that I don’t think of it as a technique anymore, but I found it interesting to read the explorations of it by one most famous artists in history. The basic tenet of the sfumato technique da Vinci made famous, was to avoid using specific and concrete lines in his paintings. This might not sound like a novel technique to the accomplished artist of the day, but it was groundbreaking in its day. Da Vinci did not invent this technique, as some evidence suggests it dates back to the chiaroscuro effects used by ancient Greeks and Romans, but da Vinci took it to another level. As author Walter Isaacson wrote, Leonardo was so obsessed with using shadows and reflected light that he wrote fifteen thousand words on the topic, “And that is probably less than of half of what he originally wrote,” Isaacson opined.

The sfumato technique also applies to writing. When an author begins writing a story, they characterize their main character with bold lines through unique, individualistic, and semi-autobiographical lines. The more an author explores that character, the more they chip away at strict characterization and allow the character to breathe for themselves in a manner that adds dimension. They characterize the character with shading and reflection, or refraction through supporting characters, until they have done little to characterize the main character except through their interactions and events. Their main character becomes more prominent through these literary devices, until the central character becomes the literary equivalent to an eye of the storm.

In writing, we call the sfumato technique “the show don’t tell” technique. The author uses supporting characters and setting to define their main character, and they use all of this to bring the events involved in their stories to life. The takeaway might be that the optimum characterizations are those characterizations that appear more organic to the reader. In other words, the author should be working his or her tail off to make the work appear so easy that the reader thinks anyone could do it.

Chekov’s Razor

The aspiring author should also be using Chekov’s Razor so often that they don’t realize they’re doing it. The idea of Chekov’s razor is that the first three paragraphs, or pages that an author writes, are for the author, and the rest is for the reader.

Anyone that knows anything about the writing process knows that the blinking cursor, or the blank page, can be daunting. To defeat the blinking cursor, the writer should start writing an idea down. This technique opens the author to subject matter. Once the author is in, the material might have the wherewithal to be in a near proximity to where a story lies, but the real story could take paragraphs, or pages, to develop.

Chekov’s razor focuses on threes, the first three paragraphs, and/or three pages of a manuscript, short story, or essay, but I’ve found this an arbitrary length. When I begin a story, I think I have a full-fledged introduction on my hands. I think this idea, warts and all, will be the story. I know I will eventually need a pivot point(s) to take me to the next stage(s) of the story, but I don’t consider them anything more than what they are at the time. In the course of rewriting, however, I discover that the pivot point is the story. I can’t tell those reading how many times it has happened to me, or a general area in which they occur, but I often find it frustrating to realize how much time I wasted building upon an original idea only to realize it’s all dreck compared to a pivot point I wrote and everything I wrote after it. Thus, I don’t believe there is magic in the power of threes in employing Chekov’s Razor to storytelling. A central idea, or pivot point arrives at in the course of writing.

An important note to add here is that if most authors work the same way I do, we do not write for the expressed purpose of finding the core of a story. We think we’ve already found it, and that the only chore involved thereafter is building upon it. The discovery of the core of story often humbles the author and slaps them back to the realization that no matter how many times we write a story, the art of writing involves mining the brain for ideas rather than having a brain loaded with brilliant ideas. That conceit eventually reveals itself to those willing to write a lot of material, and it’s up to the author to recognize the difference for what it is if they want a quality story.

It happens in the course of writing it, editing it after we’re done, or in the daydreaming stage that can last for days, weeks, or months. I do not enjoy deleting the chunks of material I’ve written, and I don’t think anyone does, but the quality author will develop the ability to recognize what portion of the story is for them and which portion is for the reader.

I don’t consider the revelation of these techniques a glamorization of my process. I think it demystifies the process by suggesting that anyone can do this, as long as they write as often as they need to discover what should become the central focus for the reader. Every author needs to move past their conceit of their self-defined brilliance to find the story they’re trying to tell, and learn how to work from within it.

That’s Not Dirt

“In my professional opinion,” a plumber said. “I think we’re stuck.” The plumber said that after assuring me that a cranking mechanism on his truck would make “easy work” of snaking the sewer line of my home. He allowed that mechanism to snake the drain for about fifteen minutes. When that didn’t work, he attempted to assist the mechanism manually. He finally turned the mechanism off and attempted to perform the task manually.

I was impressed when the plumber informed me that his mechanism would make this a quick process, for that went against everything I heard. Everyone from the tree experts I talked to, to the plumber that snaked this drain before told me that the silver maple leaf was the worst possible tree a homeowner could have when it comes to plumbing. Our silver maple leaf was about sixty-feet tall, and the previous plumber informed me that that means it probably goes sixty feet down, “and as I’m sure you can guess, a sixty-foot tree does not go straight down. It builds itself a foundation by spreading outwards infiltrating whatever is in its way.” I told this current plumber this, but he insisted that his truck’s cranking mechanism would make easy work of this task.

“Just watch,” he said before flipping the switch on the crank.

The crank on the plumber’s truck did make some progress before we reached that point of being stuck. Evidence of that progress lined my basement in the form of piles of debris on newspapers throughout my basement. The debris consisted of numerous silver maple leaf’s twigs and some dirt that I assumed followed the twigs in the drain.

“Well,” I said, looking down at one of these piles. “It should be easier to work through since all the dirt is wet?”

“You’re kidding, right?” he said looking down at the same mound of debris. “There is some dirt in there, no doubt, but most of that is not dirt.”

I looked at him in confusion for about half a beat, until it dawned on me what he was saying. I colored with embarrassment for a moment. “Wait a second,” I said, “isn’t that what we’re supposed to have in there?”

“Sure,” he conceded, “but it’s not dirt.”

The plumber’s confidence turned out to be false bravado, as evidenced by the fact that the effort he put into trying to clear the drain physically drained him. His hopelessness led him to consider calling a professional colleague at one point, and he considered calling the home office for advice. “I hate to ask you this,” he said, “I’ve never done this before, and I’m sure my colleagues would frown at this, but could you help me?” After I agreed to do just that, he added, “I think the two of us could do this together, don’t you?” He put me on the lead, and he said he would also be pulling from behind. He then added, “I want you to pull as hard as you can, of course, but when I say stop. Stop.”

He asked me to look at him, and he repeated that line to make sure I understood the importance of stopping. I told him I would do as instructed. As I began to pull, however, I began making significant progress. It was obvious, at one point, that I was making more progress than a certified plumber had. I was proud. He was helping me to a point, but when I started making real progress, he stopped pulling from the back and said, “You’re getting it.” That led me to start pulling even harder.

I don’t know about anyone else, but when another fella tells me that I’m displaying feats of strength beyond his own, it invigorates me. When I’m outdoing a professional on his own profession, I try to live up to that compliment and expound upon it. As I sought to expound upon it, the primary source of our concern appeared in the sewer clean out fitting built into the wall of our basement. I was excited, I thought I was accomplishing something huge, but the plumber informed that working it through the fitting was often the hardest part. I had this in mind, coupled with the progress I made, when I began pulling for what I thought would be one last time. It wouldn’t happen on the first couple of pulls, as the entanglement popped up in and out of the fitting on the side of the wall like a ground squirrel taunting its tormentor.

After those first couple of tantalizing pulls failed, I let the snake go slack and regrouped for one final pull. I inhaled and grabbed ahold of snake line, and I put everything I had into one final pull.

“Stop!” the plumber shouted. He was too late.

The mass, that was not dirt, entwined with silver maple leaf twigs, finally made it through the fitting. Its release, combined with the force of my pull, caused me to fall backward until I was flat on my bottom. The result of that fall not only prevented the mass that was not dirt from hitting me, but it put me in a perfect position to watch the mass fly up over my head.

As anyone with a basic understanding of physics can guess, this did not happen in slow motion. It happened so fast that I didn’t see the glop hit the plumber in the face, and I didn’t have enough time to see if the plumber failed to duck in time, or if he accidentally ducked into it. Regardless what his reaction was, some of the glop that was not dirt landed on his nose and eyeglasses.

It took the plumber about two seconds to digest what happened. Once he did, the expletives flew. One of those expletives could adequately describe some of material in the glop that was not dirt, now on his face. He blamed me for not stopping when he told me to, he blamed himself for not calling in a professional colleague to assist him, and he displayed some anger at the world for a moment. Throughout this understandable tirade, the plumber did not wipe the glop from his face. He just stared at me, and with me, in mutual disgust for what just happened.

“This is, by far, the most disgusting thing that’s ever happened to me,” he said after he cooled down a little, “and I’m sure you can guess that this profession has provided me quite a list!” That was a good line, I thought, and I wasn’t sure if he valued good lines as much as I did, but I wondered if he allowed this glop to remain on his face, because he thought his appearance might enhance the comedic value of such a line.

I don’t know what he was thinking, or if I was assigning my values to his reaction, but my guess was his years spent as a plumber raised his tolerance level for that which others consider unspeakably disgusting. What I couldn’t understand, however, was his ability to stand there with that on his face without feeling embarrassed. I also couldn’t understand why wiping this glop off his face wasn’t an instinctual response. Whatever his reasoning, he continued to leave it on his face to deliver one last comedic line, “All I can say, and I never thought I’d be saying this, but I’m glad I need to wear glasses.” 

Dumb Guy’s Disease

“Taken care of me. Mike, you’re my kid brother, and you take care of me? Did you ever think of that. Ever once? Send Fredo off to do this, send Fredo to take care of that… take care of some little unimportant night club here, and there; pick somebody up at the airport. I’m your older brother Mike and I was stepped over! … It ain’t the way I wanted it! I can handle things. I’m smart. Not like everybody says, like dumb. I’m smart and I want respect!” –Fredo from The Godfather II

“What happened?” we ask ourselves. “I thought I’d be one of the smart ones. I know I was a disinterested student in school, and I probably cared more about partying for far too long in the afterlife (the afterlife being the era of life that occurred immediately after we finished school), but I thought I would’ve gathered enough wisdom by this point that someone would consider me wise, but I have to face it. I have a mean case of dumb guy’s disease.”

Dumb guy’s disease doesn’t necessarily mean that the carrier is dumb, but that they are not as smart as they thought they would be at this point. We all know dumb guys, those men and women that by our calculations don’t know enough to enter into our league of intelligence. We never considered ourselves one of them, until someone far more intelligent than us gave us a condescending “you don’t know do you?” smile. We would love to dismiss that look with the notion that they had an agenda, but we know that we choked in crunch time, because we didn’t know. When enough of these moments happen, we conclude that we’re not half as bright as we thought we would be at this point in our lives.

To prove ourselves to us, we seek less structured forms of education. We might begin reading better websites and better books, we might watch more documentaries, and listen to a wide array of podcasts. No matter what venue we choose, we will focus our renewed thirst for knowledge on vanquishing the structured concepts we failed to learn in school. This is our way of putting all those poor grades behind us by rejecting traditional, accepted knowledge as a form of intellectual rebellion.

“Everything they taught you in school is wrong,” is popular click bait for dumb guys hoping to succeed beyond the fools in school that regurgitated accepted facts back to the teacher. We dumb guys learn the truth, but this version of the truth should not be confused with the truth, in most cases, but rather a subjective truth that an author spends decades writing in various forms and incarnations. This is one of the many attempts we make to rectify the past.


Literary agents and publishers provide prospective clients a preemptive list of ideas for books that they will accept and reject. These lists normally include a list of genres that they are interested in and some notes regarding what their institution is about for the interested writer. On occasion, they will provide a note to humiliate those that have poured their heart and soul into a book. “I do not want a book that seeks to rectify a past transgression committed against the author,” one agent’s note read. “Please, do not send me an idea fora book that puts your bully in his place, or one that suggests your parents were wrong all along.” This agent was alluding to the idea that anyone that attempts to write such a book is, by his estimation, a hack.

My initial reaction to this note was that a total upheaval of my writing might be necessary if I ever hoped to have a prestigious outlet consider one of my works for publications. It also caused me something of an artistic identity crisis, because I realized that most of my fictional stories focused on rectifying my past.

With this comprehensive condemnation in mind, I put everything I read, watched and heard though this agent’s funnel, and I thought, ‘Listen, Mortimer, this is kind of what we do.’ When I write the word we, in the context of describing rewriting the past to rectify it our mind, I don’t find this characteristic to be exclusive to writers. I consider it a comprehensive term that applies to all human beings, artists and otherwise. When that fella at the water cooler provides us a testimonial about his days in high school, and how bullies subjected him to cruel and inhumane levels of abuse, how much of his testimonial is 100% factual? He might say that bullies picked on him, a confession that we consider more acceptable in our anti-bully climate, but how many people delve into the specifics of the pain they experienced in those moments? I met the guy who did, and he was such an anomaly that he characterized for me, the 99.99% of the population who won’t. For the rest of us, our rewrites involve a main character of our story reacting to our bully in a manner equivalent to Indiana Jones shooting the Arab swordsman after his intricate displays of prowess with a scimitar. If this agent’s goal was to limit the number of authors vying for his services, I suspect this note accomplished that for him, and put the fear in a whole lot more.

Those that attempt to rewrite their past at the water cooler with fellow employees that no nothing of the man’s past, might be lying. When an author writes such a piece in a book, however, they do have a license to do so. It’s called an artistic license. Now, readers of this site should know by now that I consider nonfiction more compelling than fiction. They should also know that when I encounter an image, a story line, or a turn of a phrase that could make a retelling of an event better, I will err on the side of nonfiction. Nonfiction is simply more compelling to me, even when it is not as entertaining as a creative spin could be. The second rule concerns fiction, and that is there are no rules regarding truth, as I believe the reader and author have entered into an agreement that it’s likely that none of this is true in any way. I do have one rule with fiction, however, and this might fall under the agent’s note. It is that I do not exaggerate my main character’s prowess to the point that he is an Indiana Jones character with little in the way of vulnerabilities. My main characters do make mistakes, and they are wrong, but I don’t do this to follow some elitist agent’s guidelines, I just find flawed characters more interesting. It’s why I’ve always preferred Batman to Superman. Perhaps the agent should’ve included some variation of the word exaggeration. Without that word, the agent is condemning about 95% of the world of fiction.


To be considered a successful author, Truman Capote once said, “All an author needs to do is write one great book.” The initial thought, and that which informed much of what Capote said, was that he was saying that all an author has to do to achieve fame is write one great book. Capote, after all, appeared to enjoy the fruits of fame as much, if not more, than any other author did on the back of In Cold Blood. Capote’s brief quote might have also referred to the idea that greater sales result from one great book, for one could say that writing one great book puts an author on the radar, and any books that follow will achieve greater attention on the coattails of that one great book.

The rhetorical question I would’ve asked Capote is one solely concerned with artistic integrity. Such a question might not concern anyone outside the literary world, but I would ask him if an author writes one great book, how many other self-sustaining works can one author create based on his or her experiences in life? How many creative plotlines, varied characters, and philosophical chunks of exposition can one writer develop before treading upon the familiar ground exposed in that one great book? They will try, of course, because the competitive drive of every artist compels them to try to write two self-sustaining books to differentiate them from the well-traveled idea that everyone has one good book in them. On a side note, some cultural critics have argued, “Everyone has a book in them, but in most cases that’s where it should stay.”

For most authors that aspire to write two great books, to four, to so much more, the astute reader can spot their formula. The author’s formula encapsulates their worldview, the imprint the world has made on them, and that which they hope to leave on their readers. There is also, within the artist, the drive to escape the imprint left on them, but most human beings, artists or otherwise, have a difficult time escaping their philosophical DNA. We are creatures of habit that can’t help giving our bad guy the characteristics that terrified us most in our friend’s dad. We can’t avoid the urge to harm him, or kill him off in the creative ways fictional outlets provide, and we can’t avoid telling him, in all the ways our creative minds have at our disposal, that he isn’t as terrifying to us as he was when we were young.

On that note, writing can be therapeutic. I was well into rewriting my past when it dawned on me how therapeutic it was. My main character could come up with the witty retort that I didn’t when his bully confronted him, and the main character forced the bully to confront the main character’s attributes. I had a number of plots, subplots, and asides built on this premise, and they were all pretty awful, but they provided seeds for the better material that would follow, and it helped me get over some of the psychological bumps I have experienced in life. It was my formula, and my drive to right the wrongs done to me in life by rewriting my past in such a way that I could live, vicariously, through my main character. I discovered, soon after reading that agent’s post that I could not escape this route, as it was part of my artistic DNA.

The faults of my imprint, as it pertained to what I was writing, dawned on me when an interviewer asked one of my favorite musicians why his lyrics were subpar. (The interviewer’s question was more artful than that, but that was the gist of the question.) “Too many lyricists attempt to write a song, as if it’s a college thesis,” is a rough synopsis of the musician’s answer. “I just write lyrics that fit the music.”

The dumb guy’s disease involves the author of a book, or song, informing the world that they’re not as dumb as they were in school or in the immediate aftermath where the focus of their life was partying. The quote informed me that when I injected politics and music appreciation into my fiction, I was writing my college thesis. Some big name fiction authors make political overtures to enlighten their readers, and they attempt to woo us into listening to their favorite groups with forays into music appreciation. I used to write about my main character’s appreciation for my favorite group of the moment, in the manner that big name author does. My modus operandi was if he can do it, why can’t I? I hit a realization that he could do it, because he was a big name in the fiction world, and I wasn’t. I finally realized, under the guise of a dumb guy writing a college thesis, that this big name author didn’t introduce his political, or music, preferences as well as I thought he had when blinded by the awe I had of his big name.

In the years I spent trying to prove that I was not a dumb guy, I never heard the notion that intelligence and brilliance could be considered different strains of intellect. (I realize that in the strictest sense of the terms, some might consider another so intelligent, in a structured manner, that they consider them brilliant, but for the sake of argument let’s say that brilliance and intelligence are two parallel roads.) The two strains of intellect could be broken down to left-brain versus right brain, as in that one type of brain has an almost natural aptitude for math and science, while the other is more of a creative type. One could also say that the intelligent person knows how to fix a saxophone while the other knows how to play it brilliantly, and while both can learn how to accomplish the other’s feat, neither will ever do it as well as the other, for their brains work in decidedly different ways.

This idea applies to dumb guy’s disease, because some creative types do not discover their aptitude for creativity, until the afterlife. (Again, this term refers to the life after school.) We recognize some forms of artistic expression, such as an ability to draw or play an instrument, early on, while an aptitude for creative writing usually occurs later in life. The math and science types discover an aptitude for the structured learning, memorization, and problem solving that occurs in school, and it puts them in the upper echelon of learners, whereas the young, creative types live outside the bubble, looking in with jealousy. Screaming, as Fredo did in The Godfather II, “I’m smart. Not like everybody says, like dumb. I’m smart and I want respect!”

If I had one piece of advice that I could give myself twenty years prior it would be to try harder to succeed within the system. Do whatever it is you do to the best of your ability and quit thinking your above such structured knowledge, or that some subjects are pointless. I would also ask myself to work harder to acknowledge that there’s nothing special about me, but hold onto the idea that I could be. I know this sounds confusing, I would add, but it’s the key to prosperity and happiness. The reason you’re experiencing an individual strain of dumb guy’s disease is that you focused too much energy on the idea that there was something special about you. It’s the reason you were so frustrated that you weren’t a better athlete, student and employee. You got ahead of yourself in other words. Slow down and capture the moments better.

If there were an antidote to dumb guy’s disease, I would say it involves an unhealthy dose of self-reflection coupled with a dose of self-actualization. As our grandmother’s told us, there is always going to be someone stronger, more attractive, and smarter. There is always going to be some that have their areas, and we might know little to nothing about that area, but we have our areas too. Unfortunately, when someone backs us into a corner, intellectually, there is a tendency to panic. If we were able to sit back and say, hey, you have your areas and I have mine, we might be able to avoid the fear that we’re not as dumb as we think we are.

Harry Reid and the UFO Program

A number of publications now report that the federal government appropriated over $22 million of my money, spread out over five years, to study UFO’s.(1) I have no problem with ordinary citizens that believe that aliens from outer space are infiltrating our skies, and I have no problem with independent organizations that use private funds to conduct research into proving it. I don’t even have a problem with a private organization seeking government grants for such research in an open and transparent manner. When a sitting U.S. Senator devotes my money to something like this, in such a covert manner, the first thing we citizens should do is question that Senator’s motives.

The motive, we skeptics opine, is that the former head of the Senate, Democrat Harry Reid, initiated The Advanced Aerospace Threat Identification Program as a creative way to send a chunk of our money to his friend, government contractor, and a major Harry Reid campaign contributor, Robert Bigelow and Bigelow’s company Bigelow Aerospace.

The reports from these publications state that the program’s leader, Luis Elizondo, resigned declaring that the program “was not taken seriously enough.”(2) If Elizondo was being honest, as opposed to attempting to avoid the scrutiny he might face for participating in this sham, we skeptics ask, on what basis should we take such a program seriously? If, as Elizondo infers, we should be on guard against a worst case scenario from flying saucers, such as an attack on the homeland, our response should be, “Based on what?” If you, Luis Elizondo believe we should study UFO’s in a preemptive manner that’s fine, do it on your own dime, collect a number of like-minded investors, or apply for a grant in an open and honest manner, so voters can hold those that acquiesce to such a request accountable. (Editor’s note: Various reports report that Mr. Elizondo is now participating in just such a quest that doesn’t appear to have government funding attached to it.) To suggest that the government should be required to use my money, however, to prepare a defense against a threat that most taxpayers don’t believes exists, without facing open scrutiny, suggests to me that some of the players involved knew this was an elaborate sham to cheat taxpayers. If they weren’t co-conspirators, on the other hand, they enjoyed the fruits of it.

If this worst-case scenario were to occur, I’m guessing that 99% of the population would be empathetic to those government officials that declared, “We didn’t prepare for this disaster, because, well, how does one prepare for such a thing?”

Hawaii Democrat Daniel Inouye, and Alaska Republican Ted Stevens were two Senators that secretly joined Reid in his bid to send this money to Bigelow, but these three Senators did not inform any other Senators of their actions. For those readers that make note of the fact that a Republican that joined in on a Reid’s scheme to funnel money to one of his major contributors, they should also note that Citizen’s Against Government Waste often targeted the former Senator, Ted Stevens, for his creative ability to spend taxpayer’s money to the benefit of his Alaskan citizens.

“I’m not embarrassed or ashamed or sorry I got this (Advanced Aerospace Threat Identification Program) going,” Mr. Reid said in an interview in Nevada. “I think it’s one of the good things I did in my congressional service. I’ve done something that no one has done before.”

The first response that pops into mind when reading this quote is, if it was one of the good things he did while in the Senate, where are the results? When publications report on this particular program, they include various videos, though they do not note if these videos were part of the program’s findings. Even if they were, however, the videos feature the typical, oblique videos of flying objects that have been around, on various sites, for decades, and there are some oblique testimonials from those that were there, but these findings do not provide more definitive information than what we had before the program. If there is such information, it has an all too convenient Top Secret label on it. Other than the points, we should probably give Harry Reid credit for finding a creative way to reward a financial contributor to his campaigns, I can’t think of any good this idea did for the country.

As for the “I’m not embarrassed or ashamed or sorry” comment, Harry Reid has a history that suggests he was not easily embarrassed or shamed throughout his career. He stated that most of the people that are not him smell. (3) He has also all but admitted that he lied when he stated, from the floor of the Senate albeit, that 2012 presidential candidate Mitt Romney didn’t pay any taxes over the past decade. When pressed to account for this lie, Reid responded with a smirk, “Romney didn’t win, did he?” The Washington Post’s Chris Cilizza characterized the lie, the refusal to apologize, and the subsequent glee Reid displayed in the CNN interview as “both remarkable and remarkably depressing”(4). More recently, Harry Reid added, “If I had to do it over again, I’d do it again.” (5)

The point in establishing Reid’s less than stellar record of honesty, and lack of any shame, is that when he says that the $22 Million that was devoted to the program was black money that means that only he and the other two Senators above knew about it, and he was not willing to endure any “open and honest” scrutiny for his action. When Reid says that he is not embarrassed or ashamed or sorry for what he did, his record suggests that maintaining integrity was never a driving force for him. The point is, also, that while Reid did nothing illegal in his pursuit of funneling this money to a contributor, his actions did not live up to the 2006 promise Democrats made of being “the honest, most open and most ethical Congress in history”.

As has been proven over the last half century, various members of the American public have been willing to invest millions of dollars of their own money, and a large percentage of their lives, to explore a truth about big foot, the Loch Ness Monster, and UFO’s. Why would a venture, such as this one, need government funding? The answer, it didn’t. As Reid himself stated his act of rewarding a campaign contributor was unprecedented, in that no politician in government ever did it before. Is this because no previous politician had the stones to face scrutiny from the public for such a move? If that’s the case, Reid didn’t allow his program to face scrutiny. My personal belief is that no politician has attempted funnel the taxpayer’s hard-earned money to a major campaign contributor in such a way, because no politician has been as shameless as former Democrat Senator Harry Reid was before. If there has been, and I’m not aware of it, they weren’t so proud of it that they didn’t mind it becoming a part of their historical legacy.

The Strange Days of a Small Town Sheriff III

He Was a Real Sonofabitch


Dispatch called Sheriff Dan Anderson to a family home. Dispatch would later state that the woman that called 911, informed the dispatcher that she “finally shot” a man that happened to be her husband.

“Even though I knew the residents of the home were elderly, and I knew some of the details the woman confessed to the dispatcher, I knew enough to know that one can never knows how such a scene is going to play out. So, I drove onto this woman’s estate prepared for anything,” Sheriff Anderson said, “and I saw the wife sitting on her porch in a porch swing. I couldn’t see anything that would cause greater suspicion on the scene, so I exited the patrol car.

“We received a call of an incident,” Dan said he informed the woman. “Do you mind if I enter your property?”

“‘That’s fine,’ she said. ‘The rifle is over there,’ she said alluding to a corner of the porch. “‘In the corner.’

“I entered the woman’s property, walked onto the porch and secured the rifle. I determined that the rifle had been recently fired.

“‘My husband’s body is in the living room,’ she said, mentioning her husband by name.

“I secured the body,” Dan said, “and I left the house to discuss the matter further with the wife.

“She informed me that her husband was violently abusive, and that he had been throughout the course of their long marriage. She said that she decided that she wasn’t going to put up with the abuse anymore, and she said that she decided to end it.”

“The wife stood without further incident, and we handcuffed her. We then placed her in a jail cell, and we went back to the scene of the crime to examine the evidence for the case. With all of the preliminary evidence, I considered further evidence collection largely unnecessary in this case. The wife signed a full confession, she provided a minute-by-minute recounting of all that had taken place that day, and she provided us a full backdrop for her motivation for doing what she did. The wife was very forthcoming, in other words, saying that she’d rather spend the rest of her life in jail than put up with another day enduring her husband’s abusive ways. Even though the evidence we had, prior to returning to the scene, was largely preliminary, I considered it the duty of a lawman to go back to the scene, no matter how open and shut I thought it was, to do my due diligence on the matter and collect every piece of evidence available.

“We determined that the rifle that had been sitting on the porch, was the rifle used in this incident,” he said. “We determined that it was her fingerprints on the gun. The husband’s fingerprints were on the gun too, but the nature of the wound suggested to us that it was not self-inflicted. All of the evidence we found, and gathered at the scene, suggested that the idea that anyone but the wife was the alleged shooter were remote.

“As her arresting officer, I was called upon to sit in on the trial of her case. I was there to offer my testimony, if necessary, and any other character assessments of the wife and husband I might be called upon to make, should that be necessary. Again, I didn’t think any of this would be necessary, for we had a full confession, and such an overwhelming amount of evidence that I didn’t think this would be anything but an open and shut case.

“Before the trial begins, the wife’s defense lawyer asked the judge for a sidebar,” Dan said. “The judge agreed to this, and he invited the state’s lawyer, and me, to attend this sidebar.

“‘Before we begin your honor,’ the defense’s lawyer says. ‘The defense would like to submit into evidence the idea that the accused had every reason to shoot her husband, because he was a real sonofabitch.”

“To this point in my career,” Dan said. “I had attended hundreds of court cases. I’ve witnessed such a wide variety of claims of innocence that it would take months to document them. I’ve witnessed defense attorneys make insanity claims and temporary insanity claims. I thought I’d heard everything, in other words, but this defense was a new, almost laughable, one to me.

“That was the beginning and the end of the defense lawyer’s submission to the judge, and the only reason he asked for the side bar, and the judge turned to the state’s attorney, and me, to ask us if we had anything to add. We both said no, the judge ended the sidebar, and he ordered us back to our seat.

“I walked back to my seat with a little bit of a laugh. I considered that defense so laughable that I wondered if the judge would declare a mistrial on the basis that the lawyer for the defense was incompetent, and that the wife would need a new lawyer.

“The defense has submitted the idea that the victim in this case of murder against the accused, was a real sonofabitch,” the judge stated. “Well, I knew accused’s husband, and he was a real sonofabitch. Case dismissed.”

“You could’ve knocked me over with a feather,” Dan said. “As I said, I’ve worked so many cases, and sat in on so many trials that swung in a direction contrary to the evidence that I compiled, that I thought I was above being shocked at what can happen in a courtroom. This was beyond anything I ever witnessed. I just sat there with my mouth hanging open.

“After the trial, I thought about the husband, and I thought that even if the man was a real sonofabitch, he doesn’t deserve to die for it. If this man physically assaulted his wife, he deserved jail time. If the wife feared that the abuse was escalating, and she feared for her life, I could see the judge being more lenient, or even dismissing the case based on the nature of that abuse. I could even see the courts dismissing a case against the wife if she physically assaulted the husband, and the court judged her assault to be retribution for the years of abuse. The idea that a judge could dismiss a murder on that basis that a man was deemed a disagreeable person, was unprecedented to my experience in such matters. I was a lawman who believed in the justice system, and I had had that belief tested throughout the years, but this dismissal shook my beliefs system to its core.

“I also thought about the man hours law enforcement officials put in to collecting evidence for a case. I thought about how what I believed to be either a corrupt, or incompetent, judge can undermine those efforts and our beliefs in a fair and blind justice system in such a manner that it makes one question everything they do in the aftermath. I didn’t let it affect how I conducted myself on the job, going forward, but one cannot involve themselves in such a bizarre case without being affected by it.”

*This story was used with permission.

Strange Days of a Small Town Sheriff I: “I Want to Kill Someone!”

The Strange Days of a Small Town Sheriff II: “Is He Dead?”