I Could Be Wrong, But …

“You’re wrong,” a friend of mine said. “You’re wrong about me, you’re wrong about these little theories you have about other people, and you’re so wrong about so many things that I’m beginning to wonder if you might be just plain stupid.”

I don’t care what level of schooling one achieves, or the level of intelligence they gain through experience, a charge as harsh as that hurts. The subject of such an assessment might attempt to diffuse the power of the characterization by examining their accessor’s intelligence level, and their motivations for making such a charge, but it still leads to some soul searching.

“How can I be wrong about everything?” was the question I asked after she made the charge. “I may be wrong about some things, but how can I be wrong about everything?”

“I don’t know,” she said. “You just are.”

In the course of licking my wounds, I remembered something my eighth grade teacher once told me.

She gave me a harsh grade on a position paper that she assigned. I worked my tail off on that paper. I poured my soul into that paper. The reason I devoted so much energy on that paper had to do with the fact that I was not a good student. I rarely applied myself. I had this notion that that if I ever did apply myself, my true intelligence would finally be revealed. This particular paper, I thought, was that opportunity. I also thought it might prove something to this teacher I respected. As a result, I looked forward to receiving her grade and all of the effusive praise I felt sure would follow. It was one of the few times in my life I looked forward to receiving a grade.

“I worked my tail off on that assignment,” I said when I held that graded paper in hand.

“It was mealy mouthed,” she said. After she explained what mealy mouthed meant, I informed her that she instructed us to be careful to present both sides on this paper. I said I did that. “You were instructed to provide evidence of the opposing opinion,” she said. “You presented too much evidence,” she said. “The assignment involved taking a position. At the end of your paper, I wasn’t sure what side you were taking.” In the midst of the back and forth that followed, she added ten words that have stuck with me since. “If you’re going to be wrong, be wrong with conviction.”


“Have you ever considered the possibility that you might be wrong?” another person would ask me years later.

Some people pose this notion as often as possible. It’s a silky, smooth method of stating that they think the speaker is wrong, and so wrong that they might be stupid. They often pose the notion as if the speaker has never considered that idea before. If it’s not that, then they need the speaker to satisfy their needs, and their ego, before the speaker continues. As for the idea that I’ve never considered it before, I want to ask them if they’ve ever met my dad. The person that asked me this question, on this occasion, knew my dad well. They knew that my dad questioned everything that came out of my mouth. They also knew that my dad believed I was wrong about everything, and he assumed that I didn’t have the facilities to be an independent thinker. I considered this an insult in my younger years, but I now understand how difficult it is for a parent to believe that that person they knew as a toddler can arrive at independent thought, but it took me a while to reach that understanding. I don’t think my dad introduced this mindset to lead me to try to prove him wrong, but that was the result.

The interesting dynamic in these conversations is that prolonged involvement with a person that makes such a charge will reveal the idea that they’ve never considered that they could be wrong. Their vantage point is often that of the contrarian, and that contrarian challenges what they consider a status quo relative to their own life. This mindset does not lead to reflection on one’s own set of beliefs. They have focused their energy on refuting the speaker’s words and the “Have you ever considered the idea that you might be wrong?” is the best weapon they have in their arsenal.

The ideal method of refuting further questions of this sort is to qualify every statement a speaker makes with, “I could be wrong but-”. As I’ll note below, I used to do this, but I found it tedious after a while.


I could be wrong, but I think any attempt a person makes to describe human nature is going to be fraught with peril. Most people will not agree with such descriptions, and they might view that person’s conclusions as simplistic, trite, and anecdotal. Some might even view the positions a person takes as so wrong they could be stupid.

In one regard, I view such assessments with envy. I don’t understand how one person can unilaterally reject another’s opinion with such certitude. I still don’t, as evidenced by the fact that I still remember my friend’s ‘You might be stupid’ charge more than twenty years after she made it. I assume that she dismissed the assessments I made of her so well that she doesn’t remember them, as she was as certain then, as I assume she is now, that she was right and I was not only wrong, but I could be stupid.

Somewhere along the way, I learned that one’s definition of human nature relies on the perspective they’ve gained through their interactions and experiences. If it’s true that definitions of human nature are relative, and that one author’s assessments are based on the details of the their upbringing, then the only thing anyone can say with any certitude is that the best story an author can tell is that which is listed in their autobiography.

What if I am as wrong as my friends have stated, and my stories don’t even come close to achieving what some would call a comprehensive study of human nature. What if every belief I’ve had over the course of the last twenty years are so off the mark, or so wrong, that they might be stupid? These questions should haunt every writer, artist, and theoretician that attempts to explain the nouns (people, places, and things) that surround them. The answer for those plagued by the enormity of trying to explain the otherwise unexplainable, my advice is to pare it down to the knowable. An author can only write what they know, and often times what they know is that which is told to them.

Those that know me often say that for all of my faults, I am a great listener. They also say that my curiosity appears genuine. I don’t listen with an eye towards developing content, in other words, but content is a natural byproduct to those that are curious enough to learn another person’s truth. The trick to achieving such a truth is to go beyond whatever personal roadblocks we place in front of those with whom we interact to the point of experiencing their triumphs and failures vicariously, until we are processing their autobiographies so thoroughly that they become a part of our own. Go beyond hearing what a person wants others to hear, to fortify a thesis, and listen to what these people are saying.

Some will dismiss some of the stories I use to explain human nature as anecdotal evidence of human nature. Some of them may be. To my mind, they explain the motivations of the characters involved, and the stories and theories I arrived at that have shaped my definition of human nature, and presumably my autobiography, better than any other stories can.

If there is a grain a truth to the Chinese proverb, “A child’s life is like a piece of paper on which people leave a mark,” then those that preceded the author have shaped their definition of human nature. This is not to say that one’s definition of human nature is limited to experience. Yet, when we read theories and see movies that depict questions and answers, we’re apt to be most interested in those that apply to our own experience. So, the question a reader might ask is, ‘Why did these particular stories appeal to your theories?’ The only suitable answers I’ve been able to find are, “All theory is autobiography,” and “I’m telling my story, as I heard and responded to others.”

These quotes form the foundation of these pieces, coupled with an attachment, via a complicated circuitry, to the philosophy that drove Leonardo da Vinci’s numerous accomplishments. I don’t know if he said these actual words, but from that which I’ve read on da Vinci, questions informed his process more than answers, and I derived a quote: “The answers to that which plagues man can be found in the questions he asks of himself.” The second is a direct quote from playwright Anton Chekov: “It is the role of the storyteller to ask questions not to answer them.”

As such, the curious reader might find more questions than answers in these stories, and they may not derive anything beyond simple entertainment, but to the author each story comprises a central theme of the questions I have regarding motivation. The goal of each of these pieces was to explain, to one curious mind, the nature of mankind. The answers hit the author based on the questions I have asked people in the interactions I have had, from my very small corner of the world. Some of the people the author interacted with were on the fruitloppery index, and some of them were a bit delusional, but most of the characters of these stories appeared so normal that the author thought they might be boring, until they told their story. When they told their story, the author asked suitable questions, the characters opened up, and the author engaged with the storyteller until he all but physically entered the dark caverns of their mind.

Even though most of these stories are based on real life experiences, there will always be some readers that require “I may be wrong, but …” qualifications, lest they view the author as obnoxiously sure of himself. This reader should wonder how interesting it would be if an author qualified all of their characterizations and conclusions with various forms of “I could be wrong here, but …” For these readers, I would suggest they find another author. Those authors are out there, and I’ve read them. They spend so much of their time dutifully informing their readers that they’re not “obnoxious blowhards” that they end up saying little more. It’s so redundant and tedious that I can’t help thinking that if those authors fear they might be wrong, they should be so with conviction.

A Crass Piece of Self-Promotion

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

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

"Birth of a New Man" Salvador Dali

“Birth of a New Man” Salvador Dali

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

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

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

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

I am Glad I Came Back, George Grosz. 1943

I am Glad I Came Back, George Grosz. 1943

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

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

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

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

26) Anti-Anti-Consumer Art After walking through various art galleries in NYC and Connecticut, it dawned on me that just about every piece I encountered there was based on an anti-consumer theme. I thought of a cure. How about we find a true rebel? How about we find one artist, somewhere, that is willing to fight back against the current status quo of rebels fighting back against the status quo? How about we find one artist that is willing to create an anti-anti-consumer piece of art?

25) The Groundhogs, Led Zeppelin, and Our Existential Existence Led Zeppelin is my favorite artist of all time. How did I select Led Zeppelin to be my favorite artist when I was young? Why do I continue to believe that they are the greatest band of all time? Is their music that much better than every other artist’s that ever existed, or does my decision to continue to love them have something to do with the reason I selected them as my favorite artist, in the first place, when I was a teenager?

In the high school I attended, a Led Zeppelin fan was deemed to be cooler than cool. UB40 fans, Elvis Costello fans, Genesis fans, B-52 fans, R.E.M. fans, and Metallica fans all had their arguments, but the mere mention of the ‘L’ to the ‘Z’ shut down most debate. Some of their arguments consisted of a theme built around the quotes: “I don’t see what the big deal is” or “They’re just human beings for God’s sakes, why is everyone going ape stuff over them?” Their arguments operated from the premise that Zeppelin were the greatest band of all time, but they suggested that that was not set in stone, and that the only thing they could do was chip away at it.

The Led Zeppelin defender would say that it was, is and forever shall be about the music. They would say that there was something magical about what the band did from their first album Led Zeppelin to Houses of the Holy. Those six albums spawned near-spiritual devotion among the kids that I knew.

Here’s the point. Once a kid, often between the ages of fifteen and eighteen, selects their favorite band, that band is often the favorite band for that person, for the rest of their life. The formula I used for selecting my favorite band was A) they need to be hard rock, B) they need to have decent lyrics, and C) as much as I would’ve hated to admit this, they have to pass peer reviewed studies.

A part of me still believes that it’s all about the music with Led Zeppelin, but the question I have now is could I have developed a near-spiritual devotion for Genesis, if Genesis was considered, by my peers, to have such a vaunted, spooky, drug-riddled, iconography? What if Genesis, not Led Zeppelin, had been rumored to have sold their souls to the devil? What if we found out that Phil Collins lived in the mansion of renown Satan worshipper Aleister Crowley? What if word leaked that Collins had almost died, a number of times, as a result of heroin overdoses?

We’re now adults, and we continue to listen to Led Zeppelin. Some elements of nostalgia may come into play when we listen to them now, but some of us believe that our decision to continue to listen to the band is now based on a more informed, more adult basis. We no longer strive for the approval of our peers, as much as we did as teens, and we no longer listen to those artists that “it’s okay to like”. If that’s true, and this article disputes that, what if Genesis had been the band it was deemed “okay to like” in our youth? What if they were deemed cooler than cool, and we have been listening to Genesis for the past couple of decades?

The problem for Genesis in that era was, first and foremost, based on their music. They played music our parents enjoyed. They were poppy and cute. They were not hard rock, and their lyrics (for the most part) were kind of dumb. The second most prominent problem for them, and I point this out to elucidate the point of Led Zeppelin, was that they were every where during the years I spent in high school. They were on an endless loop on the radio stations in our big town, and they were on MTV almost as often. Zeppelin hadn’t come out with a truly great album in over ten years, by the time I hit high school, so their iconography was largely steeped in mystery.

Genesis didn’t wear leather jackets, and they didn’t snarl in their promo shots. In some promo shots they even smiled. They were happy. They probably even said, “Cheese!” to the cameraman. Smiles like that suggested that they were not troubled, or angry, and they even appeared happy to be alive. No one I knew, would’ve dared to build their reputation around a group of people that were happy. Add to that, the unfortunate fact that lead singer Phil Collins suffered from premature baldness that made him look like my dad, and Genesis was left with an iconography that no teenage boy, I knew, wanted anything to do with. The words “You’re a Genesis fan!” were not fighting words, but it was close.

The question that is asked in this piece is, do we still listen to the bands we did in high school? We may have branched out a bit, but have our core bands, or musicians, changed that much? Most of us remain trapped in the musical preferences we had in an era where we most enjoyed life. So, the question is, did we make an informed decision in our youth, regarding our favorite musician(s), or was that decision based on a primal need to belong to a peer group? Do we continue to enjoy the music based on our idea of what it means to be hip and young, and do we continue to enjoy the music we’ve been listening to decades to keep that myth alive? To elucidate this point, there are some that believe, at this point in 2016, that they maintain a feel for youth by continuing to listen to The Mommas and the Poppas. Were those decisions we made in youth all about the music, or did it have something to do with the iconography of a Led Zeppelin, the coke-snorting, oversexed Aerosmith, or the classic, naughty boy image of the Rolling Stones? Whatever the case was, a person had to be careful how they answered the question, “Who is your favorite band?”

Some artists were deemed “okay to like”, while others were deemed conventional sellouts trying to sell records, so they could be happy. The inclusive magazines later declared things like “Nirvana is the Guns N’ Roses it’s okay to like.” I know we’re not supposed to stick our middle finger up at magazine writers, because they’re hip, and they’re supposed to be the good guys that are only looking out for us, but I’m not going have anyone dictate taste to me based on some proselytizing of their agenda. Except we have had our tastes dictated to us by magazines, the culture, and the cool kids in class, and it’s based on our primal need for group acceptance that dates back to the cavemen knowing that when the mammoth, or the saber tooth tiger came to attack, our chances of survival increased in groups. Furthermore, while our artistic preferences do change somewhat with age, the reasons behind these choices are not as individualistic, and they do not grow more nuanced with age. As some have said, we never leave high school. The question this piece asks is, do you still enjoy the music of Led Zeppelin, and if so why?

24) Know Thyself is one of those pieces that may have been more fascinating to write than it is to read. It involves the idea of losing one’s identity in the fictional characters in books, TV shows, and movies. This piece begins with what I believe to be the counterargument to knowing more about one’s self. “I know myself,” one might say. “I know myself better than anyone else. It’s the rest of the world that confuses me.” I also add the idea that self-knowledge might be considered a useless, self-serving pursuit exclusive to pointy-headed intellectuals with too much time on their hands.

Knowledge of self, as the author defines it, involves reflection, a true accounting of successes and failures, and an honest attempt to rectify the past by learning from mistakes.

As we progress to that “Who you are when no one is looking” definition of character, we supplement the deficiencies in our character with identifiable and glamorous traits that we’ve picked up along the way from fictional characters. What makes that swashbuckling hero a man that all the ladies want and all the men fear? How does that sardonic wit always seem to have the perfect comeback? On the surface, we know we’re not fictional characters, but we’ve identified with their characteristics so often, and for so long, that we’ve fallen prey to the conceit that we have a gift equal to theirs for putting people back a couple of steps with devastating witticism.

The Holy Grail for those that write characters in fictional formats is to have the audience identify with the fictional characters they produce so thoroughly that the audience begins to relate to them. The path to this Holy Grail is littered with idyllic images that a consumer may begin to associate with so often, that they begin to incorporate them into their personality.

It happens in those moments when we know that everyone is watching, and everyone thinks we’re boring. As a reflexive reaction to this attention, we develop a defensive posture that allows us to rewrite our character that we hope they find more interesting. We cop a line from a sitcom, we sit a certain way that suggests we just don’t give a fig. We buy a leather jacket, and we grab a beer, and we hold it in a manner that one guy did on that one show that looked so cool.

Then it happens. Some ahole has the audacity to insult us. They challenged our manhood. They don’t know who they’re messing with. They don’t know that we just took out a whole mess of ninjas while eating a chipped beef sandwich. We said something witty to those ninjas, as they writhed in agony on the floor. We laughed in a manner that put us in the shoes of that strong woman, on television, that had the perfect redirect for the smart aleck that dared question her bona fides. On one level, we know that we haven’t done any of this, but a guy’s allowed to dream. Then it happens, we begin to daydream about being that sardonic wit that puts people in their place, and we realize we have yet to say anything to the ahole that had the audacity to insult us. Our opponent is now smiling in a smug, superior manner. We thought we had it all down, until we realized that it wasn’t us doing all the things we imagined we had. Somewhere along the line, we neglected to develop ourselves on a level that could’ve put such an ahole down. We spent so much time studying idyllic images, and imagining them for ourselves, that we’ve kind of lost track of who we are in the process. We realize that as self-professed kings of useless knowledge, we have gathered knowledge that is, in fact, useless.

23) Charles Bukowski Hates Mickey Mouse Bukowski’s philosophy is used to describe the empty nihilist speaking out against the underpinnings of the zeitgeist. I used to be attracted to this mindset, and I tried to employ it as often as possible. I considered comments like “Mickey Mouse is a three-fingered son of a bitch with no soul” insurgent, revolutionary statements that America would have to learn if she ever hoped to progress.

As philosophers have stated, when the end of the revolution occurs, and the “preferred” leaders take their roles as the new leaders, the revolutionaries are often shocked to learn that their, new leaders, more often than not, co-opt the standard practices of the former leaders’ status quo. As a young ‘un that desired the pathway to nihilism, I learned of the name Charles Bukowski. He was considered the sentry to the palace of cool. He hated Disney, and everything considered “cute” America. The question this piece asks those that considered Bukowski’s line “Mickey Mouse is a three-fingered son of a bitch with no soul” a revolutionary statement that America needed to learn, is what would Bukowski replace “cute” America with?

From the piece: “Bukowski’s goal was to be the Anti-Disney. Anti-Disney was, to Bukowski’s mind, stark reality. By implication, one could say that if Bukowski were in charge of America, he would have all of her children awash in alcohol, sex, and violence. He would want America’s children to know the country he knew, and wrote about. He would want them to know the stark world 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, ‘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 that child doubts that, they can take a look at the cast members that live at the track.”

I then conclude this thought with my interpretation of Bukowski’s vision, as it might pertain to Martin Luther King Jr.’s I Have a Dream speech: “Bukowski had a dream, a dream in which all children could one day live in a world where they would judged not by the smiles on their faces, but by the spiritual, or spirited, lights of their soul, and he had a dream in which all Americans, black and white, could one day join hands in a happy-free, cute-free, and Disney-free America.

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

22) The Best Piece of Advice I’ve Ever Heard focuses on the minutiae involved in an individual carving out a niche for success. What’s the difference between an individual that has worked their tails off to succeed, in the arts in particular, and one that will succeed? No one knows the answer to this question, because there is no specific answer. They may have an answer, and they may write a book about it, but does that mean it is the answer? The answer to that which plagues us will be one that we need figure out, if we truly want to succeed. If we don’t figure it out, then we won’t succeed.

There’s only so much advice one person can offer another, before that other person has to take over. If a person is going to succeed, they will have to figure out what works for them, and their audience, before they step onto the proverbial stage to deliver it. If a person doesn’t know this immediately, they will need to make adjustments, and they’ll have to figure out what adjustments are needed, and which ones will work, or if they need to make other adjustments. If a person is going to carve out some beautiful niche in life, it will be on them to figure out how they should do it. If they don’t, as they say, the world needs ditch diggers too. This may seem to be obvious advice, but how many people do we know that seek out that perfect piece of advice that will help them figure it all out?

The best example I’ve ever heard about an individual achieving an against-all-odds success story is Gary Shandling. Gary Shandling was a standup comedian that everyone admitted had great comedic material, but his presentation sucked. He spent a decade adjusting his act in a manner that left the audience thinking he had excellent material, but his presentation sucked. Shandling used his greatest strength and greatest weakness to achieve one of the most storied careers in Hollywood.

21) Find Your Own Truth is about one piece of advice that worked for me. It’s an extension on “You’ll either figure it, or you won’t,” advice that there is a truth, a niche, and a (fill in the blank) that may not be apparent at first. If we need another avenue, we’ll find it if we’re open to that search, and we turn over enough stones. The truth, and the niche, will not be the same for us as it is for everyone else, and it’s incumbent on us, if we want to make an artistic creation, to find it.

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

19) Every Girl’s Crazy About a Faint Whiff of Urine Some theories cry out for further exploration. Some should be left to die on the vine. I have been informed that this one should have been left on the vine.

Those of us that have listened to such claims from the misguided to the hilariously obnoxious friends that have far too much time on their hands, have known about this theory for decades, whomever wrote the scene below for television, brought the theory back to mind for me. I researched it, and I found that though there were more skeptics than backers of this idea, the theory had received peer review.

The primary reason that this theory was begging to be explored rested in the theory that all great comedy should contain an element of truth to it. It’s quite possible that future science could determine this theory to be a complete ruse, and it’s possible that it could be found to be more true than not. Whatever the case, I search for theories, similar to these, as I believe they are ripe for comedic input.

This piece was influenced by a scene from HBO’s Lucky Louie. In the scene, a side character, named Rich, played by comedian Jim Norton, has a noticeable wet stain on the front of his shorts. (I can only guess that they chose shorts, because the stain proved not as noticeable on blue jeans.) When he is called out on it, Rich says:

“Urine is rich in pheromones. When I pissed my pants just now, I released millions of pheromones, and that triggers attraction in the female.”

“Yeah, but you pissed your pants,” another side character suggests, as if to state that the sight of one that has peed in his pants would override any idea that there may be subtle attractants to the smell of urine.

“And I suggest you do the same,” Rich replies. “Now let’s go. I have to (get to the bar) before this dries,” Rich concludes, alluding to the urine on the front of his pants.

The scene is sheer ridiculousness, delivered in a straight and conceivable manner. The ridiculousness of it is, however, based on science. The scientific community is skeptical of it, and it is widely regarded as specious science that is debated throughout the community, but those that ascribe to its tenets claim that the human is no different than any other animal in a surprisingly large number of ways. They claim that these instincts are the basic, primal instincts we have for procreation, no different than the boar or the house cat.

As I write in this piece: “Even those laughing at this laughable idea, would admit that our understanding of why we do what we do, even on the surface, is subject to further review. Enter the word subconscious into the argument, and most people would, at the very least, be open to the suggestion.”

While writing this piece, as with all other truth/comedic essays of this variety, I think they should be delivered straight. There are, of course, some attempts at humor, but these lines have been rewritten a number of times to drain them of the more obvious comedic rhythms. I wanted this piece to be delivered in the manner a straight man would, for I believe that attempting to be funny in a piece of this variety is so obvious that it drains the comedic value.

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

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

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

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

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

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

It would be one thing if the sole concern busybodies had was for my health. I might be able to move on if all they did was occasionally advise me, but these “Do you know what is in that?” people, badger. They’re so relentless that anyone that has encountered them knows, if they know nothing else, that it’s about more than a general concern for greater health. If it were about a concern for health for them, they would advise the consumer and move on, but they cannot do it. They would be able to sit there and allow the consumer to consume without further comment or incident. They cannot conceal their disgust for you. There’s a superiority element to it. “I would never put something like that in my mouth,” is something they might say. Or, if they are of the more polite variety, they sit there watching a person consume with an element of disgust on their face. We all have thresholds, and some of us have no problem eating like cavemen, and some of us have developed a STFU mentality that awaits the next “Do you know what is in that?” comment.

15) The Balloonophilia ConflictMake a general assessment about a noun (a person, place, or thing) in our culture today, and the one making that assessment is bound to encounter a wonderful person that will defend that noun. This “wonderful” defense is based on the idea that all assessments are based on generalities. My counter to this ever-present defense is that while it is true that there is an exception to every rule, that exception does not make a general rule untrue. If a speaker makes the claim that an individual engaged in freakish behavior 99.8% of the time is a freak, wonderful people will often focus on .2% anecdotal information regarding the fact that that freak is an exception to the general rule the speaker espouses. 

“There are no absolute truths,” is a defense they may employ.

“That’s a wonderful sentiment,” the speaker will reply. “But if it’s true 99.8% of the time, that’s good enough for me to accept it as general rule.”

The wonderful hope that their argument will seduce the speaker into making the leap that everyone is an exception to every rule, until the only reaction that can fill that void is confusion. The wonderful also hope that the speaker will join them in the realization that the only problem lies in the speaker’s need to label. 

The wonderful person will also hope that the speaker arrives at the notion that the constructs they use to label are flawed, and that they’re woefully uninformed about human behavior, because everyone is different, and that a freak’s reasons for being different vary. The problem that could arise, as a result of this ever-present anecdotal argument, is that the collective stops examining what makes us unique, and different, and damaged in a fundamental manner that could’ve been resolved long before it became an identity crisis, if we had properly identified it for what it was in the beginning.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

7) You Don’t Bring me Flowers Anymore! The exclamation point forms the thesis to this piece. How can a punctuation point form a thesis? The apt title is, of course, taken from a Neil Diamond and Barbara Streisand song, but the simple exclamation point forms the demand of the thesis that can only be discerned through a reading. 

To protect the innocent, let’s just say that this story has six different testimonials in it. There were six different blocks that the author had to weave together to form the term adult baby. In this piece, I felt more like a reporter than a storyteller, as I reported on the stories that people around me told me.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

4) Most People Don’t Give a Crap About You Among the many ways in which humanity is divided is the difference between optimistic people and cynical thinkers. The optimistic view their fellow man in an optimistic manner, until they are proven wrong, and those that have a more cynical take regard themselves as more prepared for the snakes around us.

Among the many pieces on this list, this piece may be one of my two personal favorites (He Used to Have a Haircut being the other). I tried very hard to disassociate my personal feelings from my professional assessments when compiling this list, but the material in this piece was so fun to write that it will forever hold a special place in my heart.  

This piece focuses on a quote from an old professor that I approached with the age-old argument concerning the optimism versus cynical approach to humanity, and my expressed question regarding whether it is healthier to approach humanity from an optimistic point of view.

“I’ll give you a third possibility, have you ever considered the idea that most people don’t pay attention to you, near as much as you think.” That was the exact quote that I spruced up for the nature of this piece. This quote changed my outlook on many matters. As I approach a person, I’m always wondering if I should trust them. Are they trustworthy, and should I take into account what it says about me that I don’t? Is my inability to trust them steeped in racism, misogyny, jingoism, or xenophobia? Most people don’t care one way or another what I think, at least to the extent that we may think they do. Most people don’t care if the people they encounter are more optimistic, pessimistic, or cynical in regards to them. Most people don’t care what caused us to be sad today, or that we’ve survived a tragedy intact. Most people just want to go home and live the lives we don’t give a crap about.

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

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

2) He Used to Have a Mohawk This may not be the best Non-fiction narrative essay I’ve written, but it does capture the essence of what I’ve been trying to accomplish better than any of the other narrative essays. This piece and That’s Me in the Corner take place at the same wedding, a wedding my uncle forced me to attend. Those in attendance were different. I would say that they qualify for the weird or strange designations I’ve laid out in other essays, but they were different. They also didn’t do things that were that different. The entire event was unusual, but nothing of substance happened at this wedding.

My guess is that 99% of the world’s population could’ve attended this wedding and found nothing of note. This is not to say that I’m more intelligent, or more observant than 99% of the world’s population, but that some, otherwise routine occurrences can happen in a manner that applies to one person more than 99% of the population. Capturing that element, and personalizing it, may be the definition of art I love more than any other.

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

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

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

The gist of this essay, and why it personifies so much of what I’ve been doing on this blog, can be condensed to an effort I make to combine all of my unconventional knowledge with my conventional knowledge to reach what I consider a hybrid of the two that leads to unique analysis.

Conventional thinking may have it that a man that decides to cut his hair into a Mohawk should be regarded as an outcast. Unconventional thinking suggests that there’s nothing wrong with a person that decides to shave their head in such a manner, and it’s on the observer to accept the Mohawk wearer for who he, or she, is as a person, and the observer might discover the limits of their preconceived notions or conventional thoughts of a person, by finding out that a person that leaves a thin strip of hair on their head is actually a beautiful person inside. The approach I took, with this piece, combined the two modes of thought and examined them through the prism of an individual that used to have a Mohawk.

What kind of person asks a hair stylist to cut their hair into a Mohawk? What happens to them after they change back to having a more sensible haircut? Do they change as the perceptions of them alter? Do they miss the altered perceptions they experienced when they had the haircut? Do they regret having the haircut in the first place?

One of my favorite critiques basically stated that the immediate concepts of this story could lead a reader to be offended, until they read through the piece carefully to understand the complex subtext of the piece that requires deep analysis. “I like the way you take a Mohawk and turn it into something greater than just a simple hairstyle. You give it character that I feel not many others could appreciate,” Amanda Akers.  

No matter where the reader stands on the conventional fulcrum with this subject, they must acknowledge that an individual that asks that their hair be cut into a Mohawk does so to generate reactions, or different reactions, than a person with a more sensible haircut could procure. Some would say that a Mohawk wearer generates unwanted attention on themselves by wearing such a haircut, but others could say that no attention is unwanted for some.

If a Mohawk wearer detested those that judged him for such a haircut, he or she could allow the hair to lay flat. They don’t, I pose, because they enjoy the perspective of detesting straight-laced people that will never try to understand them as a person, they enjoy the bond they have with those that sympathize with their plight, and they bathe in the sheer number of reactions they’ve received since they made the decision to wear a Mohawk.

People wanted to know this man that I had a brief encounter with, that had a Mohawk, that was blue at one point, and they discovered that he was nice. As a bystander, I considered the shock they displayed that a man with a Mohawk could be nice, a little condescending. I considered it odd that one man would say that he wanted to get to know a man that wears a Mohawk better, based solely on that man’s haircut, a little condescending. This man, his name was Mark, appeared to bathe in all of it. I watched this man react to these statements, and I couldn’t tell if he considered it a mark of his character that he had befriended people regardless of the haircut, or if he missed all of the reactions that haircut used to generate for him. My money was on the latter.

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

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

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

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

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

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


Find Your Own Truth

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

Most people loathe vague advice. We want answers, we want that perfect 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 a person gets what you 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, feel 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 him about the guy in the corner of the liquor store, speaking to himself. “He’s crazy. An absolute loon. Went crazy about a year ago. People say he got so smart that he just snapped one day.” Paul snapped his fingers. “Like that!” he said.

I frequented The Family Liquor Store for just this reason: I loved anomalies. I knew little to nothing of anomalies in the sheltered life I lived prior to walking into The Family Liquor Store. I knew that some people succeeded and others failed, but those in my dad’s inner circle that failed in life were a rung or two lower. I knew nothing of the depths of failure and despair that I would encounter in my friend’s parents’ liquor store, where he happened to work.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In the life that followed that advice, I met a number of picky guys. Some of them wouldn’t even look at a woman that was below an eight, on the relative scale of physical appearance. Others looked for an excess in class, intelligence, strength and weakness, and still others were in a perpetual, perhaps unconscious, search for their ma. For me, it’s always been about sanity. I would date some beautiful women. I would date strong women that could school me in intelligence, and most of the women I dated brought that sassy element that I so enjoy, but it’s always came back to the fruitloopery index for me? I had an inordinate attraction to the mama-that-could-bring-the-drama for much of my life, but when those ultimatums of increased involvement arrived, Paul’s father’s whisper would work its way 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, and none escaped.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“For God’s sakes,” Paul said. “Why?”

 I’m not sure what I said at that point, but I know it was an attempt to diffuse 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.”  

The truth was I didn’t know what would’ve satisfied my curiosity. I didn’t know if I was searching for listening prompts, or if I was what words he could’ve used that would’ve done it for me. Is there a word that can inform another that a person genuinely belies 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 that his mannerisms, his tone, and the context of his active listening prompts would form a conclusion.

“Be careful,” Paul said.

Those two words slipped out, as if Paul was repeating the warnings he received when he considered further investigation. He then 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, what if he says something so intellectual that it gets trapped in your brain and you go insane trying to figure it out?”

“Could that happen?”

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

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

Long story short, his 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. I had an insatiable curiosity, and I was an observant sort, but tackling highbrow intellectual theory, or highbrow literature, was beyond me. I was ill equipped for that. Ill-equipped, naïve, and vulnerable to the idea that a thought, like a corruptible woman bent on destroying, could leave a person incapacitated to a point that they frequent a low-rent liquor store for the rest of their days and speak to non-existent people.

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

When I recovered from those irrational fears, I went over to David Hauser. The level he spoke at, before I arrived at the windowsill he sat on, lowered as I progressed. I was still somewhat distant, pretending to look out at something beyond the window, standing near him. I neared even closer, and his volume dropped even more. Was that a coincidence, or was he trying to prevent me from hearing him?

Whatever the case was, I couldn’t hear him, and I was more than a little relieved. I felt encouraged by the fact that I had neared him, even though I was afraid. I was wary of getting too close however, for I feared the idea of having his overwhelming theories implanted in my brain. I thought that such an implantation might be equivalent to an alien putting a finger on a human head and introducing thoughts to that brain that are so far beyond its capacity that the victim starts shaking  and drooling, like what happened to that kid in The Shining. I considered it plausible that I could wake in a strait jacket with that theory rattling around in my head, searching for an answer, until I ended up screaming for the 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 would later learn that David Hauser had achieved a doctorate in some subject, from some northeastern Ivy League school, and that fact placed him so far above those trapped in this incarnation of hell, AKA The Family Liquor Store, that I figured everyone involved needed a way to deal with his story, and everyone did love the story.

When the man would enter the Family Liquor store, from that day forward, the story of how a once prominent man, of such unimaginable abilities, fell to such a level of despair and failure, was on the tip of the tongue of everyone that knew it. “Like that!” everyone would say, 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 this guy, who’s to say it can’t happen to anyone one of us? In place of traveling through a complex maze of theories, and research findings, to find the truth, was an answer. No one knew who came up with this answer first, and no one questioned if that person knew what they were talking about. We just needed an answer. A coping mechanism.

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

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

This led me to believe that the reason his volume dropped as I neared, might have been the result of the pain and embarrassment. If his mind was as complex as they suggested, and it was stuck on one question being repeated in his head to the point of him needing to manifest another presence to help him work through it, how embarrassing would it be for him to have an eavesdropping teenager might find that answer for him?

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

Scorpio Man II: The Second Testimonial

My life has taken quite a turn, since last we spoke. I 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. I now understand, however, 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 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:

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 know that we can’t just run away when one of our friends take the proverbial pulpit. 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.

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.

Wearing a Mask the Face Grows Into

The purpose behind the short story, Shooting the Elephant, is to describe our lifelong struggle between acting in an authentic manner and ceding to group thought. As anyone that has ever attempted to write a story, the true story lies within the story. As anyone that has attempted to write a story, stories are stories. Some of them list a chronology of seemingly irrelevant events that happened in a person’s life and documenting them. A great writer can take one of those moments and translate them into a meaningful moment, and they do so by attempting to dig into the depths of why the players involved acted the way they did. The author may also become obsessed with why they acted the way they did. What was my motivation at the time, a writer may ask, and what does it say about me, or what does it say about humanity as a whole? 

As a standalone, i.e., listing off the events that took place, I’m guessing that the aspiring writer –that was Eric Arthur Blair– considered the story incomplete and without purpose. I’m guessing that it was probably written numerous times, in search of a driving force, and that that probably was not achieved without some creativity on George Orwell’s part in the rewrites.

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

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

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

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

Orwell describes the encounter in this manner:

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

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

When the ‘I character’ finally comes upon the elephant, he sees it “peacefully eating, the elephant looked no more dangerous than a cow,” Orwell then describes the Burmese throng that surrounded him:

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

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

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

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

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

The Hard-Ass Boss

A boss of mine enjoyed the mystique of being a hard-ass. He enjoyed having those of us under him believe that he would do whatever it took to get maximum efficiency out of his employees. If we did well, he took credit for it. If we did poorly, say for a week or a month, not only did he direct 100% of the blame on us, he informed us that he would not be there to defend us in an indirect fashion. I cannot speak for all of the employees that were on his team, but I was not motivated by fear of this man, or the need to impress him. I was motivated by the idea that one slip up on my part could land me my walking papers.

Those of us that worked under this hard ass boss knew he would not defend us, even if we had verifiable reasons that warranted a defense. We figured that if we had that reason that we might have to go to our Human Resources department to mount a defense, and there was also a sneaking suspicion we had that he may mount a defense against us in that meeting.

This resulted in most of us believing that he cared little-to-nothing about us and only about advancing his mystique, until it advanced him within the company. Was this a fair characterization? It may not have been, but it was pervasive throughout the team, and he never did anything to dispel us of this notion.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Unfunny, Influential Comedy of Andy Kaufman

There was a 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.”

The Weird and the Strange

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

Being weird is a choice. 

Some say that Psychology is a comprehensive study of the choices we make. In that vein, it is our assumption that most weird people choose to be weird, follow weird paths, or believe in weird things, and we give ourselves license to mock those decisions. It is our belief, however, that no one chooses to be strange.

We will not afford weird people the same lubricated gloves that we will the strange. Weird people have made their choices, and those choices subject them to a degree of illustrative ridicule that a nicer, more wonderful writer –say, from the squishy and indecisive school of thought– would qualify to soften their conclusions. Some of us are as weird as those we mock, some of us are different, some of us are normal, and some of us are weird, and strange.

My dad did everything he could to guide me to a more normal path. He corrected my weird ideas with sensible, normal lines of thought. “That isn’t the way,” was something he said so many times, and in so many ways, that most view my refusal to accept his norms as rebellion. There were so many fights, arguments, and debates in our household that no observer could escape it without thinking that it was, at least, a combustible atmosphere. Before we explore the ways in which the old man was strange, I would like to take a moment to thank my dad for the effort he put into trying to make me normal. I’ve met the exaggerated forms of weird, and those that ascribe to the unusual thoughts, that I play around with, as their truth. Most of those people lead chaotic lives, and some of them are a little scary.

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

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

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

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

A Piece of Advice to the Young Ones

If there are any young minds reading this, engaged in a similar, passionate pursuit of all that falls under the abnormal umbrella, I want to stress one thing before we go any further. Pursue the life of a freak, become that rebel that makes every square in the room uncomfortable, violate every spoken and unspoken rule of our culture, and become that person everyone in the room regards as an oddball. Before doing that, however, you may want to consider learning everything about the conventional rules that you plan to spend the rest of your life violating. Learning the rules gives one a proper foundation, from which to violate. I know the rules are boring, and everyone knows them, but if there’s one thing I’ve learned in my tenure as a rebel, and from my discussion with other rebels, a rebel needs to know the rules better than the square. The violation of rules comes with its own set of rules, for those that hope to violate in a constructive and substantive manner. Failure to learn the rules, and the proper violation of them, will allow those that set the rules to dismiss the rebel as one that doesn’t know what they’re talking about, and a rebel without a cause.

A Rebel Without a Cause makes for great fodder in a movie where the moviemakers manipulate the extraneous conditions, and players to enhance the qualities of the main character, but in real life there are situations and forces that rebel with conviction cannot control. There are people that will hit you with scenarios for which you’ll be unprepared, and a failure to study the rules from every angle possible, will lead everyone to forget the rebel’s argument soon after they make it.

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

My aunt was a bore. She told me things about life that bored the ‘fill in the blank ‘out of me with her preachy presentations on “Good and honest living.” She didn’t know where it was at, as far as I was concerned. I wanted to step into that “Do what you feel” rock and roll persona that left carnage in its wake. I debated her point for point. I knew my rock and roll lifestyle well. My aunt was not much of a debater. She knew her “Good and honest living” principles, but she could not debate me point for point. She had poor presentation skills, by comparison, and she was overweight and unattractive. Those in the entertainment fields had excellent presentation skills. They were attractive and thin, and they all had excellent jaw lines. They confirmed all of the beliefs I had about life. Life should be easy, judgment free, and fun. It shouldn’t involve the moral trappings of what is right and what is wrong, and as long as no one gets hurt, a person should be able to do what you feel like doing. Viewing all of this in retrospect, however, I now realize that the boring, pedantic, obese, and unattractive people taught me ten times as much about life as any of the entertainers. The entertainers were just better at packaging their presentations.

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

“You actually want to be weird?” a friend asked me. “People don’t want to be weird. They either are, or they aren’t.” 

Weirdness should be natural and organic, was the import of her message. It should be a birthright. The weird intend this to be a condemnation for those of us that aren’t weird in a natural, and fundamental, sense. It was an ‘how dare you try to be one of us, if you’re not’ reaction to those that hold the organic nature of being weird as a birthright. She regarded this as equivalent to a person that wears bifocals to look sexier when they don’t have to wear them, an act that ticks off those that are required to wear glasses.

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

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

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


As evidenced by my weird friend professing a sense of superiority over those not weird, in a more organic manner, some of us will attempt to gain whatever edge we can find against those around us. Was she weirder than I was? “Who cares?” you and I might say in unison. She did. It may never have occurred to her –prior to our conversation on this topic– that the idea of being weird was a cudgel she could use to attain some form of superiority, but for that particular conversation, it was for her, and she didn’t appear to feel the slight bit unusual for doing so. It appeared, in fact, to be vital to her that I acknowledge that she had me on this topic. She was weird, and I was trying to be weird. Who tries to be weird? Phony people. That’s who. Check, check, check. She wins.

The interesting aspect of this conversation, as it pertains to the subject of superiority and inferiority, is how long did she search for that point of superiority? How many topics did we cover in our numerous conversations before she was able to find one aspect of her personality in which she had some superiority? If either of these questions wreaks of ego on my part, let’s flip it around and ask what drove this impulse to use organic weirdness as a form of superiority? I had many conversations with this woman, and I never saw this competitive side of her before. She thought she had me on this one strange, or weird, topic.

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, the attempts you people make to hide your children and the not-so-subtle attempts you make to escape our company when we mention that the Sun positioned itself in the Scorpio in our birth chart has worn us down. We are people too, with all of the same hopes and dreams as the rest of you. We want to have friends, and people that love us very much for who we are, but those of you in the twelve other sectors of the ecliptic have created a climate where the only way Scorpio males can feel comfortable in our celestial phenomena is to lie about our Sun’s positioning.

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

The Big Lebowski and Philosophy

Throw the (damned) ball—

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 Be the man they want you to be—

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That’s just your opinion

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

The Conspiracy 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 182.com, provided an in-depth analysis of the game. After this exhaustive review, Beech found that the:

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

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

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

After reading, and rereading Beech’s analysis, I’ve found Beech’s findings to be meticulous, and objective. 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 an insignificant basketball game 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 such an outright lack of trust. There comes a point where those that 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 the same of their sport.

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

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

An “Oh! Come on!” 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 they 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.

Brutal Honesty in the Age of Being Real

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

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

"Lars and The Real Girl"

“Lars and The Real Girl”

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

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

Being real was supposed to, at the very least, have a conjugal relationship with brutal honesty, and some of us used some nugget of that message to put more brutal honesty in our personal presentations, regardless if anyone thought we were more real or not. Those of us that attempted to present ourselves in a manner that could be called brutal honesty, in regards to how we thought we should be perceived, encountered a number of surprising reactions.

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

Those that have never made a concerted effort to be honest about themselves, might expect that one being harshly critical of one’s self to be somewhat influential. The expectation I had was that others might “raise their game” in this regard, to be as honest as I was about myself. They didn’t, because, again, these Delusional People thought that they already were, and they thought they had always been as honest as I was.

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

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

“Not well,” Frank replies with refreshing, brutal honesty.

The Delusional Person may laugh at this point, because being this honest can be humorous when the recipient is allowed to bathe in the weaknesses of its purveyor. The Delusional Person will often agree with Frank’s frank assessment of himself, but they won’t assess themselves by the same measure.

“How do you think you would do?” Frank returns.

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

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

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

Another surprising, and somewhat depressing, reaction to presenting one’s self in a brutally honest manner to a group of listeners is that even the most polite listeners begin to feel free to be brutally honest with the brutally honest:

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

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

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

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

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

“Part of an interview involves salesmanship,” those in the know would tell the employees gathered in a team meeting, and that assessment was to remain within those closed doors, as off the record comments. This assessment was a “wink and a nod” attempt to assuage the confusion that was building around what many considered an absolute travesty. And many thought the truth would find a way to rear her beautiful head and rectify the situation. 

Those that have been in similar situations learn the term “new reality”. If those in the know comment on such a situation, they will say something along the lines of “You should be happy for Molly”. This leaves the suggestion that most of the confused, are confused about her promotion as a result of personal animus.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Paris Syndrome

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

“We’ll always have Paris.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

That Sunday newspaper also quoted psychologist Herve Benhamou saying:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Know Thyself

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

“Know thyself?” we 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.

When Geese Attack!

What happens when geese attack? Those of us that have watched an episode of Shark Week –or one of the numerous other home movie, reality-oriented clip shows that appear on just about every network now– have witnessed what happens when animals lose their minds and attack humans. Those of us that have watched enough of these videos to know the formula know two things will happen. We will discover an ultimate truth about nature that everyone that all victims learn in the midst of an attack. There is no truth. There are suggested methods used to handle animals, and everyone that interacts or handles animals knows those suggestions. Yet, the most experienced handler will inform those willing to listen, that there are no steadfast rules to prevent a wild animal from harming them. The other truth is that survivors of such attacks learn this the hard way, and they state that they have no hard feelings for the beast that attacked them in the testimonials they offer after the video.

“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 we aren’t being played just a bit. We wonder if the networks have test-marketed victims’ reactions, and they have found that the audience finds these 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 hate to be cynical, but if this isn’t the case why do almost all of these victims appear to react in almost the exact same manner. It almost appears as though they’re reading from a script.

We here in hysterical, emotional reaction land, know that it would be reasonable to state that a bear is “Just doing what comes naturally to them” as it ripped a 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 them in a bear preserve. We would consider them 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 anything other than instinctual on the bear’s part, would make that victim appear foolish, and we all know that most animals don’t single people out for attack, and that they prefer to avoid humans, unless conditions dictate otherwise. All of this is perfectly reasonable, even to those of us in hysterical, emotional reaction land, but it discounts the normal, hysterical reactions one should have if a bear removed one of their limbs, or left their face in a condition that now causes small children to run screaming from them at the mall.

One would think that a bear attack survivor would spend the rest of their life cheering on bear hunters. Would it be reasonable, seeing as how they were in a bear preserve when the bear attack occurred? It would not be, but most 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 with what I believe are prepared responses. These responses appear to come from TV producers issuing 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 USA Today 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 a somewhat optimistic about life after such an attack. The “goose guy” is not Charla Nash, however, and he should not be afforded the same admirable plaudits Nash is due. The “goose guy” is just an idiot.

Pro kayak angler, Drew Gregory (aka the goose guy) was fishing in a river, and he began feeding the geese that swam near him. One of the geese, in the competition for the food Gregory was offering them, decided that the best way to beat his competition to the food was to go to the source. The source of the food, in this case, was “goose guy’s” backpack. The goose, doing what a goose does, attempted to empty the backpack, and in the process sent “goose guy” overboard. After that, the goose appeared to be laughing at “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 someone film themselves 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 “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 have survived the hit.

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

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

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

I would also not be that amiable dunce that found a way to laugh about it later. I would not view this moment in my life as entertaining in anyway. I would not qualify it by saying that I was in their environment, and I received everything I deserved. I would see that moment as one of those survival of the fittest moments. I would think about all these videos I’ve watched, and how the one thing we do know about nature is that it’s unpredictable. 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 you guys attained this video, but it has ruined my life. Everyone I know now calls me “the goose guy”. If I get a hold of that goose, I will find the slowest, most agonizing death possible for it. I’ve already killed twelve geese in this area, thinking that 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. I cite hysterical emotions based upon experience. I lose. Even as I’m losing these arguments, however I know I’m not the alone with these thoughts. I don’t know if I’m in the majority, but I am quite sure there are many that would hold such view in the aftermath of their near-death attacks, or embarrassing attacks. 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 animal lovers that would not appreciate what I have to say, or what I do, in the aftermath of such an attack.

Finding the Better, Happier Person Through Change

Are you happy? I mean happy. You can tell me. I’m just an anonymous writer. Are you happy? Whisper it to me. You’re not? Well, what are you going to do about it? 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.

The Psychology of the Super Sports Fan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conquering Fear: A Few Tips from Psychopaths

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

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.

To B or not to B

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oh! Our Electromagnetic Minds

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Indigo Children: The Next Step in Human Evolution

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Some have speculated that a mere 3% of the world’s population may be Indigo Children, but that that 3% are advanced beyond their years, and that they are hyper-sensitive to things in their environment. Indigo Children tend to have a higher I.Q. than most children do, but it isn’t clear whether if the evidence for this is anecdotal. Indigo Children do not lay claim to the idea that they know more about concretized facts in History, Math, the Sciences, or any other quantifiable precepts of human knowledge, but that they are smarter about that aspect of the human experience that occurs between the lines, or on the supernatural highway. Those that make such claims declare that Indigos are able to tune into something different and in some cases higher realm of thought patterns that are out of the realm of normal thought patterns.

The unquantifiable intelligence they use to see another’s aura allows them to predict the future, or learn things about you that you might not otherwise want known. Parents of these unique children use the words paranormal intelligence to describe their children’s gifts. They are special children, but they don’t enjoy the term abnormal. They want to play, and run, and build sand castles just like any child, so please don’t ask them to predict the outcome of boxing matches or the rise and fall of the Dow Jones Industrial rate.

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

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

Descriptions of Indigo Children from the net include:

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

Other alleged traits include:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Let Your Freak Flag Fly!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Social Psychological Operations

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

psychMost people don’t recognize the psychological battles that occur at a 7-11, while waiting in line to fill your cup with coffee. The simple act of dressing a fellow customer down, in a psychological manner, is just something we do without realizing what we’re doing. Most people see interactions that may elicit nothing more than a “Hello” or “Excuse me” from the coffee filler as a forgettable moment in a day.

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

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

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

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

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

Let’s say that that ‘How you doing?’ nod involved someone at the office, getting coffee in the refreshment center of the office at the same time we do. Let’s say this person we encounter is not a total stranger, but one with whom we have an ongoing, work-related relationship. Let’s say the two combatants know a little something something about the other, but that they keep that information close to the vest. We may know some somethings about them, but we would consider it a violation of protocol to use that information against them. If that’s the case, a ‘How you doing?’ nod can take on altogether different meaning. It may begin in a benign manner, but it’s not as innocuous as our brief 7-11 interactions are. When they offer their ‘How you doing?’ nod to us, both parties flip the page of the playbook to a chapter where they begin speaking.

“How you doing today?” they ask.

“Good,” we say.

“That’s good to hear,” they may say. “How’s the wife?” This question right here taps into those something somethings that people have on each other, but we would never use on them. The question itself is strategically innocuous, as it is stated without intent, and it allows the attacker an out if the subject of their assault takes umbrage with the question and mounts a counter assault.  

“Hey, I just asked how she was doing,” they may say to diffuse the situation in a manner that strategically leaves the subject feeling too sensitive.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Strategic Psych OPS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Operational PSYCH OPS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Eat Your Meat! How Can You Show Appreciation for Life, If you Won’t Eat Your Meat?

“You’d eat it if you were on the field of battle,” my Dad 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 appreciate it. Later in the timeline, parents informed their children of the lack of preservation techniques available for their food, and how the children would have to eat up all their food, or it would go bad. Modern technology has provided safer and easier access to food, and it’s provided preservation techniques that have become so common, for so many generations of Americans, that even most parents have taken food for granted for the whole of their lives. We’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 that cheated on me more than any other was the same woman that accused me of being a cheater more often than any of the others did. The man that accused me of stealing more often than most, turned out to be the person that stole from me most often. The individuals that lied to me more often than most were often the first to accuse me of being a liar. These people know who they are, on a level they’ll never understand, and they know we’re not much better than they are, so no matter what we do or say to them, they’re not buying it, because they know who we are. It’s the thief’s mentality.

The confusing nature of that final sentence was as intentionally confusing as the confusing nature of the thief’s mentality can be. Kurt Lee introduced me to the thief’s mentality, even though I didn’t know it at the time. He taught me more about being a thief, and a real piece of work (a POS), than any other person I’ve encountered, movie I’ve watched, or book that I’ve read on the subject. I didn’t know it at the time, of course, but Kurt Lee would serve as a prototype for those that would exhibit similar traits, traits that I would only later deem the thief’s mentality.

The most interesting aspect about the man, a characteristic that might defy that which I will describe throughout this piece, is that he was a charming individual. When it served him, Kurt Lee could be nice, engaging, infectious, and humorous. He could create a climate in which his audience would find it difficult not to be attracted to his sensibilities, and epistemology, in a manner that is difficult to describe to one that’s never met anyone like him.

Those that knew Kurt Lee, on a superficial level, would envy him for the ways in which he openly defy authority figures without guilt. Those that ended up spending 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”, learned that their ways end up destroying them from the inside out.

We were on a city bus, one afternoon, when Kurt Lee decided to play with the ball on top of an elderly woman’s stocking cap. The elderly woman sat in front of him on the bus. My reaction to this spectacle may be one of the things that I have to answer for when I reach Judgment Day, but I found 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 hadn’t I ever played with the ball on top of an old woman’s stocking cap? What was the difference between Kurt Lee and me? Was it about morality, or did it have more to do with common decency? My mother taught me that when a young, healthy male sees an elderly woman, they should smile at them and try to think up something nice to say. My mother taught me to hold a door for them, and she said that I should consider it a privilege to give up my seat to them, on a city bus, if no other seats were available. These were the typical conventions that good, and decent, mothers pass on to their sons.

Not only did Kurt Lee ignore these conventions, he did the exact opposite. He played with the most vulnerable member of our culture’s stocking cap. He violated her sense of security. It was wrong, of course, 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 questions, but my fascination with the answers to the former three questions led me to urge him on with laughter. This was wrong too, of course, but I now believe I did so because I was fascinated to learn more about the moral codes for which we all abide, by watching another solidify my rationale without regard for the consequences of violating them. I didn’t have any of these thoughts at the time, of course, but I did know that I couldn’t wait to see how this would end, and I dare say that most of those that are more successful in abiding by the standards their mother taught them, would not have been able to look away either.

This 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, as she presumably went about trying to muster up the courage to tell him off. Kurt Lee appeared ready to concede to that initial, nonverbal admonition, until he spotted me laughing. I encouraged his furtherance with that laughter. He did it three more times, before she reached a point of absolute frustration that led her to say something along the lines of this:

“Stop it, you young punk!”

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

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

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

“If you could get away with it, you would try,” was his answer to those that posed questions to him. “You mean to tell me you’ve never stolen anything? Ever? All right then, let’s talk about reality.” Kurt Lee was a thief, and like most thieves, he would not defend his position from the position of being a thief. He would substitute an exaggeration of your moral qualms of thievery with the idea that a person that has stolen one thing is in no position to judge someone that 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. It was difficult 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 would ask him how a guy from the sticks could afford the latest, top of the line zipper pants, or a pair of sunglasses that would put a fella back two weeks’ pay, and an original, signed copy of the Rolling Stones album, Some Girls. He would tell us, but even his most ardent defender had a hard time believing Santa Claus could be that generous.

Kurt Lee stole so often by the time I came to know him that the act of shoplifting had lost its thrill. He decided to challenge himself in the manner top athletes, and top news anchors, will by hiring outside analysts to scrutinize the minutiae of their performance. Kurt Lee asked me to watch him steal baseball cards from the owner of a baseball card shop that we all agreed was in need of a good lesson. This owner refused to buy our cards ninety-nine percent of the time and on those rare occasions when he would, the amount he offered was so low that we thought he was taking advantage of us.

I posed a theory about the transactions we had with this shop owner. I said I thought he refused to buy our cards so often to establish his bona fides as a resident expert of value, so that when he informed us that we had a card of some value, we would jump at the chance, no matter what he offered. In doing so, I said, he made us feel more valuable for finally offering him a card he considered of value.

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

I felt validated for coming up with a theory that Kurt believed explained the man, but in hindsight, I think I could’ve said anything at that moment and Kurt Lee would’ve used it to motivate me to conspire against the owner of a baseball card shop.

Kurt Lee did have one proviso, before we entered, and that was that I had to be careful how I watched Kurt Lee. I couldn’t be so obvious that the owner would know what we were doing.

This was an invitation into a world I had never known. I was as nervous as I was excited. I considered the idea that I might be implicated in this incident with my knowledge of what he was about to do, but I couldn’t shake the asexual intimacy that Kurt Lee was sharing with me, with this invitation into his world.

Before we entered the baseball card shop, Kurt Lee opened up his pockets, in the manner a magician might, and he asked me to confirm that he had no cards in his pockets.

When our hour at the baseball card shop concluded, and I didn’t witness Kurt Lee steal anything, I mocked him.

“I’m beginning to think you’re chicken,” I said. “I thought you said you were going to steal something?”

He opened up his jacket and showed me his inner pockets. It knocked me back a couple steps. I actually took a step back when I witnessed the fact that baseball cards lined his pockets. Had he displayed one card, I would have been impressed, three or four may have 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 shoplifting. I thought he should’ve tried his hand at magic. I considered him a maestro of shoplifting.

Soon after recovering from that awe, I began to wonder how one acquires such a deft hand. As with any acquired skill, trial and error is involved, but nestled within the trial and error process of being a thief, lies a need for the thief to find a utility that permits them 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. Their success, it would seem to those of us on the outside looking in, requires them to either defeat that sense of shame, or find some way to manage it.

Shame, some would argue, becomes more manageable with familiarity. When a father introduces shame to their 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 these brutal assessments are then echoed by a mother’s concern that their child can do nothing right, the combined effort can damage a child to lasting effect. When those parents then console the child with a suggestion that while the child may be bad, they’re no worse than anyone else is, something gestates in the child. Some kind of moral relativism that suggests that the search for the definitions of right and wrong is over, and the sooner they accept that, the more honest they will become. Watching their mother scold the child’s teacher for punishing her child for a transgression, clarifies this confusion a little more. In this relativist scolding, the child hears their mother inform the teacher that the child can do no wrong, and they see her unconditional support firsthand. They also learn, over time, that their parents will not always be there for them, and that they will need to develop their own defense mechanisms. The child also learns to accept these realities for what they are, for the Lee family has never had the courage necessary to commit suicide.

I hated to discount the level of individual ingenuity on Kurt Lee’s part, but he was simply too good at the various forms of deception for it to have been something he arrived at on his own. It had to be the result of parental influence that had a transgenerational foundation composed of sedimentary layers of grievance, envy, frustration, and desperation. Some may consider that a bit of a stretch, but how much of our lives are spent 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 the gap between simple curiosity and badgering. This was apparent in his volatile reaction:

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

This logical extension, if no one is better than anyone else is, and everyone resides on the cusp of being whatever Kurt Lee is, 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, and 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 don’t know why Kurt Lee went down this Pete Pestroni road so often, but I suspect that it had something to do with the idea that if Pete was immune, in one form or another, then everyone had to be. Pete was just too weak, or too scared, to let his wolf run wild, in Kurt Lee’s worldview. We would laugh at the implausibility of Pete Pestroni having a Kurt Lee trapped inside, dying to come out, and our intention was to laugh with Kurt Lee, 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 could lead to some level of introspection. An individual with a thief’s mentality may steal, but they are just as apt to lie and cheat. The thief’s mentality begins as a coping mechanism for dealing with the character flaws that drive them to do what they do, but it progresses from those harmless, white lies to a form of deception that requires a generational foundation.

The thief’s mentality is deflection, by way of subterfuge, to explain the carrier’s inability to trust beyond that point that they should be trusted, but some thieves’ outward distrust of others reaches a point of exaggeration that can say more about them than those they accuse. Their cynicism is their objectivity, and your faith in humanity is a subjective viewpoint that you must bear. We live in a dog eat dog, “screw or be screwed” world that suggests that those that trust anyone outside their own home are so naïve as to be hopeless. It’s incumbent on the listener, if they hope to survive in this version of the world, to see past the façades, and through the veneers that others present to you, to the truth.

The truth, in Kurt Lee’s worldview, had it that TV anchors with fourteen-inch parts, and perfect teeth, end their day by going home to beat their wives. No one attains wealth in an honest manner, Catholic priests are all pedophiles, and all presidents have engaged in acts of infidelity in the White House, “You think JFK and Clinton are different? They just got caught is all,” and little old ladies that complain about having the balls on the stocking caps played with, just want it up the ass. As with most tenets of a person’s worldview, there was some grain of truth to Kurt Lee’s, but he would often have to put forth a great deal of effort to support that it.

In most of these discussions, those of us in the audience are immune. We become the ‘I’m not talking about you’ party that the thief views as either an ally, or the focal point of their attempts to convince themselves that they’re not that bad. Whatever the reason behind our immunity is, it ends when our agreed upon basics begin to fracture in the course of the thief’s logical extensions. When that happens, the thief turns their accusations on us. We may think that we’re all virtuous and moral, but they know 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.

They may even believe what they’re saying in their accusations regardless what we’ve done to establish ourselves as an honest person, but the validity of their accusation pales in comparison to the need a person with a thief’s mentality has to keep the 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, or 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’s accusation was born of theory, and that 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 this accusation by telling Kurt Lee that other people trust them. The answer he gave, to one combatant, was so clever that I have to think it was beyond his years. Again, I hate to discount individual ingenuity, but it just seemed too clever for Kurt to deliver as quickly as he did.

“So you think if someone trusts you that makes you trustworthy?” is how Kurt Lee responded. He said the word trustworthy, as if it was an accusation, but that wasn’t the brilliant, beyond-his-years response. That would arrive, as it often does, in the course of the argument that followed in which both participants say whatever they think they have to say to win an argument, regardless what those words reveal. What Kurt Lee said was something about how those that 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 the precedent of Kurt Lee always fresh in my mind, I’ve had a number of otherwise trustworthy friends ask me how to deal with the thief in their life. They don’t understand why their beloved doesn’t trust them in even the most banal arenas of life. These worried friends state that they can’t remember what they did to damage that trust that their beloved declares irretrievable. My friends were insecure about their trustworthiness in the manner we all are, but they can’t remember the specific incident that brought about the damning accusations regarding their trustworthiness. They come to me with grief and sorrow on their hearts:

“How do I win him back? How do I regain his trust?”

“I’m sorry to say that it’s not about you,” I tell them. “It’s the thief’s mentality.”

I am sorry to say this, because these concerned friends have consigned themselves to some sort of relationship with the afflicted that requires them to spend long hours, days, and years with this person. I have explained what I mean to these people, via my personal experiences with Kurt Lee, and it has helped these concerned and confused souls frame the accusations their thief makes, 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, where they can’t even trust the one person in their lives that they could, or should, but it does help them spread their misery a little to accuse. It does lighten their load to transfer some of their toxins to others. It also gives them a little lift to know that you are a little less trusting than you were before you met them. It helps them believe that they’re not such an aberration, but this relief is temporary, as the toxins that have made them what they are are as endemic to the biological chemistry as white and red blood cells, but it does please them to know that you now view humanity in the same cynical, all-hope-is-lost manner they do.

If it’s true that a mere two-percent of people are self-aware, then the lack of self-awareness, as it pertains to what we are, and what we are to become, is as endemic to the thief’s mentality as it is in every other walk of life. They believe, as the rest of us do, that they do not live on an exaggerate pole of morality. They believe that they reside in the middle with the rest of us, somewhere on the good side of this fuzzy dividing line, and that we’re all tempted to do that one thing that could place us on the other side. The difference being that their lack of fear separates them, coupled with their refusal to conform to what our parents and teachers taught us. They also know that we place most of humanity on their side of the fuzzy line, because we all have problems trusting those that we don’t know well enough to know whether they will make moral decisions in life, but some take this natural state of skepticism a step further. Some thieves’ exaggerated, outward distrust for those around them ends up saying more about them than those they accuse. It’s the thief’s mentality.

(Editor’s Note: There is an old saying that goes something along the lines of, if I wanted to know what happened to my high school friends, I’d still be friends with them. There are those standouts though. Those people we think of when we read a book, or watch a movie that has a character that reminds us of them. Due to the tangential 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?)

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

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

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

alcoholChances are if you were an adult in this era, your parents had a Depression-era mindset given to them by their parents and you had some form of involvement in war, be it World War II, Korea, or even Vietnam. Chances are you weren’t much of a talker, or if the occasional yarn escaped, it had nothing to with anything sentimental, or personal, in the manner a Facebook testimonial might. Chances are you blanched at the suggestion that you were a hero, or that you were a member of America’s “Greatest Generation”. Chances are you were humble about your heroic efforts to save the world, and you didn’t want your exploits discussed, but you were just as silent about the pain you felt. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder would be discussed during this era, but you knew that true men poo pooed its discussion in closed quarters. Chances are you dealt with everything you saw, and everything you experienced quietly and internally, and in the only way you could deal with all this without going insane was in the company of some container of alcohol that allowed you to forget that which haunted you…if only for a couple hours. Chances are you accidentally passed this legacy on.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


The Balloonophilia Conflict

Balloon fetishists 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.

Would You Eat Someone Somebody Cared About?

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

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

“I’m going to give you to this lady now, and she’s going to eat you.  I’m sorry,” he whispered to the pastry.  Then, as if involved in an argument with the pastry, Sal Vulcano added: “This is just the way things are.”

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

“I don’t want one that you’ve spoken to.”

At the conclusion of the segment, all four comedians come to the fore to comment on the segment, and they admitted that they wouldn’t eat food that someone has spoken to either.

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

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

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

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

Would you eat a small child’s beloved dog?  If the answer is no, what are your parameters? Would you have any problems eating a turkey?  What if you met that turkey, and that turkey had a little personality to it?  What if that turkey displayed a little spunk that the observer couldn’t help but appreciate? What if that turkey befriend another turkey in a manner that was so obvious it was a little endearing?  What if it displayed some kindness that left an impression?  What if it allowed you to fondle its wattle?  What if that turkey had a name? How could you eat a thing with a name?  What kind of person are you? Would you rather eat a turkey that you’ve never met, that some individual in a factory farm slaughtered and packaged for you?  If you are that caring person that doesn’t want to see anything (or anyone) suffer, how could you eat a pastry that an individual appears to have bonded with?  What’s the difference?  Where is the line? It’s a pastry you say, and a pastry does not have the recognition of its own life in the manner a turkey does.

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

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

If Sal had a Snickers bar perform the Can Can to animate that candy bar in a realistic, non-comedic manner would that woman, a vegan, or a vegetarian, be able to then eat that Snickers bar without regret or guilt?  I realize that Snickers bars and pastries are relatively inanimate, but with proper, serious characterization would it be possible to animate them in such a fashion that a person, with susceptibilities to messaging, could be made to feel guilty about eating them?  If that was successful, could an enterprising young documentarian launch a well-funded campaign, steeped in political pressure, lead a segment of the population to avoid eating all Snickers bars based on videos about the inhumane manufacturing process involved in the creation and packaging of Snickers bars?  With the proper documentarian displaying the inhumane process through which the peanuts and caramel are adjoined with the nougat in a final process that involves what could be called a suffocation technique employed by the layer of chocolate placed over the top, would it be possible to substantiate this cause to a point where a person would not only stop eating Snickers but denigrate those that do, until they believe those people, and anyone that supports the Mars corporation to be identifying with evil?  It’s not only possible, in my humble opinion, the seeds of it were on display in the inadvertent brilliance of this comic sketch on this episode of Impractical Jokers.

… And Then There’s Todd

I knew I would be able to have relations with Todd’s mom moments after Todd introduced us. She would give me “extra” looks when Todd wasn’t looking, and she said things that let me know that all she needed was a thumb up to start the proceedings. If Todd’s mom was attractive, my humility wouldn’t permit me to write such a thing, but there was a reason that a forty-something female made it clear that her intentions with her son’s twenty-year-old friend were not honorable, and most of the reasons had more to do with her marketability than mine.

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

Todd’s mom was the first parent I met that didn’t have puritanical notions about underage drinking, smoking pot, and premarital sex. She was a free spirited type. She was open in her disregard for the conventions of our constrained society. Todd’s mom was the first cool parent I ever met, in other words. She was so cool that she offered to drink and smoke with us once she was off work. After she extended that offer, and Todd gauged my reaction to it, the mother shot me an “extra” look that told me “those pants of yours will be coming off!” A full-grown woman hadn’t been attracted to me at that point in my life, so it was quite a turn on, even though there were things going on with her that my young mind could not yet process.

She also said snarky, bitter things that slipped beyond my definition of cool to that dreaded arena that no adult can escape of trying too hard. This cynical bitterness did not cause her to name her only begotten son Todd, I’m quite sure, and I do not believe that his mom’s near palpable hatred of men had anything to do with her giving her only son a life of misery with a name. I’m sure she just liked it.

Most people don’t consider it possible to curse a child with a name. Even a person with an odd, one syllable sound attached to their identity is not cursed, naysayers might add, not in the manner you suggest anyway. A child can go onto achieve great things as an adult, no matter what their name is, look at Aldous Huxley. They can gain acceptance among their peers, they can be happy, and they can escape anything put before them. A name is a trivial concern in the grand scope of things, is something they might say. Contrarians might admit that there are names out there that could cripple a child, such as those names that rhyme with body functions, but how many parents would set out to cripple their child in such a manner?

And then there’s Todd. Todd is not a cruel name you say. It’s a common male name in American society today that dates back to a medieval period in England. It means fox, as in clever or cunning. We all know a number of people named Todd, and we might not consider them they’re cursed in the manner being suggested, and we might think there’s no such thing as boxing a kid into some sort of predestination by giving him a name. The very notion is irrational. Most of those that say such things, I challenge, are not named Todd.

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

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

This revelation occurred when Todd asked his girlfriend, my friend Tracy, to tie his shoes. I joked that I considered that an excellent domination technique that I would consider exploring the next time I was around my girlfriend. That stopped the room. If Todd considered it funny, he didn’t show it. He feared Tracy in the manner a lamb will fear a border collie, and she wasn’t even smiling a polite smile. She had a “Don’t go there!” glare on her face. My initial thought was that that glare had more to do with the “domination” theme of my joke, and I felt a little guilty, because they knew my girlfriend. My girlfriend was Tracy’s best friend. This guilt ended for me when I convinced them I was joking. The cloud continued to loom over us, however, until I realized that this “Don’t go there!” glare had less to do with my joke, and more to do with a subject that began to gather so many elements in the silence that followed, that I began to feel trapped in it. I thought that I had tripped some kind of wire that would reveal domination techniques, or some sort of sexual peccadillo that I didn’t care to explore with them, and their continued silence suggested they were ready to share if I was ready to hear it. I thought that I may have placed them in the uncomfortable position of having to reveal details of their relationship that I might have to fight Todd over, until Todd broke down and told me the story of how he never learned how to tie his shoes.

Todd did not reveal this story. I had to prompt the revelation. That prompt arrived after I tired of the tension between us and said:

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

The answer to this question was “a funny story”. The funny story involved a loving mother purchasing Velcro and slip on shoes for her son throughout the entirety of his youth. It involved that rebellious, young man finding it a way to break the shackles of a mother’s hold with the first paycheck he had earned. The funny story involved the shoe store attendant tying the shoes for him, and Todd walking around the store, saying, “I’ll take them” with the pride that so many young people experience with their first, individual purchase. It involved that young man arriving home for the night and preparing to take those shoes off for bed, as he had on every other night. The funny story involved Todd’s realization that once he untied those shoes for bed, he would never be able put the shoes on again without assistance, and it ended with Todd sleeping in his shoes that night.

I was the only one in the room not laughing.

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

As a younger man, I sought out the weaknesses of my fellow man to use against them should the situation arise. There is some information, however, that goes beyond the typical malleable information that one can tease into mockery and ridicule, and it wasn’t just that Todd never learned how to tie his own shoes. If that had been the case, I would’ve used this information without giving it a second thought. It was the whole backstory. It was the whole idea that Todd had a mother that did things that prevented him from learning, until he needed another strong woman to help him deal with the consequences of it by tying his shoes for him. It was so funny that it went beyond funny to a little sad, and it achieved such an exaggerated point of funny that I never used it against him. Even when Todd joined with a bunch of fellas engaged in a round of competitive, good-natured ribbing against me, I could’ve said, “What are you talking about? You can’t even tie your own shoes,” I didn’t use this information. It wasn’t as if I had this ammunition at my disposal either, because I somehow forgot about it in that moment. I forgot about it, because I chose to forget about it, because I wanted to be friends with Todd, and if a guy wants to be friends with another guy they have to block some things out of their head.   

That was all later. In the moment, with Tracy tying his shoes, I found myself trapped between not wanting to pursue this matter and this almost ingrained need to have answers to questions that I did not want to ask.

“How did you get out of the first grade without tying your shoes at least once?” I asked. “Don’t teachers have to check a box before you can get out of the grade?”

The answer to that question was another funny story that led to details involving a mother’s desire to protect her son by continuing to purchase slip ons and Velcro for her boy, regardless what her boy’s teachers told her to do. I had more questions, but I feared that they might involve answers that might lead to other revelations about a single mother’s stubborn attempts to protect a son that bordered on neglectful. I realized, then, the full import of Tracy’s “Don’t go there” glare, and I shut the curiosity switch off. I kept that switch off for much of my friendship with Todd, and I even defended him against the ridicule from those trained to go after another’s weaknesses in a manner similar to Pavlov’s dog, until I learned of Todd’s lifelong fear of cotton.

“Oh, Come on!” I said. I was naïve as I’ve explained, and I had had some difficulty coming to grips with certain characteristics I learned about the various Todds I’ve met, but I now had to deal with the idea that one of them was afraid of cotton? It was the second “Come on!” hurdle that our friendship would have to cross. Todd and I had to work through the fundamentals of his fear. We established the fact that Todd had no fear of towels, for example, and he wasn’t afraid of the 50% of my shirt that wasn’t polyester. Todd feared unmanufactured cotton and cotton balls, such as the cotton that aspirin companies put atop their tablets to preserve them. It was what they called an unexplainable fear. A type of fear that called for a strong woman to step in and defend.

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

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

When no one said anything in this space, I continued.

“I have an irrational fear of heights,” I said. “But I believe I fear falling more than I do being high up. Whether it’s a learned behavior, or primal instinct, I’ve learned that hitting the ground at a high rate hurts, and that it could end up damaging something that I enjoy using, and I’m not just talking about reproductive organs here. I’m talking about arms, and legs, and brain matter, and if you have a problem with that, you’ll have to take it up with my brain. My brain is the epicenter of self-preservation. It has learned, over the years, and through the many mistakes I’ve made, to use the emotion of fear to prevent me from harming myself, in the manner falling from on high might, and I think my brain has been doing a damn good job thus far.

“I do accept the premise that most fears are irrational, and they can provoke emotion explanations that can be difficult to explain,” I continued. “But if you are arguing that my fear of falling and Todd’s fear of cotton are to be placed on equal ground, someone is going to have to explain to me how a brain, that I can only assume is equipped with all the same tools as mine, and is undamaged, can convince a person that a ball of cotton presents a danger to a person equivalent to falling.” 

I wasn’t sure if the silent reaction I received was one of them not knowing what to say, but I decided that I wouldn’t have to pound the point home by listing off the numerous experiences I had had with paraplegics that had assumed their condition based on falling. I wouldn’t need to recount the number of fatalities that had resulted from falling, and I wouldn’t need to compare those numbers against the number of people maimed or killed after an episode with a cotton ball. I wouldn’t need to go into these numbers, because I made my point. I wasn’t the type that engaged in verbal touchdown dances anyway, because I knew that doing so made a fella look bad in front of his girlfriend. So, I was fully prepared to allow the matter to die right then and there, no harm no foul, until I remembered that I had a cotton ball in an aspirin bottle in my medicine chest.

I was old enough to know that refraining from anything that might make a man look bad in front of his girlfriend should be the goal of any man that wants to remain friends with another, but I was still young enough to follow my impulses.

I hoped that I hadn’t followed my usual routine of throwing the cotton ball out the minute I opened an aspiring bottle. I hadn’t. I was so excited at the prospect of having a moment that I smiled anxiously when I discovered that I hadn’t thrown the cotton ball away. I knew this would be an obnoxious moment, and I knew Todd’s feelings would be hurt by it, but when you’re twenty-years-old these considerations take a back seat to having a moment that you believe will be so hilarious that it could be historic.

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

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

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

In the moments preceding the “Ooga Booga” moment, I considered Todd’s fear of cotton to be the equivalent of the much-ballyhooed fear of clowns. A number of people say they have a fear of clowns, and they qualify this with a: “I don’t know why. They’re just creepy.” When the nuts are screwed into the bolts, however, the audience of this provocative joke finds that while most of these provocateurs may be “creeped out” by clowns, they don’t fear them as much as they want their audience to believe. They just want to be the center of attention for a moment.

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

Even with Todd’s reaction, I maintained that this was funny. That did subside somewhat when I considered the idea that unusual fears result from unusual circumstances that can alter otherwise normal thought patterns. I also considered the idea that my “Ooga Booga!” moment may have opened some cavern in Todd’s soul that housed these deep seeded, childhood fears that if explored any further could land him on a psychiatrist’s couch recounting the “Ooga Booga!” moment for the next twenty-five years. If this future event never occurred, we still had to deal with the present predicament I had created by putting Todd in a position where he was all but clawing at his girlfriend to get away from me. We still had to deal with the fact that I brought my party to a crashing halt, and everyone in attendance was now staring, with sympathy, at Todd. I ruined my own party. I ruined Todd in the eyes of those attending the party. I had my moment, the moment I sought when I remembered I had a cotton ball in my medicine chest, but I did feel a little bad about it.

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

He was also dumb, and girls like dumb. Now, no self-respecting woman will admit to such a thing, but they love dumb guys. “That’s ridiculous!” is the reaction I receive when I pose this notion to the women I’ve met in my post-Todd life. This reaction is so ubiquitous among women, from all walks of life, that it requires notation. Experience with this subject has informed me, however, that if a guy has all of the ingredients listed above, and he has a way of making a woman feel smarter on top of all that, he’s bound to find himself a resident on “hotty” isle. As long as that guy doesn’t say, or do, anything to tarnish his presentation, they can secure themselves permanent residency, and Todd never did anything to ruin his presentation.

I don’t know many men that would want to follow Todd’s blueprint for landing women, but when those discussions arise among young men looking for the key to becoming what they call a player, I would tell them I witnessed one successful formula firsthand. I inform them that I’m as in the dark as they are on the topic, in general, but I’ve witnessed a real-life asterisk in the equation for them to consider. I tell them about how this man named Todd could work a room of girls without effort. I inform them that I witnessed Todd move from one girl to another without leaving any of them upset in the aftermath. He could have one-night stands with a girl that was not his girlfriend, I would tell them, and the two girls involved would begin yelling at one another at the lunchroom table, without considering the role the Todd –the man that sat between them– may have played in the situation. What I did not tell them, because such things are impossible to relay without knowing the man, is that Todd did all this without considering the true import of his actions.

There was no carefully orchestrated plan Todd had for success with women, in other words. He did not accentuate certain aspects of his personality to appeal to women, and he didn’t work on his faults. He did not, as far as I know, sit around and develop schemes that would land him more women. He was just Todd. When fights would erupt between scorned women, he would play peacemaker at times, and he would do everything a man could do to prevent them from harming one another, but when the smoke would clear Todd would sit between them hoping, with sincerity, that they could all be friends. I’ve tried to explain this anomaly to those that never met him, and they naturally assumed that he was probably smarter, and craftier than I ever gave him credit, if he had as much success as I purport. He did have as much success as I detailed, I say, but he wasn’t craftier or smarter, he was just Todd.

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

The Mythology of You

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

Has anyone ever lied to you?  We’re talking white lies here that don’t harm anyone.  We’re talking lies that don’t affect lives that could be deemed meaningless, until they begin to pile up.  When such lies begin to pile up, we feel compelled to set the record straight, and we gather friends to corroborate the truth, as we know it to be?  We then receive that look, the look that informs us that they’re shocked at the details we’ve gathered that have compiled.  Your purpose was confront the liar after their lying reached a point where you could no longer tolerate it, but at some point you realize that they weren’t lying, and this is made all the more evident when the confrontation is over, and they continue to lie.

I was flabbergasted to learn that most people are not lying when they reveal an untruth. They may have been exaggerating a truth to cast themselves in the best light possible, but it was not their intent to deceive anyone.  At some point, before they said a word about the event in question, they created a truth that they believed.  What’s the difference?  I didn’t think there was one, until I began delving into the psychology of “misremembering” that some psychologists equate to the problems inherent in eye-witness testimony. The product of this research is this collection of narrative essays in which I dissect the varying worlds of comfort that arise from those that seek comfort in a world of truth, those that seek comfort in a world of delusions, and the confusion that can arise.

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

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

Those that find it depressing tend to be frustrated individuals that thought they were meant for so much more. When they were kids, and teens, and twenty-somethings, they thought the world was their oyster.  When the world landed on that oyster, crushing it to smithereens before their very eyes, they were devastated.  They did walk away from the devastation, they survived, but they were diminished by it.  This diminished view of the world defined them going forward, but they would adapt and moved forward with a narrowing of their character in the aftermath.

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

Most of wish that we had done some things different.  We wish we had studied harder, loved more women, focused more on the matters we could have been more substantial in, had more friends, experienced a little bit more, and some now wish they had some sort of military service for the structure it may have provided them.  Some of us wish that we had eaten healthier, worked out more, and led a healthier life.

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

Most of us also ache over seminal moments, and some of us believe that the desire we now have to do those things different has shaped us. We believe that we have learned from those experiences, and that that knowledge will shape the next seminal moment that happens.  Until we rectify those moments, however, the reality of who we are is shaped by them.

Most of us don’t care for the new narrowed definition of our reality, so we’ve come up with a number of definitions that suit us better.  This is our mythology, and if we have enough belief in it, we might be able to sell it to others so often that we begin to believe it.

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

The Protons and Neutrons 

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

The Electrons 

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

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

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

The Cheaters 

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

Celebrities are almost forced to engage in this lie whenever they go out.  Their mythologies have been bought and paid for by those who stand to prosper from it, but no one stands to prosper more from a positive mythology than the celebrity themselves, so their tips are often extravagant enough to make an impression.  An inadequate tip could do damage to the mythology they’ve worked so hard to create after all, and if the mythology is real, who’s to say the perception isn’t?  This is often the case if the celebrity is perceived to be a good guy.  One bad tip in a restaurant, in Omaha, Nebraska can now get around the nation in a matter of moment, and that celebrity could risk a lot of the good guy points he’s built up over the years.

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

Publicity and Charity 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I watched the show Seinfeld. I loved Seinfeld. I found 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 the topic. They both agreed that the common habits of their fellow man were gross, they both agreed that one particular person, that all three of us knew, was gross, and that our employer’s bathroom was an absolute cesspool of germs. I laughed in the middle of this discussion, in the same manner I laughed at the Seinfeld character’s obsessive quirks, but these two men weren’t laughing. They had smiles, but they were beaming smiles, the kinds of smiles that one gives in recognition of finding a like-minded soul at long last.

“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.

{3} http://www.cbsnews.com/2100-500178_162-697672.html?pageNum=2&amp;tag=contentMain;contentBody

Esoteric Man

If it’s true, that “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. It would’ve been difficult for me to evaluate an advertising executive that was trying to sell my wife on radio ad space, for example, because he dressed like every guy I hated in high school.

The guy’s checkered pants reminded me of one of my many archrivals in high school. The checkers were multi-colored, of course, but some of those colors were pink. I hated this ad exec. I hated him in the same manner I hated my archrivals. 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. I hated him before he said his twentieth word.

“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 in the quest to be attractive? How many deodorants, scented shampoos, perfumes, colognes, and body washes do we purchase to mask the natural scent of our body, so someone might think we smell attractive? There are five scent-masking agents listed here, and 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.

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You Don’t Bring me Flowers Anymore!

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

The wife recognized this as the compliment her husband intended, but the full import of the gesture failed to register with her at the time. She had no idea that her husband would not be participating in the sacrifices that would be required to “Make it all work out in the end,” unless she was adamant, and she could be adamant. Even when she was adamant and detailed with her instruction, he would only alter his lifestyle as long as she deemed it necessary that he do so to get over the current, financial bump.

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

An adult baby doesn’t expect others to clean up after them. They usually don’t give it that much thought. They are the equivalent of children at play. If the idea that children should clean up after themselves is not enforced, and reinforced, the idea of cleaning up doesn’t enter their purview. They play, and before they know any different, their area clean. It always is.

The home is always sound, regardless the amount of spending he engages in. The food is always on the table, regardless the amount of hours the wife works outside the home. The kids receive the necessary attention, regardless the degree of involvement he has had in their rearing. Oh, the little woman may harp, but she gets over it once she’s had her say. She always does, and to keep a happy home, a man does have to let women have their say. To keep a home happy, they know that they are to respond with some line that suggests that the woman is always right. A nice “Yes dear!” here and there will do wonders to calm her nerves. It makes the clocks run on time, it balances the books, and it makes sure that the kids are always in school on time.

The adult baby has no powers of reflection, unless “his woman” is adamant that he look around him, and his woman can be adamant. She isn’t adamant very often, however, for the adult baby species would be on the endangered list were it not for its enablers.

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

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

“How can you put a price on love?” is something Craig might say. 

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

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

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

“You’re selfish,” Sheila informed Craig a day after finding evidence another one of his spending sprees, evidence he often concealed better. “You’re the most selfish person I’ve ever met.”

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

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

We all say things to win arguments, but what we say defines us. We all have images of ourselves that we portray to others, and they aren’t lies. We believe them. Occasionally, though, we step on a landmine that exposes the fact that we’ve failed to mature in all the ways our peers have.

The term adult baby is not exclusive to males, but most adult babies are males. The majority of the demographic consists of nurtured forty-something males that have been unable, or unwilling, to shake the leash of controlling women. They’ve had women tell them to share, eat their peas, and clean up their messes, and at some point, they grew tired of it. Women have set their clocks. Women have done their accounting, and raised their children. They’ve had women handle the inconsequential matters while they did what was necessary to provide. They have been the ones that punched in for the day and punched out, for decades, without complaint, and now the women are asking them to do more? Where does it end?

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

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

Experts might inform Craig that his current predicament results from of a cycle of dependency, but Craig would likely dismiss this as daytime talk show gibberish. He would not be aware of his role in the matter. He would not be aware of the fact that once the first eighteen years of his life ended, and he married a woman straight out of college that he married a woman that reminded of his mother on some level. He would not be aware of the fact that the responsibility for their welfare transferred from a controlling mother to the wife that began to take care of him.

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

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

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

Yet, some of us have reached this point, and we have learned to control our impulses and the temptations that drive them. We’ve made our mistakes, we’ve been broke, and we’ve learned that childhood ends. For some of us, this is a long, arduous process. For others, it never happens. The women in their lives would never leave them to their own devices. As a result, they don’t experience embarrassment, they aren’t required to deal with inadequacies, and they never fail. They are good boys, good sons, good men, good providers, and that half of the relationship that doesn’t have to account for their failings.

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

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

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

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

“How do we continue though,” this good wife asked the good boy that was now a man, she could not criticize. “Your spending is out of control.” 

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

“You can’t buy me flowers anymore!” his wife shrieks, as she places monetary value on his apology. “We’re broke!” She knows he means well. She might even feel bad for shrieking at him, because she used to love flowers, until she realized how much she was going to have to pay for them.

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

He Used to Have a Mohawk

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

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

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

The theme of these toasts, and the conversations that followed was there might be something wrong with people that have Mohawks, but not Mark. He’s nice. The conversations that followed would inform us that Mark also spiked his hair eight inches high at times. No matter what form his hair took, 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 that would occur in the days when he used to have a Mohawk.

I was at this ceremony at the behest of my uncle. My uncle was quite fond of the bride. He did not know the man that used to have a Mohawk however. As such, he did not know if the haircut was a result of some sort of an identity crisis. He also did not know the psychology that chased the man after he relented to chop it off and begin mingling with common folk again.

My uncle had met Mark a few times, but he assured me that the man that used to have a Mohawk was nice. Based on the fact 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, when I considered the idea that those that will get an attention-drawing tattoo, or a Mohawk, do so with the intent of drawing some attention to themselves. Their goal, I can only assume, is to change the perception of being that person that sits in the corner of a party and leaves such a poor impression that no one recalls them ever being there.

To distinguish themselves in the beginning, these types may begin trying to establish some sort of association. They may start by displaying a fiery temper that they hope results in someone saying, ‘Don’t mess with Jed, he’s insane.’  If that doesn’t work, they may provide a visual that promotes their fiery temper. They may feel the need to punch someone to establish their bona fides on this topic. I’ve even witnessed some go so far as to say such things about themselves with the hope of kick starting such a reputation. They don’t conclude this with ‘Tell your friends,’ but it’s obvious to those on the receiving end that this is the end game. If this doesn’t happen, the plan B of ornaments of self-expression begin to appear, that take the form of physical shouts of ‘I am here!’ from their otherwise anonymous corners.

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

“For God’s sakes, Helen, the boy’s got a blue Mohawk!” is something that 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 feel further estranged, but in my personal experience with similar people, they love it all, as much as I think Mark did, in the days when he used to have a Mohawk.

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

The best man laid a deft, joke teller’s emphasis on the words ‘was’ and ‘Mohawk’ for the purpose of punctuating the joke. Laughter did make its way around the room. Polite laughter. There was nothing raucous about it, because there was nothing raucous, shocking, or rebellious about Mark anymore. 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 felt like 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 Mark either regretted losing the Mohawk, or that he regretted trying it out in the first place. My money was on the former.

In the years that have occurred since this wedding, I’m betting that 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 how he’s doing,

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

Those of us that put some thought into it found that unorthodox core and we appreciated it for what it was. We believed that we grasped the individualistic statement Mark and Mary were making 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 mike stands positioned at the side of the altar.

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

A song in a ceremony can provide a wedding ceremony a brief, abridged interlude. It can also 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 available in Mark and Mary’s ceremony, 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.

Most architects of a ceremony 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, that regards some songs in the manner some view religion, I have some 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 the logic that this might not be the time, or the place, to proselytize on the virtues of the undiscovered, aberrant songs I enjoy.

Mark and Mary obviously had no one to offer them 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. It didn’t work for this disinterested third party. I can’t sing, and I do have some empathy for anyone attempting to do anything artistic in a public forum, but this display made me cringe.

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

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

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

Humor with a Haircut

There were risqué moments in the reception too. The father-in-law turned an old, iron, fold out chair towards himself. He scooted it across the room, so he would have a scandalous view of the bride when the groom removed the garter from her leg.

“You should be embarrassed,” the groom that used to have a Mohawk said to his father with good humor. We all laughed in a polite manner.

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

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

Mark removed the garter and shot-gunned it to the bride’s young son Kevin, the one person in the room that didn’t want it. Kevin didn’t even line up with the rest of the bachelors. He stood to the side, noticeably outside the group vying for it. Mark laughed after breaking the tradition of sending it to those lined up for it. His laugh was a little too obnoxious, to presumably give the moment a sense of obnoxiousness it lacked.

It was an impulsive joke. I’m quite sure it seemed funny in his head. I’m sure he thought he was doing something different and obnoxious. I’m sure he had no idea that most jokes, of this variety, don’t play out well in ceremonial settings. I assume it worked well in the retelling however. “Remember when I flung the garter to Kevin?” Mark would say afterwards to rewrite everyone’s memory of the moment, “I did it, because I knew Kevin didn’t want it.” Not even the bride could work up a decent smile at the time, and the contingent of prospective garter recipients went back to their seats without smiles.

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

Bereft of Brevity

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

How many chances in life does one have at such moments, and what do we do when they arrive? If there was such an opportunity, 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 been otherwise.

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 stuck up on a stage, trying to make more of this moment than it might otherwise have. The effort and emotion Mark put into this moment suggested to me that he might have even exerted such effort if he still had his Mohawk.

Less is more when we’re seeking a moment, I realized, watching all of the moments fail 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 that choreographed their moment.  If it does become apparent, that clarity often arrives soon after it’s too late to change, and the people that learn anything from it will be those that 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 moment, and have it redefined, we try to take it back. Cheesy, choreographed lyrics about tenderness, togetherness, love, and always being there for your partner, appear beautiful and thematic on paper. In reality, they’re show stopping, moment stealing, and over-wrought ideas that we regret later, even if we refuse to admit it. We find ourselves trying to disassemble and reassemble our moment in 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.

The Exit Strategy of Sitcoms

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s a compulsion that diehard TV watchers feel compelled to add to the tail end of sitcom jokes after watching them for so many decades. This compulsion is so strong that it feels instinctual. The one “don’t try this at home” lesson that my friend illustrated is the comedic exit. His attempt at the maneuver carried with it a warning asterisk: Make sure you have somewhere to go in your exit. There is no “exit stage left” in real life. In real life, there is no curtain concealing the actor’s exit backstage. In real life, even trained TV watchers watch you leave, and some of the times, they see the real life actor trapped in the reality of having nowhere to go.

There have been times when my friend has attempted an exit stage left, after executing the perfect punchline tone and pitch, and ended up in another row of desks with nothing to do there. It’s embarrassing. The sitcoms don’t cover this, for their characters always have a predetermined destination. No one offered my friend, this luxury, and anyone watching him could see that he didn’t plan his exits well.

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

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

On other occasions, he would exit to a location so far away that it would be inconceivable for me to call him back. I would still call him back, but he often pretends that he can no longer hear me. We would then share an uncomfortabl