Thief’s Mentality II: Whatever Happened to Kurt Lee


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

✽✽✽

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

✽✽✽

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Scorpio Man III: Everything Has Changed


This, I am happy to announce, will be the final installment in the Scorpio Man series, as the discovery of what I now call the 9/26/2016 miracle has brought about an end to my suffering. As of this date, I no longer have to worry about some nosy busybody badgering me for my date of birth. I no longer have to lie when they do for it has been determined that I am no longer a man born under the sign ruled by Mars the god of war and Pluto the god of the underworld. The prejudicial notions of those born under the Scorpio ecliptic will no longer burden me. I no longer have to endure those that claim to sense a murderous, dark force within me, and I no longer have to endure the Scorpio Man Evolvement courses to keep those inclinations at bay. I no longer have to involve myself in-group sessions, or the prescriptions and Emotional Support Animals (ESAs) that Ms. Maria Edgeworth prescribed to help me deal with the emotional trauma I’ve dealt with as a result. It’s all over for me now, as of 9/26/2016, a day that shall live in infamy for me, for the realignment of the stars declare me a perfectly balanced specimen of a man, a man of partnership, equality, justice, and objectivity man. The rereading of the stars declare me Libra Man.

I don’t know if these annual posts, over the last three years, appear planned. They weren’t. After discovering my powers, I decided to post a complaint about the prejudicial treatment I have endured from those that insist that men born when the Sun was in the Scorpio ecliptic are the incarnation of a dark force. My intention, in that first testimonial, was to try and change minds about men born under the sign of Scorpio, and to try and spread awareness that I hoped might lead to a national conversation on this matter. The second testimonial was an unplanned report on the progress I made to that point in my Scorpio Man Evolvement courses, and this third testimonial was intended to involve a list of complaints regarding the lack of progress I had made to that point in my the Scorpio Man Evolvement. The tiny, little miracle that happened on 9/26/2016 rendered all of those complaints moot. I feel for those few that continue to endure the plight of the Scorpio man, and I have empathy for those forced to endure the toxic climate created over the last 2,000 years, but I am no longer one of them, and I bid them adieu.

As an industrious, self-driven man, I don’t often admit despair, but a feeling of powerless overwhelmed me. The forces that seek to ostracize, impugn, and relegate others to some sort of generalization can be so powerful that it is difficult for the subject to defeat internally and otherwise.

My Natural Psychologist, Ms. Maria Edgeworth informed me that my progress towards the enlightenment that awaited me in second stage of Scorpio Evolution, The Eagle Totem stage, was exemplary. I responded that if she declared this progress, then she would have to define the word for me. In our sessions, I experienced what I believed to be the old one-step forward two steps back adage used to describe regressed progress. Young children and women continued to flee when I exposed myself to their opinions. My girlfriend, the lovely Faith dumped me as a result of my inability confront my preexisting limitations to transmute and evolve past them suggested that I had not made the commitments necessary to grow.

That was what she told me anyway, but the idea that she was with someone, days later, led me to suspect the true nature of our breakup. Regardless why we broke up, I found myself feeling as alone as I had on the day I started the Evolvement courses and their subsequent group sessions.

Ms. Edgeworth decided that this breakup was a traumatic event that would impede my progress, and she suggested that I might need temporary, emotional, and external support to give me the strength necessary to get back on the road to progress. Ms. Edgeworth prescribed what she called an Emotional Support Animal (ESA). She detailed some of the documented progressions those suffering from similar, post-traumatic stress disorders (PTSDs) had made in an ESA program, and she said it proved so exciting to her that she decided to have her own dog trained in the program.

This, now registered, ESA dog of hers, named Gordon, was a 173-pound Newfoundland dog that could provide services that she would permit me to rent for a weekend. She said that they changed the laws in our state to allow Gordon to accompany me in restaurants, where I had informed her of my exaggerated feelings of loneliness, exaggerated by the idea of sitting alone amid whispering diners.

I deferred, of course, to Ms. Edgeworth’s abilities as a Natural Psychologist, but I had no idea the expense involved. They changed the laws, as she suggested, but the law also required the ESA patient to write a therapy letter that required a mental health professional evaluation. The law also required that an ESA vest be purchased by each individual patient, an ESA travel kit is required, regardless if the patient plans to travel or not, and this includes the registration card and a survival guide. On top of that, I had to pay Ms. Edgeworth’s rental fees, and the high-priced food that Gordon eats. Ms. Edgeworth was kind enough to provide the evaluation of my therapy letter, and the various other products I would. I probably should’ve been more skeptical when she placed the bill before me, but I was in such a desperate place at that time in my life, and I considered the idea that Gordon might be the light at the end of my dark, lonely tunnel.

I wasn’t sure what to expect of Gordon, but when I met him, I was giddy. The thought that the sanctioned companionship of this dog might help me progress through mental health channels was such that I thought it could change my life.

Gordon’s size was intimidating, but the almost comically sad face that graced this Newfoundland and the very sweet disposition countered that. I laughed when I saw him. This laughter was born of the preposterous nature of the idea, but it was also born of the idea that it was so silly that it might just worked. I tried everything else, I rationalized, who am I to say that the companionship this dog offers cannot offer healing properties. On top of all that, Gordon was such a beautiful dog that I wanted to love this him, just to love something, just to feel whole again.

I am not a dog guy. I am not a cat guy, a goldfish guy, or a pet guy in general. My family had a couple of dogs when I was younger, but I never bonded with them in the manner kids will. It’s not that I have a problem with animals. I don’t loathe them, and I am not afraid of them. They are just not for me, as I will detail, but I was eager to pursue any idea that I thought might get me out of this funk I was in, until the dog licked me in the face.

This need dogs have to lick is the primary reason I’ve never had a dog as an adult. It repulses me, and I have to restrain myself when a friend’s dog sneaks in a lick of my arm or leg. It’s just a leg or an arm, I think to coach myself down, but something happens when a dog licks me in the face. I am unable to find my happy place, and I probably make a fool out of myself, but it’s traumatic to me. I don’t know if I have some deep-rooted psychological issue, or if it’s just so disgusting to me that I can’t control my reaction, but I consider it an affront every bit as personal as a slap to the face.

I told Ms. Edgeworth all of this. All of it. It confused her. The facts of my being confused the woman. She informed me that to Gordon, a lick was the equivalent to a handshake, and that we wouldn’t be able to work together, unless I allowed Gordon one lick. I don’t know if dilemma at hand absorbed me, but I swear I saw a plea in Gordon’s face.

“If you’re aversion to licking is that intense,” Ms. Edgeworth said. “We may want to consider permitting him a sniff of your crotch. We have to find a way to allow Gordon to bond with you.”

When faced with this alternative, I decided that a lick to the face would be less psychologically damaging than the idea of voluntarily placing my crotch in front of Gordon. I had never tried to get a dog to sniff my crotch, and I suspected that it could require repeated attempts as Gordon likely wouldn’t know what we were trying to do. I realized that I might have to engage in repeated attempts to keep this dog’s nose on my crotch, until Gordon granted me with a sniff. In a roundabout way, I knew that I would interpret the failed attempts as Gordon rejecting me, and I wasn’t sure how I would deal with that.

When Gordon licked me, a part of me expected a spiritual connection to develop, but this was no single swipe of the tongue. This full-fledged, pore-penetrating lick led me to believe I may have sacrificed some layers of skin for the cause. My recollections of this moment occur in slow motion, and I imagine that it took a full five seconds, though I know it may have lasted about two. The saliva of the Newfoundland is renowned for its near-gelatinous thickness, but what I felt on my face reminded me of the congealed substance that the alien in the movie Alien had dripping from its mouth. I scrubbed my face raw for about two days trying to rid myself for what I assumed had disfigured my face.

My disgust, at the time, must have been apparent for Ms. Edgeworth cautioned me to avoid wiping my face.

“Don’t wipe it off,” Ms. Edgeworth said. “Not until he looks away, anyway,” she cautioned.

Gordon’s sad eyes stayed on me for an elongated period, until it looked at Ms. Edgeworth. I wiped it off, as she squealed:

“He likes you,” Ms. Edgeworth said. Whatever look he gave her confirmed her hopes that we get along, and she was giddy. She was clapping. “You’re in!” She said that with a sense of accomplishment for all parties involved.

I felt helpless to accept this dog as my savoir. I retained the services of Gordon on weekends. I signed up for the night shift on Friday, the day shift on Saturday, and a short shift on Sunday.

I was a little skeptical, seeing as how I was, in essence, paying Ms. Edgeworth to babysit her dog for a weekend while she engaged in an active social life, but next Scorpio Man group session I attended quelled those fears. One Scorpio Man sang the praises of ESA’s in general, and Gordon in particular. He said that Gordon was a loving dog that sought constant companionship, and he said that feeding, watering, and walking Gordon also provided a sense of responsibility that distracted this man from his pain in life. Another Scorpio Man stood up and detailed for the group how Gordon gave him the courage to make a clean break from God. I wasn’t sure how true these claims were, but I did know that the person making these claims believed them. I couldn’t help but feel awed by such claims, and I looked forward to witnessing my own progress in this regard.

When Gordon began whimpering at my table, that first day at a Denny’s, I gave him some of my sandwich. When he whimpered more, I gave him more. When he began walking around in circles, I believed he was searching for a comfortable place to rest. I was calculating how much it would cost me to keep this beast fed when the already weighted silence that the patrons at the Denny’s had greeted us with upon entrance –witnessing a grown man, with no apparent ailments, enter a Denny’s with a dog– grew more weighted and concentrated on Gordon.

I’ve never owned a pet as an adult, as I said, and I never paid attention to those dogs my family owned. If I did pay them any attention, it was not to the point that I learned a dog’s rhythms or routines. If the others in the restaurant knew them better than I did, and they said nothing, when Gordon proceeded to arch his back and lower his bottom to dispense of extraneous nutrients, that was on them. I, honestly, didn’t know what was going on.

There were no shrieks when the dog began responding to his biological needs, but the silence of the restaurant strengthened, until a few giggles leaked through. I was embarrassed when I saw the source of the commotion, but what could I do? How does one stop a dog, once they’ve started the process? I was so embarrassed, looking out on the patrons. I attempted to pretend that nothing had happened, and that I hadn’t noticed it.

Two patrons stood up, their meal half-eaten, and they left the restaurant without paying.

“Excuse me sir,” the waiter said. “I believe your dog has gone to the bathroom on the carpet.”

“I know,” I said. “And I am sorry. I’m sorry!” I called the latter out to the remaining patrons.

“We’re going to have to ask you to clean it up,” he said.

I showed him the evaluation that Ms. Edgeworth had provided my therapy letter. I showed him Gordon’s registration card, and I informed him that I didn’t think cleaning up after Gordon would be conducive to my therapeutic progress. “I’m a man born under the astrological sign of the Scorpio,” I said. I thought that would bring clarity to our discussion.

The waiter gave me that look that I’ve detailed in my first testimonial. I could feel my therapy begin to regress under the weight of that look.

“You brought the dog in sir,” the waiter concluded. “I believe it’s your responsibility to clean up after it.”

“Sorry,” I said. “I can’t.”

The waiter consulted his manager, who kindly scooped up Gordon’s offense.

I informed Ms. Maria Edgeworth that that ordeal only caused me more distress, and she decided that I needed to explore the benefits of her Eastern Medicine cabinet. We tried this before, of course, and I was dubious about their medicinal properties. I also informed her that I considered them too expensive for my budget.

“I understand,” Ms. Maria Edgeworth said. “But at this point, a better question may be can you afford not to?” 

Ms. Edgeworth was an excellent Natural Psychologist. She administered to my needs, throughout the years of our professional relationship, in a manner that suggested that she cared about me, as a person. She listened to everything I had to say, she offered me advice, and she was a patient steward of my life. I write this disclaimer, based on her reaction to my claim that Gordon did me more harm than good. Her claim that I needed to pursue the pharmacology of the Eastern Medicine was so, how should I say this, urgent. She even placed me on a timetable for payment, which she never did before, and she placed me on a timetable for taking these drugs, saying that I needed to do something to help me get past my traumatic episode. The idea of doing nothing prompted me to say that I would do some research on that which she prescribed. I didn’t even want to do that, but I was in pain, and I wanted that to end as quickly as possible.

I had that itemized list of medicines before me, off to the left of my laptop. I was ensconced in research on the medicinal properties of the drugs that Ms. Edgeworth had listed for me, and I had already checked three off. I calculated that I might not be able to make the payments on these drugs, according to Ms. Edgeworth’s timetable. Therefore, I entered my company’s website and saw that overtime would be available to me at the click of a mouse. I had the amount of hours filled in the blank, and all of the boxes checked. All I had to do was click enter, and my next two weekends would be gone. I didn’t hit the button. I surfed. I discovered the miracle.

It started with a simple, little link on a news site. The link to this story read, “NASA changed all of the Astrological Signs, and I’m a Crab Now.” I wouldn’t say that I was awash with relief at the sight of the words on the page, but I did read the 1,000-word article in about a minute, and I reread it for the next five. My emotions drifted between euphoria and confusion. It seemed odd that after 3,000 years of study that everything would just change. It seemed so arbitrary. It seemed like a spoof.

I’ve fallen for stories online before. I think we all have. I went up to the title of the article. I wanted to make sure it wasn’t a piece from The Onion, or some other spoof news site. I went to a search engine and entered the words, “NASA changes Astrology”. I took a deep breath, and I hit enter. One of the first posts listed was from a site called NASASpacePlace. It appeared as a kiddie information page will, but it also appeared to confirm the declarations of what I had worried might be a spoof piece. Rereading this, and reading again that it was from NASA, I decided that it was a page designed for kids, but it was still from NASA. As excited as I was, I tried to be skeptical. I tried to determine how anyone could consider this anything but primary source information. I watched YouTube discussions on the matter. I watched news clips from local and national broadcasts.

That idea that this piece was from NASA should’ve been sufficient. After everything I had been through, however, I couldn’t achieve a sense of confirmation that brought me peace, until I had overwhelming evidence of the fact that everything had changed.

I felt free. I felt peaceful and fair-minded. I felt like a balanced man that seeks the cooperation his fellow men and women are more than willing to offer. I felt more diplomatic, and gracious. I felt like a social man that no longer needed the accompaniment of a dog in a Denny’s restaurant. I felt like a Libra.

Here are the facts I attained from exhaustive searches, for those suffering from anything close to what I’ve been through, NASA decided to do the math on the astronomy put forth by the Babylonians, and they discovered a thirteenth symbol, an Ophiuchus constellation, that the Babylonians had arbitrarily left off their calculations. The term discovered, I’ve found is incorrect, as other sites confirmed that NASA, and the astrology community as a whole, have known about the Ophiuchus constellation, and arbitrary calculations of the Babylonians for years. I enter this for the sole purpose of refuting the use of the term discovered. If the use of that term pertains to something that they just found to be true. They didn’t recently find it, most of the articles detail, they’ve known about it for years. They also detailed that:

“The sky has shifted because the Earth’s axis (North Pole) doesn’t point in quite the same direction that it once had.

“The constellations are different sizes and shapes,” NASA furthered. “So the Sun spends different lengths of time lined up with each one. The line from Earth through the Sun points to Virgo for 45 days, but it points to Scorpius for only 7 days. To make a tidy match with their 12-month calendar, the Babylonians ignored the fact that the Sun actually moves through 13 constellations, not 12. Then they assigned each of those 12 constellations equal amounts of time. Besides the 12 familiar constellations of the zodiac, the Sun is also aligned with Ophiuchus for about 18 days each year.”

‘What took them so long?’ was the first question I had. Why did NASA decide now to come forth with this information now? How long did they wait? When did the Earth’s shift become apparent? At what point did the manipulation of the Babylonians become mathematically apparent and how long was NASA sitting on this information? Something tells me that one of the reasons that NASA listed the excuse that “Astronomy is not Astrology” is that they knew the chaos this would bring to so many lives. Something tells me that the men and women of NASA sat around boardrooms trying to figure out a way to reveal their findings, but they didn’t have the courage to come forth. This is speculation on my part, but I have this sneaking suspicion that coming forth with this information sooner could’ve eased a lot of my pain sooner.

One answer I found is that we live on, and I quote, a wobbly earth:

“This wobble, a phenomenon called precession, has altered the position of the constellations we see today.”

This begs the question, what defines a person? Some say parents that best define a person, and that family and friends are almost as influential. Other suggest that class and the location of one’s maturity are determining factors, as in a person born in a tough neighborhood in East Saint Louis is going to view the world in a fundamentally different way than a person born ten hours away in small town, Kansas. Those that I listened to for too many years said, in a roundabout manner, that a person born under the Sagittarius ecliptic, for example, is going to be the same whether they were born in the depths of poverty, in a third world country, or in the richest cities of the richest nations on earth, unless, apparently, the earth wobbles.

One of the unfortunate characteristics of the Libra Man that I’ve known for so long is that we do hold grudges. As a newfound Libra Man, I would like to direct my first grudge at the Babylonians. They developed the 12-month calendar, and they wanted their constellations to match that calendar, so they arbitrarily picked a constellation, Ophiuchus, to leave off and thus match that calendar. I’m quite sure that if they knew that this calendar, and its accompanying listing of the Sun’s movement, would last 3,000 years, they might have reconsidered leaving one constellation out, but my question is why did it take so long for us to make this correction? Do those that decided to wait have any sympathy for those that have suffered for so long? We’ve been through personal and financial hell because of their delay, to prove that the Mars the god of war and Pluto the god of the underworld didn’t rule us, and that no dark forces that ruled some part of our nature.

I don’t care what it is, any time something earth shattering of this nature arises, true believers will say something to account for these changes. They say that they knew all along, that there are different kinds of astrology, and that it’s more a reading of relationships between stars, planets and other heavenly bodies than it is a direct reading of a person’s nature through the stars. It was for this reason that Ms. Edgeworth proclaimed that I was making a mistake by firing her, and “that would be only be fully realized over time.”

I asked her if she had read the NASASpacePlace post. She said she had.

“Then you know,” I said with less confidence. “Everything has changed.”

“Nothing has changed,” she said. “NASA works from a Sidereal Zodiac, which is different from the Tropical Zodiac you and I have been working from in your therapy. The Tropical Zodiac has not changed. Astronomers have known about the differences between the two studies and the 13th constellation since about 100 B.C. It’s been rumored for a year that NASA would be evaluating the findings of astronomers from the Minnesota Planetarium Society found regarding the moon’s gravitational pull on Earth, and the affect it had on the alignment of the stars.”

“Okay,” I said. “Why didn’t you tell the rest of us? Why did you lead some of us to believe that astrology was based, in part, on a science consistent with astronomy?”

“As I’ve always said,” she said in a manner politicians will when they have been nothing but inconsistent or vague. She also concluded this intro with my name, another marker I’ve found among those that are attempting to make a personal connection when they are being inconsistent or vague (see lying). “Astrology is geocentric. It involves the children of earth, and the mother of nature, and the dramatic effects of her seasons. It’s also been in place since Ptolemy first made calculations on the Zodiac for Tropical, or Western astrology. This strain of the zodiac is not affected by NASA’s re-calibration.”

“Then why have a number of publications decided to publish new star dates based on NASA’s findings?” I asked. “I’ve noticed that some of these publications are sitting in your waiting area.”

When she answered this question, I noticed, not for the first time, what a beautiful woman Ms. Edgeworth is. Ms. Edgeworth is a very smart person, with a rich vocabulary, and a person that should have received an honorary degree in persuasion, but she is also beautiful. The reason this matters is that in my plight to find happiness, I believed everything she said. I believed every proclamation, every diagnosis, and every prescription she provided for what ailed me, because I wanted to believe her. I wanted to believe that she knew a secret password, or handshake, to the world of beautiful women. I thought she could tell me something I missed. I began to wonder, as she answered my last question, if her appearance had been bland, and she was slightly overweight, if I would’ve spent years, and as much money as I had, in our professional relationship. She did answer every question I had, sort of. She answered me bold in some areas, but in others, she deflected, obfuscated, and outright avoided my question.

“I’ve decided to go another way,” I said.

“I-I’m sorry to hear that,” she said, again mentioning my name. She sounded so sad. There were tears in her voice. She sounded like a jilted lover, and that hurt. That hurt me. My resolve, in the silence that followed, nearly broke. I wanted to be happy, but I also wanted her to be happy. She was, is, and always will be a nice person, and this hold she had on me was difficult to break.

I knew I never had unusual inclinations to murder, a dark side if you will, and these feelings have now been borne out. I knew that that designation was not correct when it came to me. I believed that it was as unfair as suggesting that all Italians have fiery tempers, and all Irish drink massive amounts of beer, but the people around me believed these things about Scorpion Man, and they convinced me that there was something needed to expunge from my being.

I contemplated suing NASA for the delays they had in coming forth with this information that cost me thousands of dollars. I asked a lawyer friend of mine what he thought, and he informed me that that might be one of the few lawsuits that they toss, for lack of merit. I told him it might be worth it, however, just to go through the discovery phase of a trial to learn what information NASA had and when. When did they discover the purposeful error on the part of the Babylonians, and when did they decide to make this information public? How much money have I, and others, spent in the interim, trying to convince the world that while all of us have dark sides, the dark side of the supposed Scorpio Man is no more prominent than any others?

Long story short, I’m free. I don’t care what excuses they conjure up. I know nothing about the differences between Tropical and Sidereal Astrology, and I honestly don’t care. My desperation to be something better led me to believe in something I now consider exposed for its arbitrary nature. The field of astrology may not be a moneymaking scheme for rubes, and if it is its own science then I am free of it. I no longer have to lie about the Sun’s positioning at the time of my birth. I can feel comfortable, for the first time in my life, about my celestial phenomenon in relation to my Sun’s positioning. I feel free to look people in the eye again. I no longer have to endure expensive and intensive Scorpio Evolvement sessions, and Ms. Maria Edgeworth’s group sessions with those of us suffering from Male Scorpion debilities, I have been able to fire Ms. Maria Edgeworth, I discontinued Gordon’s services, and the stars now consider me a man of balance, a Libra Man, thanks to NASA. I do have some empathy for those few that are still under the Scorpio classification, though they have narrowed their date range to less than a week, November 23 to November 29. This is largely a good thing, as there should be as few Scorpions as possible on this planet, but I am no longer one of them.

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

Platypus People


“Did you know that your friend’s dad is an infidel?” Mrs. Francis Finnegan asked me, as I stood before the door of their home. This type of greeting was not unprecedented for her. I received it whenever I drove to the Finnegan home to pick up their son, and she had a topic that she wanted to discuss that day. I called it her headline hello.

It’s possible that Mrs. Finnegan greeted me at the door in a more traditional way in the beginning, but I don’t remember it. She may have greeted other, less familiar people in that manner, but I never saw it. As far as I was concerned, she greeted everyone at the door with a provocative introduction to the family discussion of the day, in a manner similar to a lede used by newspaper editors to draw attention to a story.

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

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

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

Hearing her use such a vulgar word was not as shocking to me as hearing her use the word ‘infidel’ in an incorrect manner, however. As a self-described word nerd, Mrs. Finnegan prided herself on proper word usage. She informed me on another occasion, half-joking, that I was her apprentice. She loved teaching me and I was an eager student, and I viewed that assessment in that light, in the beginning. As the years went by, however, I began to believe she said to it relieve her of whatever guilt she may have felt for correcting every other word that came out of my mouth. There were times when I was almost afraid to say anything around her, lest she correct me, but I did enjoy our respective roles in this relationship.

My initial thought was that the turmoil of this moment caused her the faux pas, but her diction was so proper and refined that I didn’t think she was capable of a slip. Prior to that presumed faux pas, I thought I caught her violating the conventions of language, but she always assured me that she was correct. I would go home and look them up, only to find out that she was correct.

Even during the most tumultuous Finnegan family discussions, the woman managed to mind her rules of usage well. Thus when she made the error of attributing the word infidel to her husband’s act of infidelity, I assumed she intended the slip to pique the interest of the listener in the manner her sparing use of profanity and vulgarity could. Either that, I thought, or she was attempting to creatively conflate the incorrect use of the word, and the correct one, in that not only had her husband violated his vows to her, but his vows to God.

My friend James was sitting on the couch, next to his father, when I entered the Finnegan home. The two of them were a portrait of shame. They sat in the manner a Puggle sits in the corner of the room after having made a mess on the carpet.

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

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

“Tell him Greg,” she said.

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

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

“NO!” Mrs. Finnegan yelled. That yell was so forceful that had the room contained an actual Puggle, it would’ve scampered from it, regardless if it were the subject of her scorn.

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

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

Mrs. Finnegan allowed the display of Greg Finnegan’s shame to rest on the living room table for a moment without comment. The display was a multi-tiered, wood framed, structure with open compartments that allowed for wallet-sized photos. The structure of the frame was a triangle, but anyone that looked around the Finnegan home knew of Mrs. Finnegan’s fondness for pyramids. Greg Finnegan purchased the triangle to feed into Mrs. Finnegan’s fascination with pyramids, but it didn’t have the full dimensions of a pyramid. When the daughter pulled the supports out, however, the frame rested at an angle. At that angle, the frame appeared to be one fourths of a pyramid.

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

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

An inopportune knock at the door interrupted the proceedings. The construction of the Finnegan duplex was such that when the drapes were open the inhabitants could see the knocker if they were in the right-facing furniture. The knocker was Andy, the third participant in the adventure James and I planned for the evening.

“Welcome to the home of Greg Finnegan, adulterer and infidel,” Mrs. Finnegan said after leaping to her feet, as if to beat everyone were racing to the door. No one was racing her to the door. We were scared and shamed into staring at our own spots on the carpet. “Come on in,” she said to Andy.

Andy turned around, walked back down the steps, got in his car, and drove away. Just like that, Andy escaped what I felt compelled to endure. He didn’t respond to Mrs. Finnegan’s greeting, and he didn’t go out of his way to show any signs of respect, or disrespect for that matter. He just turned and left.

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

I knew what I was in for, after hearing Mrs. Finnegan’s headline hello, and Andy knew it too. To my mind, his departure was not only unprecedented it was inexplicably bold. I didn’t know we could do that.

 “How could you do that?” I asked him later.

“I just didn’t want to go through all that again,” he answered.

“Well, of course,” I said. “Who would?”

Andy further explained his reaction, but the gist of it was that he didn’t want to sit through another Finnegan family discussion. His impulsive reaction was so simple that if he planned that reaction, and he told me about it beforehand, I would’ve countered that it would never work, ‘and, besides, you won’t be able to do it.’ When he did it, and it did work, I realized that I would have to do a much better job evaluating my options in life.

When the confessional phase of the Finnegan family discussion began –a phase that required Mr. Finnegan to confess to me what he did– I looked out that window and imagined that Andy’s display emboldened me. I imagined that I stood up, gathered my belongings and followed Andy to his car. I imagined the two of us driving away, laughing at the lunacy of these people. I imagined calling the Finnegans platypus people at one point in our round of jokes, and how that might end our laughter, until I explained it.

‘What is a platypus,’ I imagined myself saying to expound upon our laughter, ‘but an animal that defies categorization. One study of them, informs the world of science that they should fall into a category, until they do what they do to prove the scientific community wrong. Further study only yields more surprises with the classification-defying animal, until even the most seasoned naturalist throws their hands up in the air in futility. Imagine what the Finnegans might do to field of human psychology.

‘At its introduction, naturalists considered the platypus another well-played hoax on the naturalist community,” I would add. ‘I say another well-played hoax, because it happened before. Some enterprising naturalists stitched together body parts of different parts of dead animals to lead the scientific community into believing that they discovered an entirely new species. Thus, many believed that the platypus was an elaborate hoax of taxidermy in this vein.

‘Those that guarded themselves against falling for future hoaxes, even had a tough time believing the platypus was an actual species when they saw one live,’ I would tell him.

Even though it violated my beliefs in random occurrences versus the orchestrated, I stared out that window Andy once darkened, wondering if there might be a greater purpose behind the situation I was in, listening to a grown man confess his transgressions to me. Was I a small-scale example of natural selection, because I didn’t have the guts to pivot on a heel and run the way Andy did, or was this event a gift that I couldn’t appreciate in the moment? Were the Finnegans such an aberration that they might confound the scientific community that thinks they have a firm hand on human psychology in a manner equivalent to the platypus confounded other fields of science?

Even when I had all of the sordid details of this ‘Finnegan Family as platypus people’ story to tell, I didn’t think anyone would believe me. My penchant for stitching facts and fabricated details into a great story might come back to haunt me. They might not even believe it if Andy stuck around to corroborate the details of it, and they might not even believe it if they saw it live, I realized while Mr. Finnegan offered me the details of his sordid weekend.  

Mrs. Finnegan interrupted this confession to inform me that Mr. Finnegan already confessed this transgression to his children. She then informed me, and thus Mr. Finnegan, that he would be required to offer this confession to the mailman, a traveling salesman, or any others that happened to darken their door that day. She instructed us to look at her when she said this, and we did.

After the uncomfortable confession met Mrs. Finnegan’s requirements, following a Q&A that further explored humiliating details that Mr. Finnegan would not reveal without prompting, she forced us to acknowledge the primary reason the Finnegans married in the first place. “No one would play with Mr. Finnegan’s [reproductive organ],” she said, except she didn’t say reproductive organ.

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

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

“Do you play with your [reproductive organ]?” Mrs. Finnegan asked me, undeterred by Greg’s pleas. “Do you masturbate? Because that’s where it all starts. It all starts with you men, and all of your pornographic material, imagining that someday someone will come along and want to play with it.”

Of course, I had no idea how this family discussion would play out, but Mrs. Finnegan’s normal confrontational demeanor was building. I didn’t think I ever saw the woman attempt to conceal her hostility or bitterness before, but the building tension provided contrast to everything I thought I knew about her. She was all but spitting her questions out between bared teeth, and her nostrils flared in a manner of disgust that suggested she was directing that hostility at me.

 “You think it’s about love?” she asked, aghast at an assessment I never made. She also had a huge smile on her face when she asked that that might have been more alarming than the manner in which she asked all of those embarrassing questions. The smile seemed so out of place with the building tension that I wondered if she was in full control of her emotions.   

“You think every couple has a story of love, and dating, and that hallowed first kiss?” she continued. “Go rent a gawdamned love conquers all movie if you want all that and once that it’s over, you come to Mrs. Finnegan with your questions, and I’ll introduce you to some reality. I’ll tell you the tales of men, grown men that marry because they’re desperate to find someone to play with their [reproductive organ]. Isn’t that right Mr. Finnegan?” She called after him, as he finally mustered up the courage to walk away from her. When he wouldn’t answer, or even turn to acknowledge her question, she took off after him.

Mrs. Finnegan moved across the room quick, which for anyone that spent any time around the otherwise sedate woman knew was a little startling, troubling, and those of us in attendance should have considered foreboding.

Pushing her husband down a flight of stairs was not the feat of strength that some might consider it. We didn’t see it, but we figured that he might have been off balance, resulting from his refusal to turn and face her in his flight to the basement. She was screaming things at him from behind, and her intensity grew with each scream until we couldn’t understand what she was saying. Mr. Finnegan continued to refuse to turn around and face her, but he should’ve suspected that his wife’s progressing intensity would lead to a conclusion against which he should guard himself. Thus, he was in no position to defend himself or lessen the impact of his wife pushing him down a flight of perhaps twenty steps.  

When we ran to the top of the stairs, after the sounds of him hitting the stairs shook the house in such a manner that we all instinctually put a hand on the armrests of the furniture to brace ourselves, we witnessed Mrs. Finnegan pulling her husband up the stairs with one hand.

Mrs. Finnegan’s final scream, that which proceeded her pushing her husband down the stairs, led us to believe that whatever frayed vestige of sanity she clung to for much of her life just snapped. I could not hear what she said as she pulled him up the stairs by his hair. The screams of her children, and her husband, drowned out those grumblings.

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

When I saw Mrs. Finnegan’s contorted facial expression, it transfixed me. In their attempts to either help her, or break her hold on Mr. Finnegan’s hair, her children blocked my view of her face. I bobbed and weaved to get a better look at it. I didn’t know why my need to see her face drove me to such embarrassing lengths, but I all but shouted at those obstructing my view.

I’ve witnessed rage a couple of times, prior to Mrs. Finnegan’s, but I couldn’t remember seeing it so vacant before. This almost unconscious display of rage was one that I can only guess those not engaged in some sort of civil service work see once in a lifetime. She was lifting a six-five, two-hundred pound man up the stairs, by his hair, with one hand. Her body blocked any view we might have had of Mr. Finnegan, but I assumed that he was back stepping the stairs to relieve some of the pain of having his hair pulled in such a manner. I also think he was putting his hand on the handrail in a manner that assisted her in pulling him up. Regardless the details of this moment, it was still an impressive display of strength fueled by a scary visage of rage.

She was in such a state, once she was atop the stairs and standing in the kitchen with her children trying to calm her that she couldn’t speak. Her lips were moving but no sound was coming out, and when that initial brief spell ended, the master of language could only manage gibberish. She suggested that that gibberish resulted from her being overcome by spirits. Once she escaped the state she was in, she stated that the gibberish we all heard was her speaking in tongues. She believed that divine intervention prevented her from further harming her husband, in the same manner divine intervention prevented Abraham from harming his son Isaac. I believed it too, at first and in the heat of the moment, but I would later learn that I had just witnessed my first psychotic episode.

I don’t know what happened in the aftermath of this incident, in the Finnegan home, as I never entered the Finnegan home again. I do know that the Finnegan marriage survived it, and I’m sure that Mrs. Finnegan thought that had something to do with that divine intervention too. I’m also sure that if any future visitors of the Finnegan home doubted Mrs. Finnegan’s assessment of the situation, they would be greeted at the door with a “Welcome to the home of the divine intervention!” headline hello to introduce them to that Finnegan family discussion of that day. If those future visitors were to ask me for advice on this matter, I would tell them to weigh their options before entering.

Scorpio Man II: The Second Testimonial


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

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

As I work my way through this, I am still going to lie about my archetype, as I said I would in my May 17, 2014 testimonial. I regret doing it, but I find that this temporary lie cleanses the palate for those worried that Mars the god of war and Pluto the god of the underworld might still rule me, while I undergo intense Level One training to face my limitations in order to transmute and evolve past them.

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

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

That’s right! Scoop! I have a woman with which I now spend my evenings. Her name is Faith Anderson, and I might be premature with this, but I think she’s the best thing that ever happened to me.

She told me that she was a Pisces on our first date. She said it before our burgers arrived. I should’ve been suspicious. I wasn’t, until she sank a frozen to the rail cut shot, using a medium stroke in our first game of eight ball. When she proceeded to sink several near ninety-degree cut shots in the games that followed, I was onto her. I knew she was harboring secrets only a fellow Scorpio could see. No Pisces could sink a frozen to the rail, cut shot, after calling it, and walk away as if nothing happened. I didn’t hold it against her though. I lied to her too. I told her I was a Virgo, so she couldn’t know that I have the same powers she does of detecting when people are playing mind games. She would later tell me that she was onto the fact that Mars the god of war, and Pluto the god of the underworld ruled my world too, the moment she caught wind of the articulate nature of my dark sense of humor.

As I stated in my previous testimonial, the pressure society places on Scorpio Men and Women forces us to conceal our nature. It’s you people that have made us so ashamed that no matter how hard we’re working through our predispositions, we feel the need to deceive people into believing we’re something that we’re not. So, I identified with her need to tell me that she was a Pisces, until I came to know her better, and she felt comfortable disclosing her vulnerability. She just wanted a chance, that non-discriminatory, judgment-free chance to find acceptance and love.

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

While still in the moment, she informed me that I couldn’t become so dependent on her that I would be unable to achieve the highest expression of Scorpio, beyond the Eagle Totem to the The Phoenix Resurrected Stage, in which, like that mythical bird, I would rise from the nature of my being and overcome it all.

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

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

“You are, essentially, putting your … maleness right in their face,” she said. There was some exasperation in her voice, as she saw that I would need this further explained, “You are essentially raping the space between you and them. It’s called toxic hyper masculinity.”

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

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

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

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

She laughed in a soft, polite pitch.

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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.

Scorpio Man


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

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

Rather than go through that all that, yet again, I’ve decided that I’m just going to start telling anyone that asks that my date of birth happens to fall under a Virgo Sun, and that nothing, not even an Aquarian Mars coming down on me hardcore, can disturb my Zen. If they continue to question me, stating that they can smell the darkness on me, I’m just going to say I’m a Pisces, because they can be whatever the hell they want to be. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

The Conspiracy Theory of Game 6, 2002


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

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

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

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

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

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

To attempt to put all of these Game 6, 2002 conspiracy theories to rest, Roland Beech, of 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 a sporting event in such a manner. I do believe, however, that Nader was right to warn Stern that public sentiment could turn away from his product, the NBA, when such a point arrives that the normal conspiratorial whispers crank up to screams of indignation. I know that those whispers gained more prominence for me, after Game 6, 2002, and in every game I watched thereafter.

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

There comes a point that no fan can pinpoint when disappointment becomes outrage, and outrage progresses into conspiracy theory, and conspiracy theory becomes an outright lack of trust. There comes a point where those who still believe in a fair NBA where outcomes are not predetermined, and victories are granted based on merit, are laughed off, in the same manner WCW fans are laughed at for still believing in the integrity of their sport.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Charles Bukowski Hates Mickey Mouse

The History of Bloodletting by Mark Twain

The Perfect Imperfections of Franz Kafka’s Metamorphosis

James Joyce: Incomparable or Incomprehensible?

Rasputin I: Rasputin Rises

When Geese Attack!


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

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

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

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

We here in hysterical, emotional reaction land, know that it is reasonable to state that a bear is “Just doing what comes naturally to them” after it ripped that poor person apart for the delicious treats they happened to have on them when they happened upon the bear’s domain. We know that part of the victims’ testimonial involves them trying to avoid appearing foolish, as they would if they tried to suggest that they had no idea that a bear might attack might occur after they walked into a bear preserve. Even those of that are skeptical of this whole practice would admit that we would consider that person foolish if they said that, or at least more foolish than a guy that expressed surprise after being attacked by a bear at a Schlotzky’s sandwich shop in Omaha, Nebraska.

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

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

If there is anyone that we might excuse for being bitter, and hateful, it is Charla Nash. Charla Nash was the victim of a chimpanzee attack, in 2009. That chimpanzee was a friend’s pet, a 200-lb chimpanzee named Harold. In the attack, that occurred in a suburban neighborhood, this chimpanzee blinded Charla. He also severed her nose, ears, and hands. She also received severe lacerations on her face. Her life was as ruined as any that have survived an animal attack, but Charla Nash, somehow, remained forgiving. She wasn’t as forgiving as those that offer statements based on what I believe are a reaction to a “Do you want to be on camera? Then say this …” type of stated, or unstated ultimatum. Charla Nash does appear to be forgiving, and that forgiveness appeared genuine.

Charla Nash

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

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

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

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

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

It is just a goose, I’m sure most readers will say, and what are the chances that an on average seven-to-eight pound animal could end your life? We can all agree that those chances are remote, but what are the chances that that same animal could do irreparable damage to an eyeball or an ear? What are the chances that a goose could do something that would land a victim in the hospital? I can tell you one thing. I would not be calculating these possibilities in the perilous moment. I’m thinking that some primal, self-preservation tactics would rise to fight my attacker off.

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

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

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

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

After witnessing a Rottweiler attack in person, I find myself relegated to an embarrassing hysterical, emotional land whenever the average, full-grown Rottweiler walks into a room. It’s irrational and emotional, two reactions I strive to avoid in life, but they’re a part of me I cannot control. I’ve lost arguments with those that state that no dog, be they Rottweiler, Pit bull, or otherwise are evil by nature. They cite science, and I cite hysterical emotions based upon experience. I lose. Even as I’m losing these arguments, however I know I’m not the alone with such thoughts. Those that laugh at me, or form thoughts about my inferiority on this subject, inform me that my thoughts are in the minority, but I think our numbers would grow if more people witnessed such vicious attacks firsthand. I’m also quite sure that what I consider normal reactions to attacks, by wild animals, end up on the cutting room floor of these ubiquitous clip shows, for those that need to feel better about their enjoyment of such shows would not appreciate what I have to say, or what I do, in the aftermath of such an attack.

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

The Thief’s Mentality

He Used to Have a Mohawk

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

A Simplicity Trapped in a Complex Mind

You Don’t Bring me Flowers Anymore!

… And Then There’s Todd

 

Finding the Better, Happier Person Through Change


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

If you run across that rare individual that admits that their transformational changes didn’t accomplish what they thought they would, they will have their remedy all ready for you. They will tell you that they need more change, other changes, and a transformation into something they hadn’t considered before. The point of all these changes is to save them from what they were, or to prevent them from becoming what they might become if they don’t change. At some point in this process, they have too much invested in change, and they cannot turn back.

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

Conquering Fear: A Few Tips from Psychopaths


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

What is a psychopath? The word drums up horrific images of serial killers, cannibals, and Hannibal Lecter in an old hockey mask. Some shudder at the mere mention of the word, and for good reason in some cases, but is there anything about the way a psychopath thinks that we could use to live a more fruitful, eventful, and less fearful existence? Is there something we could learn from an otherwise twisted sense of reality to better our lives?

Author Kevin Dutton believes we can, and he conducted an interview of four different psychopaths –for a book called The Wisdom of Psychopaths: What Saints, Spies, and Serial Killers Can Teach Us about Success to prove it. “What is a psychopath,” the thesis of this book asks, “but an individual that exhibits ruthlessness, charm, mental toughness, fearlessness, mindfulness, and action.” The psychopath also exhibits a level of fearlessness unknown in most quarters.

“Who wouldn’t benefit from kicking one of two of these (characteristics) up a notch?” Dutton asks.

The theme of Dutton’s piece, and the interviews he conducted with these psychopaths he lists simply as Danny, Jamie, Larry, and Leslie is that fear rules much of our lives, and the fears of what others might think of us.

Most of what we hear from others is ninety-percent self-involved gibberish, and psychopaths are no different. Their gibberish receives further damage by their other hysterical rants. Before dismissing them entirely, however, we might want to consider delving into their gibberish –that can border on hysterical at times– to see if they have something to add to our discourse. In doing so, we might gain some perspective on ourselves and learn how fear has rooted itself deep into our decision-making process.

Most psychopaths don’t allow guilt from their past, or fears of the future, to rule their present in the manner that most of us do. Most psychopaths have a callous disregard for the plight, the feelings, and the emotions of their fellow man, unless it serves them to do so. For this reason, Dutton doesn’t focus on the crimes these men committed. This may seem to be a crime of omission by some to placate a controversial argument, others may deem Dutton’s argument incomplete and immoral, and the rest may not want to consider the wisdom of those that have committed an unspeakable atrocity to be worthy of discussion, but Dutton did not consider their crimes germane to his piece. It may also be worthy to note, that the crimes these psychopaths committed are not germane to their presentation either. They appear, in the Scientific American summary of Dutton’s piece, to have simply moved on. They don’t appear to relish, or regret, their acts in the manner a Hollywood production would lead us to believe psychopaths do. They appear to have gained a separation from their acts that allows them to continue living an unfettered life. This separation, Dutton believes, receives further illustration from an unnamed lawyer that wrote Dutton on the nature of psychopathy:

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

Although the patients Dutton interviewed do not appear to relish, or regret, the specific incidents that led to their incarceration, this reader believes that they do appear to enjoy the result. They appear to enjoy the fruits of their actions: our fear of them.

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

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

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

Fear causes inaction: The patients named Jamie and Leslie received an “every day” scenario by the author in which a landlord could not get an uninvited guest to leave his rental property. The landlord, in question, attempted to ask the guest to leave the property in a polite manner. When the tenant ignored the landlord, he tried confronting the man, but the man would not leave, and the man would not pay rent either. That landlord was stuck between doing what was in his best interests, and doing what he considered the right thing.

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

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

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

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

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

Our fear of how talented the other guy might be gets in the way of us realizing our talent, in other words, and this causes us to forget to employ the methodical tactics that we’ve employed throughout the career that brought us to the bout in the first place. We have these voices in our head, and the voices of our trainers, telling us to knock our opponent out early, before they get their left hook going, while forgetting to work the body and tire them out to the point that our own knockout punch is more effective.

The gist of this, as this reader sees it, is that we end up fearing failure and rejection so often that we fail to explore the extent of our abilities in the moment. We care about the moment so much, in other words, that we would probably do better to just shut our minds off and act.

If we place a goldfish in a tank, we may see that fish knock against the glass a couple of times, especially early on, but sooner or later that fish learns to adapt to its parameters, and it no longer bumps into the glass. We may believe that there is some sorrow, or sadness, involved in the goldfish’s realization of its limits, but there isn’t. We’re assigning our characteristics to the goldfish, because we know our parameters, and we’re saddened that we can’t break free of them. Even though we have the whole world in which to roam, we stay in the parameters we’ve created for ourselves, because everything outside our goldfish bowl is unknown, or outside our familiar, routine world.

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

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

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

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

Fear can also get you injured 

On the subject of fear, a Physics teacher once informed our class that the reason we get injured is fear:

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

What is a psychopath was a question we asked in the beginning of this article. There are greater answers, in greater, more comprehensive articles out there, that spell the definition out in more clinical terms, but the long and short of it is that they’re “don’t care” carriers. They don’t care about the people that they’ve harmed, they don’t care about the pain they caused their victim’s family members, or the communities that their actions alarmed, and they don’t care that they have a greater propensity to harm more people in the future. They may know why they need to be incarcerated, on a certain level, but they don’t care what those reasons are.

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

These psychopaths may currently live confined in the world of a psychiatric institute, and they may be preaching to us from an insular world in which they don’t have to deal with the real world consequences of pursuing their philosophy. They do believe that they’ve lived a portion of their lives freer than we’ve ever known, however, and that the only reason they’re locked up is that they may have been granted a little bit too much of a good thing.

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

The Thief’s Mentality


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Not only did Kurt Lee ignore these conventions, he chose to pursue what could be termed the exact opposite. He decided to play with the most vulnerable member of our culture’s stocking cap. He violated her sense of security. Of course, it was wrong, but it was also a fascinating exploration of human nature. How would this old woman react? How would a real POS counter that reaction? Why did he do it in the first place? Did he think he would get away with it? Did he even care? I would never know the answer to the latter three, but my fascination with the answers to the former led me to urge him on with laughter. That was wrong, too, of course, but I now believe my laughter was borne of curiosity. I wanted to learn more about the moral codes by which we all abide. I hoped to learn that by watching another solidify my rationale, with no regard for the consequences of violating them. At the time, I really didn’t have those thoughts, but I couldn’t wait to see how it would end, and I dare say that most of those who are more successful in abiding by the standards their mothers taught them would not have been able to look away either

The vulnerable, elderly woman did turn on Kurt, and she did so with an angry expression. She allowed the first few flicks of the ball atop her stocking cap go, presumably taking a moment to muster up the courage to tell him off. Kurt Lee appeared ready to concede to that initial, nonverbal admonition, until he spotted me laughing. Egged on by me, he did it three more times before she reached a point of absolute frustration that led her to say something along the lines of, “Stop it, you young punk!”

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

Had Kurt Lee decided to stick his middle finger up in the face of a healthier, younger adult, it would have been just as difficult to avoid watching. The fact that he chose such a sacred cow of our culture for his act of rebellion, however, made his actions over-the-top hilarious. In my young, unformed mind, this was a real life equivalent to David Letterman’s man-on-the-street segments, taken up ten notches on the bold-o-meter. I would later learn that Kurt Lee was not the type to make profound statements about our societal conventions. He was more of a doer, and doers just do what they do and leave the messy interpretations of what they do to others. I would also learn, by the manner in which Kurt Lee selected his victims based on their inability to fight back, that Kurt Lee was something of a coward. At the time, though, I found his actions so bold that I couldn’t look away, and I couldn’t stop laughing.

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

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

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

When we asked him how a guy from the sticks could afford the latest, top-of-the-line zipper pants, a pair of sunglasses that would put a fella back two weeks’ pay, and an original, signed copy of the Rolling Stones, Some Girls. He would tell us, but even his most ardent defender had a hard time believing Santa Claus could be that generous.

Kurt Lee stole so often by the time I came to know him that the act of shoplifting had lost its thrill. He decided to challenge himself as top athletes, and top news anchors do, by hiring outside analysts to scrutinize the minutiae of their performance. He asked me to watch him steal baseball cards from the shop owner that we all agreed was in need of a good lesson because he refused to buy our cards 99 percent of the time. On those rare occasions when he agreed to buy them, his offers were so low they were almost insulting.

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

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

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

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

It was an invitation into a world I had never known, and Kurt Lee’s provisos might have been necessary, because I was as nervous as I was excited. I considered the idea that my foreknowledge of this crime could implicate me as an accessory, but I couldn’t shake the asexual intimacy that Kurt Lee was sharing with me, with this invitation into his world.

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

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

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

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

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

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

I hated discounting the level of individual ingenuity on Kurt Lee’s part, but he was simply too good at the various forms of deception for it to have been something he arrived at on his own. It had to be the result of parental influence that contained a transgenerational foundation composed of sedimentary layers of grievance, envy, frustration, and desperation. Some may consider this a bit of a stretch, but how much of our lives do we spend rebelling against, and acquiescing to parental influence, and how many of us can say we are entirely free from it?

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

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

If no one is better than anyone else is and everyone resides on the cusp of whatever Kurt Lee was, the logical extension required the inclusion of an individual that many perceive to be so harmless it’s almost laughable to suggest otherwise. The individual, in this case, was a kid named Pete Pestroni. If Kurt Lee’s arguments were going to hold water, the idea that Pete Pestroni was a wolf in sheep’s clothing would have to become an agreed upon fact. I’m still not sure why Kurt Lee went down Pete Pestroni Road so often, but I suspect it had something to do with the idea that if Pete was immune, in one form or another, everyone else had to be. Pete was just too weak, or too scared, to let his wolf run wild, in Kurt Lee’s worldview. We would laugh at the implausibility of Pete Pestroni having a Kurt Lee trapped inside, a thief dying to come out. Our intention was to laugh with Kurt Lee, but he wouldn’t even smile. This was a sacred chapter in Kurt Lee’s personal bible, and an ingredient of the thief’s mentality that took me decades to grasp.

The thief’s mentality is a mindset that involves a redirect of exposing an uncomfortable truth, or a hypocrisy, in others, so that the thief might escape a level of scrutiny that might lead to a level of introspection they will not enjoy. An individual with a thief’s mentality may steal, but that person is just as apt to lie and cheat. The thief’s mentality begins as a coping mechanism for dealing with the character flaws that drive the thief to do what they do, but it progresses from those harmless, white lies to a form of deception that requires a generational foundation. 

The thief’s mentality is deflection, by way of subterfuge, a means to explain the carrier’s inability to trust beyond the point that they should be trusted, but some thieves’ outward distrust of others reaches a point of exaggeration that says far more about them than those they accuse. Their cynicism is their objectivity, and others’ faith in humanity is a subjective viewpoint, one that we must bear. We live in a dog-eat-dog, screw-or-be-screwed” world in which those who trust anyone outside their own homes are naïve as to the point of hopelessness. If the listener is to have any hope of surviving in such a world, it is incumbent upon that person to see past the façades and through the veneer, others present. We must see the truth.

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

In most such discussions, his audience is immune. “I’m not talking about you,” the thief will say so that all parties concerned will view the subject matter as an ally. If we do view ourselves as an ally, we might join them in convincing our world that he’s not that bad. Yet, our agreed upon immunity begins to fracture in the course of what the thief believes to be logical extensions. When that happens, the thief turns their accusations on us. We may consider ourselves virtuous and moral, but the thief knows everything there is to know about hidden agendas. They maintain a perpetual state of readiness for that day when we break free of the constraints of morality and loyalty to expose our evil, naked underbelly to the world. They have us all figured out, because they know those lies we tell. It’s the thief’s mentality.

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

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

Kurt Lee’s response to one particularly defensive combatant was so clever that I thought it beyond his years. Again, I hate to discount individual ingenuity, but it just seemed too clever for Kurt to deliver as quickly as he did when he said:

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

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

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

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

I am sorry to say this, because these concerned friends have consigned themselves to some sort of relationship with the afflicted, one that requires them to spend long hours, days, and years with this person. I have explained, to the best of my ability, via my personal experiences with Kurt Lee, and it has helped these concerned and confused souls frame the accusations of their thief, but commingled in that short-term relief is the idea that their loved one is never going to trust them anymore than they trust themselves.

Thieves, like Kurt Lee, are damaged in irreparable and relative ways. They may not enjoy the lives they’ve created for themselves, and the idea that they can’t even trust the one person in their lives that they could, or should. On the flipside, this does allow them to spread their misery around a little, with such accusations. It lightens their load to transfer some of their toxins to others. It also gives them a little lift to know that we are a little less trusting than we were before we met them. They must find some relief in the belief that they are not such an aberration, but this relief is temporary, as the toxins that have made them what they are are as endemic to the biological chemistry as white and red blood cells. Nevertheless, it must please them to know that after our interactions with them, we now view humanity in the same cynical, all-hope-is-lost manner they do.

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

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

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

He Used to Have a Mohawk

That’s Me In the Corner

A Simplicity Trapped in a Complex Mind

When Geese Attack!

Kinesthetic Learning in Sports


“Who is the best athlete of all-time?” That question, this debate, can be as intoxicating as watching the athletes perform. Who’s the best boxer of all-time, Muhammed Ali, or Mike Tyson? Was there a professional athlete more exciting to watch than Walter Payton was? Does Michael Jordan have a peer in basketball? If you grew up in the Bill Russell, Will Chamberlain era, you think he does. Some debate participants could probably list off twenty to thirty athletes, from their personal Mount Rushmore of sports, not listed here. The question that we will answer here is how does a superior athlete achieve elite, Mount Rushmore status? 

Personal preferences often play a role in a person’s list. There are also those that achieved rarefied air during their era sportswriters often find criminally underrated in the historical record. Once we eliminate those two groups, we find that the list of elite athletes is very small. What is the difference between the professional athletes that achieved rarefied air in their era and that small pack of elite athletes that we consider the best of all time? How does one superior athlete appear to execute to perfection every single time out, while another phenomenal athlete executes a majority of the time? What’s the difference between the natural gifts of a supreme athlete, like Allen Iverson versus a gym rat like Michael Jordan? One word. Practice. We’re talking about practice.

The theme of such bar stool discussions often centers around the physical exploits of said athlete, but as author David Wallace suggests, in a posthumous collection of his essays Both Flesh and Not, the physical may no longer as instrumental as it once was in the separation between those in the upper echelon and the elite.

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

Kinesthetic learning (also known as tactile learning) is a style of learning that is devoted to physical activity, rather than listening to a lecture or watching a demonstration. These learnings are inclined to learn more by doing than they will by studying, contemplating, or actualizing. Those that learn in this kinesthetic are learners we call “do-ers”.

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

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

Achieving success in sports requires an acute focus on the muscles involved in, say hitting a baseball, and there is little in the way of variation for how to approach to the ball, the point of contact, or the follow through. The creative mind may acknowledge the teacher’s bona fides in the quest to become proficient, but the more they cede to the creative portion of their brain, the more difficult it will be to fight the urge to personalize their play a little. The creative mind does not want to be an automaton, in other words. They want to look cool, they want to have fun, and they want to introduce some creativity in the process of their swing. If the child achieves some success on the playing field, they may begin to believe that they achieved that level of success on their own, and this may lead them to ignore their coaches on some level. They might want to introduce some individual nuance into their game. They might develop creative desires that lead to ideas on how they can succeed. The ability to ignore such desires or to learn the problems inherent in falling prey to them leads to what some might call an inhuman, machine-like mind, enhanced with massive amounts of discipline, such as that of a Roger Federer, to achieve levels of success in sports, and maintain it over time.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This psychological concentration on minutiae goes beyond the positioning of the thumb on a driver in golf, the tweak of the forearm in the tennis stroke, and all of the muscles involved in the follow through. It goes beyond the pure physical aspects of sports to the mental. We have known about some of these concentrations for eons, and the general idea behind them might not be a shock. The acute focus on the actions and reactions has increased tenfold over the decades, until the game no longer have mano y mano confrontations at the plate, but one machine conditioned to the psychology of the game versus another equipped with the same.

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

Most normal humans haven’t engaged in any activity to the point of achieving autonomic responses. Most normal humans engage in athletic activities for casual enjoyment, and they involve their kids in sports for the purpose of the character definition it can provide. Most do not subject themselves, or their kids, to the kind of “cruel, and inhumane” amount of practice that could steal a young person’s youth. As a result, most of us cannot comprehend how a man could return a serve of 130mph and place it in that tiny spot that is his opponent’s greatest after serve weakness on a consistent basis.

Those involved in the science of sports clocked such a serve at .41 seconds, or the time it takes you to blink twice in rapid fashion, or a speed that defies the natural facilities of human reaction. On the flipside, there are other, more deliberate moments in sports. The time it takes a quarterback to throw to a receiver that a Deion Sanders is covering, for example. Depending on the quarterback, and the length of the throw, this could take a couple seconds from the time the quarterback releases the ball to the moment it hits Deion Sanders’ area. What happens in those seconds? I call this moment blank space. In the blank space, athletes on every level know what to do, but they may not be able to accomplish it on a consistent basis. They may panic. Even the greatest of athletes have had moments where they panic, and this may have caused them some confusion as they tried to come to grips with the fact that their minds and body didn’t act in unison during that crucial moment in time. They had such belief in their ability, they thought they worked as hard as anyone to prepare for that moment and they failed. After the weeks and years they spent practicing, they didn’t execute in the manner they know they should have. It can be painfully confusing. After reading Wallace’s description, and the descriptions of Federer’s workouts, these players may not have worked out to the point that some characterize as exhaustive and cruel amounts of practice required to reach a kinesthetic sense, or an autonomic response, to the ball being in the air.

Those interested in this subject might also be interested in:

The Conspiracy of the NBA Western Conference Finals, in 2002

The Psychology of the Super Sports Fan

Every Girl’s Crazy About a Faint Whiff of Urine


How much time, money, and effort do we spend in our quest to be attractive? How many deodorants, scented shampoos, perfumes, colognes, and body washes do we purchase to mask the natural scent of our bodies, so someone, somewhere might find our scent pleasant? How many hours do we spend spraying, brushing, scrubbing, applying, lathering, and repeating if necessary? Recent surveys report that scent factors very low on our list of priorities when seeking a mate. Why, then, do we spend so much money and effort to present the illusion that we don’t have an unappealing odor?

What drives attraction, if not scent? Societal conditioning leads us to believe it’s more about muscles, glands, and bulges in the front and back, but do these visual cues override our 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 of their scent? Pablo Picasso believed they do. He believed the basis of human attraction involves visual cues in the symmetry and angles of the face and the human form. Blunter groups argue that it’s all about being sexy. “Sex sells,” they chant, “so, show your angles, reveal that symmetry, and display those organs and glands in a tasteful or tasty manner. Wear tighter clothing, reveal more cleavage, and accentuate that walk in a manner that will have them flipping and flopping on their path to your pelvic floor.”

In her Serendip Studio piece, Meghan McCabe wrote that attraction is not as complex as Picasso theorizes, nor is it as simple as the blunter groups’ chants.(1) She says sexual attraction centers on “airborne chemicals called pheromones,” and she adds 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), which is part of the olfactory system and located inside the mouth and nose. She believes pheromones are “chemically detected, or communicated, from one human to another by an unidentified part of the olfactory system.” Those of us who cake our necks with perfumes and cologne, in other words, are just wasting a whole lot of money on chemical scents, because most research on human pheromones concludes that the main odor-producing organ is the skin, courtesy of the apocrine sebaceous glands.

The skin produces more attraction agents than the entire line of the products in the personal grooming section of your local drugstore. 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 could be a valuable tool in attracting a mate. We don’t care for the smell of underarm odor, and we don’t think anyone else does either. On the surface, the whole idea may seem humorous or even ludicrous, yet even those laughing must admit that our understanding of why we do what we do, even on the surface, is subject to further review. When we submit the word subconscious into our argument, most people stop laughing. That word is loaded with a stable of ideas most of know little about, and we’ve been on the wrong end of that argument so many times that we now concede to the idea that we don’t know why we do many of the things we do.

Even those who are open to the idea of body odor as some kind of subconscious agent of attraction would be far too insecure to walk out of the house with even a hint of organic odor on them. Most would feel insecure carrying even a subtle smell, to the point of being afraid to talk to a prospective mate. Therefore, we wash and scrub those odors away when we fear that masking our scent with a topical deodorant might not be enough.

Jousting is commonly understood as a martial game of the Middle Ages. Jousting was a popular form of entertainment that involved two armored knights attempting to unseat one another from their horses. The goal was to replicate the clashes that occurred during heavy cavalry. The spoils of victory, which many of us have witnessed at Renaissance fair reenactments or in the movies included a damsel’s handkerchief, and the victorious knight huffing on that handkerchief with celebratory joy. Most believe the greater importance of such a scene is symbolic. We believe it is a visual depiction of the sweet smell of success, on par with drinking wine from a gullet or showering a locker room in champagne. The portrayals of this moment in modern cinema may illustrate it as a damsel giving her hand to the victor, but in historical actuality, the damsel would have carried that small swatch of fabric in her armpit for the entirety of the jousting match. According to an article posted by Helen Gabriel, after the handkerchief spent a sufficient amount of time in the damsel’s underarm area, it was coated with her smegma, and the jouster’s reward for victory was greater knowledge of the damsel’s true essence when he huffed it.(2)

Having said all that, people needn’t look to the animal kingdom or its artificial equivalents developed in research labs to find an attractant. We might be able to unlock the greatest attractant ever known by bathing less often. It may seem contradictory, but the modern ritual of daily bathing deprives us of the very human scents that are, in many ways, attractants. That said, if you do not bathe very often, your visual cues would suffer. Some might consider this a juggling act fraught with peril, but if we manage our bathing rituals in such a manner that our visual cues still score high in the world of attraction, we might be able to maximize our smegma production. Doing so, according to the research scientists quoted here, could land us atop the dating world, without us having to say so much as a kind word to anyone. As our culture dictates, we are required and expected to bathe and wash away this smegma, which is particularly 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 with those found in a beaver’s castoreum, civet, musk, and on the tip of a boar’s sexual organs or their preputial glands.

It’s also impossible for us to believe that the subtle smell of urine can sexually excite a prospective mate. Urine stinks. The very idea of the smell of urine causes revulsion when we walk into an unsanitary bathroom, and we associate the smell with a general lack of cleanliness. We think the key to attracting a mate is convincing them we have no natural odor 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. Our insecurity might provide subtext for our competitiveness, for we seek assistance from companies that spend millions in research and development to come up with the perfect chemical combination that will put us over the top in the race to attract others. McCabe and Dr. Goldsmith believe most of these products are not just a waste of money may also be counterproductive.

Contrary to what the marketing arms push so hard to sell to the public, the key to sexual attraction lies in the skin. The apocrine sebaceous glands mentioned before produce pheromones in great abundance, particularly 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. (3) “The underarm, the nipples (of both genders), the genital region, the outer region of the lips, the eyelids, and the outer rims of the ears. This is not due to the fact that the hairs [on these parts of the body] produce these pheromone messages, but that the hairs hold onto the chemical stimuli that the skin’s apocrine sebaceous glands produce.” Nevertheless, 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 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 a 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  smegma found on and around the reproductive organs, and in urine. The fact that men secrete these substances and women have a greater sensitivity to them when they are most fertile is an indication that there may be an olfactory role for these substances in human sexuality.

It is also important to note that while researchers believe the (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 might not play a dominant role in attraction. In addition, while VNO functions link to the sense of smell, this does not mean its relation to scent is as direct as one might guess.

The VNO detects these chemical messages, these pheromones, and it is possible that an overwhelming scent could impede the VNO’s ability to do so. If the sense of smell dominates, the message the brain receives might be only the smell, and the chemical message will be secondary. Coating oneself in urine, in other words, will not increase one’s chances to attract a mate. It is also not true 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 induce no sexual attraction. The messages sent to the brain by other senses regarding visible fecal matter would drown out any subtle chemical stimuli the VNO detected, even if it managed to gather sexual attractants as it made contact with the skin.

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

The study of pheromones, VNO functions, and the very idea that humans are susceptible to them in the same manner other animals are, is controversial. For every study that suggests that humans are no different from any other animal when it comes to chemical attraction, another study counters that these definitive conclusions are anything but conclusive.

1) http://serendip.brynmawr.edu/exchange/node/2052

2)https://www.questia.com/article/1G1-113079856/the-mag-health-the-smell-of-romance-valentine

3) http://www.anapsid.org/pheromones.html

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

The Real Back Pain Solution

Fear of a Beaver Perineal Gland

Platypus People

Octopus Nuggets

Nancy Sendate

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.

Are you Superior?


If an individual is strong or gifted in the athletic arena, they already know the feeling of superiority, as most of us regard those physical traits superior. For the rest of us, the search is not as simple. It’s often difficult, and fruitless, to stare into a mirror and gain true, objective definition, so we use comparative analysis –through our day-to-day interactions– to try to gain information about ourselves and our true identity. The one unfortunate characteristic to this quest is that we gain definition on the backs of others.

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

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

The first impression can be a difficult one to overcome, but some believe what we say after the first impression has greater import. If we have a fatal flaw –noticeable in the first impression– we can garner sympathy or empathy, through an underdog status, with what we say in the follow up impression we provide.

To further this theory, some believe that if we notify our counterpart of our weakness –say in the form of a self-deprecating joke– it will redound to the benefit of a strong follow up impression. The subtext involves the idea that doing so will end their search for our weakness, and the feeling of superiority they gain will allow them to feel more comfortable with us. This, we hope, will result in them enjoying our company more. 

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

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

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

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

“They’re all going to hell,” a friend of mine commented when we passed a group of Muslims. When I asked why she thought this, she said, “They don’t accept the Lord, Jesus Christ as their personal savior.” 

I’ve heard that statement many times, but I rarely heard someone use it as a weapon of superiority. I realized some time later that this was all this woman had. She hated her job, her kids hated her, and she was far from attractive, or in good shape. She needed this nugget of superiority to help her get through the day, and to assist her in believing that she was, at least, superior to someone in some manner.

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

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

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

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

The search for where we stand in this chasm of superiority and inferiority can be a difficult one to traverse, so we often attempt to answer them on the backs of others. It’s a shortcut to examination and self-reflection. Some feel superior to another, based on that other’s religion, their politics, their race, or in the case of Steve, their education level. Some even gain feelings of superiority based on the manner they brush their teeth. Those that brush their teeth top to bottom are not doing it in the manner advised by the American Dental Association. Others base their comparative analyses on the manner in which a person shaves their pubic hair. If one person leaves a strip and another shaves Brazilian who is superior, and who is inferior, and where does the person that lets it all grow wild stand in that dynamic? We all have some positions of superiority and inferiority, and most of them are relative.

As for Steve, I was sure he had a psychological profile built on me. I was sure he had all of his feelings of superiority stacked in a row, based on the characteristics he had witnessed over the years. If I ever doubted his superiority, he offered me constant reminders.

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

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

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

After tiring of all the games that Steve and I played over the years, I finally broke down one day and said, “Do you think that you’re superior to me?” I realized that this was a violation of the modern rules of psychological warfare, but I couldn’t take the ever-present chess match anymore. Being a good friend, and a modern psychological warrior, schooled in the PC/HR tactics of guerrilla warfare, he gave me an equivocation steeped in relative constructs. Being the obnoxious man I was, I asked him to break it down. “Would your competitive feelings change if you saw me start walking down a hall with more confidence? Would that shatter your beliefs to such a degree that you asked me what had changed? Would you ask me if I received a promotion, won the lottery, or if I had sex the night before? Would you become so obsessed in your search for an answer regarding my new walk that you wouldn’t be able to sleep at night? What if I began walking down hallways without moving my arms at all? Would you consider that walk kind of freakish, a little funny, and an inferiority on my part? Or,” I asked, “Would you then consider me an equal?”

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


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

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

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

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

Setting her internal phaser on “you don’t have a shot in hell” may have been reflexive, but I was the one saying hello. I was the buddy. I didn’t enjoy the limitation, but I abided by it just to have her talk to me on one otherwise innocuous afternoon. I was the one that listened her stories, and her honest confessions, without once looking at her breasts. I looked at her breasts. We all did. They were two, compact missiles set to stun any onlooker, but I wasn’t looking at them when she went into her deep, meaningful moments. I was a good gawdamned friend!

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

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

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

Part II: We’ll Call Her Katie

Scat Mask Replica III


1) The Rasputin Paradox. Are you involved in an enterprise in which one person’s alleged ineptitude is holding you back from realizing the vast potential of that enterprise? Is your enterprise one-step away from removing that alleged ineptitude? Those who know the history of the Russian Empire know to be careful what they wish for. Some speculate that Grigori Yefimovich Rasputin had far less influence in the Russian Empire (circa WWI) than history details, and they double down on that by saying that the Romanovs would not refute what others said about Rasputin’s influence, because they enjoyed having Rasputin play the role of the scapegoat. If they did not know the level of blame others placed on Rasputin while he was alive, they definitely found out after his death, because after Rasputin was murdered the focal point for the Empire’s ineptitude was gone. Those in politics, business, and in personal crisis should note that casting blame on one particular person for the failure of your enterprise may prove cathartic in the short-term, but once that person’s gone, it might reveal more about the general ineptitude of that enterprise than any of the other players ever imagined.   

2) “If you have facts on your side, pound the facts. If you have the law on your side, pound the law. If you don’t have either, pound the table.” One of the more uncomfortable situations I’ve experienced involve someone pleading with me to accept them as a genuine person. It’s a gross over simplification to suggest that anytime someone pounds the proverbial table to convince me of something that they’re lying. We’re all insecure about our presentations, and some of us pound the table even when we have the facts on our side. I know it’s easy to say, but those with facts on their side should relax and allow them to roll out as they may. The truth teller who finds it difficult to avoid pleading their case should also know that after we reveal enough supportive evidence most will believe you, but some just enjoy watching us squirm.

3) Speaking of the genuine article, it has recently come to my attention that some pathetic soul stole at least two of the articles from this site. Some call this plagiarism, but I call it pathetic. If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, I suppose I should consider it a compliment, but this is outright theft. It seems redundant to me to clarify the rules on this matter, but if a writer is going to “repost” they are required to provide attribution. (For those unclear on the definition of this term, it means that a writer is supposed to inform their audience that they didn’t write the article.) Not only did this pathetic soul avoid attributing the article to me, but they also didn’t provide proper attribution to the quotes I did in the article they stole. So, this person (who provides no discernible path back their identity) anonymously steals posts to presumably receive checks from companies that pay writers to sport ads on their site. I don’t care how much those sponsored ads pay, how does this person sleep at night knowing that the profession or hobby they chose is one in which they cannot produce their own quality material. If I were ever to reach a level of such a desperate act, I would seek another profession or hobby. 

4) The difference between selfishness and self-awareness. A complaint about young men and women is that they’re too selfish. It’s the root of the problem, they suggest. I don’t know if it’s true, but if it is I would suggest that those speaking out against it are delivering an incomplete message. My platform would suggest that these selfish types are focusing on self-awareness, and that they should seek it to achieve a level of fulfillment. We could view striving to achieve greater self-awareness as a selfish pursuit, but self-awareness can take several forms. Performing selfless acts, for example, can teach a person a lot about themselves, and it should be encouraged, as people performing many selfless acts can become more aware of themselves and more selfless. The process could lead to an antonym of the vicious cycle these complainers decry. If I had a pulpit, I would also declare that an individual could learn more about themselves through spirituality. I’ve been on both sides of the value of scripture, and I think this gives me greater perspective on the matter. I look at scripture and other Biblical teachings as a roadmap to personal happiness through reflection. Self-interest drives me to follow those teachings because I believe it’s in my best interests to follow them. In short, I would play my sermon to the selfish predilections of the young. I hear sermons that suggest otherwise, and I can’t help but think that the priest is missing a beat.

5) As a former service industry employee, I’ve encountered my share of disgruntled customers. I could provide a list of examples, but the material of their complaints is irrelevant. Most experienced service industry employees know that the most disgruntled customers are the most disgruntled people. They might hate their kids, the spouse, and their life. Whatever the case is, the discrepancy they find causes them to unload, “What kind of Mickey Mouse operation are you running here? Your ad says this item is on sale today for two bucks. If you think I’m going to pay more than that, you must think I’m stupid! Or, are you singling me out based on my characteristics?” These statements are often a mere introduction to a heated exchange that reveals the effort of the disgruntled customer to achieve some satisfaction they can’t find elsewhere in life. A more confident customer would simply say, “Your ad says that this item is on sale today for two dollars.” Those of us who have experience in the service industry know how intimidating a confident presentation of the facts can be, especially from a more secure individual.

6) A new documentary captures an ant crawling down from a piece of cheesecake with a piece of it lodged in its mandibles. The makers of this documentary capture the ant’s progress, in stop action photography, as this permits progressed commentary from various filmmakers talking about the brilliance of each segment. Where does the ant go, and what will it do with the small, round ball of cheesecake? This is the plotline of an amazing new documentary called Posterula. (Spoiler alert) The ant makes it off the plate, but the viewers don’t know if the ant ever takes the piece to the colony to feed the queen. This leads this viewer to believe that an as of yet undisclosed plan for a sequel to this brilliant documentary is in the works.

Hi, I’m Rilaly, and if I were to take you on a tour of my young mind, this would be but an example of what you would read. Some suggest that such humor is too niche, and if that’s the case I would’ve niched my way out of the market. If I had one of my stories published, customers at bookstores would’ve walked past my serious pieces, thinking that I’m nuts, too far gone, and unserious. They probably still think that. I’m niche.

7) I landed upon the term “vague and flexible by design” the other day. The author of the term intended it as a compliment for the subject, but if they directed such a characterization at me, I would view it as an insult. I understand that we’re different people in different surroundings, and that we should all remain flexible with our ideals to prepare for new findings on the subject in question, but the “vague and flexible by design” compliment would register a ‘no core’ insult to me.

8) What hotel, or meeting space, first decided to serve a ball of meat as a solitary entrée? Someone somewhere should’ve stepped in and said, “Woops, you forgot the fixins.” Those who have attended more than twenty corporate galas, weddings, or any catered event are now more than accustomed to the items served in a buffet line. I now eat before I attend one of these functions, because I cannot eat another pinwheel, I’m burnt out on hot wings, and I hit my personal threshold on room temperature potatoes au gratin somewhere around 2004. I am not a finicky eater, but I can no longer stomach this list of dietary choices. I will acknowledge that being American provides me the luxury of making odd and unreasonable dietary choices, but if I’m going to limit myself to one meal a day to maintain a plump figure, as opposed to fat or obese, I’m not going to eat something just because others provide it in a visually pleasing manner.  

9) There is a difference between writing a grammatically correct sentence and quality writing. I took college classes on creative writing, I’ve read the MLAs, and I’ve learned through word-of-mouth what leads to quality reading. I’ve fixed the passive voice sentences, deleted the word “had” as often as possible, and I’ve tried to avoid what fellow writers call “the you-yous”. The goal for the writer is to adhere to the rules of writing while attempting to maintain a stream-of-consciousness style that makes for quality reading. It’s not considered grammatically incorrect to write that you may not enjoy this sentence, but writing that the reader may enjoy it without the word you is considered a more pleasant reading experience. I’ve also attempted to write “who” instead of “that”, and I’ve attempted to limit my need to “that” too often. Example: “You don’t want to write that it was someone else that said something, when who said it is much more familiar to you.” In that sentence, fellow writers suggest using the word “Writers” to replace the first you, and “Readers” is an advisable replacement for the second you. Beta readers suggest that doing otherwise means the writer has a bad case of the you-yous. You is too familiar to you, and that is too unfamiliar, and you do not want to be too familiar or too unfamiliar. The first reason for following this rule is that the writer does not want to write in the manner they speak, because the way one speaks in one locale may not be as familiar to a reader in another locale. These standards set a common base for readers, free from colloquialisms. The you yous also creep up on a writer in free flow, and they may not notice how redundant the use of the word is in their document. The question that haunts me is do I want a perfect document to impress accomplished writers, or do I want to pleasure myself with a document that might have some flaws. The notion one writer lofted was every writer makes mistakes, we readers weave them into the cloth of our expectations, but is there a point when the mistakes distract from the whole.

10) “He’s such an idiot,” Teri said after her boyfriend left the party table to go to the bathroom. “He cheats on me all the time. For all I know, he’s arranged something in the bathroom. I’m serious. I can’t even trust him to go to the bathroom.” Such comments are so unexpected that they’re hilarious.

“Why the hell are you dating him then?” I asked. Room silencing, impulsive comments like these are my gift to the world. I can flatten the smile of any decent person from fifty yards with a single thought implanted in their brain.

The comment sat right with me, but the moment after I delivered it I realized it was so loaded with complications that no one in the right mind would deliver it to a table of people gathered together for the sole purpose of mixing in some laughter with their fun. I thought it might add to the fun, or spur her into extensions on the joke, but I was wrong. I made her uncomfortable.    

As soon as she recovered from the blow, aided by my discomfort, she displayed the idea that she locked herself into a certain, cynical dynamic of life. She knew the world was full of it, and everyone around her was too, in one way or another, because she knew she was. She thought her beau was full of it too, but “He’s a nice guy…most of the time.” I didn’t know if that was her final answer, but I overemphasized my acknowledgement of her answer to suggest that was what I sought.

No matter how often I affirmed her answers, Teri kept coming at me with answers. She said he was “Funny and fun to be around.” She said he was good looking, and she said he did “Sweet things for her.” I couldn’t get out of this uncomfortable spiral of my own making. I pretended to be interested, because I knew I put her in the uncomfortable position of having to explain one of life’s most illustrating choices, but I was trying to end the episode with every word she said to me.

Most of us cannot explain our life altering choices so well that we can weather interrogations. I knew this, but I thought I could explain most of my choices at the time. The question that even the most reflective must ask themselves is, is their base so solid that we make rational, informed choices in the impulsive moments? I don’t think many reflective types would pass their own interrogations, in the moment, for I think we color in the blanks later to make us believe we made informed choices.

Teri told me he was a good man, with a good job, and he had an unusual curiosity about life that she found fascinating. I also learned that while it was obvious he had a restless, nervous energy about him, “He’s incredibly lazy. If he had his choice, he would spend his day on a couch.”

I still didn’t understand the dynamics of their relationship, even though she provided me numerous answers. I wouldn’t understand it for a while. I had no idea at the time that their relationship depended on the idea I had that she enjoyed playing the jealous girl, because, I can only assume, she considered him worthy of her jealousy, and in a world of average men with no discernible qualities, that is something. He was the naughty boy, and he enjoyed that role. “We fight like cats and dogs,” she said with a gleam in her eye, “but then we have makeup sex.” I wondered if she dated guys that wouldn’t cheat on her. I wonder if they wouldn’t fight with her. I wondered if they bored her. He provided her something to focus on other than herself. He was the dunce, but he was an amiable dunce. He provided her drama. He was always on the cusp of cheating on her. She also had a desire to date a guy that she could be better than, and she wasn’t much. Either that, or there is a desire to care for something that could break. “He’s an idiot, he doesn’t know how good he has it,” she said more than twice. The guy was fulfilling the age-old male need of feeling like a bad boy. Most guys need this coursing through their veins, and some girls apparently need a guy like this too.

11) Unhappy couples fascinate me. They don’t smile often, but smiles are a refuge of the simple minded. They don’t hug, kiss, or touch very often, but they’re not that type of people. They’re emotionally distant people, and happy people make them sick. Do they have a greater understanding about who they are than we ever will, or are they jealous? She didn’t date in high school, and he was a broken boy. Death of a loved one breaks some, divorce breaks others, and still others experience a seismic betrayal that creates an irreparable break. Yet, they found something in one another that they always wanted. As an outsider looking in, we can’t understand the allure, but the two of them stay together for years. Some stay in a job they hate, because they fear the unknown. Do people stay in relationships for the same reason? He doesn’t speak often, and relatives find it difficult to strike up a conversation with him. He gives off the vibe that he’s not interested in what others have to say, and this affects the way others react to him.

My initial instinct was that he wasn’t interested in what I had to say, for reasons endemic to our relationship, until others informed me they shared similar experiences with him. He’s more interesting when he drinks, but when the night is over, the participants realize he wasn’t really interesting in the truest sense of the word, but he was more interesting than they expected him to be. A couple of drinks loosen our inhibitions. A couple more might loosen them even more, until the potential exists for us to become interesting. That’s the mindset of the drinker anyway, I’m not sure if this is his mindset, but he does have a drinking problem. He is emotionally distant, because those that formed him devastated him emotionally. Yet, it many ways he appears satisfied with who he is.

12) No one is as boring as we think they are, but no one is as interesting as we think we are either. How many of us look back to our authentic years with the belief that we weren’t nearly as authentic as we are now, and how many of us will look back ten years from now with the same thought? One could say that the effort put into being authentic provides progressively diminishing returns. 

13) How many of us remember the first person who told us about America’s atrocities? Did they package it with a provocative statement such as, “This is something your moms and dads don’t want you to know about.” For those of us who are now parents, it’s probably been so long since someone introduced us to the dark side that we forget how intoxicating it was at the time. I don’t remember my first messenger because I’ve heard about these atrocities so many times since that they’ve all but drowned out my first messenger. Thanks to a myriad of resources I’ve encountered since, I am now able to frame those atrocities with the virtuous acts America has done throughout her history to arrive at the independent conclusion that America has been a noble nation overall. It did take me a while, however, to arrive at that conclusion. 

Some might think that learning of the atrocities for the first time might leave the recipient feeling cold, disillusioned, and/or depressed that their parents sold them a pack of lies. In the combative environment of my youth, one of the many focal points of ridicule was naïveté. “Don’t tell me you believed all that baseball and apple pie crap?” someone would say in the aftermath of a discussion on American’s atrocities. I did, and those early messengers in my life provided me information to combat the characterization that I was naïve. I considered them more informed, brave and righteous. I thought they were cooler than cool for speaking out against the marketing arm of America, and I thought they were treating me with the type of respect than my dad never did.

Now that I’m a seasoned adult, I know my dad wasn’t necessarily lying to me, and he wasn’t withholding a truth, but he didn’t give me the whole picture either. He didn’t know some of the atrocities these messengers told me, but there were incidents that he did know, and he neglected to tell me about them. Anyone who remembers their teenage mind knows how much we exaggerate the characterizations of our parents, especially when “truth tellers” package such information accordingly. Their presentations excited me in a way that’s tough to describe. I thought I was finally hearing the truth from someone.

A vital mindset for parents to have, while sharing our knowledge of American history, is that they are in a constant battle with their peers to avoid appearing naïve. For those worried about telling their children about the awful things the country has done, consider it ammunition to combat these stories with the stories of the country’s virtues. Our goal should be to instill a love of country in a comprehensive manner. To a certain point, we parents have told them what to think and how to think for so long that we may have a difficult time giving up those reins. On this particular subject, however, we need to present this information in a manner that allows them to decide, and we might even add that we understand it’s a lot to take in one setting, so we should allow them to think about it.

If we don’t do this, the truth will rear its ugly head when we least expect it. Those who provide them this information will likely not frame it in the manner we think they should, and our kids might turn around and accuse us of lying, telling half-truths, and not trusting them enough to deal with such sensitive information. Whatever the case is, we might never be able to win them back. My advice is we teach them the virtues of this country and couple it with a healthy dose of the horror some Americans have done since the country’s birth. Do some research on the atrocities and prepare for the follow up questions, because there will be questions. Once we’re done, we should repeat the cycle so often that by the time that cool, rebellious person tells our children, “The things we don’t want them to hear,” they will turn on that person and say, “I’ve heard all of this a million times, and to tell you the truth I’m sick of hearing about it.” If condemning your country in such a manner is difficult, much less teaching it to your child, ask yourself how you would prefer America’s atrocities framed? Would you rather provide your child with a more comprehensive narrative, or would you rather someone who hates their country do it for you? One way or another, your child will learn this information.

14) I’m about 15 years into using devices to stream music on a daily basis at this point in my life, so it might seem a little odd to show appreciation now. Anytime I take a very short drive, I gain greater appreciation for the freedom technology has offered when I turn on my local FM stations and I hear a DJ offer tidbits from their life. I’m not talking about morning show hosts, as I think I listened to one-show decades ago, just to hear what everyone was talking about, and I never listened to another one. When a DJ informs me about a day in their life, I switch the channel so hard my fingers hurt later. I don’t care about the private lives of celebrities, but I understand that some do. No one knows who these DJs are, and I think even less care. Yet, when they are on the clock, moving from one song to another, they tell us about their day. They tell us about a party they attended, a soup they enjoyed yesterday, and something their significant other said to them in the movie theater. Nobody cares! The only line we should hear from a radio DJ is, “That was one song, and here’s another.”  

15) Most people have heard the quote, “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.” The quote is widely attributed to Albert Einstein. Most people know this quote, but they only apply to innovative qualities that appeal to them and their relative definitions of the status quo. When another is in the process of doing the same thing in a different way, their process receives scorn and ridicule. “Do you know the quote?” we ask. “Yes, but it doesn’t apply here. That just isn’t the way we do things.” Okay, but the way you do things hasn’t worked for decades now. The counter argument is that they’re on the cusp of it working and the new person could damage all of the progress they’ve made. Again, they’ve been on the cusp for decades, and they might even recognize some merits of the innovative pursuit of the matter, but most innovators take arrows in the process.

Scat Mask Replica II (20)


1) What does it say that I still manage to work The Theme of The Love Boat into everyday situations in life? If our brain is nothing more than the most sophisticated hard drive ever invented, how much knowledge have I lost by keeping the lyrics of that song in my head?

2) What emboldens those of us who publicly state that our beliefs system is superior? We all have our insecurities, and we join groups to align ourselves with an idea we consider superior, so we can mock and denigrate others that belong to other groups. Some of us need a proverbial podium to mock and denigrate other groups, so that our group might view us as superior. Some view their presentation as bold, but I can’t help but wonder about the raging insecurities that drive a person to do this.

3) At the breakfast table, a five-year-old son speaks about the death of his father. The mother said that the son should hope that the father lives long enough to teach him how to be a man. The son looks at the father, “Well tell me.”

4) Analysts on financial/business networks often drop the term financial purgatory. Their context suggests that the term describes one stuck between joy and misery, coupled with a level confusion that can only lead to misery. Those more familiar with Catholic Catechism know that purgatory is a place between heaven and hell, a stasis reserved for those awaiting further judgment from the powers that be. A better description of financial purgatory might involve a child of the lower middle class upbringing, finding a way to live among those kids whose parents make true money, and all of the judgment that follows. Kids don’t care about money, for the most part, but as kids begin to age, how much their parents make becomes a topic of conversation. It can lead a kid to recognize that while his family is not poor they cannot afford to buy their way into this money conversation either. Some might dismiss this as a first world problem, and that children adapt well, but any child that seeks entrée into the in-crowd knows that it feels like Armageddon in the moment. Depending on the kids around them, it can lead a kid to feel he doesn’t belong in a financial heaven or hell, and the subsequent, general idea that they don’t belong can last well into adulthood.

5) The horoscope for the new sign Ophiuchus: This will be another meaningless week in your otherwise meaningless life. If someone informs you that they have something meaningful to say about your life this week, walk away. Don’t check in with yourself this week, just go through the week on autopilot for all events and information you receive will be meaningless. Your lucky weather element is wind.

6) A writer arguing about the rules of usage is not only tedious it’s an exercise in futility. Some writers pine for the linguistic purity of Geoffrey Chaucer, others argue that a writer should strive to remain casual for greater readability among the masses. On the latter, I know that I might be banging my spoon on a high chair, but when I read the numerous ways professional writers, overuse the word “had” a layer of glaze coats my eyes. I know that writing, “I had biked over trails” is past perfect tense and “I biked over trails” is present perfect tense, but I find one drips glaze and the other flows so well that the reader doesn’t pause. There is an ample middle ground for writers to explore between strict grammatical rules and readability, and most of them know it without knowing it, but a reading of Chaucer reminds one of the strict grammatical rules that have long since fallen out of favor in modern writing. On that note, I find “I had done” a most egregious violation of readability, as in “I had done my research before writing this paragraph.” It appears redundant and awkward to me, and when I read, professional writers write in such a manner, I wonder if they don’t pay their editors enough or if they overwork them.

7) Joe Theismann admitted that while a student/athlete at Notre Dame he allowed the university’s public relations department to change the pronunciation of his name from THEES-man to THIGHS-man. The pitch the PR department personnel made was that Theismann’s chances at winning college football’s most prestigious prize, the Heisman trophy, might increase if he changed the pronunciation of his name so that it rhymes with the name of the trophy. The former football star is now a celebrity spokesman for a company that purports to aid aging men with prostrate problems that cause them to urinate so often that it disrupts their lives. An ambitious member of marketing arm of this company –that knows about Theismann’s willingness to change the pronunciation of his name– should ask him to change the pronunciation of that name again so that it rhymes with he pees man.

8) What would you say if a grown man approached your table at an outdoor café and said, “Pardon the intrusion, but I have to say that I enjoy watching the way you eat a tortilla chip.”

9) By modern cultural standards, Joseph Hupfel is a creepy man. He is dirty, unshaven and generally unattractive. He eats a very clean blt. Mayo. Toasted. Buttered lightly, immediately upon exiting the toaster. Sedimentary layers. How much of a man lies on the surface? We know creepy when we see it, until we learn more about the man. How much will we never know about him? Modern man believes he has a decent feel for the history of mankind, but how many fact-finding missions uncover something revolutionary that puts everything we thought we knew in the rear-view mirror? Some have speculated that there are miles upon miles of undiscovered artifacts lying under homeowner’s homes in Rome that could further explain the history of mankind, but the homeowners won’t let excavators unearth them.

10) In the 1890 essay, A Majestic Literary Fossil, author Mark Twain provides a hilarious condemnation of two thousand years of scientific theory from esteemed intellectuals in the field of medical science. Twain focuses the theme of this essay on the repudiation of the science behind the accepted medical practice of bloodletting. This practice relied on the accepted theory that blood doesn’t circulate in the body, it stagnates, and to achieve proper health the patient needs to have old blood taken out on a regular basis to send a signal to the body that it’s time to regenerate new, healthier blood. The scientific community regarded blood as one of many humours in the body, and they believed that all humours required regular regulation. As such, they believed that a healthy patient would allow their doctor to bleed them on a regular basis, as a preventative measure. The import of Twain’s essay is not necessarily a condemnation of science, in my humble opinion, but the idea that anyone should put stock in the consensus of science. For anyone that wants to argue that science is susceptible to occasional flights of human error, remember that the belief in the virtues of bloodletting wasn’t a blip in human history, the consensus of the scientific community considered the science behind bloodletting so sound that medical practitioners relied on it for most of human history. The import of this essay also asks us to examine what we believe today, based on a consensus of scientific theory. If we were able to go back to Abraham Lincoln’s day, and we witnessed the archaic act of bloodletting, what would we say? What would be the reaction to our reaction? “You don’t believe in science?” is a question they might ask us. To which we would tell them that we do believe in science, but we also know that some science, their science in particular, is wrong. “You realize that you’re arguing against 2,000 years of science. Why should we take your word for it even if, as you say, you’re from the future?” If a person were to travel back in time to our day, what would they ridicule us for believing? Would they be aghast at our archaic rituals and procedures, and would they end up laughing at us in the same manner we laugh at the scientists of Twain’s day? Our natural inclination will be to laugh with them, for we know all too well the foolish beliefs others in our era have, but will we stop laughing when they touch upon that which we believe, or will we continue to laugh with them under the soft lie that we were never that gullible?

11) I heard a cop once say that the rule of thumb for being a cop on the beat is to believe half of what you see and none of what you hear. Those that watch network television shows and major Hollywood movies should apply the same principle to their viewing habits.

12) Listening to one party’s version of a romantic breakup is always dicey. The listener knows they’re only hearing one side of the story, and they know where to get the other side if they’re feeling especially adventurous, curious, and nosey. They suspect that they will hear an equally partisan take on the situation from the other side, and they suspect that they might discover some key discrepancies in both accounts, and that they might be able to help both parties discover a truth that lies somewhere in the foggy middle. Before enlightening these two parties, however, the listener needs to consider the idea that their truth is just as subjective as the two parties involved happens to be, and the crucial point is that what the listener might believe is true is not necessarily the truth. Just because a listener is a third party, uninterested listener does not mean that they are objective.

13) If someone were to ask me for dating advice, based on my experiences, I would say the key to attracting a person is to try and be as genuine, and as normal, as possible on a date, unless those two characteristics conflict. The best dating experience of my life involved a woman that convinced me she was relatively normal. She went through some stuff in her previous life, but she managed to extricate herself from those situations relatively normal. Everyone says that they managed to escape prior relationships unaffected, but when we’re honest with ourselves, we recognize that this is not true. One of her key selling points of this fact was convincing me that she did not attempt to influence those affected parties with intimate details of her ex’s past transgressions. Most people I know adopt the time-honored tradition of slash and burn politics to assure all parties concerned of their nobility, but thoughtful people know that nobility is a long-term value that will reveal itself. She claimed that my greatest attribute was authenticity. I went through some stuff in my previous life, but I maintained whatever it was she sought in a man. If the person I knew was dating someone they feared were not normal, I would warn them that putting a best foot forward and creating a façade of normalcy is easy in short spurts. I would tell them to watch that person around their family and friends and pay special attention to the way they interact with the people they’re most comfortable. Most people don’t want their friends and family to think that a boyfriend, or girlfriend, can change them. If that doesn’t work, take a long trip with that person. That prolonged involvement should reveal the characteristics of the other party and allow one to make a more informed decision on them.

14) “What do you believe in?” I’ve asked those that ridicule me for believing in a person, place, or thing that turns out to be wrong. These people inform me that I should’ve been more skeptical, and while that is true, my question to them is, “Have you ever believed in something, only to find out you’re, to one degree or another, wrong?” The answer for some of them, has often been no, because they’ve wrapped themselves in a cocoon of fail-safe contrarian thinking to avoid ridicule.

After the facts roll out, it’s easy for a cynic to say that they never believed in it in the first place, but there is a point shortly after one learns of a novel idea, or a new approach to solving humanity’s problems, when the new information appears exciting to the reader. This point, just before the reader can personally research the subject, defines them as a hopeful person that wants to believe in people, places and things. For the purpose of discussion, let’s say that we’ve just finished an intoxicating nonfiction book that espouses radical, new secular and apolitical ideas to solving one of the world’s many problems. Let’s also say that this book in about a subject matter is covering a matter the reader knows little to nothing about, by an author they’ve never heard of before. How does one react to the information in that book, before doing personal research on it?

Some of us are more inclined to believe in something if the presenter builds a solid case for it, cynics are more inclined to seek out refutation for any person, place, or thing before the facts roll out, and then there are those cynics that ridicule everyone that believes in anything before the facts roll out. They prefer to call it skepticism, but I call it cynicism. It’s in my nature to believe in people, places, and things, until the facts prove otherwise. I believe, for example, that for just about every tragic situation mankind faces there is an ingenious problem solver that will eventually solve it. In the court of public opinion, this mindset often places me in a vulnerable position for ridicule.

When I first read John Douglas’ Mindhunter decades ago, I was a believer. I believed that Douglas laid out a solid case for how, why, and where criminal profiling could provide useful tools to assist law enforcement in their efforts to locate a criminal. It was a temporary setback for me to discover how often profilers erred. The naysayers used those instances to claim that criminal profiling is essentially a form of confirmation bias that involves throwing out a bunch of commonalities that most serial killers have, for example, to form a standard profile for the next serial killer they profile. The naysayers further this repudiation saying that after law enforcement captures the perpetrator, and the perpetrator confesses, the profiler then aligns the perpetrator’s characteristics with elements of the conclusions they made in their profile. The question these naysayers have for those that believed Douglas was, “How often was John Douglas wrong, and did he list those instances in his book?” It might have something to do with the idea that I was ready to canonize Douglas after reading his book, but the factual refutations of his work, by the naysayers, were eye opening to me. Once I recovered from the setback, I discovered that while flawed, criminal profiling might be on par with all that informs a doctor’s profile on a patient, before they reach a diagnosis on that patient’s ailments. In the back and forth on this issue, I began to question the effectiveness of criminal profiling more and more, but I also began to question the motives of the cynical naysayers. What drives an absolute cynic to tear down everything they read, hear and see? Dissecting any idea to locate truth is not only necessary it’s admirable, but how they approach their research is fundamental to their being.

Believers might approach personal research of such matters in a cynical vein, but they only do so in a scientific method to disprove. Absolute cynicism is so foreign to my thought process that it’s difficult for me to portray without bias, but I think it’s a fail-safe, contrarian approach that some use to ward off ever being incorrect and enduring subsequent ridicule for their personal track record. When I learn of an interesting new concept, or problem solving measure, it excites me until I learn that it is not as effective as the author believed, or presented it to be. I view this belief as food for the mind, and that a person that doesn’t believe in anything might have a more difficult time achieving fulfillment, and again I’m reserving this space for secular, apolitical ideas and philosophies. It seems to me that those empty spaces in the mind of cynical contrarians cry out for sustenance in a manner equivalent to an empty belly crying out for food, and that those vacuous holes do get filled by the belief in something. That something, I’ve often found, are alternative modes of thought that they consider almost impossible to refute.

15) Anytime I think I might be smart, I dip into a discussion involving the creations of our universe. One such discussion involved the time-space framework, another involved the idea that our universe is flat with a slight bend due to cosmic background radiation, and a third informed us of the idea that there are efforts now looking through the Microwave Background Radiation for evidence that some other universe at one time collided with ours. I don’t know what these people are talking about, and I dare say most don’t. Most of us, even most scientists, prefer to argue about the knowable.

16) For most of my life, I’ve managed to avoid caring what happens to celebrities. I used to strive to know what was going on in their worlds if only to understand the cultural references comedians drop better. I’m to the point now that I don’t understand three-fourths of them. I did manage, however, to land on a decade old story involving the messy divorce between singer Shania Twain and the producer Mutt Lange. It appears that Mutt Lange had an affair with Twain’s best friend, and he eventually married that best friend. In a noteworthy turn of events, Twain ended up marrying her best friend’s husband. The Hollywood writers love to give cute names to marrying couples like, Tomkat, Bennifer, and Brangelina. I suggest we call the Twain/Lange eventual arrangements, getting Shlanged.

17) Every time I watch a professional athlete make a mistake, I empathize. I arrive at this empathy from a much smaller vantage point, as I didn’t engage in organized sports past junior high. I played intramural games and pickup games constantly throughout my youth, however, and I made errors ESPN might have added to their Not Top 10. I have to think those laughing the hardest at the foibles of professional athletes never played sports in their life, or they’re seeking to diminish whatever laughable errors they made by laughing harder at other’s errors. What follows such laughter is some incarnation of the line, “I made some errors, sure, but I never would’ve done anything like that.” If I didn’t commit an error similar to that one, I think of all the egregious errors I made that were as embarrassing if not more so, and I follow that with the thought that at most, I had maybe twenty people witness my error. These professional athletes commit errors in front of millions, and sometimes hundreds of millions of people depending on how many times ESPN replays their errors for the enjoyment of those without empathy.

18) We’ve all mistakes large and small. Some of us have made life-altering mistakes, and some of us have made mistakes that affect others’ lives in a manner we have to live with, but few have made mistakes that change the course of history in the manner mapmaker Martin Waldseemuller did. Due to the popular observations of an Italian writer/explorer Americus Vespucci, the mapmaker named an entire continent after him. The general practice of naming continents involved leaders of expeditions, but Vespucci was more of an observer that wrote about the expeditions that he took part in. Christopher Columbus led the expedition to find a new path to the East Indies. When he arrived back in his home country, Spain, that’s what he reported as his findings. In the course of the confusion over what Columbus actually discovered, Vespucci wrote about his many expeditions to foreign lands, and conflicting accounts suggest Vespucci might have participated in Columbus’ expedition. Regardless if he participated in that particular expedition or not, Vespucci took part in expeditions following Columbus’, and he reported the discovery a new continent. Amid the sensation of that report, Waldseemuller mistakenly labeled the new continent Amerigo’s land. The standard practice of the day also suggested that continents have feminine versions, such as Asia, Africa, and Europa, so Waldseemuller took the feminine version of Americus’ name and called the land America. Some suggest that Waldseemuller attempted to correct this mistake by removing Amerigo Vespucci’s name from later editions of his maps, but it was too late to change it in the popular culture of the day. Columbus’ home country, Spain, refused to accept the name America for 200 years, saying their explorer should get credit for his accomplishment, not an Italian writer, but they couldn’t defeat the consensus on the topic. Thus, some suggest that Americans should call their homeland Columbia, the United States of Columbia, or the United States of Columbisia. From this, we can say that not only did America become a land of vagabonds, creeps, and cast offs, but we were mistakenly named after a writer that achieved some decent sales, and that popular opinion derived from those sales defeated all attempts to correct the record.

19) Those that enjoy reading biographies as much as I do know how little the childhood chapter has to do with the overall narrative of the subject’s life. The childhood chapter deals with the subject’s childhood, the child’s genealogy, and some elements of their upbringing. Other than familiarizing the reader to the subject, the only reason to include the childhood chapter is to reveal the research the author has performed on the subject. Chekov’s Razor applies to writers of fiction, but it does not apply, unfortunately, to writers of biographies. I’ve decided to skip the passages that inform us that the subject played hopscotch, their relationships with peers and siblings, and if their parents encouraged them or not. I now start a biography at the subject’s first major accomplishment, and I find that I don’t miss anything I consider substantive.

20) Reading through the various portrayals of George Orwell, the reader finds most authors claiming the Orwell loathed the idea that right-wingers adopted many of political theories. He was, to his dying day, a libertarian socialist these authors repeat at the end of every description. Some of his works, including Animal Farm and 1984, appear to denounce Stalin and the U.S.S.R., but Orwell didn’t limit his fears of totalitarian principles to locales or leaders. He feared the idea that too many citizens of the world were willing to give up their freedom for comfort, and he feared the susceptibilities were just as inherent in people of Britain and The United States. I understand that when people we consider political opponents adopt our theories, we might blanch at the notion, but when you’re right you’re right. If a political opponent adopted one of my theories to explain their beliefs, we might find that we disagree on an end game, but if we continued to find some agreement on a principle regarding fundamental elements of human nature, I would find that a compliment regardless of their political viewpoint.

Leonardo’s Lips and Lines


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Boring Investment Advice from a Know Nothing


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

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

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

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

Invest in What you Know

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Be Boring 

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

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

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

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

https://leonardodavincigallery.com/what-is-leonardo-da-vinci-sfumato-technique/

Da Vinci’s Sfumato and Chekov’s Razor


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

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

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

Chekov’s Razor

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

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

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

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

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

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

That’s Not Dirt


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dumb Guy’s Disease


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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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