Platypus People


They’re platypus people! They’re platypus people! It’s a kookbook!

 

Platypus people do not have a duck’s bill or an otter’s body, but in many ways they are as foreign to us as their Australian counterparts were to scientific community in England, in the late 18th century. The weird, strange, and just plain different people we meet tend to stray from the premise we all share from time to time. We might not even know that we share a premise, until we hear someone else say something that suggests they’re operating from an altogether different premise. When that happens, it can be shocking.

It’s almost as shocking to us as the introduction of platypus was to Britain’s scientific community. They were so rocked by it that they thought the semi-aquatic, egg-laying mammal was an elaborate and well-conceived hoax. They thought they had a comprehensive catalog of the animal kingdom prior to the introduction of the platypus, and we empathize, for when we met our first platypus person, we thought we had a decent catalog on human nature.

“Who thinks like this?” we asked ourselves. We thought someone glued a proverbial bill of a duck on an otter’s body to try to pass him off as a new species when we heard what he thought of the world. We did not physically dissect him to find the truth, in the manner the skeptical Brits did when they encountered the platypus, to search for the taxidermist’s stitching. We did probe, however, and we came away thinking he was genuine, unlike those Brits who remained skeptical even after seeing a live platypus, but we had no idea how to process his thoughts.

As with the Brits and the platypus, the more we learned more about the platypus person, the more that shock turned to intrigue as we began to think that his funhouse mirror perspective might tweak how we thought of ourselves.

It might be a subjective viewpoint, but I think most of us travel through a wide variety of thoughts on the road to formulating a philosophy. With fighting words, we develop translucent passions. We crave cutting edge, unusual thoughts that formulate weird, strange, or just plain different impressions. At some point, we recognize how contrived most free-thinking, independent spirits are. Some of them are weird for the sake of being weird, some disagree just to disagree, and others follow the edicts of cool overlords to become one. We recognize these contrivances through the premise we share, which is revealed by the others who operate from an entirely different premise. When viewing this through that looking glass we see that if we’re all free-thinking, independent spirits, then none of us are, and the channel their unique perspective opens affects us in a manner motivates us to learn everything we can about their philosophy before we reach whatever final formulation we do. We want to taste every piece of pie available to us before we reach the end of the buffet.

When we hear someone who appeared to go through the same intellectual progressions as we did, only to arrive at an entirely different conclusion, we want to know how they arrived at that. We want to know everything about their philosophy on matters and how it applies to their epistemology, and we want to know the anthropological origins of their thought process. We might not agree with anything they say, and by the time they’re finished, we realize that the specific subjects they discuss don’t matter either. We’re so fascinated with their process that we listen to them with some excitement, as we think their story, or the sedimentary layers of their story, could apply and affect our own.

All of these reactions to the platitudes of platypus people are subjective, but within these subjective reactions are autobiographical attempts to understand ourselves better, and whether we are going to eventually agree with it or attempt to nuke their theories, we want to know how to process what they are saying.

I thought everyone went through the same cyclical reactions to this guy’s provocative statements, until one of my friends said, “Doesn’t he have cable?”

As I laughed, I realized that I was probably overthinking the matter. I also realized that even though this joker and I disagreed on everything two people can disagree on, and we approached him from widely different perspectives, we both came to variations of the same conclusion about this man.

We envy quick wits who can diagnose a situation and summarize in seconds, but when they say something such as, “Doesn’t he have cable?” we aren’t sure if they understand the totality of what was said. After chewing on the line, we realize that we probably didn’t understand the totality of their joke. If the import of the joke was that the platypus person might be operating from the same premise as the rest of us if he wasted as many hours of his life as we had watching cable TV, then their joke was probably spot on.

A great line like this also diverts us from any in-depth processing we might do on the subject, because it allows us to dismiss the platypus person. It’s rare that we consciously dismiss another based on a single joke, but if the joke is so spot on, we will probably have it bouncing around in our head in all of our future interactions with the platypus person.

Some people are just quicker than the rest of us. They can listen to an hours-long discussions and sum them up in one quick line. Some of us are processors who need time to process information, and we enjoy hearing numerous opinions before forming a conclusion. We might obsess over otherwise inconsequential matters far too often, but we can’t understand how someone can come up with a quick, reflexive line like that and consider the matter settled. Do they develop this ability, because they are more comfortable in their own skin that that confidence allows them to swat nuanced, complicated ideas away? Or, do they develop this ability to come up with a quick assessment of a person, because they are so insecure that they seek to thwart all unusual thoughts before they question some fundamentals of their being? Is it a defense mechanism they use to help them avoid dwelling or obsessing on such topics, or do they consider most of the mysteries that plague the rest of us settled?

Being Weird is a Choice 

After meeting a few more platypus people in the years that followed, I realized the matter wasn’t settled for me. Some of them were weird and others were strange, but most of them just didn’t fit in with the rest of us. What’s the difference? One of the best ways I found to define a relative term like weird is to define what it is not. It is not, for the purpose of this discussion, strange. The term strange, by our arbitrary definition, concerns those affected by natural maladies. They had a variance inflicted upon them that they could not control, and they cannot escape. As opposed to a person we might consider strange, a person who chooses to be weird, can easily find their way back to the premise, they simply choose, for various reasons, to step away from it for a moment. The platypus person cannot find their way back for reasons that are less philosophical and more anthropological, as their epistemological makeup has been passed down their genealogical tree.

We don’t define these separations to be nice, though we do deem it mean-spirited to mock, insult, or denigrate people who arrive at their differences in a more natural manner. We don’t create this rhetorical device for our readers to consider us wonderful, more understanding, or compassionate, but we deem those who go out of their way to poke fun at the strange to be lacking in basic human decency. We also don’t want to leave the reader with the impression that we might be more normal, or more intelligent, than any of the subjects we discuss. We design this arbitrary separation for the sole purpose of providing some classifications for those who had no choice in the matter, against a backdrop of those who choose to be weird through the odd decisions they make in life.

We might think that anyone who chooses to be weird must suffer from a strange psychology. In my experience, it’s quite the opposite for our need to be different started out as a form of rebellion in our youth. We wanted to be weird to rebel against the philosophical and spiritual hold our parents had on us. Those of us who chose this path wanted to be perceived as being just as weird, strange, and just plain different as those we were conditioned to dismiss and avoid by our friends and family.

My dad sensed this early on, and he did everything he could to guide me toward a more normal path. Through the decades that followed, he attempted to correct my weird ideas with more sensible, normal lines of thought. “That isn’t the way,” was a phrase he used so often that my refusal to acquiesce to his more structured ways of the world was one of my primary forms of rebellion. There were so many intense arguments, and debates in our household that no observer could escape it without thinking that it was, at least, combustible. Before we explore the ways in which the old man was strange, I would like to take a moment to thank my dad for the effort he put into trying to make me normal. He did his best to provide his children the most normal upbringing he could.

I rebelled to the relatively strong foundation he built without recognizing the luxury I was afforded. The primary reason for my gratitude is that some of the truly weird and strange platypus people I’ve met since I left my dad’s home lead chaotic lives that can be a little scary. They came from very different homes, with a less than adequate foundation, and they ended up expending as much effort trying to prove they were normal as I did to be considered weird.

When we are very young, our parents set the premise from which we will operate. This premise is often generational, as our parents passed on the fundamental knowledge they learned from their parents. As we age, we begin to see the cracks in that foundation. At some point, we assume our parents are so normal that they’re boring. They might have some quirks but who doesn’t? They might even have more quirks than others, but doesn’t that just make them quirky? When we begin to add these quirks up, as we age, and we compare them to others’ parents, an uncomfortable, irrefutable truth emerges in this dichotomy: Our parents are strange people. They aren’t a little weird, or goofy, and we can no longer find comfort in the idea that our parents just have some different ideas about some subjects. They have some bona fide, almost clinical, deficiencies.

If we ever gain enough distance from them to view their idiosyncrasies with some objectivity, this revelation can be earth-shattering. We witnessed, firsthand, some confusing elements of their thought process, and we began adding them up, but it wasn’t until we put all the pieces together that that uncomfortable truth emerged.

After that relatively daunting epiphany clears, a sense of satisfaction takes its place. Our rebellion to their quirky ideas was the right course to follow, and we now see how justified we were. At some point in our various stages of processing this newfound information, we realize that for much of our life, our parents were a beacon of sanity in an otherwise confusing world they were charged with helping us understand. When we couple that information with everything else we’ve realized, it’s no longer as funny as we thought it was. We reach a point where we want/need them to be normal, and we ask them not to express themselves in front of our friends, because if our friends learn how strange our parents truly are, how long will it be before they connect those dots back to us?

My dad was abnormal, at the very least. Some might say he was a kook, and others might suggest he was an odd duck. In the frame we’re creating here though, he was a platypus person who was difficult to classify. Either he was born with certain deficiencies, or they were a result of self-inflicted wounds. One could say that those self-inflicted wounds were choices he made along the way, and if that is true I believe he made them as a result of some of his natural deficiencies.

The point of writing about my dad’s deficiencies is not to denigrate the man, but to point out that which separated him from what one would call a normal man. Those deficiencies plagued him, and he put forth a great deal of effort to convince the world around him that he was as normal as they were. The trials and tribulations he experienced in this regard marked his life, and he didn’t want his children to have to go through what he did, so he tried to establish a normal home without too much chaos. In his subjective approach to life, he thought fitting in with others and being normal were the keys to happiness, and he tried to pass that along to us. I rebelled to those teachings, because I couldn’t see his efforts for what they were at the time.

Even after years of reflecting on this, and recognizing what my dad’s efforts for what they were, I still like to dance in the flames of the weird, but once the lights come up I’m as normal now, and as boring, as everyone else. As hard as my dad tried to force normalcy on me, however, he couldn’t control the impulses I had to indulge in the artistic creations that glorified life outside the norm. I knew weird ideas were out there, and I pursued them with near wanton lust.

When I left the relatively normal home my dad tried to create for us, I ventured out into a world outside the realm of his influence. I lived the life I always wanted to live, and I found weird, oddball philosophies so intoxicating that I had trouble keeping them in the bottle.

My dad’s overwhelming influence on my life was such that I preferred the company of normal people long-term, but I remained eager to invite weird people in for a brief stay to challenge my status quo. Their brief stay would present me with different and weird ideas of thinking, weird platitudes, and oddball mentalities that shook the contents in my bottle a little bit more. I needed to know what made them tock (as opposed to the ticks I knew all too well). I became obsessed with the abnormal to find out what made them different, or if they were, and I had to deal with friends and family telling me that I should be avoiding these people, because they were so strange. I couldn’t, I said, not until I consumed all that they had to offer.

A Piece of Advice to the Young Ones

If there are any young people seeking to disappoint their parents and anyone who has expectations of them in the manner I did, I have one word of caution. Pursue the life of a freak, become that rebel that makes every square in the room uncomfortable. Violate every spoken and unspoken rule of our culture, and become that person everyone in the room regards as an oddball. Before going down these roads, however, an aspiring rebel needs to consider learning everything they can about the conventional rules that they plan to spend the rest of their life violating. Knowing the rules provides a foundation for successful rebellions. All rebels think they know the conventional ways of the conventional, and they might think there’s no point in studying them, but if there’s one thing that I learned as an aspiring rebel, and in the many conversations I had with other rebels since, it’s that a rebel needs to know the rules better than the squares do. A violation of rules comes with its own set of rules, and subsets, for those seeking to violate in a constructive and substantive manner. Failure to learn them, and the proper violation of them, will allow those who set the rules to dismiss a rebel as one who doesn’t know what they’re talking about, and a rebel without a cause.

Most rebels find inspiration for their rebellion from screen stars who violate standards and upset the status quo in their presentations. These stars provide color by number routes to rebellion that are provocative and easy to follow. These rebellions also look great on a screen, but those seeking inspiration often fail to account for the fact that the screenwriters and directors of these productions manipulate all of the extraneous conditions and side characters around the main character to enhance their qualities. We all know this is true, in some respects, but few of us factor it into our presentation. In real life, there are situations and forces that even a rebel with strong convictions cannot control. There are people who will present the rebel with scenarios for which they’re unprepared, and a failure to study the conventional rules from every angle possible, will lead the audience of the rebel’s argument to forget it soon after they make it.

James Dean was A Rebel Without a Cause, though, and James Dean was cooler than cool. For ninety minutes he was, and with all of extraneous conditions and side characters portraying the perfect contradictory behavior that would define the James Dean character’s rebellion, James Dean was cool. Cooler than cool. Again, the real life rebel cannot manipulate his extraneous conditions and side characters to enhance their presentations in the manner all the behind the scene’s players did in that movie. In real life, the extraneous players who topple the uninformed rebel with corrections consider a rebel without a cause, and a rebel without substance. They may regard him as uninteresting, after the initial flash of intrigue with their rebelliousness subsides.

My advice to all aspiring rebels is to listen to those squares who are so normal they make them throw up in their mouth a little, for they may teach a rebel more about what they’re rebelling against than those who feed into their confirmation bias.

My aunt was an absolute bore. She taught me the elements of life that bored the fill in the blank out of me with her preachy presentations on “Good and honest living.” She didn’t know where it was at, as far as I was concerned. I sought entrée into the “Do what you feel” rock and roll persona that left carnage in its wake. I debated her point for point. I knew the elements of rock and roll lifestyle well. My aunt was not much of a debater. She knew her “Good and honest living” principles, but she could not debate me point for point. When compared to the rock and roll figures of our culture, she had poor presentation skills. She was also overweight and unattractive. The entertainers were attractive and thin, they all had strong jaw lines, and they confirmed all of the beliefs I had about life.

Life should be easy, judgment free, and fun, I decided. It shouldn’t involve the moral trappings of what is right and what is wrong. As long as no one gets hurt, a person should be able to do what they feel like doing. Viewing all of this in retrospect, however, I now realize that the boring, pedantic, obese, and unattractive people taught me ten times as much about life as any of the entertainers. The entertainers were just better at packaging their presentations.

The crux of my rebellion was that I wanted to expel whatever my body couldn’t use into the face of the mainstream. I wanted to be so weird that they could taste it. The responsible grownups who played a quality role in my development had a boring sameness about them, and the idea that I might be able to be something different led to some growth in my undercarriage. My dad vied for this sameness, and he wanted the same for me, but no matter how hard he tried to make me normal, I continued to explore the abbie normal side of humanity.

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In my efforts to have someone, somewhere consider me weird, I spotted the now endangered platypus person. The reason we place the platypus person on the endangered list is that with the advent of devices and the internet, the idea of total nonconformity is even rarer than it was when I was younger. It’s no longer as simple as a person not having cable. They must avoid all that is available to them in the information age, including the internet. It’s easier than it’s ever been for them to consciously and subconsciously replicate and mimic our thoughts, rhythms, and patterns, in other words. It also leads to greater assimilation, and it makes them tougher to spot. If, for whatever reason, they are not able to camouflage their duck’s bill on an otter’s body, we should note that it’s rarely by choice. As I suggested earlier, they sincerely want to be normal, but their upbringing was such that it requires some effort on their part to do what it takes for others to perceive someone as normal. They don’t mimic to deceive anyone, unless one considers convincing oneself of a lie so thoroughly that they believe it themselves an act of deception.

In the course of my efforts to find the rare bird, I realized that it can take weeks to months before we see their duck bill, because they only show it to people they trust, and that trust takes time to build. It also takes a level of familiarity for them to be comfortable. To get them to open up, we might have to give them our weaknesses, but we don’t do this for the purpose of getting them open up. We don’t know they’re platypus people when we speak to them. We aren’t reporters digging for their story, a story, or this story. We just do it in the course of establishing a friendship with them, as we would with any other person. As with the egg-laying, semi-aquatic mammal, platypus people require a certain environment, and very specific conditions before they reveal themselves. When they do reveal themselves, there is some insecurity involved in their reveal, but there is also relief. It’s obvious that they have experienced levels of ridicule and abuse for their thoughts and ideas, and they are relieved to find someone who is so curious about the way they think.

The only times I have been able to build this level of trust, through prolonged involvement, have occurred within the confines of shared employment. On one of these jobs, I developed what we could call a cerebral crush on one of my fellow employees. We had numerous, fascinating conversations on a variety of unrelated topics. In one of our last non-work-related conversations, she replied to one of my stories with a, “Wait a second, did you say you want to be weird? You actually want to be weird? People don’t want to be weird. They either are, or they aren’t.”

This response wobbled me a little, because I thought she and I were both playing with peoples’ heads in the same manner. I thought she wanted to be considered weird too. I had no idea the things she did and said were more organically weird, strange, or just plain different. Her response told me that I had no business playing with her toys, in this sense. It also wobbled me a little, because I never heard anyone defend weirdness before. The conversation went on for a couple minutes, but no matter what I said, she kept cycling it back to this two sentence theme: People don’t want to be weird. They either are, or they aren’t

I would try, numerous times, after that conversation to steer her back to what I considered a fascinating topic, but she would have none of it. I wanted to know what it meant to be weird, from her perspective. I wanted her to elucidate on the difference between being weird and trying to be weird, but unbeknownst to me, she considered that conversation over, and she found all of my subsequent questions on the topic insulting.

Therefore, I can only guess that the import of her condemnation of my efforts was based on this idea she had that weirdness should be a birthright. It should be natural and organic. It was a ‘how dare you try to be one of us, if you’re not’ reaction to those who regard the organic nature of their oddities a birthright. She presumably regarded this as equivalent to a person who wears glasses to look sexier when they don’t have to wear them, an act that ticks off those who are required to wear them.

I felt caught while in the moment. I thought of all the attempts I made to have another consider me weird, and I thought of how inorganic they were. I felt like a fraud. As I said, my dad raised me in a manner that forced me to accept the norms, and I’m going to take another moment out of this piece to say something I didn’t say to him when he was alive, God bless you Dad for forcing a foundation of normalcy down my throat. God bless you for creating a base of normalcy from which I rebelled, for without that base I now wonder what I may have become.

My guess was that this woman’s upbringing was probably chaotic, and she spent most of her adult life striving for what others might call normal. She was weird in a more natural and fundamental sense, and she condemned anyone who might dare play around in what she proclaimed her birthright, but there was also an element of sadness and misery about her that was obvious to anyone who knew some details of her struggle.

Those of us who had enough involvement with her to know her beyond the superficial knew that chaos dominated much of her life, and we learned that it led her to desperately seek the refuge of any substance she could find to ease that pain.

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

Was this woman a little weird? Was she so weird that we could call her strange by the arbitrary definitions we’ve laid out, or were her sensibilities so different from mine that I sought to classify her in some way to help me feel normal by comparison?

When compared to all of my other experiences with platypus people, she was an anomaly. Was she weirder than I was though? “Who cares?” we might say in unison. She did. It may never have occurred to her –prior to this particular conversation– to use the idea of being weird as a cudgel to carve out some level of superiority. In that particular conversation, it was for her, and she didn’t appear to feel unusual doing so. It appeared, in fact, to be vital to her makeup that I acknowledge that she had me on this topic. She was weird, and I was trying to be weird. Who tries to be weird? Phony people. That’s who. Check, check, check. She wins.

What did she win though? Some odd form of superiority? How long did she search for some point of superiority? How many topics did we cover, in our numerous, unrelated conversations, before she was able to spot one aspect of her personality in which she had some level of superiority? If either of these questions wreaks of ego on my part, let’s flip it around and ask how many battles did she lose trying to appear as normal as her counterpart was? She needed a victory. I had numerous conversations with this woman before we drifted apart, and I never saw this competitive side of her again. She thought she had me on this one weird, strange, or just plain different topic, and I can only assume it gave her some satisfaction to do so.

Are you weird, strange, just plain different, or an unclassifiable platypus person? No one cares, you might say, and quit judging people with labels. Our subjective reactions to define anomalies define us. Some of us try to cut analysis short by accusing anyone who obsesses over differences as lacking in compassion. Others drop a quick, humorous line that allows them to dismiss subjects of curiosity. Those of us who dwell (obsess) over these topics don’t understand how others can turn this part of their brain off, because we think our story lies somewhere in the sedimentary levels of the strange and weird platypus people.

We all know some weird people, and we’ve encountered those who are strange and just plain different. We’ve also learned that some are so different that they’re difficult to classify. The one answer we could provide is that we all have a relative hold on the various truths of life, and those answers help us keep the idea of random chaos at bay. If you have had any prolonged involvement with a platypus person, however, you know that they have their answers too. Those answers might be different from everything we’ve heard our whole life, but does that make them weird, strange or just plain different? The frustration that those of us who search for answers in life know is that some of the times there are no concrete answers to some questions. Some of the times, questions lead to answers and some of the times, answers lead to other questions, intriguing, illuminating questions. Am I weird, strange, or so different from everyone else has trouble classifying me? Do these questions require the level of exhaustive analysis we devote to it, or does it have more to do with the idea that some of us didn’t have cable growing up?

Next up: Meet the Platypus People

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


We, late bloomers, envy those who knew, at a relatively young age, what they wanted to do for a living. Most of us experienced some moments of inspiration that could lead us down a path, but few of us ever read medical journals, law reviews, or business periodicals in our formative years. We 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 fun for the kids in our block, but there were other, more serious kids, who we wouldn’t meet until we were older. They may not have known they would become neurosurgeons, but they were so interested in medicine that they devoted huge 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 level of focus at such a young age, we wonder. Are we even the same species?

direction than anyone we knew, and that direction put them on the path of doing what they ended up doing, even if it wasn’t as specific as we might guess.

The questions regarding what we should do for a living has 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 relatives 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 any 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 when we were growing up, 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 reveal 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 some mythical Greek king’s mother. What we might not know, because we consider it ancillary to his greater works, is that some of his theories 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.[1] 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”.[2] 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’.”

EEL TesticlesBefore 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 real 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 described Freud’s working environment. [3] 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 was the effect of this failure to find eel testicles on Freud’s later 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 financially 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 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 futile 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 a field of science that would later 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 it off the lot? Some say that if this is how Freud conducted his sessions, he did so in an unconscious manner, and others might say that this could have been the basis for his theory on unconscious actions. How different would Freud’s theories on sexual 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 a marine biologist? 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 who claim they don’t are lying in a latent manner, and 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.[4] 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 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.[5]

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?

[1]https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eel_life_history

[2]http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2010/oct/27/the-decline-of-the-eel

[3]http://www.nytimes.com/2006/04/25/health/psychology/analyze-these.html

[4]https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Demographics_of_sexual_orientation

[5]http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/assault/roots/freud.html

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

Rasputin II: A Miracle at Spala

Rasputin III: Rasputin’s Murder

Unconventional Thinking vs. Conventional Facts


Raymond Skiles seeks a different way, a better way, through alternative, and unconventional answers to life’s problems. He doesn’t think like the rest of us do. Raymond scours alternative resources to find alternative routes through our legal system, our financial systems, and in the ways we maintain health. The discussions the two of us have on these subjects often involve him arguing from what I consider an illogical base, and me struggling to avoid thinking he’s wrong. We’ve all heard people say it’s almost impossible for us to be objective, for we all bring our subjectivity to such discussions. I understand this point, and I strive to believe that what works for someone like Raymond may not work for me. When Raymond told me that he was going to risk it all based on some alternative information he learned, however, I felt the need to warn him based on my understanding of the issue we were discussing. I cared about Raymond Skiles, and I didn’t want to see him pursue avenues I consider ill-advised. If he considered my advice worthless, that was fine with me as long as I felt I did everything I could to help him see his issue from a different perspective.

Raymond Skiles is a dumb guy. We both are. He did as poorly in school as I did, and we both decided to educate ourselves, after our school years, to try to catch up to those who were more engaged in their studies. Being a dumb guy was more state of mind than an absolute characteristic for us, and we spent the rest of our adult lives trying to escape the label. We shared so many of these characteristics at one point in our lives that some might call us similar. We both fell prey to some crazy, wacky conspiratorial beliefs in our youth, but at some point in our respective timelines, we diverged.

The differences that emerged between the two of us can be explained in one simple scenario. If a used car salesman approached us, on separate occasions, with his persuasive sales techniques, we would both enter into the transaction believing that we were smarter, more savvy, and better than a used car salesman. I don’t know if there was an incident, or an accumulation of moments that led to my epiphany, but at some point, I realized that I wasn’t half as bright as I thought I was. This former dumb guy-turned-erudite-turned-dumb guy again, realized that while I might now know more than the average person knows about James Joyce, Fyodor Dostoevsky, and U.S. Presidents, that knowledge doesn’t do me any good the moment a guy in polyester leaps out of his balloons saying, “What do I have to do to get you into a car today?” I developed a technique that works best for me. I run away.

Raymond Skiles, on the other hand, knows a thing or two about the techniques used car salesmen employ on unsuspecting customers. By reading websites that warn potential clients about the tactics used car salesmen use, Raymond believes he knows them, and that he can use that knowledge to defeat them at their game. “You just have to know who they are,” is something he says. “Once you know what he eats for breakfast, who he calls his family, and if he’s stepping out on his wife, you got him where he lives.”

Whereas I recognize the limits of my intelligence the moment I set foot on a salesman’s home turf, Raymond considers it a challenge and a mark of his intelligence to outdo the man. I might over-estimate the craftiness of the average used car salesman, but if they are half as skilled in the art of persuasion as I fear most of them are, they will know who Raymond is. They will then flip the focus of their negotiations into an arena Raymond finds more pleasing. They might even compliment Raymond for the knowledge he has attained on the industry, and they might take a more honest and direct approach in their negotiations, and Raymond might end up paying more for the car than he intended.

In this battle between unconventional thinking and following traditional or conventional norms, unconventional thinking is far more seductive. The purveyors of unconventional information seduce us with different knowledge, with the promise that it could lead to more knowledge. When we hear conventional knowledge, we’re more apt to consider the source and frame it accordingly, and then fact check the source. When we hear unconventional ideas, however, we have an instinctive, emotional attachment to them. Some part of us wants these ideas to be so true that we put our skepticism aside to embrace them, another part of us believes that unconventional knowledge is the result of skepticism and therefore thoroughly vetted. Some psychologists state that we must make a concerted effort to avoid falling prey to their allure. Those who fall prey to the desire to have more knowledge should heed the warning that quantity does not always equal quality in this regard. There are only so many facts on a given issue, and they’re comparatively boring. Alternative, unconventional avenues are so intriguing and sexy that they can make us feel intelligent for coming up with them before any of our peers do. In some cases we should consider those arguments, but in my experience most alternative theories provide nothing more than provocative distractions and obfuscations from the central argument.

Another break between Raymond’s way of thinking and mine occurred when I realized how often alternative theories based on unconventional information are wrong. Conventional information, reported by conventional outlets, is not always true either of course, but I would suggest their batting average is far superior to the alternative outlets. The battle between the two results in some unconventional thinkers putting so much stock in the unconventional thoughts that they end up considering the rest of us naïve for believing everything we’re told.

In our discussions on a wide variety of topics, Raymond and I found many differences between how we arrive at a conclusion. We both seek primary source information, corroborating evidence, and perhaps some opinion pieces to bolster our conclusions. At some point, however, I am “easily satisfied” with my findings, whereas Raymond digs deeper. Raymond knows when the subject of a topic is a piece is crud, and Raymond knows the way a piece of crud thinks, and he seeks explanations that detail the piece of crud’s motives in a way Raymond can understand. In Raymond’s search for what he considers total objectivity, he accidentally trips over a critical line between objectivity and subjectivity. He finds subjective speculation regarding the motives of the piece of crud that fit with his theories on the subject in question, and he uses them to develop theories that are mostly autobiographical.

Alien Information

Police officers, working a beat, have a modus operandi (M.O.) they bring to their job: “Believe none of what you hear and half of what you see.” This is the ideal mindset for a law enforcement official working a beat to have. Is this M.O. ideal, however, for a casual consumer of news, an employee who learns information regarding their employer, or a friend listening to another friend tell a story?

A high profile media personality once suggested that skepticism of the press undermines their authority, but the vaunted role the press plays in our republic should require them to endure constant, intense scrutiny, skepticism, and cynicism that makes them uncomfortable. Members of the media should conduct themselves in a manner that welcomes all of that from their audience and defeats it with performance that leads to a solid record they can point to whenever anyone questions them. Wouldn’t the members of the media say the same thing of the subjects they cover?

There is a tipping point, however, when a healthy sense of skepticism creeps into a form of cynicism that believes “none of what I hear and half of what I see.” Such cynicism opens holes in most people that allows other information to fill it.

As an individual who has an insatiable curiosity for unconventional thinking, specific to human behavior, I have had a number of friends introduce me to a wide array of alternative outlets. They introduce me to various definitions of human psychology through astrology, numerology, and witchcraft. One of these friends introduced me to the idea that aliens from other planets could teach us a lot about ourselves.

This friend provided me a collection of transmitted (or transmuted) messages from these superior beings to earthlings. As I read through the information he found, I found that the theme of these messages was that my philosophy was wrong. I found them somewhat humorous, but before I could entirely dismiss them, I learned that my friend considered these messages proof that I was wrong. Although he didn’t say these words exactly, the import of his responses was that I could not argue against statements made by superior life forms.

The first question this skeptic would love to ask authors of human psychology, by way of alien scripture, is how do we arrive at the assumption that aliens from another planet are of a superior intellect? The collective thought, among certain quarters of human authority, suggests that not only is there intelligent life out there, but they’re more intelligent than earthlings can conceive. Even though we have no proof that life exists outside our planet, at this point in our space explorations, it would be foolish to think that the only lifeforms in the universe are those that exist on Earth. If other lifeforms exist, however, we don’t know what form they take. (We assume they are humanoid in form and that they’re here for our water, but if they’re intelligent beyond our comprehension why haven’t they been able to develop a substitute for water, or an artificial way to preserve or increase their supply?) We also don’t know what concerns alien life forms have, or how they think, but we assume that all creatures have the same concerns as us. The one crucial nugget of information missing in these theories is that we know less than nothing about aliens. If we had some proof that they existed, we could say we know nothing about them, but we don’t even know if they exist. With that in mind, any theories of alien intellectual superiority can only be rooted in the human inferiority complex. 

What would be the point of worshiping a deity who had a level of intelligence equivalent to our own, and what would be the point of reporting on the transmissions from space if the aliens were not of a superior intellect who could teach us a lot about our way of life? My takeaway from this friend’s collection of transmitted (or transmuted) messages was that most of the alien transmissions submitted for the reader’s pleasure have an agenda that suspiciously aligns with the author of the work.

The next time an alien transmits a message that suggests humans are of equal or superior intellect (“We are in awe of the capabilities of the new iPhone X, and we have not found a way to replicate that technology in our labs”), will be the first time I take an alien transmission seriously. The next time an alien transmits a message that has something to do with a compliment regarding human technology in agricultural techniques (“We find the techniques developed by Monsanto Co. awe-inspiring”) will be the first time I re-read an author’s interpretation of their message. One would think that a complex being would know that the best way to persuade another being is to surround criticisms with some compliments. Even if they have no emotions, in the manner most sci-fi movies depict them, it would only be logical for them to suggest that our life form did manage to get some things right. What readers receive from aliens, instead, are warnings about our dystopian nature that suspiciously align with human politics.   

We Want it to be True

Unconventional information is so interesting that it’s difficult to read it and say, “That’s just wrong.” We pursue it to hear the angle, the speculative ideas regarding motive, and the idea that the purveyor of such knowledge is fighting against the man, or the status quo. Concerned parties watching such scenarios play out, might want to caution their friends from relying too much on these alternative sources of information. We might want to tell them that doing so could lead them to being vulnerable to half-truths and greater confusion.

When we try to caution them, however, they tell us that they’ve done massive amounts of research on this subject, and most people don’t know the truth. “I know I didn’t,” is something they say before they launch into one of their speculative theories. The questionable outlets they research often provide them information that confirms their biases and leads them to believe they are more knowledgeable than those who ascribe to conventional truths, because they have massive amounts of different knowledge that they believe equals greater knowledge and truth.

Disciples of alternative knowledge also fail to focus on results. How many of these outlets provide straight, verifiable points that pass peer review? How many of them can point to a verifiable track record of their assertions, as opposed to providing the anecdotal evidence that they promote? How many of their messages devolve into speculation regarding motives that no one can refute? How many of us are skeptical enough of the information that seems so right it has to be true?

Those of us who ascribed to unconventional thoughts at one point in our lives began to see them for what they were, and we came to the uncomfortable conclusion that just because the information we hear is unconventional, alternative, and “what your father doesn’t want you to know” does not mean that it’s correct. We enjoyed the offspring of the counterculture for what it was. We all thought they were so hip that our interest in their thoughts led some programmers to identify and capitalize on the purveyors of unconventional thinking, until those thoughts seduced us into incorporating them into our conventional thinking on some matters.

Whether it is political, social, or any other venue of thought, some people derive definition by fighting against the status quo, but we could say that the status quo is an ever-shifting focus that can lead to so many converting to such thoughts that those thoughts could eventually become status quo, conventional.

I no longer buy a book of unconventional thinking, or befriend an unconventional thinker, with the hope of having them change my mind on a subject. If their ideas persuade me to change my mind, that’s gravy, but I have learned that such thoughts, are often best used to challenge my current worldview, and/or bolster my arguments as I attempt to defeat them. I do not then write this with the intent of changing anyone else’s mind. I do enjoy, however, taking the conventional standpoint and melding it with the unconventional to arrive at what I consider a hybrid of the truth that neither party has considered before.

He Used to Have a Mohawk

The lifelong fascination I have had with these modes of thinking drove a non-fiction piece I wrote called He Used to Have a Mohawk. In this piece, I document the conventional thoughts some might have regarding an individual who decided to have his hair cut in a thin strip on his head. At one point in the main character’s life, he grew an eight inch mohawk, and at another point he dyed it blue. Conventional thinking suggests that he might deserve any ostracizing he receives. Unconventional or non-traditional modes of thought observe that there’s nothing wrong with a person who decides to shave their head in such a manner. This line of thought suggests that it’s on the observer to accept the mohawk wearer for who he or she is as a person. It also suggests that the conventional observer might discover the limits of their preconceived notions or conventional thoughts of a person, by finding out that a person who leaves a thin strip of hair on their head, grows it eight inches, and dyes it blue is actually a beautiful person inside. The approach I took, with this piece, combined the two modes of thought and examined them through the prism of a character who used to have such a haircut.

What kind of person asks a stylist to cut their hair into a mohawk? What happens to them when they age and go back to having what we consider a more traditional haircut? Do they miss the altered perceptions they used to experience when they had the haircut, or do they regret ever having the haircut in the first place?

One of my favorite critiques of this piece stated that the immediate components of this story could lead a reader to find impulsive, emotional offense, until they re-read the piece to carefully understand the complex subtext of the piece through deep analysis. “I like the way you take a mohawk and turn it into something greater than just a simple hairstyle. You give it character that I feel not many others could appreciate,” Amanda Akers wrote.

No matter where the reader stands on the conventional fulcrum of this subject, they must acknowledge that an individual who asks to have their hair cut into a mohawk does so to generate reactions, or different reactions, more than a person with a more traditional haircut might invite on any given day. Some would say that mohawk wearers generate unwanted attention for themselves by wearing such a haircut, but others could say that no attention is unwanted for some.

Another mohawk wearer surprised me one day by wearing it to a Halloween party. I told him that I enjoyed his costume, but he told me it wasn’t a costume. It was his hairdo. When I asked him further, more prodding questions, he said, “I wear my hair flat in the office, but I wear it up when I go out.”

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

I met the main character, who used to have a mohawk, at his wedding. After the wedding was over, the groom’s best man and the bridesmaid both stated, in their toasts, that they wanted to get to know the groom who used to have a mohawk, when he had the mohawk, in part because he had a mohawk. As they learned more about him, to their apparent dismay, they discovered that he was a nice man. As an uninformed bystander, I considered the shock they displayed that a man with a mohawk could be nice, a little condescending. We could view a traditional thinker’s views of a person who has a mohawk as condescending, as they might make generalizations about mohawk wearers, and they might stereotype them. Listening to these toasts, I heard sympathetic souls, who I presumed aligned with unconventional thinking, sound just as condescending as one who might generalize or stereotype. The only distinction was that they were trying to ingratiate themselves to the groom, but I still found it just as condescending.

The groom appeared to bathe in all of it. I watched this man react to these toasts, and I couldn’t tell if he considered it a mark of his character that he had befriended people regardless of the haircut, or if he missed the reactions that he used to generate when he had the mohawk, but my money was on the latter.

The point, as I see it, is that we should maintain a level of skepticism for anything we see and hear, but those who put so much energy into unconventional thoughts often end up more confused on a given subject than enlightened. Forming a hybrid of sorts, is the ideal plane for one to reach as it suggests that while we should remain skeptical in nature, we should also maintain an equal amount of skepticism for enlightened, unconventional thoughts. Yet, as I write, we deem unconventional information to be the result of skepticism thereby granting it immunity from a ledger that scores the thoughts, theories, and ideas.

FOBF: The Fear of Being Foolish

Most people hate being wrong, but we’re willing to concede to the idea that some of us are going to be wrong some of the times. What we cannot abide by is the idea that we’re wrong so often that somebody is going to consider us a fool. How many rhetorical devices, tactics, and persuasive techniques have we developed over the years to avoid being called a fool? One thing we’ve established is that a fool is someone who believes in nouns (people, places, and things). Believing in things leaves us vulnerable to this charge, and we seek foolproof status. Due to the fact that most alternative thoughts can never be substantially proven incorrect, unconventional thinkers are shielded against being called a fool. On the off chance that they are incorrect, they might make slight adjustments in their presentation to incorporate the newfound facts, or they just move on. 

“They just move on?” I asked a friend of mine who told me about her unconventional parents. Her parents latched onto just about every conspiracy theory and unconventional theory they ever heard. When the facts rolled out, and they were proven wrong, they just moved onto the next one. “So, when the rest of us are proven wrong, we have to deal with the ridicule and scorn that comes our way, but when your parents are wrong, they just move onto the next conspiracy theory? How do they do that?”

“They just do,” she said.

Her parents were prophets of doom, as the millennium neared. They were handing out pamphlets and grain pellets at their church. They believed something would happen on 9/9/99, and when it didn’t, they moved onto the millennium. When nothing happened on 1/1/2000, they suggested that we miscalculated the Aztec calendar, and that the day of doom still awaited us sometime in the near future. They listed a specific date, based on specific calculations, but I don’t remember the exact date, because I knew they would just move on after that date passed. I knew they would just move the date of doom to some date in the all too near future.

This mentality eludes me, because I know, firsthand, the feeling of being so wrong on an issue that people won’t value my assessments in the future as a result. I would’ve been mortified when these dates passed without event, but their daughter informed me that after all those dates passed without event, her parents were handing out pamphlets and grain pellets warning about the next date of doom. I’m still not sure what drives common, every day people to heed the warning of such doomsayers, but I believe it has something to do with the idea that the track record of alternative, unconventional information is somehow immune to criticism. It is foolproof, because the alternative is believing what the “they” want you to believe.

“How can you be so sure that it won’t happen this time?” is something people like my friend’s parents ask.

We can’t be sure, of course, because we are insecure beings who falter in the face of such certitude. We’ve also watched too many movies where no one believed the sexy actors who knew something no one else in this production did, and we don’t want to be portrayed by the overweight, unattractive character actor who didn’t believe. They frame this question in a probing, “Who do you think you are?” manner that asks us how many times we’ve been wrong before, and if we’re willing to wager that we know more about this than the experts they list. 

Dumb guys who fell prey to believing far too many alternative, unconventional, and conspiracy theories were so relieved to read some psychologists write that we must all make a concerted effort to avoid falling prey to this type of seduction, because it suggests that we’re all susceptible to their siren calls. Our grades in school haunt us to this day, and we will use any excuse we can find to declare that we’re not as dumb as we think we are. When someone comes along and basically writes that the siren call of these theories are so alluring that all of us must proactively keep our susceptibility in the “off” position, it lends credence to the “shame on you for fooling me” portion of the meme, as long as we maintain the “off” position to prevent the shame from doubling back and making us the fools in the future. Though the psychologists’ conclusion does not absolve us of the idea that we once believed a wide variety of crazy theories and loony conspiracy theories, we do find some comfort in numbers.  

Maintaining this “off” position is not easy, and it is not my intent to suggest that I woke up one day deciding that I was no longer going to believe alternative ideas loaded with unconventional information that can lead to conspiracy theories. It wasn’t any easier for me to avoid their interesting and thought-provoking theories. I put forth constant and diligent effort to defeat my susceptibility. Tune out, turn on, and defeat was the credo I used anytime I encountered sexy, enticing pieces that lead to emotional reactions. Current and future stories such as those are as difficult to ignore as all the previous ones were, but after mentally charting all of their hypothetical guesses, based on alternative thinking that many considered unconventional, I was finally able to break the leash.

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.}

They’re Platypus People


“Did you know that your friend’s dad is an infidel?” Mrs. Francis Finnegan asked me, as I stood just outside the door of her home. Her greeting did not intimidate me, because it was not unprecedented. I received these greetings whenever I drove to the Finnegan home to pick up her son for the night, and she answered the door. I received this greeting when she had a topic that she wanted to discuss before we went out. I referred to it as 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 the headlines that newspaper editors use to draw attention to a story.

“Hey, it’s mister cigarette 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 me to the discussion we were about to have regarding 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 said, because I had such a heavy influence on her beloved son. She also informed me that the state of my home suggested that I needed more guidance.

The “Your best friend’s dad is an infidel” greeting informed me that the Finnegan family 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 such 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 her 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 that to 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 open my mouth around her, lest she correct me, but I did enjoy our respective roles in this relationship.

My initial thought was that the emotional turmoil of this moment caused the faux pas, but her diction was so proper and refined that I didn’t consider her capable of such a slip. Prior to that presumed faux pas, I thought I caught her violating the conventions of languages number of times, but she always assured me that she was correct. I would go home, look them up, and find out that by the strict rules of our language 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 sparse 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, with an implicit suggestion that not only had her husband violated his vows to her, but his vows to God. I knew I might be overthinking the issue, but her violation was that unprecedented.

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, as I walked by him, 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. Only her immediate family members addressed her with such familiarity. She had very few adult friends, but to those people she was Frances. To everyone else, she was Mrs. Finnegan. She may have allowed others to call her less formal names, but I never heard it. Mrs. Finnegan was not one to permit 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.”

A visual display followed that verbal one. It was carried into the living room by the daughter. The daughter appeared as unemotional about this particular family discussion as she had the prior ones. In my experience, 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. She then went about lighting all of the candles in the display. When she was done she sat as silently as she completed all those actions.

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 who looked around the Finnegan family 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.

Before this discussion began, Mrs. Finnegan somehow 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.)[1] “-he can look at those pictures while he’s [sexing] me. Do you think that will help your performance honey?” she asked her husband.

As we sat in the wake of that uncomfortable comment, the question of how far Mrs. Finnegan might go with her characterizations of their lives was mercifully interrupted by a knock at the door. For obvious reasons, we didn’t see the individual approach the door, so his knock startled us. The construction of the Finnegan duplex was such that when the drapes were open the inhabitants could see the knocker if they were facing in that direction. 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 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 stepping back to allow Andy’s entrance.

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. From what I could see Andy didn’t respond to Mrs. Finnegan’s greeting in anyway. He didn’t go out of his way to show any signs of respect, or disrespect. He just turned and left.

I watched him leave with my mouth hanging open. I didn’t know we could do that.

Andy left, because he knew what Mrs. Finnegan’s headline hellos entailed. He knew what he was in for, and I did 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 that all over 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 have to endure another Finnegan family discussion. His impulsive reaction was so simple that if he planned it beforehand, and he told me that plan, I would’ve countered that it would never work, ‘and, besides, you won’t be able to do it,’ I would’ve added. I’m sure he would’ve asked why, and I don’t know what I would’ve said, but it would’ve involved the inherent respect and fear we have of other people’s parents. Andy and I were good kids, and good kids consider it a testament to our character that we maintain model status around other people’s parents. When Andy did what he did, and Mrs. Finnegan did nothing more than close the door, I realized that I would have to do a much better job of evaluating my options in life.

When the confessional phase of the Finnegan family discussion began –a phase that required Mr. Finnegan to confess to me what he did– I wasn’t there to hear it. I was looking out their front window imagining that Andy’s display so emboldened me that I just stood up and followed Andy to his car. Just like that. Just like he did. 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 Andy’s laughter, until I explained.

What is a platypus, I imagined myself telling Andy to encourage more laughter from him, but an animal that defies categorization. One study of them, informs the world of science that they should fall into one category, until they do what they do to further mystify the scientific community. 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. Experts in psychology might think they have a decent hold on human classifications, but imagine what one day in the Finnegan family home could do to them.

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 to believe that the hoaxer discovered an entirely new species. Thus, when someone introduced the platypus, the scientists believed that it was but another elaborate hoax of taxidermy.

‘Those who 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 transgression with far too much detail. 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 storyteller’s gift that I didn’t appreciate in the moment? Were the Finnegans such an aberration that they might confound those in the scientific community who think 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 together facts and fabricated details into a great story might come back to haunt me. They might not even believe the story if Andy stuck around to corroborate the details of it, and they might not even believe it if they saw all of this live, I realized while Mr. Finnegan continued to offer me explicit details of his sordid weekend. My audience might think they’re the subjects of an elaborate hoax.

“He has already confessed those details of his weekend to his children,” Mrs. Finnegan interrupted Mr. Finnegan’s confession to inform me, “and he will be offering his detailed confession to the mailman, a traveling salesman, or any others who happened to darken our door today.” 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 the 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 want to 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 don’t think I ever saw the woman attempt to conceal her hostility or bitterness before, but the building tension provided contrast to anything I witnessed prior to this point. 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 all of her hostility at me.

“You think it’s about love?” she asked me, aghast at an assessment I never made. She 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 previous embarrassing questions. The smile seemed so out of place with the building tension that I began to wonder if she was in full control of her facilities.

“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 it’s over, you come to Mrs. Finnegan with your questions, and I’ll introduce you to some reality. I’ll tell you tales of men, grown men who 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 Mr. Finnegan finally mustered up the courage to begin walking away from her. When he wouldn’t answer, or even turn to acknowledge her question, Mrs. Finnegan took off after him.

Mrs. Finnegan moved across the room quick, which for anyone who spent any time around this otherwise sedate woman knew was a little startling, troubling, and in retrospect 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 had to 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 intensity would lead to a conclusion against which he should guard himself. Thus, when she pushed him, he was in no position to defend himself or lessen the impact of falling 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 we sat in to brace ourselves– we witnessed Mrs. Finnegan pulling her husband up the stairs with one hand in his hair.

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 of it to move out of the way.

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 those not employed in specific levels of civil service probably see once in a lifetime. She was lifting a six-five, two-hundred pound man up the stairs, by his hair and 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, the same gibberish I realized that proceeded her pushing her husband down the stairs, and all moments between. She later 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 manner divine intervention prevented Abraham from harming his son Isaac in the biblical narrative. I believed it too, at first, and in the heat of the moment, but I would later learn that I 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 it 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 anyone doubted Mrs. Finnegan’s account, 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 the day. If those future visitors were to ask me for advice on this matter, I would advise them to weigh their options before entering.

[1]http://nj1015.com/my-top-ten-favorite-quotes-from-a-christmas-story/

Find Your Own Truth


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Narrative Essay

Even while scouring the RIYL (read if you like) links provided at the bottom of the webpages of books I’ve enjoyed, I knew that the narrative essay existed. Just as I’ve always known that the strawberry existed, I knew about the form some call memoir, that others call creative non-fiction. The question I have, is have you ever tasted a strawberry that caused you to flirt with the idea of eating nothing but strawberries for the rest of your life? If you have, I’m going to guess that it had more to do with your diet than it did the actual taste of that strawberry. A person may go long stretches of time carelessly ignoring the nutrients that this gorgeous, little heart-shaped berry has in abundance for. They may suffer from a vitamin C depletion, for example, in ways that were not apparent to them, until they took that first bite of this gorgeous, little heart-shaped berry.

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

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

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

My personal definition is that an epiphany is something nestled among commonplace, of-course thoughts, and it is something the recipient has to arrive at of their own accord.

It is difficult to describe an epiphany to a person that’s never had one. Even to those that have had one, I would say that the variables within an epiphany are so unique that they can be difficult to describe to a listener with an “of course” face on. I could’ve informed them that, more often than not, an epiphany does not involve the single, most unique thought ever considered, but a common place “of course” thought that the recipient has to arrive at of their own accord. When that doesn’t make a dent in their “of course” face, we can only concede that epiphanies are personal.

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

You’ll figure it out.”

If a vague piece of advice, such as these two nuggets, appear so obvious that they’re hardly worth saying, or the recipient of such advice can’t understand how it might apply, no matter how often one thinks about it, does it, attempts to add to it, or whittles away at it to find a core worthy of exploration, I add, you’ll either figure it out, or you won’t.

A Simplicity Trapped in a Complex Mind


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In the life I spent following that advice, I met a number of fussy guys. Some wouldn’t even look at a woman below an eight, on the relative scale of physical appearance. Others looked for excessive class, intelligence, strength and weakness, and still others were in a perpetual, perhaps unconscious, search for their ma. For me, it’s always been about sanity. I’ve date some beautiful women throughout my life and some strong women who could school me in intelligence. Most of the women I decided to date brought that sassy element I so enjoy, but it’s always came back to the FrootLoopery index for me. I had an inordinate attraction to the mama-that-could-bring-the-drama for much of my life, but when those ultimatums of increased involvement arrived that sage advice from Paul’s father would weaved its way into my calculations. I did not want to end up in an incarnation of my personal visage of hell, otherwise known as The Family Liquor Store, where it appeared a wide variety of bitter, lost souls entered by the droves, but none escaped.

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

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

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

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

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

Prior to David Hauser, I assumed that people who speak to themselves do so to fill a void. In a world of people with no listening skills, most intangible friends are excellent listeners. David Hauser filled that void, but he and his companion created other voids, what some might call seven-second lulls. At times, the lulls in those conversations ended with active-listening prompts on David’s part. This display suggested that the purported speaker ended the lull, and David’s listening prompts encouraged the speaker to continue. At other times, David stopped speaking abruptly, as if someone had interrupted him. Those elements deepened my already deep fascination with David Hauser. I knew the abuse I took for this would be brutal, but I couldn’t take it anymore. I had to know what this guy was saying.

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

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

“For God’s sake,” Paul said. “Why?”

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

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

“Be careful,” Paul said.

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

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

“Why?” I asked.

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

“Could that happen?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I wasn’t there when David Hauser told the story of what happened to him, so I don’t have primary source information of his fall from grace. The secondhand story of this once prominent man of such unimaginable abilities falling to a level of despair and failure was on the tip of the tongue of everyone that heard it. “Like that!” they said, with a snap of their fingers to punctuate the description. Bubbling beneath that surface fascination were unspoken fears, confusion, and concern that if it could happen to a guy “Like that!” it could happen to any of us. In place of traveling through a complex maze of theories and research findings to find the truth, there was an answer. No one knew who came up with it first, and no one questioned if that person knew what they were talking about. We just needed an answer, a coping mechanism.

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

The man who spent most of his life answering the most difficult questions anyone could throw at him reached a block, a wall, or some obstacle that prevented him from finding the one answer that could prove beneficial to his continued existence. His solution, therefore, was to talk it out with a certain, special no one for answers.

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

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

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

The Thief’s Mentality

He Used to Have a Mohawk

That’s Me In the Corner

You Don’t Bring me Flowers Anymore!

… And Then There’s Todd

When Geese Attack!

Scorpio Man II: The Second Testimonial


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

Those of you who 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 those Scorpio Men who 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 said that she 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, but I had no reason to be, 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 we began to know each other better, and she felt more comfortable disclosing her vulnerabilities. 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 midst of 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 didn’t intend 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 the 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, who spend so much of their time now struggling to understand their charts to escape the first totem, Scorpion level of the Scorpio archetype, who 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 who can help you find your individualistic method of transmuting past your preexisting limitations in a caring and non-manipulative manner.

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

 

That’s Me In the Corner


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

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

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

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

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

“Who’s the kid?” I asked my uncle.

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

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

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

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

“Because it’s cute.”

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

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

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

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

When the kid made a beeline to his chair the moment this obligatory dance concluded –a dance I assumed his mother had forced him to participate in– I imagined that some people might have been shocked at the manner he exited. I laughed. I thought it added to the spectacle. I laughed loud, believing that those that laughed while he danced would share my laughter. They didn’t. I received confused looks from those around me. His beeline exit did not elicit shock, or any other response. They’d moved on. I tried to, but I was fixated on this kid.

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

The kid’s exit suggested that he was one that preferred to watch. It was aggravating to those of us that watched his initial dance steps and thought he had something to offer to this otherwise routine wedding reception. He didn’t appear to be the least bit embarrassed by his performance, so why would he prefer to watch?   

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

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

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

“What’s that?” my uncle said.

“What?” I said. “Nothing.” 

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

Whatever the case was, I hadn’t intended for anyone to hear that thought. I was embarrassed. I was embarrassed, but I also wondered if I intended to think that aloud, so that I might have it on the record if it went down the way I thought it would.

What I would not tell my uncle, for fear of being deemed one that is far too interested in self-serving minutiae, was that this ‘cross over’ is the Houdini milk can of the observer’s world. It is an attempt to establish one’s self as a participant in the minds of all partygoers without participating.

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

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

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

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

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

“You were just integral to the party,” I wanted to shout out to that kid with such vigor that I would’ve revealed myself. “Why would you prefer to sit on the sidelines of your mother’s wedding?”

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

When one is an athlete, for example, the members of the audience may cheer their athletic exploits in ways that display the pride they might feel through vicarious connections. When an athlete commits an error, or underperforms in any way, they may feel sorry for the athlete, but they won’t associate with them in any meaningful way. They may not disassociate themselves from the athlete, depending on the error, but the error allows them to believe that put in the same position as the athlete was at the time of the error, they would not have committed it. ‘All you had to do was catch the ball,’ is something they may say, ‘and it was hit right to you.’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Thief’s Mentality

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

A Simplicity Trapped in a Complex Mind

You Don’t Bring me Flowers Anymore!

… And Then There’s Todd

When Geese Attack!

Anti-Anti-Consumer Art


I may be in the minority, but I prefer the work of angry, bitter artists that tend to be maladjusted people. If I deign to offer an artist my bourgeoisie, Skittle eating, domestic beer drinking, and Everybody Loves Raymond-watching opinion on their artistic creation, and they don’t offer me a red faced, spittle-flying “YOUR OPINIONS ARE EXCREMENT!” rebuttal, I might begin to question if they have the artistic temperament I require of those that have no other way of venting their rage on the world than through artistic creation.

Margaret Roleke “Hanging”

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

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

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

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

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

Little, old ladies that are attempting to be young and hip, will walk up to an artist in these galleries and try to find some way of telling them that they find the most disturbing pieces in their portfolio: “Wonderful”, “Amazing”, and “Wonderful and amazing?!”

“You are so not my demographic,” is something a true artist of an anti-consumer piece of art might say if they received such comments from a little, old lady. A rejection of such compliments, from such an artist could enshrine that artist in the word-of-mouth halls of the art world, and their opportunity for such prestige might increase, if the artist puts some sort of exclamation point on their rejection, by spitting on the old lady’s shoes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Eat at McDonald’s”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fear of a Beaver Perineal Gland


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

Those of us that have heard this line, in reference to what we are about to consume, know where this conversation is headed. When we hear that our hygienic standards are subpar, that our homes are just teeming with pathogens and microbes, that the automobile we’ve chosen has some substandard emission that is harmful to the environment, we know that we can’t just run away. We put up with it, all of it, because the alternative means conceding to the idea that there’s too much knowledge out there.

The premise of the idea that there could be too much knowledge makes us wince. How can there be too much knowledge? It makes no sense. If we thought this contention was limited to the idea that too many people know too much about too many people, and that too many people focus too much of their energy on trivial matters, we might be able to get behind that. Even when an informed consumer decides that it’s acceptable for him to share his knowledge on the ingredients of the food we’re about to eat, we might still wince at what we hope amounts to nothing more than casual, and humorous observations. We might consider the idea of placing some kind of Orwellian governor on the information available on the net, but we won’t concede to the idea that there’s too much knowledge available to concerned consumers. Knowing that such an institutional governor on information outlays violates our personal constitution, we might want to ask informed consumers to place a cap on the type of information they provide others, insofar as it they deem it irrelevant to an audience that “simply has to hear about it”. We think the onus should be on the speaker to notice when their audience becomes visibly agitated that so few people recognize the violation of intruding upon the enjoyment of a meal with trivial information that is often vulnerable to contradictory studies.

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

“Let’s put it this way,” he said. “What would you say if I asked you if you couldn’t tell the difference between the strawberry flavoring in your shake and beaver taint?”

I did everything but close my eyes here. This type does not stop. It’s almost as if they have so much trivial knowledge stored in their cerebral tank that if they don’t hit the release valve every once in a while, they may implode. One cannot just say that you don’t want to receive this information dump, for we know that if we play ball with them it will all be over soon.

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

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

The Castoreum Connection

Castoreum is the exudate from the castor sacs of the mature North American Beaver and consumers have stated that they prefer this natural flavoring augment to other natural flavorings … in blind, taste tests of course. There are no details on the net regarding whether this market-tested preference is from the scent of the secretion. If the flavor has been determined to be more delicious than the flavor of the product listed on the product’s face, or if the fact that scent is such a driving force in determinations of preferences for flavor that it is a combination of the two. Whatever the case is, the beaver doesn’t produce this exudate from its castor sacs to tweak our senses. Rather, it is product they produce to mark their territory. As stated in some of the research articles listed here, the beaver doesn’t have to give up his life to provide us this enjoyment. Rather, enterprising young hands milk it from the castor sacs located in its anal glands. Those curious enough to pursue too much knowledge on this subject should know that entering the search term “Milking the beaver” in a search engine, to find in search of instructional videos on the subject, may not pull up videos displaying the action described here.

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

Natural and Artificial Flavoring

So, what is the difference between artificial and natural flavorings? Gary Reineccus, a professor in the department of food science and nutrition at the University of Minnesota, says that finding the difference between natural and artificial flavorings requires one to look to the original source of these chemicals used.

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

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

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

On that note, how much does the average consumer enjoy M&M’s and jelly beans? Would their enjoyment of these products lessen if the tender, chewable morsels were less shiny? The flavorists at these companies either experienced initial failure with the dull glow of their candy, or they decided not to risk it, and they added an additive called shellac. That’s right, the same stuff we put on our wood furniture to give it that extra shimmer, is the same additive they add to our favorite tasty, little morsels to make them shine. What’s the problem with that, if it has passed the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) rigorous standards?

“Nothing,” writes Daisy Luther, for the Organic Prepper, as long as they know that shellac “is a resinous secretion from bugs during their mating cycles, the female lac beetle in particular. Glazed donuts and glossy candy shells owe their shininess to these secretions.

Does the average consumer know that Starbucks once had a difficult time keeping their strawberry Frappuccino drinks a vibrant red? Who would want to drink a drink that didn’t cast a vibrant color upon us? Starbucks found that most of the red flavorings they tested weren’t able to keep their vibrant color through processing, so they turned to a Natural Red #4 dye, otherwise known as carmine. Carmine proved to be more successful in holding the color, but some discovered the product to be a cochineal extract, a color additive derived from the cochina beetle’s shell. The process involved drying up the cochina beetles, grounding them up, and processing them to give the drink a more sustainable red flavoring. Informed consumers forced Starbucks to end the practice when informed groups caterwauled them into transitioning to lycopene, a pigment found in tomatoes.

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

Fish Bladders and Bitter Beer Face

Fish bladders to fight bitter beer?

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

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

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

To Get Us in the Mood

Ambergris: The Love Molecule?

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

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

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

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

Most people have at least heard of the martial game, of the Middle Ages, called jousting. At the end of a joust, some victors of the match received their reward, the damsel’s handkerchief. If you’ve witnessed a proper portrayal of this scene, in the movies or elsewhere, you’ve witnessed the spoils of victory: the knight began huffing on that handkerchief with celebratory joy. Most believe that the greater import of the scene is a symbolic one depicting the sweet smell of success, on par with drinking wine from a gullet, or showering a locker room in champagne. The stories of this moment depicted it as a symbolic one of a damsel giving her hand. The details of this “huffing on the handkerchief” moment suggest that the damsel carried that handkerchief in her armpit throughout the jousting match. According to an article posted by Helen Gabriel, after the handkerchief spent a sufficient amount of time in the damsel’s underarm area, the handkerchief received a coating of her smegma, and the jouster’s reward for victory was greater knowledge he attained of the damsel’s true essence.

Having said all that, man needn’t look to the animal kingdom, or its artificial equivalents developed in research labs, if we didn’t feel the need to bathe so often. It may seem contradictory, but the ritual required staple of day-to-day bathing deprives us the very human scents that are, in many ways, attractants. Decide not to bathe very often and your visual cues will suffer, of course. Some might consider it a juggling act fraught with peril, but if we manage our bathing ritual in such a manner that our visual cues are still scoring high in the world of attraction, we might be able to maximize our smegma production if we lessen our bathing. Doing so, according to the research scientists quoted here, could land us atop the dating world without having to say so much as a kind word to anyone. As stated in a previous post, we are now required to bathe and wash away this smegma substance –located on and around our reproductive organs, and in our urine– on a day-to-day basis. The same, prospective dating community then requires us to replace those scents we wash away on a day-to-day basis, with the scents found in castoreum, civet, musk, and on the tip of a boar’s sexual organs, or their preputial glands.

Who was the first to discover this?

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

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

For those that don’t know, the toad produces a venom that can have a psychoactive effect on the human brain. What was the trial and error process that led to this discovery? Did one person eat this toad and find themselves feeling a little loopy in the aftermath? How did they discover that this particular toad’s venom had these properties? Did they discover it by accident, or did they walk around licking the forest, the trees, the antelope, and the shrubbery trying to find a natural high that would lead to fame and fortune? We can make an educated guess that an individual that persisted in this manner, probably doesn’t care about money as much as they do achieving a state of mind where they no longer cared about money, or anything else.

We know that the idea that natural properties in plants and animals can provide homeopathic remedies, and that those theories date back to the Native Americans, to Aristotle, and beyond. We know that there had be a great deal of trial and error in that research, in environments that were not sterile, that produced less consistent results that would have a difficult time standing up to the kind of peer review such a finding would experience today. With that in mind, the natural questions that arise from this trial and error approach. How many people became ill due to the error, how many experienced short-term and long term paralytic effects? How many died before they found that it was the 5-methoxy-N, N-dimethyltryptamine (5-MeO-DMT), chemical that is a derivative of bufotenine located in a toad? This chemical, after all, is not available in all toads. It appears to be the exclusive property of the Bufo alvarins toad (pictured here), so there had to be a person, or a number of people, that began licking a wide variety of toads before they discovered the perfect toad, secreting the perfect venom, for those that wanted to experience the euphoria that can result from killing brain cells?

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

My Advice to Informed Consumers

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

My initial fear, in publishing this article, was that it might contribute to what I deem to be violations of social protocol, but I decided to proceed with it under the “There’s no such thing as too much knowledge” banner. I do know, however, that there will always be some informed consumers, like my informed consumer friend, that are now so overloaded with such information that they don’t believe that sharing such information can do any harm. I also know that that moment of sharing will arrive soon after the unsuspecting sits down to enjoy those products that the informed consumer is now afraid to consume based on what they know about said product. To these people, I paraphrase one of Mark Twain’s most famous quotes: “Some of the times it’s better to keep your mouth shut and appear uninformed, than to open it and remove all doubt.”

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

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

The Real Back Pain Solution

Platypus People

Octopus Nuggets

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

Every Girl’s Crazy about a Faint Whiff of Urine

Are You Superior? II


Working as an ice cream truck driver one day –a ding ding man, a good humor man, or whatever you call us 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 a 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 heist. I divided my attention between them and my mirrors as a result, watching for movement behind my truck. When that didn’t happen, I began to wonder if they were feeling me out, to judge 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 why they would want to stop their truck in the middle of a neighborhood street “just to talk” to someone like me.

I’ll be blunt, I don’t understand any of the subtle and wide divides between being cool and being nerdy, and as many tell me, “You probably never will.” I did know that these guys were cool, however, or cooler than me anyway. They had this aura about them I call cool, but others, far smarter than me, call radiating self-possession. They spoke in an ethereal tone that suggested to me that they were probably potheads, and as one attuned to pop culture, pop culture references, and pop culture characterizations, I knew that meant that they had to be much cooler than me. If they were, in fact, thieves, and I was the aproned shopkeeper –to complete the “old west” analogy– their comparative cool points were through the roof.

In a world of what I considered proper metrics, I should’ve been the superior one in this encounter. I wore better clothes, and I figured I had a better education, but these guys had intangibles that I couldn’t even imagine attaining. They appeared to have the look, a sense of cool about them, and an aura that suggested that they were fun loving, party-going types. Such characteristics threw all of my metrics right out the window. They weren’t stupid, however, and that fact was evident minutes into our conversation, but there was no way their education was as expensive as mine was. If they were potheads, they probably spent a lot of time equivocating moral issues, and those that equivocate –my Catholic school educators informed me– 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 conveniently neglected to input into the equation: I was also 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 concealed from the public.

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 primary 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 led me to be 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. Then it dawned on me how many points we derive from knowing our limitations, and learning to live with them, until we’re so comfortable with who we are that we’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, 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 that to be a fact, of course, but guys like me –who were always on the lookout for what I 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 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 erected whenever I thought their types 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 might 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 sure what it was they thought they saw, but I liked it, and it led 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 who knew me well said that I might have been one of the most uptight, frustrated, and angst-ridden individuals they’ve ever meet and the costume I currently wore supported that characterization more than I care to admit. Very few of these people have ever accused me of being too relaxed.

The idea that I was unable to put high school behind me didn’t hit me at the time, but looking back, I realize that my inability to enjoy a simple, casual conversation with some decent fellas –that just happened to drive up on me– was just 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 a point of 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 what you think about the latest wheat and grain prices on the commodity markets.” So, why do we loathe speaking to some people? What makes us so uncomfortable that we leave some of the most casual conversations feeling incomplete and inferior, and why do we enjoy casual conversations with others so much more? The tricky, sticky element of this argument is that most who propose that in some way, shape, or form these elements shape just about every conversation we have, wish we never discovered it. Now that our mind’s eye is open to the idea, we wish we could turn it off, and enjoy the fruits of casual conversations again.

If it is true that every single conversation has these elements in some form, 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 my takeaway from this particular encounter was that for a very brief moment in my life, I didn’t care, and that might have been what I liked, what I missed, and what caused me to watch them drive away.

Deserve vs. Earn


“You just received a raise? Well, congratulations! I think you deserved it.” A co-worker said after I stepped out of a one-on-one with my boss. I was so proud that I almost missed her faux pas. If it wasn’t a faux pas to her mind, I thought, but it was a violation of my philosophical principles.

“Well, thank you for the kind words,” I said with all sincerity, “but I didn’t deserve that raise. I earned it.”  

I don’t know if I offended a third party in our group or not, but she stepped into the conversation when I stressed the word earn. “If you earned that raise, then we all did,” she said with a dismissive tone. “We all got a raise, but it wasn’t a raise in a traditional sense. It was a bump in pay. Yeah, the federal minimum wage went up, and we all received a commensurate bump in pay.”

I knew about the raise in the minimum wage, but I made more than the minimum wage, so I ignored the stories on the topic. I didn’t think I would be affected by it, and I didn’t know anything about the general practice companies have of raising wages commensurate with the minimum wage. In our one-on-one, my boss led me to believe that the increase in hourly wage I would see was an amount of money I would receive, going forward, based on merit. He never said the word raise, I realized in the aftermath of my co-worker’s clarification, but he said enough to allow me to fill in the blank. I was so proud. I couldn’t wait to tell my dad, but it turned out this bump in pay wasn’t an amount of money I earned, but money I deserved for working in a country that decided to mandate that employers pay their employees more money.

“Why do you care whether you earned or deserved more money?” another co-worker later asked, “as long as you have more of it in the bank.”

Other co-workers told me to shut up in various other ways, and that I should be grateful that I had a job. I tried to be that guy, as I knew the pain of being laid off and fired. I don’t know if my state of mind had something to do with my boss delivering the news of my bump in pay under what I considered false pretenses, but I thought it had something to do with the overwhelming sense of pride I felt when I thought the company was finally recognizing all of my hard work, and how that all came crashing down when I realized I deserved it.

✽✽✽

In a post-game interview, following his first 1994-1995 national championship, former Nebraska Cornhuskers head coach Tom Osborne was asked if he felt he deserved the title. Tom Osborne began head coaching duties in 1974. What followed was a level of consistency almost unheard of in college football, with numerous near-misses in national championship games. No college coach, at the time, could be said to be more deserving of a national championship. No college coach worked harder, or was more effective in building a consistent winner, at the time, than Coach Tom Osborne. Yet when he finally won his first championship, and someone asked him if he felt he deserved it, he said, “No one deserves a national championship,” I write paraphrasing Coach Osborne. “You win one in that particular season.” Without going into too much detail, every loss to the Oklahoma Sooners, every bowl game loss, and every near-miss informed Tom Osborne that he needed to change some in-game strategies. He also realized he needed to change the type of players he needed to recruit to finish his career with three national championships and a 60-3 record over his last five seasons as Nebraska’s head coach.  

What’s the difference between the words earn and deserve? If a reader sorts through various periodicals they will find the two words used in an almost interchangeable manner. We conflate these two words so often that some of us consider them synonyms, some thesauruses and dictionaries even list them as such.

This casual, but curious, observer of language would not go so far to write that those periodicals are incorrect, but in a purely philosophical sense, I consider these words so far apart as to be antonyms. When the office worker speaks of deserving a raise she has not yet received, even those who know the standard measurements of the company would not bring up the word earn, fearing that doing so might taint the relationship they have with her. When a sports fan speaks of his favorite team deserving a championship, only his antagonists will mention the fact that that team hasn’t earned it yet, and when the lovelorn and politicians speak of the word deserving, it is an emotional appeal that their audience dare not counter.

Most define deserve as something for which they are entitled, as if by birthright, and earn has a more meritorious quality. We think we deserve to have something, as a result of a natural course of events. If another has, we should have. In this context, deserve takes on the definition of an adjective to describe those who should attain, and earn is more a verb to describe the justifiable reward for the hard work put into attaining a goal. Deserve is also a term used by those who feel they are owed something by being a good person, a human, or a human being that is alive.

All philosophical differences aside, this causal, but curious, observer can’t help but think that those who invest emotions in the idea that they are deserving, at the expense of working to earn, set themselves up for failure, heartache, and even diminished mental health when the reality of their circumstances continue to dispel such notions. One would think that, at some point, the confused would take a step back and reexamine their algorithm, but for most of us that’s easier said than done, as it could lead us to the conclusion that we’re a lot less deserving than we once believed.

LOVE

Love is difficult to calculate by standard measurements of course, as past behaviors do not dictate future success. As such, no rational person should ever say that they deserve to be loved in a conditional manner by a prospective lover, but love is not something one can earn entirely by merit in this manner either. Conditional love, between adults, is a complicated algorithm fraught with failure that begins with simple, intangible superficialities. These superficialities can be as simple as the way a person combs their hair, their scent, the clothes they wear, the way they smile when they see you coming down the aisle at Cracker Barrel, and all of the other, otherwise meaningless intangibles that form superficial attraction. Some could argue that the superficial nature of the early stages of love are nothing more than a crush, but a crush forms the fundamental layer of all that will arise from it. At some point, and every relationship is different, a cross over occurs. The initial spark that drove the relationship from point A to point B progresses into shared values, individualistic ideas, and some modifications on long held beliefs and philosophies, until it eventuates from that initial, superficial attraction into the ultimate, comprehensive and conditional decisions we make about another person we call love. In this sense, we earn love every day thereafter by maintaining and managing the conditions that the other party lays out for us in overt and implicit ways to form adult, conditional love.

“Do you think you should receive love simply by being?” I would ask those who claim to deserve love. “Do you think that you should be able to walk up to a total stranger on the street and inform them that you are a good person, and therefore deserving of love, and that they should do their civic duty, as a good citizen of the world, and love you? If that’s what you believe, you’ll probably end up with the type of love you deserve.” 

The point is that those who claim they’ve achieved the quality of deserving open up a whole can of why, for those who are asked to believe it. ‘Why do I deserve,’ should be the first question we ask ourselves, and ‘why am I more deserving than anyone else’ should be the next, and all of the answers should culminate in self-evident facts and figures that result in the definitions of the words ‘merit’ and ‘earn’.

Some high-minded types who tend to overthink matters are often quick to warn the rest of us that we tend to overthink matters. One such person told his audience that love is nothing more than a complex mixture of chemicals in the brain, and he did so under the theoretical umbrella that suggests that a human being is no more complex than the penguin. This person added that other animals, like some penguins, maintain long-term, monogamous relationships based on decision-making. The rest of us would not say that this is outright false, but we would add that the definition of love can vary with the complex and simple variables we add to it. If we want the love we deserve to be no more complex than the penguin’s, and our drive to be loved, and love, is nothing more than a natural and primal need to procreate, then all humans deserve to be loved by the primal, prospective mate who senses when we’re in heat. If the human’s senses are equal or inferior to the penguin’s, in the sense that a penguin can tell when their mate is in heat, and humans don’t know when we deserve love, we may want to develop a mating call that informs prospective mates when we feel ‘deserving’ to see what comes running down the alley to us.

Most of us prefer to believe that we earn the love we receive on a perpetual basis, a love that is much more complex than the penguins, and that the love we receive is reciprocated by the love we give. This, in financial circles, is called ROI (return on investment). If we decide to invest our emotions into another, we try to make an informed decision of whether that person shares our values. After we make that initial assessment, we advance it to greater levels with all variables that both parties introduce to it on a day-to-day basis. If we settle on this primal, penguin definition of love, and we choose to believe that we deserve a form of love that should be nonjudgmental, and lacking in morals and values, and that which is nothing more than a stick that stirs the chemicals in our brain, the love we receive will be as meaningless as the penguins’, and what we deserve.

The Unfunny, Influential Comedy of Andy Kaufman


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

Those of us with a seemingly unnatural attraction to Kaufman’s game-changing brand of unfunny comedy now know the man was oblivious to greater concerns, but we used whatever it was he created to subvert conventional subversions, until they lost their subversive quality altogether.

Those “in the know” drew up a very distinct, sociopolitical definition of subversion long before Andy Kaufman’s variety. They may deem the art form of Kaufman’s making evidence of his certifiable comedic genius now, but they had no idea what he was doing while he was doing it. I can only guess that most of those that saw Kaufman’s act in its gestational period cautioned him against going through with it. 

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

Many of them regarded being weird, in the manner embodied by his definition of that beautiful adjective as just plain weird, even idiotic. They didn’t understand what he was doing.

Before Andy Kaufman became Andy Kaufman, and his definition of weird defined it as a transcendent art form, being weird meant going so far over-the-top that the audience felt comfortable with the notion of a comedian being weird. It required the comedic player to find a way to communicate a simple message to the audience: “I’m just acting weird and that’s all.” Before Kaufman and those influenced by his brilliance broke the mold on the word, comedians relied on visual cues, in the form of weird facial expressions, vocal inflections and tones so that the so-called less sophisticated audiences in Omaha could understand the notion of a comedic actor just being weird. Before Kaufman, comedic actors had no interest in unnerving audiences. They just wanted the laugh. 

One can be sure that before Andy Kaufman took to the national stage on Saturday Night Live, he heard those warnings, but for whatever reason he didn’t heed them. It’s possible that Kaufman was just that weird, and that he thought his only path to success was to let his freak flag fly. It’s also possible that he had enough confidence in his act that he was able to ignore the advice offered by those in the know. We admirers must also consider the idea that Kaufman might not have been talented enough to be funny in a more conventional sense. Whatever the case, Kaufman maintained his unconventional, unfunny, idiotic characters and bits until those “in the know” declared him one of the funniest men who ever lived.

The cutting-edge, comedic intelligentsia now discusses the deceased Kaufman, in a frame that suggests they were onto his act the whole time. They weren’t. They didn’t get it. I didn’t get it, but I was young, and I needed the assistance of repetition to lead me to  the genius of being an authentic idiot, until I busied myself trying to carve out my own path to true idiocy, in my own little world.

Andy Kaufman may not have been the first true idiot in the pantheon of comedy, but for those of us who witnessed his hilariously unfunny, idiotic behavior, it opened to us a completely new world. We knew how to be idiots, but we didn’t understand the finer points of the elusive art of persuading another of our inferiority until Kaufman came along, broke that door down, and showed us all his furniture.

For those who’ve never watched Andy Kaufman at work, his claim to fame did not involve jokes. His modus operandi involved situational humor. The situations he created weren’t funny either, not in the conventional sense. Some were so unfunny and so unnerving, in fact, that viewers deemed them idiotic. Kaufman was so idiotic that many believed his shows were nothing more than a series of improvised situations in which he reacted on the fly to a bunch of idiotic stuff, but what most of those in the know could not comprehend at the time was that everything he did was methodical, meticulous, and choreographed.

 

Being Unfunny in Situations

 

Like the knuckleball, the manner in which situational humor evolves can grow better or worse as the game goes on, but eventual success requires unshakeable devotion to the pitch. Some will hit home runs off your knuckleball, and you will knock out an occasional mascot with a wild one, but for situational jokes to be effective, they can’t just be another pitch in your arsenal. These pitches require a commitment that will become a concentration, until it eventuates into a lifestyle that even those closest to you will have a difficult time understanding.

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

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

For those less confident in their modus operandi, high-minded responses might answer the question in such a way that the recipient considers us more intelligent, but they obfuscate the truth as to why we enjoy doing it. The truth may be that we know the path to achieving laughter through the various pitches and rhythms made available to us in movies and primetime sitcoms, but some of us reach a point when that master template bores us. Others may recognize, at some point in their lives, that they don’t have the wherewithal to match the delivery that friends employ, particularly those friends with gameshow host personalities. For these people, the raison d’être of Kaufman’s idiot may offer an end run around traditional modes of comedy. Some employ these tactics as a means of standing out and above the fray, while others enjoy the superiority-through-inferiority psychological base this mindset procures. The one certain truth is that most find themselves unable to identify the exact reason why they do what they do. They just know they enjoy it, and they will continue to continue it no matter how many poison-tipped arrows come their way.

An acquaintance of mine learned of my devotion to this method when she overheard me contrast it in a conversation with a third party. What she heard was a brief display of intellectual prowess that crushed her previous characterization of me. When I turned back to her to continue the discussion she and I were having prior to the interruption, her mouth was hanging open, and her eyes were wide. The remark she made in that moment was one she repeated throughout our friendship.

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

The delicious moment occurred seconds later, when it dawned on her that what she thought she figured out made no sense in conventional constructs. Most people pretend to be smart, not the other way around. No one pretends that they are dumb or inferior. As she looked at me, her expression changed, as it dawned on her that her revelation was not as comprehensive as she first believed.

The pause before her second sentence gave birth to an expression every idiot strives to achieve, as the pride of figuring me out faded, and she realized that everything she thought she figured out only brought more questions to the fore. I imagined that something of a flowchart developed in her mind to explain everything I did and said to that point, and that each flowchart ended in a rabbit hole that once entered into would place her in a variety of vulnerable positions, including the beginning. She pursued me after that, just to inform me that she was onto what I was doing, until it became obvious that she was the primary audience of her pleas.

I’ve never thrown an actual knuckleball with any success, but watching her flail at the gradual progression of my situational joke, trying to convince me that she was now above the fray, cemented my lifelong theory: Jokes can be funny, but reactions are hilarious.

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

The Idiostory

Some present and future idiots purchased every VHS tape, book, and album that carried Andy Kaufman’s name, and we read everything we could find about him online, trying to unlock the mystery of his effect on us. We wanted those who knew him best to tell us why he chose to go against the advice of those in the know and if it was possible for us to follow his indefinable passion to the end. We followed his examples and teachings in the manner of disciples, until it became a lifestyle. Andy Kaufman led us to believe that if we could confuse the sensibilities of serious world just enough, it could lead to some seminal moments in our pursuit of the idiotic life.

If our goal were to be funny, we would’ve attempted to follow the trail laid by Jerry Seinfeld. If our aim was only to be weird-funny, we would’ve adopted weird-funny voice Steve Martin used in The Jerk. If we wanted to be sardonic or satirical, we would have looked to George Carlin for guidance. We knew we weren’t as funny as they were, but we reached a point when that didn’t matter to us. When we discovered the unfunny, subversive idiocy of Andy Kaufman, however, it filled us like water rushing down the gullet of a dehydrated man.

Most of our friends considered it being weird for the sake of being weird, but they didn’t recognize the depth charges until they detonated. Some didn’t see any humor inherent in our bits even then. Some of them didn’t want to have anything to do with us after repeated displays, and others were so confused and irritated that they found themselves confronted, once again, by the question of why we do it. It’s possible that the majority of us will never be able to answer that question to anyone’s satisfaction, least of all our own, but we know we like it, and we know we will continue to do it.

 

The Disclaimer

 

If the goal of the reader is to have others consider them funny, following this advice will only lead to heartache and headaches. Instead, they should put acute focus on the beats and rhythm of their delivery and learn how to incorporate them into their responses. Quality humor, like quality music, must offer pleasing beats and rhythms that find a familiar home in the audience’s mind. To achieve this level of familiarity, there are few resources as great as the sitcoms and standup comedians everyone knows and loves. If the joke teller leads into the punchline with a familiar rhythm and lands on the line in a familiar beat, the audience’s reward for figuring out that beat will be a shot of dopamine, and the joke teller’s reward is the resulting laughter. 

If, however, the goal is to be an unfunny idiot that receives no immediate laughter, the joke teller still needs to follow the rules of comedy regarding the beats and rhythm of humor, and they may need to know them even better than truly funny people do. As any gifted practitioner of the art of idiocy will tell those willing to listen, it is far more difficult to find a way to distort and destroy the perception of conventional humor than it is to abide by it. This takes practice and practice in the art of practice.

The rewards for being a total idiot are far and few between. If we achieve total destruction or distortion of what others know to be the beats and rhythm of humor, a sympathetic soul might consider us such an idiot that they might take some time out of their day to advise us about our beats and the rhythm of our delivery. For the most part, however, the rewards idiots receive are damage to their reputations as potentially funny people. Most will dismiss us as weird, and others might even categorically dismiss us as strange. Still others will dismiss us as idiots who know nothing about making people laugh. “We don’t,” we will confess. “That’s why we’re here.” Most will want to have little to nothing to do with us. Women, in particular, might claim they don’t want to date us, declaring, “I prefer nice, funny guys. You? I’m sorry to say this, but you’ve said so many weird things that … I kind of consider you an idiot.”

Busybody Nation


“Busybodies learn to be idlers, going about from house to house, and not only idlers, but also gossips and busybodies, saying what they should not.” – Timothy 5:13, Holy Bible (NES) –

It should have been an uneventful walk in the park on an otherwise uneventful Thursday. The weather was even uneventful, an occurrence that many Omaha, Nebraska residents will inform anyone willing to lend an ear that this would be an event in and of itself. The conversation was pleasant, albeit unmemorable and uneventful, and our walk through the park should have ended that way, but I’d had enough.

Without intending to do so, I initiated what would eventuate into a confrontation by allowing my leashed dog to chase some ducks into the water, an apparent crime against nature.

“Don’t do that!” a female voice shrieked from somewhere in the distance. 

After chasing the ducks, my dog sniffed at the shore where their webbed foot stood seconds earlier. He looked up and watched them swim away for a couple seconds, then casually walked away, his mission complete.

If my wife asked, “Did you hear that woman shriek at you?” I could’ve pled ignorance. I could’ve played dumb and pretended that I had no idea what she was talking about. The woman’s shriek was that faint and distant. The park wasn’t densely populated, but it was plausible that any of the other attendees could have earned such a reaction. I could have assumed I was not the subject of her scorn, and I could’ve simply walked away from it. I could have pretended that I didn’t hear her, and no one not even my wifewould’ve known any better. My pride was not on the line, and I had nothing to gain by pursuing confrontation. I did consider all of that, while my dog sniffed the shore and my wife voiced her concerns, unrelated to the matter at hand, in the background, but I’d had enough.

Some confrontations produce rewards. If a person’s character is on the line, they need to come out swinging, with the best vocabulary in their arsenal. Sometimes, confrontation breeds the type of definition we should not allow others to define for us. We cannot sit back and allow unwarranted, slanderous accusations to go unchallenged. We do make mistakes, however, when we confuse perceived slights with actual, in-your-face accusations, in our quest for definition. This need for respect can be such a driving force that we might engage in inconsequential confrontations that result in no gains for either party. Sometimes, we engage in confrontation just to feel better about ourselves. Other times, we engage in irrational, unnecessary confrontations for the irrational reason that we’ve allowed so many slights and inconsequential confrontations slip by without response that we reach our threshold, and a breaking point.

Consider is at the base of the word inconsiderate, and both parties of an interaction would do well to remember that before reacting, for most people don’t consider how their actions might affect others. There is a wide chasm between being rude and being inconsiderate, but our perception drives the two together. When we read into the motivations of the inconsiderate, we see our own. We think everyone is as considerate as we are and that others choose to violate the unspoken, social contracts we have with one another to the point of being rude.

Most of us simply move on, ignoring perceived slights. On most days, we find a way to walk away from the shriekers, and their prosecuting attorney friends (whom we will discuss later), preferring uneventful, non-confrontational days. We do so without losing one minute of sleep, because we know most confrontations won’t teach the inconsiderate social decorum or the life lessons they should know by now.

Those of us who choose to live peaceful, uneventful, non-confrontational lives often have an outlet most busybodies lack. We have a support group at home who will kiss us and love us after we experience confrontations with the miserable. We can inform our loved ones of the near confrontation, and then boast about how we managed to avoid overreacting. We do this with the knowledge that those who do overreact to every perceived slight have something bubbling beneath the surface, waiting to be unleashed. We even avoid confrontation on those occasions when we know we’re right, because we know that doing otherwise might turn out to be a decision that affects our happy lives in ways that are unalterable, depending on who the recipient of our response is. We don’t know who the person on the other end of the confrontation is, on most occasions. We don’t know how miserable they are, and to what extent they might go to resolve this otherwise inconsequential confrontation. It isn’t fear that drives our decision to let it go, however, we just prefer to let this inconsiderate person have their way, so we can return home to play with our kids, love our spouse, pet our dog, and move on in our otherwise happy lives. We realize, at some point, that this means far more to them than it does us.

There is a tipping point, however, when the inconsequential, inconsiderate actions of others begin to pile up. Even the nicest, most peaceful person on Earth has a threshold. This moment will not cause the affected to become an irrational person that seeks confrontation, but even the most peaceful reach a point when they believe they need to aid the inconsiderate in reconsidering their definitions.

After spending years listening to shrieking busybodies notifying authority figures of the perceived slights heaped upon them or their children I hit that threshold in the park. The list of these perceived slights, filed under national catastrophes, is now so long that a compendium the thickness of War and Peace would require a Volume 1 subtitle. I reached my threshold of tales about shrieking busybodies calling out mothers and fathers for the manner in which they treated their children. I’d had enough of shrieking busybodies sifting through my emails and instant messages, searching for material for their next “To whom it may concern” report. Shrieking busybodies hold government seats now, and they occupy our judicial system, our hard drives and message boards, even our minds trying to ferret out motives we might have had when we decided to engage in a perceived slight.

Shrieking busybodies have no problems telling others how to dress, what beer to drink, where to eat, and what to think of the corporations that sell such products. They ask consumers, “Have you tried to quit smoking?” in the checkout line at the pharmacy. They tell us that our child needs to be in a Federal Aviation Administration approved car seat, until he reaches forty-four pounds. They inform us that our lawn looks “Absolutely horrible” when it exceeds the neighborhood association’s recommended height of two inches. They remind us what our body mass index should be and what we should feed our children, whether we should drink coffee, what kind of Environmental Protection Agency- approved vehicles we should drive, and how much money we should have. We are content with this advice, because we believe busybodies have the best of intentions, but busybodies don’t see it that way. They see it as a launching point. 

If the sole motivation of these busybodies was to be an information resource, a we-report-you-decide outlet, those of us on the other side of the velvet rope might have less of a complaint. We know that everything in moderation will provide a quality life, better health, and overall wellbeing. We know that indulging has deleterious consequences, and some do need information outlets to remind them of what we already know. If their sole motivation were to provide nothing more than information, they wouldn’t grow so frustrated that they end up shrieking in a city park, at a stranger who has decided not to follow their edicts.

Most busybodies are the result of a peaceful nation that leaves its citizens with little in the way of greater concerns. They’re typically a begrudged segment of the population, one that holds a lifelong grudge against those who allegedly got away with alleged transgressions in their youth. Most children test boundaries, and busybodies are not exception, but they don’t remember ever getting away with anything. They saw classmates disrespect authority in a manner that made the busybody resentful and envious. The authority figures listed off the consequences so many times that the busybody could recite them, yet others ignored the rules acting as if they didn’t care. This happened so often that, in the mind of the busybody, a percolating anger began bubbling beneath the surface.

“Don’t let Ms. Johnson catch you doing that, or she’ll tan your hide,” the busybody informed us when we were in grade school. When Ms. Johnson did little to nothing to punish us for our transgression, the percolating began. The busybody believed Ms. Johnson was a fierce authoritarian, and that was the primary reason the busybody didn’t engage in the activity in question. Thus, the busybody grew confused and resentful when Ms. Johnson failed to live up to the busybody’s expectations of fire-and-brimstone punishments for the disorderly to preserve order. They overestimated Ms. Johnson based on their need to fear authority and the consequences of acting up. If Ms. Johnson didn’t witness the transgression, the busybody provided explicit details of it. When Ms. Johnson ignored Exhibits A through X and did nothing, a festering boil of begrudged feelings was born in the mind of the busybody that they would spend the rest of their lives treating. They leave school with the bitter idea that they are the lone sentry, tasked with guarding the final outpost to total chaos in the universe. The busybody doesn’t mind invading your privacy to get you to act according to their begrudged findings of how the world around them should operate.

“That’s not fair!” becomes their battle cry, and they say it to assist the various authority figures in their life commissioned with the difficult task of imposing order. This battle cry followed them into adulthood when their life mission transitioned to assisting office managers, supervisors, and lawmakers with their very difficult task of imposing a sense of what should be everyone’s very strict definition of order. They write letters to the editor, their parent/teacher conferences last forty-five minutes, and their one-on-one meetings with management fall just short of screaming matches. They want order, they demand perceived fairness, and they don’t want anyone to get away with what they dare not try.

These are our busybodies, the Gladys Kravitzes of our nation, trying to right the wrongs of a previous generation, to protect the vulnerable from perceived vicious assaults.

As a side note, for those who weren’t alive or didn’t watch television during the 1970’s, Gladys Kravitz was the fictional embodiment of the busybody. Her eye was ever watchful of her neighbor, the supernatural witch Samantha Stephens, on Bewitched. Gladys has become the fictional embodiment for many of this generation of those neighbors who peer through drapes to document the goings-on of those in their neighborhood. Gladys Kravitz-types know when their neighbors arrive home, who accompanies them, and how long they remain home. To the Gladyses of our world, everything a person does affects the perception and, thus, the property values in the neighborhood. They’re the busybodies of our little corner of the world, and this is becoming their nation.

Abner Kravitz, the folk hero of those who have simply had enough, was the first responder to his wife’s eyewitness testimonies. Abner closed his newspaper and casually walked to the window to see what caused his wife’s shrieking. At that point, the punchline arrived in the form of a return to normalcy in the Stephens home. After that, Abner would turn to his busybody wife and say, “Why don’t you just mind your own business, Gladys?”

The buildup of these Gladys Kravitzes telling to tell us all how to live reached a threshold in the ten seconds I spent contemplating doing nothing in response to the faint, anonymous shriek that instructed me to stop doing what I was doing. Ultimately, I decided to let my still leashed dog have another run at another set of ducks. I knew I was the target of that faint, anonymous shriek, and I knew that repeating the action that sparked it would only exacerbate the situation. I also knew I could have avoided it without anyone knowing, but I had enough.

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

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

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

I must admit that this put me back a step. Was that a threat? It was, and it stoked my ire.

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

The “Don’t do that!” shrieker stepped to the fore from her place about twenty yards ahead on the park trail. She waited there, I could only assume, to see how the prosecuting attorney’s threats affected me. When she determined it had no effect, she began to tremble with rage. In a much higher volume than was necessary, she informed me, “The ducks are scared, and they cannot fly.” She then added some other gibberish that flew out of her mouth at such a speed that I feared she might be exhibiting the early warning signs of cardiac arrest.

I stopped on the walking trail, for a moment, caught off guard by the intensity of her venom, until I realized the faux pas of remaining frozen in place. She was standing in front of me, inadvertently blocking my path, but I walked forward, toward her. I did my best to make it clear that I was not charging her, or nearing her in any confrontational manner, yet I refused to remain standing back in a manner that might lead her to believe her vitriol paralyzed me in fear.

The woman then developed a scenario for me. “What if a large, menacing dog came after your little pooch there? Wouldn’t you be just as scared as those ducks are?” she asked.

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

“Yes, you would,” she said.

The uninteresting uh-huh-yes-huh portion of the confrontation lasted for another couple seconds, with each party parrying and thrusting, until the shrieking woman decided to turn and walk away. She was still muttering things over her shoulder, but her venom diminished a tad.

Some have accused me of being a last-word person, but I’ve found that those who accuse me of this often have a need for the last word that surpasses mine. They enjoy trapping the recipient in a state of flux, and their last words are typically an accusation that the other is seeking the last word. This has happened to me so often that I’ve thought of accusing people of needing to have the last word before we even begin such an argument, just to take that arrow out of their quiver.

I will concede that if more than five to seven people make such an accusation, there may be something to it. If that is the case, it may have something to do with the fact that draws and defeats don’t settle well in my digestive system. I prefer to think I can accept draws and defeats, as long as the other person has considered my point of view before we go our separate ways, but I admit that I always put some effort into making sure the other side hears my words, last or not. I will admit that these characterizations of my point of view are relative to my definition and that I don’t provide the most objective perspective on me.

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

“Get out of the park!” this woman said, shrieking again. She then shrieked something about calling the Humane Society, and she punctuated it with anything and everything she could to defend her position. I allowed her that final word.

It was such a meaningless confrontation. I didn’t feel any better or worse when it concluded, and neither party proved our point, unless one considers the goal of proving to one member of this busybody nation that I was not going to abide by her edicts in silence. In my own subtle way, I did at least inform one busybody, of the busybody world, that sometimes they can engage in overreach.

I know that 99.5 percent of the American public would never allow a dog, leashed or not, a second run at the ducks after the initial shriek. That would make the perpetrator of such an action a bad guy, and no one wants to be a bad guy. In this particular scenario, the subject would’ve been engaging in a confrontation with an elderly woman, defending their right to let a thirty-pound dog chase helpless ducks enjoying a leisurely swim in a city pond. I doubt that many, other than the .5 percent who overreact to every perceived slight, would’ve defended their pro-dog-chase-duck position in the manner I did. A person who wants to be a nice guy would view this whole thing as a no-win proposition.

My only defense –one that I agree borders on the time-honored, political tactic of diversion– is to declare that I am not pro-dog-chase-duck. I’m a man-stop-busybody guy, more focused on informing these people that we would appreciate it if they would take one step back to that time-honored state of mind when people were uncomfortable telling complete strangers how to live their lives. It’s a first step in a movement I would love to spearhead. We would be the “Enough already!” movement that would inform federal, state, and local busybodies of their new limitations.

If they nominated me for this role, I would inform my followers that we must engage in more inconsequential, indefensible arguments such as the one that occurred on a Thursday in the park. We must, if we are to roll the tide back effectively, on the busybodies who involve themselves in all of the otherwise inconsequential moments of our lives. Our goal would not be to stop busybodies, for that would be impossible. Rather, the objective is to begin a non-violent rebuttal that involves planting proverbial, “Mind your own business Gladys!” flags in the terra firma of city parks, just to let the no stress/no conflict/no turmoil busybodies know they’re not going to receive their righteous warrior badges on our watch.

“This park is neutral ground for the inconsequential to go on living our inconsequential lives without consequence!” we should scream as we plant our proverbial flags in the confrontation.

To those members of our group who wouldn’t dare commit a so-called crime against nature by allowing their children or dogs, a run at the city ducks, I would challenge them to do so. I would ask them to look back over their shoulder after the purported crime against nature has been committed, to watch the ducks fly right back to the exact same spot on the shoreline that their dog, or child, scared them off moments earlier. Insecure bullies who experience some joy in scaring innocent, little ducks might perceive this return to the shoreline as a direct challenge to their manhood, and they may do something else to flex their muscle. Our movement would not support that. On the contrary, our goal would be to serve as an information outlet. We would inform our group members that, as in the scenario involving the ducks, that ducks have listed these purported crimes committed against their sanctity as an acceptable consequence of living among humans. We would state that this happens to the city ducks so often that it doesn’t even ruffle their feathers anymore. If the ducks have conversations, I imagine that this procedure has become so routine for them that they fly away and back without so much as a pause in their sentence.

I should’ve asked the elderly shrieker to detail for me the trauma that my supposed crime against nature caused the ducks. I should’ve said, “If such actions cause them the trauma you suggest, why don’t they live elsewhere? In the wild, they would face actual predators stalking them on a daily basis, as opposed to a thirty-pound Puggle giving chase to tweak some instinct the canine has never executed to completion. He wouldn’t know what to do with it if he did,” I could’ve said.

I also could’ve added, “If the trauma of the Puggle threat was so severe that the ducks opted to forgo the world of gorging on human largesse to the point of obesity –which is what threatens their ability to fly and the many other survival skills that their forebears honed for them by the way– they would opt for an existence that might result in them going hungry for the night. If they were to survive it.”

Of course, I don’t know how advanced or informed the decision-making process of the city lake duck is. I’m guessing the wariness they have for the little beings such as children and pets that tend to accompany larger beings trumps the fear they have for all the other beings that exist in all the areas of the world that mankind has not preserved for their comfort and well-being.

 

The Pitfalls of the Previous, Private Generation

 

Even those of us who despise the ways of the modern busybody must acknowledge that their existence sprang from the ashes of the previous generations.

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

A concerned citizen might have persuaded a good and honorable person to have a word with the one perceived to be causing an extreme situation, but if the accused informed the honorable person, “It’s none of your business” a good people would back off and say, “I tried, Mildred. I tried.” The next course of action would involve either a physical altercation or a call to the police, and most did not follow up to that extent.

The current generation witnessed the deleterious effects of ignoring extreme situations in which the helpless incurred irreparable harm that would affect them for rest of their life. Good and honorable people realized that there was a call-to-arms to provide defense and comfort for the helpless in ways greater than those symbolic measures put forth by previous generations. They may go a little overboard at times, in the interest of protecting the helpless, but they feel that it is sometimes best to say something early, before a situation escalates. There is also some foggy notion in their head that if they do overreact in some situations, perhaps they might rectify the wrongs of the previous generation who decided to do little to nothing.

The problem with this call-to-arms mindset is that extreme situations don’t come around as often as others lead us to believe. This problem of scarcity has given rise to the perception of injustice and the belief that the situation before us is an extreme that requires action.

“I’ll be damned if I’m going to allow them to get away with that,” we say when our child comes home with a real, or imagined, slight. “What’s that principal’s phone number again?”

Even if the situation is not of an extreme nature, it is possible that it could evolve into one. Who knows how these things progress? Isn’t it better to act now, rather than to allow it to fester? We feel a responsibility to protect the helpless from further mistreatment, even if there was no real, definitive mistreatment in the first place.

“It may be nothing now, but I don’t want to go to bed tonight regretting the fact that I said nothing. If I’m wrong, big deal. My motivations were pure. If I say something when a mother is scolding her child too harshly, most will regard my intentions as righteous. If the mother is a little more insecure, going forward, correcting her child in public, in a manner that might result in the child being more prone to act up in public, it’s all an acceptable error on my part, right? If I managed to save one helpless child from a true, extreme situation.”

There are varying degrees of busybody intrusion, of course. Some, as noted above, carefully intercede on behalf of another in a moment they believe has, in some way, spun out of control. They might say something, and then they move on. They might concede they didn’t know the whole story, but they believed the situation called for advice from someone who’s been there before. Others take great pride in their ability to recognize a situation before it escalates, and they intercede without concession. The difference occurs in the aftermath, when busybodies trumpet their exploits to friends and family. This is what true busybodies do. They’re proud of their busybody nature, as that is precisely how they attain their badges of honor. They love when others deem them righteous warriors, according to their definition of what they think people should say about them.

We should also note that in most cases, the audience of the righteous warrior’s retelling often knows little to nothing of what actually happened during the incident in question, so they might perpetuate the self-righteousness of the righteous warrior by congratulating them for stepping in. Rarely does a listener prod a righteous warrior for more details on the matter.

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

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

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

The honest righteous warrior would admit that they didn’t know all of the details all of the time, and if they were brutally honest and reflective they would admit that they probably don’t know the pertinent details most of the time.

“Look, I’m not going to play this game,” is the more common response from righteous warriors, as most of them act on impulses as opposed to pertinent information. “I may be wrong some of the times, I’ll grant you that, but that’s the price I’m willing to pay to create a more just world where the helpless of our society receive some protection. I see it as doing my part.”

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

This is why some of us loathe busybodies and why we are willing to go to extremes to roll back the tide. As anyone on the “but” end of a busybody’s complaint will tell you, the escalation of busybodies has reached a point of no return. The sins of the past generation and the numerous movies and TV shows that have documented them have led us to believe that extreme situations lurk around every corner, until we’re screaming at the top of our lungs about the psychology of a duck being scared into a lake by a dog, a completely natural crime against the natural.

I don’t know who invented the word busybody to describe these people, but my guess is that there was some irony involved, a joke played on the world, a widely accepted oxymoron. Most busybodies are anything but. If we were to confront a busybody with the idea that they should get out more, they might provide a lengthy list of activities, and groups they’re involved in, a list that would likely surpass ours. “It’s obvious that that’s not enough for you,” we might say. “If it was, you wouldn’t have been shrieking at the top of your lungs about the psychological plight of the duck. Not only that, but some past transgression must be eating away at your soul, one that comes barreling out of you when you perceive a slight against some perceived victim.”

If the confrontation that occurred on a Thursday in the park was solely about protecting duck, why did one of them hit me with a veiled threat of a fine and possible prosecution? If the focus was on the well-being and livelihood of the ducks, the shrieking woman could’ve put me in my place with a quick, inside- voice condemnation of my actions. She could’ve undressed me, in a psychological manner, with a few quick words, “Don’t scare the ducks. You’re a grown man, for gosh sakes. Do you get some kind of perverse joy out of it?” If she expressed her fears with some measure of restraint, in a measured tone, my dog and I would’ve left the park with our tails between our legs. What the two shriekers did, instead, was so over the top that I’m quite sure that the first’s doctor –concerned about her high blood pressure, and her heart valves weakened from years of overreacting to perceived slights and perceived extreme situations– would’ve warned her against future outbursts. I am also sure that the partners in the second shrieker’s law firm would’ve cautioned him against throwing his weight around in otherwise meaningless moments. Most busybodies have no authority to say anything that they’re saying. This, I can only assume, frustrates them to a begrudged point that they feel the need to hit the release button on the pressurized valve, and they hope that will, in turn, ruin your day in the manner so many of their days have been ruined.

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 the birth chart has beat me down. Scorpions are people too, with all of the same hopes and dreams as everyone else. We want to have friends, and people who 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 at the time of his birth.

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

Rather than go through that all that, yet again, I’ve decided that I’m just going to start telling anyone that asks about my sign 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 statistically trends suggest we are prone to become 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 through 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.}

 

Know Thyself


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

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

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

One of the measures that we might use to gain a better understanding of who we are is to understand how weird, strange, and different we are, in conjunction with the resultant feelings superiority and inferiority that derive from it, and it can provide us some relief from the confusion we feel about the world around us. If we were to use the Cartesian coordinate system, we studied in our high school Algebra class, we might be able to locate where we are compared to point of origin, or the point of total normalcy on one axis, versus our superiority and inferiority on the other, to form a (0,0) for example, on the (X,Y) axis. This may be an inexact science, but comparative analysis might be the most common method we use to know ourselves better.

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

If the majority of people we run into are more normal than we are, by our arbitrary definition of the two terms, we might define ourselves as a two on the weird to normal (‘X’) axis. If that were the case, where would we be on superiority versus inferiority (‘Y’) axis? We can guess that our point on the (‘X’) axis would have a corresponding effect, and that we would be a two on (‘Y’) axis if the relationship between being more normal leads to greater self-esteem, and thus a feeling of more superiority. Through comparative analysis we could say, with some confidence, that we are a (2,2) coordinate compared to the rest of the normal, well-adjusted world.

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

The true solution to all that plagues you do not lie in comparative analysis. Therefore, everyone can put their ledgers down. It is pointless. The true solution lies just outside plotting points, and inside a person’s individual Cartesian coordinate system. The true solution lies just beyond the analysis the reader has performed while reading this. It is inside some of the questions a person asks while plotting, and in some of the answers that they find. Ask more questions, in other words, and a person will arrive at more answers. The point plotter may never find the perfect question that leads to a truth of it all, but they’ll find some answers, to some dilemmas that plague them, until they have more answers than most.

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

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

“Know Thyself.”            

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

Although it could be said that man has found the investigation of other, more “irrelevant matters” far more entertaining for as long as man has been on earth, few would argue that we have more distractions, from this central argument, than we have right now. It’s now easier than it’s ever been to lose track of who we are, who we really are.

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

When our moment of personal crisis arrives, we may project a screen image version of us into reality, and that version we have of ourselves might know how to handle this crisis better than we ever will. This image may not be us, in the truest sense, but a future “us”, a different “us”, or an idyllic image of “us” that handled this matter so much better, but we can’t remember how, now that we’re being called upon to handle a crisis.

We may have been a swashbuckling hero –in one episode in our lives– that encountered a similar problem and dealt with it in a heroic fashion. We may have encountered a verbal assault on our character –in another episode– and we may have been a cynical, sardonic wit that countered a damaging insult with that perfect comeback that laid our verbal assaulter out, but we can’t remember how we did it, because it wasn’t us doing it, it wasn’t really us. On some level, we may even know that we were fooling ourselves, but we’ve incorporated so many images of so many characters, handling so many situations with such adept fluidity, that we’ve incorporated those idyllic, screen images into our image of ourselves.

Another idyllic image occurs over time, in our interactions with peers. These images may be nothing more than a false dot matrix of carefully constructed tiny, mental adjustments made over time to deal with situational crises that have threatened to lessen our self-esteem, until we became the refined, sculpted specimen that is now capable of handling any situation that arises. These adjustments may be false interpretations of how we handled that confrontation, but we preferred our rewrite to the reality of what happened. We then began erecting that rewrite so often, or with such thoroughness, that we convinced ourselves that we handled the matter a lot better than we actually did in order to create that ideal image that we needed for better mental health.

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

On the fourth layer of Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, we find esteem. Maslow states that this need for greater self-esteem, this need to be respected, valued, and accepted by others is vital to one’s sense of fulfillment. If esteem is this vital to our psychological makeup, what happens when the fact that we realize that we’re not as capable of achieving as their peers? What happens when this becomes impossible to deny? If we are able to convince ourselves that these incidents are the exception to the rule, we might be able to find excuses for why another succeeds where we fail, but when it’s repeated over and over, with peer after peer, we start to get frustrated, confused, and we might even find ourselves growing depressed. To avoid falling down this spiral, we develop defense mechanisms.

If these defense mechanisms involve nothing more than harmless delusions and illusions, say mental health experts, it can be quite healthy. The alternative, they say, occurs when the reality of a situation overwhelms us. This could result in depression, or other forms of regressed mental health. If that’s true, where is the dividing line between using healthy delusions and being delusional?

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

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

We could say that if it’s true that our lying peers might have remembered their embarrassing incidents differently in a biological attempt aimed at achieving greater mental health. Were they lying? Yes. Was there goal to deceive everyone around that they were a lot better than they actually are? Perhaps, but it is just as likely that at some point in the timeline they sought to deceive themselves into the idyllic image that they needed to create for greater mental health. To take this theory to its natural conclusion, one could also say that those that need intense counseling may have opted for the bright and shiny delusional paths. They may decide to go down these paths so often, while blocking out embarrassing details and forgetting self-esteem crushing decisions along the way, that professional assistance is their only recourse. We could say that by replacing these embarrassing details and self-esteem crushing decisions with idyllic images and positive reinforcements– that these people has spent too much time in their bright and shiny forest of positive illusions and delusions. We could say that these idyllic images, are such that they now need a professional to take them by the hand and guide them to a truth that they’ve hidden so far back in the forest of the mind that they can no longer find it without assistance.

It is for these reasons that greater brains than ours have suggested that the path to greater knowledge, a better life, happiness, and more self-esteem exists somewhere on the path of knowing thyself better. They also suggest that most of the time we spend investigating other, irrelevant matters is a waste of time, or superfluous minutiae for people with too much time on their hands.

The Best Piece of Advice I’ve Ever Heard


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(1) https://twitter.com/rodneynorespect/status/750692684738813952

When Geese Attack!


What happens when animals attack? Those of us who watch Shark Week or any of the all-too-numerous, reality clips that appear on just about every network and YouTube know what happens when animals attack. We know the formula for these shows. We know victims will discover the one consistent truth about nature: There are no consistent truths. We expect to hear those more accustomed to handling animals relay proper safety protocols to the audience to lessen the risk, but even the most experienced handlers admit that there are no steadfast rules when it comes to predicting or preventing animal aggression. Those of us who pay attention to this formula, also now expect lucky survivors to state that they have no hard feelings for their attackers. At the end of the clip, they say something about how they know it’s just the nature of the beast:

“I don’t blame the animal and I hold no ill will towards it,” they say. “I was in its domain. It just did what comes naturally to it, and I deserve at least some of the blame for being there in the first place.”

Before we regular viewers became aware of this formula, some of us just stared at our screens in silent awe when we heard these unemotional reactions. We thought these survivors were either wonderful, forgiving people, or they were just plain stupid. They could’ve had limbs torn from their bodies, yet they maintained that they were not bitter. Some of us found this reaction so incomprehensible that we began to wonder if there wasn’t a bit of gamesmanship going on. We wondered if the networks test-market victims’ reactions to these clips. We wondered if they discovered that audiences might find such violent clips a little less horrific, and more entertaining, if survivors come out on the other side of the clip with wonderful, forgiving sentiments, granting their attackers a full pardon.

We’ve all had friends who enjoy hearing cruel jokes about friends and coworkers, but they refuse to laugh until they add a qualifier to relieve themselves of the guilt of finding the joke funny. “What an awful thing to say,” they say to distance themselves from the mean-spirited nature of the joke. On that note, it’s difficult for most individuals to admit that they enjoy watching an alligator tear a human apart, without some sort of qualifier that suggests that the video is nothing more than a tutorial on the brutal realities of nature. Neither party truly believes this. We know we experience some schadenfreude watching fellow humans suffer, but we need to have a wink and a nod agreement with the producers of such content. This helps absolve us of our voyeuristic need for carnage with a qualifier that suggests that viewers are not awful for enjoying other people’s trauma. If this isn’t the case, why do almost all victims appear to react in such a formulaic manner, as if they’re reading from a script? If they’re not reading from a script, we can speculate, the producers don’t air the disgruntled, bitter testimonials that go off the proverbial script.

Here in the Land of Hysterical Emotional Reactions, we know it is perfectly reasonable for victims to state that a bear is “Just doing what comes naturally to them,” when it rips a person apart for the delicious treats they happen to have in their backpack while in the bear’s domain. We know that inherent within the victim testimonials is the attempt 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 who are skeptical of this whole practice must admit that we might consider such a person foolish, or at least more foolish than a guy who expressed surprise at a bear attacking them in a Schlotzky’s deli in Omaha, Nebraska.

We also understand that it’s the goal of the testifiers 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. As informed people, we understand that to suggest that the attack was, in anyway, vindictive or personal or that the bear acted in any manner other than instinctual would make the victim appear foolish. We know wildlife doesn’t single people out for attack, and they prefer to avoid humans, unless conditions dictate otherwise. All of this is perfectly reasonable, even to those of us in the Land of Hysterical Emotional Reactions, but that logic and reasonability discounts the emotional, hysterical reactions one should have if a bear removes a limb, or leaves a face in a condition that now causes small children to run screaming in a mall.

I do not think I’m alone when I say that if a bear ripped me apart and left me on life support, in a coma, or clinging to life for months, I would spend the rest of my hysterically emotional life cheering bear hunters on. 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 able to hide their new, lifelong, irrational fear (see hatred) of bears in the aftermath.

***

If there is one person we might excuse for being bitter and hateful, it is Charla Nash, the victim of a shocking 2009 chimpanzee attack. That 200-pound chimpanzee, affectionately known as Harold, lived with his owner in a suburban neighborhood. Harold not only blinded Charla, he severed her nose, ears, and hands, and she received severe lacerations on her face. Her life was as ruined as any who have survived an animal attack, but Ms. Nash somehow managed to forgive Harold and his owner. She wasn’t as forgiving as those who offer statements based on what I believe are a reaction to a “Do you want to be on camera? Then say this …” stated or unstated ultimatum. Charla Nash does appear to be forgiving, and that forgiveness appeared genuine.

Charla Nash

“I’ve gotten angry at times,” she told The Today Show, “but you can’t hold anger. It’s unhealthy. It goes through you. You’ve got to enjoy what you have.”

Ms. Nash’s response to her horrific moment in life provides a philosophical outlook on life that those of us who have lived without such a horrific moment occurring in our lives can use as inspiration in dealing with our comparative trivialities. Her reaction 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 genuine optimism about life after such an attack. The main character of this story, affectionately known as the goose guy, is not Charla Nash, however, and he should not be afforded the same admirable plaudits Nash is due.

As we see in this video, pro kayak angler Drew Gregory was fishing in a lake one day when a couple geese began swimming near him. Mr. Gregory decided to feed them some of the contents from his backpack. One goose, decided the best way to beat his competition to the food was to go directly to the source. Then, doing what geese do, this goose attempted to empty Gregory’s backpack. In the process, the goose sent Mr. Gregory overboard. If the sounds that followed Mr. Gregory’s splash were not the goose’s laughter, even the least competitive man could have confused them with some expression of dominance.

In the era of selfies, and YouTube videos of the most mundane activities one can imagine, it’s not shocking that a man would film himself fishing. People also filmed themselves fishing for TV shows long before the internet, and before most of us were born. When we were kids, we knew there were fishing shows on the other channels. We grew up with it, and we learned to accept the idea that other people must enjoy watching the people on these shows fish. Why would it continue to be on the air if people didn’t enjoy it? I don’t enjoy fishing, so I don’t understand why people do it, but I’ve had friends and family convince me that it has some virtues. I’ve yet to meet anyone who can convince me that watching another man fish has one redeeming quality that I might consider. I don’t understand the industry, but I don’t begrudge anyone who creates such a video and attempts to make a buck on it. All the power to you, but how does it help a star of one these shows to distribute an episode in which they were dominated by a goose? Why didn’t Dick Gregory hit the delete button soon after it happened? One could say, depending on what the video contains, that such a video might show that a person like Dick Gregory has a very healthy ability to laugh at himself. If that’s the case, he’s healthier than I am, for if I was the victim of a goose attack, no one but the geese would ever know about it. I would never watch this video again, my pride couldn’t take the hit, and I would avoid watching it with the hope that I might eventually be able to forget it ever happened.

Some have suggested that we are now at a point in human history when human beings will do whatever is necessary for fifteen minutes of fame. If Andy Warhol, the originator of this quote, lived to see this video and learned that the victim, Drew Gregory distributed it himself, and made himself available for aftermath commentary on a TruTV airing, I can only guess Warhol would smile and say, “Told you!”

“It’s just a goose,” many readers might say, “and what are the chances that an animal that averages seven to eight pounds could end a human life?” We can all agree that the chances are remote, but what are the chances that the same animal could do irreparable damage to an eyeball or an ear? What are the chances that a goose could land its victim in the hospital? I can tell you one thing. I would bother calculating odds or possibilities in the moment. I’m guessing that some primal, self-preservation tactics would rise, and I would do whatever was necessary to fight my attacker off.

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

I am also confident I would not be the amiable dunce who would find a way to laugh about it later. I would not view such a moment as entertaining in anyway, nor would I qualify it by saying I was in goose’s environment, and I deserved everything that happened to me. I would view such a moment as one of those survival-of-the-fittest moments. In the moment, I wouldn’t think about all these video clips I’ve watched, and I wouldn’t recall the idea that the one thing we do know about nature is that it’s unpredictable. My impulses would override all that, and I would act. I would grab the thing by its throat, whisper some 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 use my kayak oar like a Callaway I-MIX FT-5 and drive the bird in a manner that would make fellow lefty golfer Phil Mickelson proud. I imagine that drive would be fueled by the type of stress and fear that propels little old ladies to lift cars off their grandchildren, and in that light I don’t see Mickelson’s average 315.3 yard drive as an unreasonable distance.

If the goose managed to elude that, 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 slaughtered 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 a dozen more before I rest.”

After witnessing a Rottweiler attack firsthand, I find myself relegated to the Land of Hysterical Emotional Reactions whenever an average, full-grown Rottweiler walks into a room. I strive to avoid irrational and emotional overreactions to all situations in life. When I encounter dogs with a particularly long history of vicious attacks, however, my reactions to them are now a part of me I can no longer control. I’ve lost arguments with those who state that no dog, be it Rottweiler, Pit bull, or otherwise is evil by nature. They cite science, and I cite hysterical emotions based on experience. I lose. Even as I’m losing these arguments, however, I know I’m not alone with such fears. Those who laugh at me or form opinions about my inferiority on this subject inform me that I am in the minority, and I may be, but I am sure that more people would join our screaming minority if they witnessed such vicious attacks firsthand. I’m also quite sure that most of what I consider a victim’s normal reactions to vicious, life-altering attacks by wild animals ends up on the cutting room floor of the ubiquitous clip shows. I know this because those who need to feel better about their enjoyment of such shows would not appreciate what people like me will do, and then say in the aftermath of such an attack.

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

The Thief’s Mentality

He Used to Have a Mohawk

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

A Simplicity Trapped in a Complex Mind

You Don’t Bring me Flowers Anymore!

… And Then There’s Todd

 

Charles Bukowski Hates Mickey Mouse


It was a shock for me to hear that some assume Sesame Street’s Ernie and Bert are gay. When I first heard that, I thought the statement, true or not, was provocative, insurgent, and hilarious. I don’t remember who first made the claim, but I do recall thinking the individual was on the cusp of something new, something insidious, and transcendent. This person must be part of an insurgent generation that revolts against civil authority, through pop culture, in a manner that is not belligerent, I thought. I wanted to be at the forefront of that insurgence that didn’t just break down societal barriers but left a wasteland in its wake, and I was not concerned with collateral damage. Children be damned, I thought. I wanted to be one of those that shook the cultural two-liter bottle up, and I considered that characterization of Ernie and Bert a good start.

I wanted to convince the world, through repetition, that the reason Aloysius Snuffleupagus (affectionately known as Mister Snuffleupagus) talked and moved so slow on the set of Sesame Street was that he was stoned. I wanted to inform anyone who would listen that the Bradys were all stoned, gay, and involved in incest, along with anything else we could dream up to poke holes in the traditional wholesomeness that led my fellow brethren from broken homes to feel estranged. On the reality side of the tube, we were suffering, and many of us found it disgusting that sixties and seventies television would have the audacity to portray an idyllic image of a family that left the rest of feeling ostracized. I was ready, willing and able to join the fights, until Hollywood vindicated us by producing The Brady Bunch Movie that had its characters deal with pot smoking, lesbians, and the realities we purported to be more in line with our experiences.

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

I’m still not sure how much sincerity drove such comments, but that was precisely what made the insidious provocation so delicious. If it wasn’t serious, it was funny in a serious, seditious manner. If it was serious, on the other hand, it was funny in an unserious manner. Whatever the case, the artful joke teller left it as a standalone. A comment like that one stated that there was no need to preface such comments with the qualifiers most insurgents felt compelled to offer in the gestation period of the movement, when characterizing a child’s beloved creature in such a manner. Refraining from such typical hospitalities and considerations signaled to the rest of us that the age of qualifiers was over, and a full-on insurgency was under way.

Charles Bukowski was not the first to speak out against the authority figures of the sociopolitical world, nor will he be the last. The mindset might date back to the Romans, the ancient Greeks, and beyond, but to my knowledge, no one attacked the soft underbelly of civil authority through the pop culture staples of children’s entertainment as successfully as Bukowski. If he didn’t start the movement, he at least exerted tremendous influence on me and my insurgent brethren. We raised our fists high with a scream, when we learned that the writer had the temerity to come out against a cultural icon many believed to be the standard-bearer of cutesy America, and spawn of Walt Disney.

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

“For us to get back to real America,” a friend of mine said, paraphrasing Bukowski, “we have to destroy Mickey Mouse, because Mickey Mouse destroyed the soul of America.”

It was such a provocative statement, a plane of thought crashing into what I considered the foundation of America. Those I associated with at the time claimed that by making such a declaration, my friend gained panache, and the women around us dug panache. Someone else accused him of being an angry young man, and experience taught us that women loved angry young men. His statement was so provocative, and so Rage Against the Machine that we dug his anger too. Knowing nothing of Bukowski or any other insurgent thoughts at the time, we thought this guy had anger without causation, and we considered that the essence of cool.

“What are you rebelling against?” a female actor asked actor Marlon Brando in the 1953 movie The Wild One

“Whaddya got?” Brando replied. 

That’s the stuff! Suck it Mickey!

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

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

“Nothing,” the cool, hip cats answered, “except that he is a three-fingered son-of-a-bitch with no soul.”

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

These provocative soothsayers appeared to have a formula for intriguing otherwise unattainable women, when they delivered such lines in a subtle and suave manner. The formula also appeared to be something we uncool fellas thought we could put to good use. I don’t know if others ever managed to use this technique successfully, but any flirtations I had with using the tool met a quick end when the retro-funny-nerd types stepped in with their “Elmo rocks!” and “Grover is a dude!” T-shirts. Those apparel choices were not intentionally insurgent, and their motivation confused me. Their shirts made kind, funny statements like, “Big Bird is my homeboy!” and, “I was raised on The Street” (with an accompanying picture of Sesame Street on the shirt), and they garnered laughter from women. Women asked them about their T-shirt, and the T-shirt wearers got a ticket to ride. This left the rest of us confused. “We had a formula,” we wanted to say to the retro-funny-nerd types. “You’re messing up the dynamic of what we just started to understand.”

Even if we had been able to use those insurgent statements, we would’ve said them with some humorous underpinnings. We wanted to be funny in a way that some strong, intellectual themes of that era were. I don’t know how many contra rebels sought the higher plane of funny in the manner I did, but I did run across a few who took the insurgent movement a bit too seriously and presented their arguments without any humorous underpinnings.

I don’t know if Bukowski was one of them, or if he used the insurgent formula to rise to the throne of the insurgent rebels in a capitalistic venture, but standup comedians took Bukowski’s fundamentals into the stratosphere. Bukowski might have found this a little unsettling. Then again, he might have intended these statements to serve as a launching point. Whatever the case, I’m sure that if Bukowski lived long enough to witness the insurgency permeating culture to the degree where even little old ladies began declaring, “Barney sucks!” at Applebee’s, he would’ve been proud. Whatever the case, Bukowski’s acolytes took this message more seriously than the rest of us.

Few can pinpoint where movements such as these begin. Likewise, few can pinpoint their demise. In our limited perspective, we are only aware of what happens in our inner circles. In my inner circle, the insurgent institution began to wane, but the Bukowski acolytes held true. “Barney still sucks!” they said. They blasted the otherwise innocuous, purple dinosaur so often that some in their audience began to believe it was something more than comedic shtick. They were true believers. The retro-funny-nerd types and little old ladies at Applebee’s inadvertently exposed the true believers as ludicrous, and a little too serious and self-righteous, to a point where we laymen began to back away from our attempts to achieve orthodoxy.

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

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

“He sucks!” Ms. Mary says. “He should have a hypodermic needle hanging from his arm, and a mohawk on his head, and the world would be a much better place if his father learned the proper use of a condom.” Ms. Mary’s learned version of cute sophistication often elicits laughter and a chorus of “Aw,” from everyone at the table.

At this point or some points in between, the observer begins to realize that the true believer has a bona-fide opinion on the matter, one they consider so consequential that they teach their children to mimic it. They are angry that any individual of any age would seek the soft entertainment that Mickey or Barney provides.

They cannot abide their children’s occasional giggles at the humorous actions of a grown man in a Barney outfit. When the show does garner a giggle, we can imagine them peering around their electronic device at Ms. Mary and admonishing, “What do we say about Barney again?”

“He sucks,” Ms. Mary repeats.

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

At this point or some points in between, the casual observer can’t help but further question the parent’s motives. “I think this is all funny, don’t get me wrong, but you don’t actually believe it do you?”

For some parents, the dinosaur, the mouse, and some of the other, more popular characters of youth programming are annoying. Most parents of this era talked about the mind-numbing repetitiveness of some songs, and how the cutesy, nice interactions between the characters drove them crazy, but there are others who take these annoyances a step further. I’ve met them. I met parents who wanted more for their children, and their various definitions of more were largely left to the imagination. If a parent doesn’t want mind-numbing educational songs for their children, or cutesy interactions that might teach children how to interact with their peers, how does a parent counter such programming to prepare their children for the stark reality of the world? Do they introduce them to violent, obscene movies to give their children a more vivid picture of themes that contain violence and sexual identity? Do they do this under the guise that they believe this will lead to their children being less inclined to ostracize and hate the differences in people? What if, after watching such material, their child tickles Elmo in a department store, and they giggled along with the furry toy? We can only guess that this might manifest into some form of hopeless frustration. How does a parent counteract that? Would they sit their child down and remind them of the misery in the world? How far would they go to achieve some form of hopeless tears in their child? If they did achieve it, would they feel an odd sense of satisfaction by preparing the little one for the misery that awaits them on the other side of childhood? One has to wonder if these children are more miserable based on the efforts of their parents, and if there is anything, anyone could do to prepare them for a life of that.

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

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

To support the counter-argument, we must cede to the idea that Disney has damaged some susceptible children-turned-adults. We must recognize that some adults have an unusual and unhealthy propensity for fantasy, but what Bukowski and his acolytes don’t account for in the provocative, insurgent statements against Disney is that if Walt Disney’s creation never existed, there would be a need to create it. If Barney or Sesame Street never existed, something would fill that vacuous hole. Some of us may not enjoy the manner in which that hole was filled, but as my fifth grade teacher once said in various ways on far too many days, “The country in which you live has a Bill of Rights that allows you to complain about whatever you want, but if you’re going to complain in my class, you do have to offer an alternative solution. If all you do is complain, you’re useless to me.”  

If those who complain about these institutions are able to see past their subjective frustrations and view the market in an objective manner, they will recognize that there was a need that Walt Disney and all of these other institutions filled. Rather than complain, in what my fifth grade teacher would’ve characterized as useless, Bukowski and his acolytes should’ve complained in a constructive manner by offering a viable alternative. If that need is institutional in America –be it is financial, capitalistic, emotional, or fundamental– these family-oriented entertainment vehicles tapped into something that made a generation of children a little happier. AY! There’s the rub, the nut-core of it all, happy. Bukowski types hate happy. If they were in control, America would be a happy-free zone.

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

Most would say America is a better, happier place for children, with Disney, Sesame Street, and most of the child-like, simple-minded, cute programming in it. Even the most jaded adult would admit that the tedious songs and simple-minded exercises make an imprint on young minds. Children learn through repetition, and the simple-minded, tedious repetitions also provide children a refuge from the various stresses that childhood might provide. The counterarguments seem incomprehensible to some of us, but perhaps that’s what makes them funny, quasi funny, and provocative. There are others, we’ve all met them, who believe these fantastical presentations do more harm than good, and they’re not trying to be provocative. The inevitable question arises, if these programming choices for children border on evil in their simplistic pursuits, how would we go about replacing them? The idea that they want children drinking alcohol, or attending the track is a strawman argument, they say, but when we advance the argument beyond the fallacious and beyond their provocative statements, we find that they’re stance is steeped in bitter contrarianism.

If Disney represents happy, cute America, as Bukowski suggested, should we nominate Bukowski an unofficial honorarium as miserable America’s ambassador? If Disney brought uncomplicated happiness to America’s shores, coupled with laughter, and joy, what did Bukowski bring? Anyone who knows anything about Bukowski knows that he had an abusive, alcoholic father. He also suffered from a clinical case of acne in his youth. These, among other issues, led him to a degree of misery that he mined to carve out a niche in the market that brought him fame and fortune. We know that while Bukowski may not have been the first to tap into the misery market, he might have done it better than those that preceded him, for few in history have relayed the unhappy mindset in such a comprehensive manner, and even fewer could express their hatred for happy people with such vigor.

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

Let Your Freak Flag Fly!


“Some of the times you just gotta let your freak flag fly,” my aunt said to her brother. My aunt wanted to be younger and hipper her whole life. She knew the Billboard top 100 far better than I did, she wore clothing better suited to younger girls, and she said catch phrases like this one all the time. This was the first time I heard that phrase, however, and even though it involved my aunt’s embarrassing attempt to appear hip, the line stuck with me. A short time later, I heard someone on a top-rated television show say it, then one of my friends said it in school, and a week later I began hearing it everywhere.

Freak Flag

“Where did you hear that phrase?” I asked a friend from school.

“Dude, I don’t know. I’ve been saying it for decades,” he said. That response appears to be the key to keeping it cool in the phraseology universe, for no one ever seems to know where or when they heard them first. Either they truly don’t remember, they don’t care, or they want us to think they started it.

There’s apparently a lot of prestige wrapped up in starting a phrase, and if someone gets a taste of it, they don’t give it up willingly. Whatever the case is, when the curious pursue such a matter, we receive evasive and defensive responses. Even if they just started saying the phrase last February, they want us to think they’ve been saying it for decades, or they dismiss further intrigue on this issue as uncool.

If we found a truly reflective individual who could remember the first time they heard the phrase, it might result in a response to our question as humdrum as, “I think my Cousin Ralphie is cool as hell, and when I heard him say it I wanted his cool all over me.” If this individual were that honest, they might run the risk of being so over as to be drummed out of the in-crowd, for the clique might deem that confession a violation of the binary, unspoken agreement those in the in-crowd have designed for the world of phraseology. In this world, all users want their audience to consider them the originator of the phrase, and anyone who insists on pursuing this line of interrogation runs the risk of being drummed out on an “If you have to ask …” basis.

Another unspoken rule to the use of catch phrases, among the in-crowd, is that we better hurry up and use them as often as possible, before a cool cat steps in to declare that the days of using the phrase are now over. “Stop saying that. I’m trying to get the word out that that phrase is over. Tell your friends.” We might be disappointed to learn that we are no longer able to use words, phrases, or idioms that we enjoy using, but we know that when cool people step in to warn us that it’s over, it’s a serious blow in the world of phraseology. We also know that by continuing to use such a phrase, we run the risk of being so over. This begs a question of the arbiters of language who purport that they’ve been saying this for decades, how is it that you haven’t encountered someone who declared it so over in that time span? Did you ignore them, and if you did, why should I listen to you?

A work associate of mine attempted to play the role of the foil in this manner by correcting me in front of a group of people. “Dude, stop saying that,” he said mimicking the phrase to end phrases. “I’m trying to get the word out that that phrase is over. Tell your friends.” Anytime we hear someone issue such a condemnation, we assume it’s rooted in something our friend learned from a person with some authority on the matter. In my experience, however, most of these self-professed arbiters of language consider starting a hip phrase fine but ending one divine. Thus, those with no standing in this hierarchy of cool often take it upon themselves to issue such a condemnation without knowing anything more on the matter than anyone else, but they hope that by pushing others down they might improve their standing in this hierarchy.

Like most of those in the lowest stratum of this hierarchy, I knew nothing about this confusing world of using hip, insider, cool cat language, so I was in no position to question my work associate, but by my calculations this fella was a doofus. He was such a complete doofus that I would no sooner consider advice from him on language than I would tips he offered on making friends or dating more women. I still don’t know if this fella assumed a level of authority on this matter based on the idea that he considered me inferior, of if he heard this news from a more authoritative figure, but I decided not to give him a seat on my personal arbitration board. The situation did lead me to wonder how we determine our arbiters of words and phrases. My guess is that most people will not heed such advice from just anyone, as that might reveal their status in this hierarchy. My guess is that we make discerning choices based on superficial, bullet point requirements we have for those issuing them? Put another way, if my work associate was more attractive, less chubby, and he wasn’t such a doofus, I may have been more amenable to his guidance.

✽✽✽

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

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

Typical, political, Freak Flag Flyers have made very specific choices to avoid the title: backward thinking theocrat. They tend to be high-minded individuals who think they fly high over those of us who believe in nouns (i.e. people, places, and things). Freak Flag Flyers tend to know more about these nouns than the average person, “because those people haven’t done their homework”. Some Freak Flag Flyers base their outlier status on anecdotal information about the actions of those nouns to whom others swear allegiance, and if the “others” knew what Freak Flag Flyers know, they would be just as sophisticated in their skeptical approach to allegiances as Freak Flag Flyers are.

Most people fly under a flag: Americans fly under the Stars and Stripes; the Irish fly under the Irish tricolor; and the British fly under the Union Jack. There are some people, however, who fly under no flag, and they provide this information to anyone who asks, and some who don’t. Don’t expect them to admit to flying under a freak flag however, for the very essence of flying under a freak flag is designed to give its flyer an open-ended, free lifestyle persona that doesn’t conform to societal definitions such as identity or allegiance … Even if such a definition extends itself to a freak flag. They aren’t proud members of a country, political party, or a coalition of freaks. They’re just Tony, and any attempt you make to define them as anything but –based upon the things they do and say– will say more about you, their interrogator, and your need for definition, than it does them. Freak Flag Flyers tend to be moral relativists who ascribe to “some” libertarian principles when those political policies adhere to principles they find pleasing –those that suggest as Dave Mason did, “There ain’t no good guy, there ain’t no bad guy. There’s only you and me and we just disagree”- but they tend to distance themselves from the libertarian ideals of limited government when it involves fiscal matters, for that might result in too many libertarian principles.

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

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

The Thief’s Mentality


The best thief I ever knew accused me of stealing from him so often that I began to question my integrity. I dated a woman who cheated on me so often that I’m still embarrassed that I wasn’t more aware of her infidelities. Her octopus ink involved psychological projection in the form of repetitive accusations of infidelity on my part. Her charges were so effective that I spent most of our relationship defending myself. These are but the greatest hits of compulsive liars who used tactics on me, so often, that I forgot to question their integrity. If their goals were to prevent me from analyzing them, they were successful. The more I thought about it, the more I realized their accusations said more about them, and their worldview, than it ever did me. Some might call this projection, others might call it deflection or obfuscation, but I believe the games these people play fall under a comprehensive, multi-tiered umbrella I call 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 the signs and signals of possible transgressions occurring in the minds of those around us. He spent his life so attuned to this frequency that his instincts often led him astray.

Kurt taught me more about how a deceptive person thinks, 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 a wide array of 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 might 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 a funny guy, and a genuinely funny person can disarm us, unless we stick around long enough to learn more about their 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 piece of work (POS) displays, they ultimately end up destroying themselves from the inside out.

One afternoon while on a city bus, Kurt 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 appalling act hysterical.

Hindsight informs me that my youthful 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.

Not only did Kurt Lee ignore those typical conventions, he chose to pursue what we could term the exact opposite. He decided to violate the most vulnerable member of our culture’s sense of security by playing with her stocking cap. 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 questions, 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 eventually 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, and then she gave him that angry look. 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 more laughter from another teen, Kurt Lee did not use that term. He selected the most vulgar term he could to describe his extrapolation of her desires.

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 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 him speak on the topic, there was nothing different about Kurt Lee. He simply had the courage of his convictions. He ascribed to the more conventional line of thought that we were all afraid to be like him, but he also suggested that the rest of us have had this part of our makeup denied by parents and teachers instructing us to act differently for so long that we now believe we are different. The import of his message was that this was not about me, and it was 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 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. We called him a master debater, with the innuendo intended, because 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 lost its thrill. He decided to challenge himself as top athletes, and top news anchors do, by hiring third-party 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 the man 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 of one of his offers.”

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

I felt validated for coming up with a theory that 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 some 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, I didn’t witness Kurt Lee steal one thing, and 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 mock him without saying a word. When I finished, he opened his jacket to show me his inner pockets. What I saw knocked me back a couple steps. I actually took a step back when I witnessed the number of baseball cards that lined his inner pockets. I would’ve been impressed 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 endless for Kurt Lee.

Soon after recovering from that awe, I began to wonder how one acquires such a deft hand. As with any acquired skill, trial and error is involved, but nestled within that lies the 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 the potential thief to either a defeat of that sense of shame or find a 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 them. 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 a bad seed, but 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 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 must acknowledge that their parents will not always be there, so they will need to 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. Attempting to source it might be a fool’s errand, but I wondered if I were able to sort through Kurt’s his genealogical tree, if I might find sedimentary layers of grievance, envy, frustration, and desperation that worked their way down to him. To those who consider this a bit of a stretch, I ask 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 spiral out of control when he tried to pivot 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 the 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 too. 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. Some part of him believed that if everyone was a thief, then no one was, at least to the point of separating the thief out for comparative analysis. This was a sacred chapter in Kurt Lee’s personal bible, and an ingredient of the thief’s mentality that took me decades to grasp.

The thief’s mentality is a mindset that involves a redirect of exposing an uncomfortable truth, or a hypocrisy, in others, so that the thief might escape a level of scrutiny that could lead to an uncomfortable level of introspection. 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 them to see past the façades and through the veneer, others present to 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 by honest means. He insisted that because some 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 to have unusual carnal relations. 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, Kurt Lee’s audience was immune. “I’m not talking about you,” he would say to the parties concerned, so they would view the subject matter from the perspective of an ally. If we began to view ourselves as an ally, we might join him in convincing our world that he’s not that bad, or the world is as bad as he is. Yet, our agreed upon immunity from his charges begins to fracture in the course of the thief’s 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 the Pete Pestronis of the world that are 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. Others might say that it’s some sort of deflection or obfuscation on the part of the thief, but I believe it all falls under a comprehensive, multi-tiered umbrella that I call the thief’s mentality. Still others might 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 who challenged Kurt Lee trustworthiness. It also put any further questions regarding Kurt Lee’s character –or what his inability to trust the people in his life 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 led them to believe.

With all that Kurt Lee taught me about this 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 said things like, “I don’t know what I did to damage our bond of trust, but they call me irredeemable.” My friends are insecure about their trustworthiness, as we all are, yet they wonder what they did 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 the plight of the thief, 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 with a name for what their loved one does. The idea that there might be a name for it, also suggests to them that someone has had similar experiences so often that they developed a name for it. Whatever short-term relief they experience in the moment, the idea that their loved one is never going to trust them anymore than they trust themselves dispels it.

The damage that thieves, like Kurt Lee, incur is irreparable. 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, their accusations do allow them to spread their misery around a little. 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 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 other 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.

The Balloonophilia Conflict


“Welcome to the group, our group, of balloonophiles,” a group moderator who chose the name Olive Branch said to open the proceedings. “Some people call us loonies and loonatics. I see some fresh faces here today, so I’d like to welcome you all to our group.

“We balloonophiles enjoy blowing up balloons and watching others do so,” she added.

After the all-too tedious introductions ended (“Hi. My name is Jordache, and I like green olives and Octopuses,”) Olive opened the floor for the discussion of the day.

In the general discussion that followed, we fresh faces learned of a philosophical divide that arose between the two factions in Balloonophila. A group called the poppers were on one side of the proverbial aisle, and the non-poppers were on the other side. The word proverbial is germane here, because the participants did not sit on opposite sides of one another, and they did not sit together to imply they would only sit next to those with whom they shared solidarity on this matter. The divide between the two was purely philosophical, and other than a few harsh words, I never saw anything that would suggest otherwise.

“Most of us use the common latex balloon,” one of the poppers explained to us, “but we will use the higher-quality Mylar when we had disposable cash on hand.”

“Segments of the popper faction of the balloonist community enjoyed popping with a pin,” another popper explained. “Others enjoy flames, but some loonatics use shoe heels for maximum impact.”

“We non-poppers used Mylar balloons almost exclusively,” another said, “because Mylar holds up better to the oven baking process we use to make them stretchier.”

Except for the few anecdotal examples provided below, most balloonophiles engaged in these activities in conjunction with various sex acts.

“I pictured a military man the other day, a grunt, forcefully contorting a balloon into shape,” said a man called Andy. “He doesn’t want to hurt the balloon, but he enjoys hearing it squeal.”

Most of the introductions the loons of both factions provided were less personal than Andy, as they preferred the more instructional rhetoric to describe the philosophical conflict that developed in Balloonville between the popper and non-popper factions. Members of each group later informed me that, in a few cases, their past discussions grew heated, but for the most part, any tension that occurred between the two factions was a subtle undercurrent that can develop with any two parties who have philosophical differences. The speakers maintained that their disagreements were peaceful, and they repeated that so often that I began to believe it. Even the most peaceful arguments have sides, however, and there are always going to be some participants feel the need to bolster their ranks.

“Poppers prefer to have their carnal explosion occur in conjunction with the balloon’s,” a non-popper named Elliot said to try to explain what he considered the crux of the argument. “Non-poppers, on the other hand, prefer to use the same balloon repeatedly. We consider a popper’s enjoyment of popping a balloon as unnecessarily violent, even a little sadistic.” Elliot’s characterization was the most interesting, of course, but I didn’t give it the attention it required at first. I considered it a natural flow of such discussions, as one person will always try to outdo the others, but when Elliot continues, using other devices to bolster his argument, he convinced me how important this characterization was to him.

I figured Elliot was probably a nice guy, as I watched him carry on and provide far too many details of the plight of the non-popper. I figured he was a man who followed all of the rules and treated people the way he wanted to be treated, but he has his moments. We all do, and we worry about those moments and what they say about us. We might think about them, and some of us might obsess over them, but the mirror can only provide so many answers. I figured that questions of morality plagued Elliot so much that he needed to find a way to soothe his soul. So, he joined a group. I wondered if Elliot had any interest in balloons before he joined this group. The first question, of course, is how would one find such a specific group without very specific needs? Maybe a friend told him about the group, like my friend told me. Maybe he thought it would be hilarious to hear people talk about sex with balloons, like I did, and somewhere in that meeting he found a level of affinity for these people that led him to some level of solidarity. Maybe he was just a lost soul in need of a group, and he just happened to find these people.

There’s nothing wrong with joining a group, of course, as we can find friends and feel a part of a community, but such groups can lead the individuals involved to develop an us versus them mentality. When we get caught up in the group mentality, we find ourselves using comparative analysis more often than self-reflection. We attempt to persuade our group, and anyone else in between, of our virtuousness. We hope to persuade them to our point of view to bolster the view we hope to have of ourselves.

Elliot said that poppers do what they do, because “they are so unnecessarily violent that they might be sadistic”. The first question that comes to mind, when one hears such a thing is, we’re still talking about balloons right? As one who obsesses over word choices I’ve often found that the audience should consider excessive use of modifiers, particularly adverbs, a warning about the speaker’s intentions. I’ve often found them used in the introduction of some level of manipulation on the part of the speaker. Elliot could’ve simply said poppers enjoy popping balloons and I don’t, but by adding those modifiers he hoped to persuade those of us with no rooting interest that those who pop balloons are bad guys, which he hopes leads us to consider him a good guy by comparison.

This Elliot guy was talking about popping balloons, so the reason I didn’t pay enough attention to the guy at first was that he was talking about balloons. It was a silly topic on a silly evening as far as I was concerned. When this guy rambled on about how poppers were on the wrong side, I realized there was something about human nature, in general, involved in his characterization. I thought about how many philosophical arguments I’ve been in where the person I was arguing with went beyond saying I was wrong to saying I should reconsider my views before someone, somewhere called me a bad guy.

My reaction to Elliot’s comments were not what I would call an epiphany, as I had these thoughts before, but no one I argued with ever went as far as Elliot did to label their philosophical opponents bad guys. It struck me, even as Elliot was speaking, that there is a sliding scale that some try to instill in their audience. If Elliot was able to convince those of us who have no rooting interest that poppers are wrong, he receives short term, situational satisfaction if we consider him right. If he is able to convince us that they’re bad, he might hope that we consider him good by contrast. If he convinces us that their unnecessarily violent and sadistic tendencies could be characterized as evil, then we are almost required to recognize Elliot as the beacon of virtue.

I also gleaned from the testimonials and the many comments made in the meeting that non-poppers tend to believe they attain more from a balloon in what could be termed a monogamous relationship, and this is more often than not the case when that balloon is made of Mylar and filled with air as opposed to helium. They never defined the word more in their descriptions, nor did the non-poppers ever use the word monogamous. Many in the non-popper community approached the ideas in different ways, however, and they left them as a standalone, which I assume to be a self-evident proposition of theirs.

The testimonies were such that I gathered that the non-poppers were the more sanctimonious of the two, but the poppers had their own level of sanctimony. Some of the poppers alluded to the idea that the non-poppers were complete wusses for their aversions to loud noises.

“…And the loud noises are where it’s at,” said a man with the alias of Jim (his preferred moniker if I should ever publish this piece). “There is something exhilarating about rubbing your fingers along a balloon that is inflated to maximum capacity. The sound it makes does something that those with an aversion to loud noises will never understand, like screams or something.”

✽✽✽

“There are a number of theories regarding the origin of the balloonophile,” Olive Branch said after the intros were complete, and the discussion of the differences between the two factions subsided. “I know we’ve discussed them before, but I thought we might address the issue again for some of our newer members.” Olive didn’t look at me when she said this, but the energy of the room made an obvious shift in my direction.

I wasn’t sure if I was the lone new member, as that was never addressed, even in the introductory period, but I apparently stood out more than the others did, because most of the speakers chose to direct their focus on me.

“Some have suggested that balloonophiles are borne of castration anxiety,” Olive continued, “or a denial of breastfeeding. They also suggest that some go too far in their endeavors that they advance to a stage in their pursuit of therapy when they manage to replace the natural need for human contact and become irretrievable in a psychological manner. How many of us think these theories hold any measure of truth?”

A chorus of “No’s” went around the table. They expounded on their rejection of these ideas a little, but as with most attempts to disprove theories regarding the essence of one’s nature, the ballonophiles didn’t feel a great need to bolster their rejections of these notions with what I considered constructive refutation.

Terrance Gill, a non-popper, chuckled at the very idea that castration anxiety was even a theory, and a few others parroted his position with soft chuckles of their own.

“What about the Freudian breastfeeding theory?” Olive asked.

One balloonophile informed the group, “I might have been breastfed too long, according to what my mother told me.” Two others offered anecdotal attempts to refute the breastfeeding theory until the group reached a silent agreement that the anecdotal refutations of Balloonophilia demoted themselves to anecdotal. Various members began branching out from these refutations to personal experiences they had with other theories, and their refutations of them teed up other members to bolster their refutations with quick affirming tidbits. At the end of this particular stretch, the otherwise combative groups appeared satisfied with themselves for offering the new attendees the group’s version of Origin of Species.

I, however, didn’t think any of them offered one piece of solid refutation. They seemed obsessed with distracting and obfuscating the central point of Olive Branch’s question. I was a quiet observer at this point, nothing more and nothing less. My smile was level and polite throughout. I even allowed most of the rejections of theories to pass without comment. It wasn’t in my nature to remain silent for long, however, and this aspect of my personality was even more difficult to maintain as the attempts to defeat what these individuals believed to be anecdotal theories proved so anecdotal.

“Everyone is not a damned anomaly!” I said.

At that, the group was shocked. If shocked is a self-serving description, how about silent. In the wake of a challenge of what I considered their self-serving descriptions, they said nothing. I realized, in the space of the silence that followed that they might have thought I argued from some point of certitude that I was right and they were wrong. If I thought of it at the time, I would’ve disavowed them of this notion, for how can one be right or wrong on such matters? I did recognize the general idea that I was a bit ahead of myself, and I probably overstepped my station by questioning them in such an outburst.

“I’m sorry,” I said, too little, too late. “It just gnaws at me when people invest so much energy in telling people what they are not, and they fail to invest any thought in what they are, or how they came to be.

“Most people are much more comfortable telling an interested party that other’s theories about them are either wrong or that they happen to be anomalous to those theories,” I continued. “They want people to believe that anyone who tries to figure them out is wasting their time. I have no problem with the idea that you think you’re complicated. Don’t get me wrong. That said, let’s dig through those complications. Let’s try to find a truth that lies somewhere between simple logic and what I consider a lack of objectivity on your part.”

“No one is objective,” Elliot said. “I’m not objective. You’re not objective. Even if the only team you’re rooting for is your own, you still have a rooting interest.”

“Fair enough,” I said, suspecting that Elliot was parsing my words and attempting to divert the subject with my poor choice of words. “But we’ve developed simple rules of logic in our studies of human nature, to govern our ways of life. Within those agreed upon understandings lies a belief that I turned out the way I did, because of the conditions in which my parents raised me. The economic conditions in which they raised me played a role, the locale of my upbringing, and various other social conditions affected the person I am now. While there will always be some anomalies to these findings, but not everyone can be one. The fact that most people believe they are anomalous to every rule just reiterates to me that self-examination is sorely lacking, but I don’t think it suggests that there is anything wrong with the general rules we’ve established. I’ve asked various people if it’s true that those from their specific locale tend to be, and believe, what others tell me they believe. They say, “Oh, that’s such a generality. We’ve all fallen in love with that rejection, as if it refutes the general rules we’ve established. They don’t say anything else, and they expect us all to walk away, as if that’s an acceptable answer. I’m saying stop that. We need to find a way expound on the reasons why the general rules we lay out are generally incorrect. I don’t care if you and your second-cousin Janet are specific exceptions to the general rule. If you are anomalous to the theories Olive just laid out, we should want to dig deeper into these theories, to see if there are any commonalities. If there aren’t, we should explore that possibility to locate the countervailing realities we share. Aren’t you interested in what makes you who you are?”

One is never sure how others will receive such a rant. We’d like to think we present such profundity that the silence that follows is just a pendulum, waiting to swing the group in our favor, but I had no such delusions. I was, however, confident in the idea that what I had to say was thoughtful and that my conclusions were, at the very least, worthy of consideration. That belief, like many presumptions and assumptions proved false.

“They just are,” non-popper, Vicki Lerner, explained. She looked around for a brief, pregnant moment. “We just … are.”

That gained Vicky some good vibes from the others. No one offered her words of thanks or congratulations, but the positive energy of the room swung in her direction.

I smiled at her words and the unspoken accolades that followed, but I intended that smile to conceal my fatigue. A second after Vicki said that, I realized I should’ve qualified my statements, “And you cannot just say, ‘We just are.’ You cannot say, ‘And on the eighth day, God created the balloon people.’” 

“There has to be a reason some of you have this predilection.” I said. “I can pretty much trace all the things that led me to being the way I am.”

“Why do you need labels?” Terrance Gill asked me. “Balloonville is not about labels.” 

They all enjoyed that. Captain Federico, an obvious toucher, even reached out to touch Terrance’s leg. He pointed to Terrance’s face, and then pumped his eyebrows at Terrance.

“You spoke of a lack of examination,” Jim said. “Let’s examine you for a moment. Why do you need very specific answers to your specific questions? Is there a part of you that abhors chaos so much that you pledge to fight the random wherever it rears its head? Have you always been this way? Do you think you have life all figured out? On the other hand, maybe you’ve reached the point when matters such as these make so little sense that you have to jam sense into it. Why can’t they just be? Why can’t we just be? Some of the times, things are random. Some of the times people are just different. Sometimes people just become what they are by a random series of events.”

“That is true,” I said, “It’s undeniably true, but I think if we all examine our differences and those events that seem to be random, we might find some correlations that lessen the randomness of it all.”

The idea that the group never welcomed dissent into their origin-of-species discussions was obvious by their initial, silent shock and the follow-up counterpoints. I won’t bore the reader with the remaining counterpoints, as most were redundant and circuitous and they focused on the agreed-upon theme that balloonophiles are just what they say they are. We did arrive at one collective conclusion, albeit an unspoken one, that I was the one with the problem, and the discussion that followed suggested that we all grew a little closer in the aftermath of that conclusion.

“I view the use of balloons in foreplay as an indicator of confidence,” a man named Mel said. “I don’t use balloons as often as some in our group do, but it’s an excellent device to use when trying to switch things up. Most people feel weird involving balloons in foreplay, yet they have no problem with other, more accepted devices. Most people don’t know what we can do with balloons, and when they find out, they’re weirded out by it. A person who can work their way past that displays an overwhelming amount of confidence I find sexy.”

As the only person to confess that his fascination might be deep rooted and psychological, Mel stated that he saw balloons as “a physiological substitute that, when ingested by a female, can achieve excitation. This is often the case when said female pops the balloon upon total immersion.” As a member of the popping camp, Mel admitted to “having an inflation fetish that occurs in a manner similar to sudden expansion of body parts.”

“The popping can be violently dramatic when it’s timed just right,” a stage performer who engaged in total balloon immersion in her act, said to agree Mel’s assessment. She was excited by Mel’s confession, and she all but hopping in her seat throughout. She said “Yes!” three times before Mel concluded, and she could begin. “The fascination with balloons and their relationship to some kind of allure is more widespread than even this group realizes. A performer has to know how to do it though. It can be very theatrical in experienced hands, with proper attention paid to detail and timing. To those who watch my act and assume it’s easy, I always say, ‘You try it!’” 

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

This idea of ligyrophobia, or the fear of loud noises, was introduced by a non-popper named Brett. “Some kids grow out of it, I never did. I hole myself up in my apartment during July 4th, and try to block out all sound as best I can, but for some reason I enjoy popping balloons on occasion. “It’s like a controlled, non-threatening way to tweak my fears,” said a man named Brett. “Gil here calls me bacurious.”

“Balloon curious,” Gil added to everyone’s enjoyment.

Captain Federico, a non-popper, was far more open than his counterparts were. He claimed he selected his name from a Star Trek character, and none of the group members knew his real name.

“I initiate visual contact with my balloon while on all fours,” he said, detailing non-popper foreplay for us. “I begin barking at the balloon, until I believe I have achieved a level of dominance. I then crawl back to my balloon in a cautious, submissive manner that leads to embraces and comfort. Next, I roll onto my back, during the supplication phase of the tryst, to allow the balloon full exploration of my body.”

There were no immediate reactions to that confession. I can only guess that most of the balloonists found the revelation uncomfortable, as they feared the new observers in the group might attach it to them. After that cloud of awkwardness lifted, Terrance Gill touched Captain Federico’s shoulder and let his touch linger for a second, and the two of them shared a warm smile. That appeared to be a sign of gratitude for the Captain’s courage in coming forth with that confession, but I figured the gesture returned the sentiment Federico displayed earlier, when he touched Terrance’s leg.

Some of the balloonists lived stressful, non-balloon oriented lives, and they considered their acts of balloonophilia relaxing and therapeutic.

“I work sixty to seventy hours a week for a company that doesn’t appreciate me anymore,” said a man named Leo. “I have a wife and two kids who don’t even greet me at the door anymore, and the boy doesn’t even look away from his gawd-damned PlayStation long enough to acknowledge that I’ve arrived home from work. I can’t force them to be appreciative or gracious, and I’m tired of yelling at them. They don’t listen, and, hey, I’m not hurting anyone. Why does anyone care what I do in my free time?”

“My evenings with balloons are not sexual and tend to involve a wide variety of adults blowing up balloons and trying to keep them airborne. It doesn’t always have to be a sexual thing,” said a woman named Ana who claimed no one would hire her, other than the “stressful, unrewarding field of telemarketing.”

✽✽✽

In the immediate aftermath of the group meeting, I became obsessed with refuting their refutations of my questions. I didn’t think I was obsessed, but my friends did. They said I was repeating the exchanges I had with the group members so often that it was obvious to them I was obsessed. I wanted objective feedback from parties that could provide third-part analysis, but I decided to drop the matter and display a little mercy. I took to the internet and found a number of articles that would bolster my presentation in the Balloonophilia meeting next week.

Two days after writing up my presentation, however, Olive Branch emailed me, “Although balloonophile meetings are open to the public, and you can still attend if you want to, the group has decided that it would be in everyone’s best interest if you decide otherwise.” Further reading of the email made the disdain with my attendance clearer: 

“The group decided that balloonophile meetings are intended for balloonophiles and for those interested in becoming a balloonophile. Various comments and physical gestures that you made throughout the meeting made it clear that you are not interested in joining our group.”

It was my first excommunication, and I didn’t know how to deal with it.

The import of this email was that I was not only a naysayer. They viewed me as an opponent of Balloonophilia, an anti-balloonophile or an anti-loonite, but that is certainly not the case. The nature of the balloonophile fascinates me still, because of what I think it says about humanity in general.

One particular internet article I found better encapsulated what I was trying to say, and I was excited present it to the group. Even if they allowed me to introduce his findings, though, I didn’t really expect it to change any minds. If the balloonophiles taught me nothing else, they convinced me that there is nothing to cure. They are not sick. They enjoyed doing what they do, and they preached their philosophy well enough for me to acknowledge that they are not seeking debate on this topic. I did hope my findings might raise some eyebrows, but I would not expect them to change their ways one iota based on a quote from someone that knows nothing about their individual situations. No matter what information I presented, I knew they would declare themselves an exception to that rule.

“So you failed to convince a bunch of loons that you’re correct? So what?” That has been the general reaction to my complaints about the meeting. Another common reaction is “Is your ego so huge that you can’t take it when everyone doesn’t agree with you?”

After some reflection, I think I can now admit that I was obsessed with the issue, albeit not for the reasons one might assume. Do I have an almost overwhelming desire to have my notions proven correct, and does this desire lead me to do things that compromise friendships with those who have a couple of fun ideas that don’t settle well in my system? Yes and yes, but I think the ideas we discussed that evening say a lot about where we’re going as a culture. We are now so attracted to the sympathetic, compassionate, and understanding lexicon that we think the peak of understanding is to avoid any attempts at understanding. We are to default to Vicki Lerner’s assessment that “we just are”, but if we’re proud of who we are, shouldn’t we trumpet it out to those who have no rooting interest and the curious?

Few enjoy a challenge to our core beliefs. Most of us want others to take our side. The art of playing devil’s advocate is not only lost, it’s dismissed with an all-encompassing name, or some accusation of being unable to accept differences for what they are. This, I believe, results in us being so pleased with ourselves for not recognizing our differences that we refuse to spend any time truly analyzing them. Differences are what they are, and we believe there is something so beautiful about that that we don’t take the time to try to understand what really makes us tick.

 

… And Then There’s Todd


My first clue that my good friend Todd was more than unusual arrived when his mom let it be known, moments after our initial greeting, that I would be able to have relations with her if I wanted. She wasn’t shy, or coy, but she avoided giving me extra looks when she knew her son was looking. Those penetrating looks informed me that all she needed was a thumbs-up to start the proceedings. If Todd’s mom had admirable or attractive qualities, my humility wouldn’t permit me to write such a thing, but there were reasons that a 40-something female made it clear that her intentions with her son’s 20-year-old friend were less than honorable, and most of those reasons had more to do with her marketability than mine.

Todd’s mom wore a frayed, yellow T-shirt that said something she considered funny on it. Her hairdo led observers to believe she spent quite a bit of money on oils, and a considerable amount of time curling. I wasn’t able to determine if either of these enhancements were natural or not, but judging by her overall appearance, my educated guess was that the woman hadn’t darkened the door of a beauty salon since Mikhail Gorbachev stepped down as the Russian general secretary. She also wore a what-are-you-looking-at? expression that led one to think an apology might be necessary, until it could be determined that this was her natural facial expression.

Todd’s mom was the first parent I met who didn’t have puritanical notions about underage drinking, smoking pot, and premarital sex. She was a proverbial free spirit, open in her disregard for the conventions of our constrained society. In other words, Todd’s mom was the first cool parent I ever met, so cool that she offered to drink and smoke with us as soon as she was off work.

After she extended that invitation, and Todd gauged my reaction to it, Todd’s mom shot me another extra look, over Todd’s shoulder that said, “If we do this, those pants of yours will be coming off!” No full-grown woman had been that attracted to me at that point in my life, so her extra looks were quite a turn-on, even though there were things going on with her that my young mind could not yet process.

She also said snarky, bitter things that slipped beyond the definition of cool to a dreaded arena few can escape of trying too hard. I’m sure that cynical bitterness did not lead her to name her only-begotten son Todd, and I do not believe that his mom’s near palpable hatred of men had anything to do with her sentencing her son to a life of misery with the moniker. I’m sure she just liked the sound of the name.

Most people don’t consider it plausible to curse a child with a name. Even a person with an odd, one-syllable sound attached to their identity is not cursed, naysayers might add. A child can go onto achieve great things as an adult, in spite of their name. The illustrious career of Aldous Huxley is but one example. They can gain acceptance among their peers, they can be happy, and they can escape anything put before them. A name is a trivial concern in the grand scheme of things. Even the most vocal contrarians would have to admit that some names might cripple a child, such as those that rhyme with embarrassing body functions, but seldom will a parent intentionally set out to hinder their offspring in such a manner.

And then there’s Todd. Naming a child Todd might not seem cruel, on the surface, as it’s a rather common name in American society today that dates back to medieval England. It means “fox”, as in “clever or cunning”. Chances are everyone knows at least one Todd, and most don’t presume that the name boxes the recipient of such a name into any sort of predestination. They might consider the notion irrational, but I would venture to guess that most of those that believe that do not have the name Todd.

✽✽✽

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

This revelation occurred soon after Todd asked his girlfriend, my girlfriend’s best friend Tracy, to tie his shoes. I joked that I considered this an excellent domination technique that I might explore the next time I was around my girlfriend, but that little joke paralyzed the room to silence. If Todd considered it funny, he didn’t show it. He feared Tracy in the manner a lamb fears a border collie, and Tracy wasn’t even smiling politely. I could’ve told them that all I was doing was joining in on the joke that Todd started by asking Tracy to tie his shoes, but Tracy’s expression informed me that I should not pursue this matter further. She had a “don’t-go-there!” glare on. My initial thought was that her glare had more to do with the domination theme of my jest, and I felt some remorse for saying that, considering that my girlfriend was Tracy’s best friend.

That remorse ended for me when I convinced them I was joking, but the cloud continued to loom over us. I soon realized that that glare had less to do with my joke and more to do with a storm that gathered in the silence that followed. I began to feel trapped, as if I’d tripped a tripwire that would reveal domination techniques, or some sort of sexual peccadillo I didn’t care to explore with them. Their pregnant silence, combined with the looks they shared, suggested they were ready to share if I was ready to hear it, but I feared I might have placed them in the uncomfortable position of having to reveal a whole bunch of unusual details about their relationship. The glare and the weighted silence were such that I was considering the idea that they could lead to some sort of physical altercation between Todd and I, until he finally broke down and told me the reason he asked Tracy to tie his shoes. He never learned how to tie them.

“Come on!” I said, “You’re 19!” I was a naïve 20-year-old, and I was not difficult to fool. I didn’t know that at the time, of course, but I sensed a certain susceptibility that I would have to expend effort to defeat. Even with that acknowledgement, I thought the idea they were trying to sell me was beyond the pale.

Todd did not willingly reveal his story. I had to prompt the revelation, after I tired of the confusing, silent tension.

“So, if you don’t know how to tie your shoes,” I said, believing the shoes were symbolic of a Pandora’s Box that I would regret ever opening, “why would you buy tennis shoes that have laces?”

The answer to this question was what he called a funny story. His funny story involved a loving mother purchasing Velcro and slip-on shoes for her son throughout his youth. The funny story occurred when Todd entered his first shoe store all by himself, seeking to break the shackles of a mother’s hold with the first paycheck he earned. The shoe store attendant tied Todd’s shoes for him, in the store, and Todd walked around the store saying, “I’ll take them” with the pride so many young people experience with their first, individual purchase. “I was so proud of myself that I wore those shoes out of the store,” Todd continued. “The clerk said that was just fine, as he would be able to use the UPC symbol on the box. I wore them for so long that day that when I went home and got ready for bed, I began to take them off as a matter of routine. That’s when I realized that once I untied the shoes, I would never be able to wear them again without assistance. And since I knew I couldn’t get my jeans over my shoes, I ended up sleeping with my jeans and shoes on.”

I was the only one in the room not laughing.

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

As a younger man, I sought out the weaknesses of my fellow man to use it against them when the need would arise. Some juicy tidbits, however, go beyond the typical malleable information one can tease into mockery and ridicule. It wasn’t just that Todd never learned how to tie his own shoes. If that were the case, I would’ve used this intel without a second thought. It was the whole backstory, and the idea that Todd’s mother did things to prevent him from learning and progressing in life, to a point where he needed to find another enabler to help him deal with the consequences of that by tying his shoes for him. This whole story was so funny, to my mind, that some of the particulars of Todd’s reliance on his mother and his girlfriend intertwined with tragedy.  

Even when Todd later joined a bunch of fellas engaged in a round of competitive, good-natured ribbing against me, I knew I couldn’t say, “What are you talking about? You can’t even tie your own shoes.” As painful as it was to withhold this information, I chose to refrain from using it because I wanted to remain friends with Todd. I refrained from using it so often that I eventually forgot about it, and I realized that if a guy wants to be friends with another guy, he has to block out large chunks of information he might otherwise considered unforgettable.

In the moment, though, while Tracy tied his shoes, I found myself trapped between not wanting to pursue the matter and demanding an answer to a question that I did not want to ask.

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

The answer to that question was another funny story, and more material about a mother’s desire to protect her son by continuing to purchase slip-ons and Velcro for her boy, in spite of his teachers’ instructions. I had more questions, but I feared they would only lead to more other stories about a single mother’s stubborn attempts at protecting her son in a manner I considered bordering on neglect. It was then that I realized the full import of Tracy’s don’t-go-there glare, so I flipped the switch of my curiosity to the off position. I kept that switch off for much of my friendship with Todd, and I even defended him against the ridicule from those who train themselves to go after weakest member of the herd, until I later learned of Todd’s lifelong fear of cotton.

“Oh, c’mon!” I said. I was naïve as I stated, and I had some difficulty coming to grips with certain characteristics I learned about the various Todds I’d met in life, but I now had to deal with the idea that one of them was afraid of cotton. Cotton! It was the second such hurdle our friendship would have to traverse, and Todd and I had to work through the fundamentals of his fear. We established the fact that Todd had no fear of towels, for example, and he wasn’t afraid of the 50 percent of my shirt that wasn’t polyester. Unmanufactured cotton and cotton balls, such as the cotton that aspirin companies use to keep the pills in place, however, terrified him.

“It’s what they call an unexplainable fear,” Todd explained, as if that was a suitable explanation. The fear was also, I would soon learn, a type of fear that called for a strong woman to step in and defend.

“Who has inexplicable fears?” Tracy asked rhetorically. “I’ll say it, everyone!” she answered. “That’s what most fears are, an irrational, emotional reaction. Can you explain your irrational fears?”  

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

The silence that followed that, and the faces of my opponents, suggested that I weakened them with body blows, and all I had to do now was deliver my haymaker.

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

I wasn’t sure if the silence that followed was because they didn’t know what to say, but I decided I didn’t have to pound the point home with the haymaker I planned to use that listed my numerous experiences with paraplegics who ended up that way as a result of falling. I didn’t need to recount the number of fatalities that resulted from falls, and I didn’t need to compare those grim statistics to the statistics that listed the number of people maimed or killed as a result of an episode with a cotton ball. I had no need to go into that, because I made my point. I wasn’t the type to engage in verbal touchdown dances anyway, because I knew that doing so would only make Todd look bad in front of his girlfriend. Thus, I was fully prepared to allow the matter to die at that moment, no harm no foul, until I remembered that I had an aspirin bottle in my bathroom cabinet.

I was old enough to know that I should refrain from making a man look bad in front of his girlfriend, if I wanted to remain friends with that man, but I was still young enough to follow my impulses.

I hoped that I hadn’t fallen prey to my typical routine of throwing the cotton ball out the minute I opened an aspirin bottle, and I was excited when I saw I hadn’t. I smiled anxiously at the billowy white ball. I knew it was bound to be an obnoxious moment, and I knew Todd’s feelings would be hurt, but at 20-years-old, those considerations take a back seat to the prospect of having a moment that could prove hilarious to the point of being historic.

I was so anxious to get that cotton ball out of the bottle that I spilled the bottle and scattered aspirin all over my bathroom counter. I didn’t even bother to pick them up. I thought timing was of the essence, and I knew that I could always pick the tablets up later.

I raced toward Todd and Tracy with the cotton ball dangling from my fingertips. “Ooga booga!” I said. Ooga booga were not words I typically used to strike fear into the subjects of my cruelty, but I felt they captured the perfect hybrid of comedy and horror. I would later attach all sorts of brilliant thoughts to my decision to use those words. I would tell people about the decisions I made to accompany this moment with the perfect ooga booga face, and I would walk my listeners through it frame by frame to capture my thoughts in the moment. In reality, the choices I made at the time were all impulsive.

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

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

In the brief moments preceding “Ooga booga!” I thought about Todd’s vulnerable confession that he feared cotton. My reaction to it was equivalent to my first time I heard someone say they feared clowns. Over time, these coulrophobics convinced me that their fear of clowns was a bona fide documented terror that would not go away. They also, eventually, convinced me that it was not just a means of garnering attention or sympathy. I doubted that sidonglobophobics, those who fear cotton balls, could win me over as easily.

My first experience with the coulrophobics involved them saying, “I don’t know why I fear clowns. I just do. They’re creepy.” That didn’t do it for me, especially since such confessions seemed to conveniently follow Cosmo Kramer’s hilarious portrayal of coulrophobia in the series Seinfeld.

I remained skeptical, until a coulrophobic added, “They are creepy, but there is something familiar to their creepy vibe, something that reminds me of a time when I was a little girl, and I thought they were a different species who lived in carnivals. I enjoyed their antics onstage as a girl, but I’m not sure if that laughter was based on the idea that they weren’t near me anymore, or if I was relieved to learn that they weren’t as evil as I imagined. Whatever the case, I was just as afraid of them the next time they were near me, as a little girl. People who dress as clowns all say they’re all about the fun, but they have to know that part of their allure involves the fear children have of them. I think this subtle distinction between the imagined horror children experience when they encounter a person with a painted face and the relief they feel when they realize that their fears are unfounded is part of the allure of clowns all children have to them, and I think that’s what it is for me to this day.”

That explanation provided me more insight into the mind of a coulrophobic, but I wasn’t convinced on the spot. Those words familiar creepiness stuck with me, however, and the idea of familiar fears touched a core. I had familiar fears, we all do, but we might not ever know we have them until something taps into them.

The movie The Blair Witch Project, for example, tapped into one of my familiar/creepy nerves. The reactions to that movie divided evenly among the people I knew, and that fact confused me. I didn’t understand how the naysayers missed the horror I experienced. They thought I was being silly, in the same manner I initially thought those who feared clowns were either silly or faking it. The Blair Witch Project recalled moments in my childhood when I camped out in a forest, however, when I would imagine what populated the trees around me. Those dark scenes in the movie were so real to me that I could almost smell the burnt wood in the theater. Those moments on the screen carried me back to a time in my life when I considered the unimaginable real.

When I posed that all of these theories to another coulrophobic I met, she said, “Like a cancer sufferer, I think my fear of clowns was in remission for much of my life. I feared them as a kid. As I grew older, I kept those fears at bay with the notion that they were nothing more than irrational childish fears, but as with your experience with The Blair Witch Project, I never experienced a trigger, until I saw the movie for Stephen King’s It. That movie triggered that old fear in a way I have not been able to shake since. I didn’t like clowns in the intervening years, as they’ve always unnerved me a little, but I didn’t go out of my way to avoid them in the manner I do now. It, and more specifically its character Pennywise, caused a recurrence of that fear that I believe was exacerbated by my otherwise rational, adult mind.”

Even with my newfound understanding of coulrophobia, I didn’t draw any correlations between it and Todd’s case of sidonglobophobia. I didn’t bother looking into this with any depth in other words. I didn’t consider the notion that Todd might have had some traumatic experience he associated with cotton balls, and I didn’t consider sidonglobophobia a real thing. I just decided Todd’s fear of cotton balls was a little freaky, and I considered it my comedic obligation to put that freakishness on display for all to enjoy.

My “ooga booga!” moment revealed the exact opposite of what I expected. Todd’s fear of cotton balls was as real, and as freakishly familiar to him as the fears others had of clowns, and as I had a camping out in the dark woods. For him it was a vein-straightening fear and a terror so deep and real that it caused him to clutch his girlfriend as if his life depended on it. When I threatened to put it on his skin, I sensed that he might shriek.

Even after Todd’s humiliating reaction, I maintained that I was just trying to be funny, and that made it all right with me. That immediate reaction did subside somewhat when I considered the idea that I might be assigning my mindset to his actions and reactions. Yet, those who met Todd’s mother knew that his upbringing had to be, at the very least, unusual, and his unusual fears might have resulted from those unusual circumstances that altered what might have otherwise been normal thought patterns. I realized that this moment I so enjoyed might have opened some dark caverns in Todd’s soul, freeing up archived fears that he might spent the next twenty-five years recounting on psychiatrist’s couch.

Regardless the amount of reflection I would put into this moment, or the ultimate effect it had on Todd, I had to deal with the fact that my ooga booga moment brought my party to a crashing halt. Most in attendance were now staring, with sympathy, at Todd, and they were staring at me in scorn with the same intensity. Some of the females said some awful things to me, and then they insisted that their boyfriends take them away. I ruined my own party, but I also ruined Todd in the eyes of those who were there, or so I thought. I had my moment, the moment I sought when I remembered I had a cotton ball in my medicine cabinet, but the partygoers obviously didn’t appreciate the moment in the manner I thought they would.

The partygoers, I can only assume, probably thought I sought to ruin Todd. They might have considered the idea that I made a conscious effort to somehow defeat him, and if my efforts weren’t of a conscious variety, then they were in some ways subconscious. I can’t answer the latter charge, but I can tell you that there were no conscious efforts to ruin him. Todd was my friend, and the worst charge one could make against me was that I used a good friend as a comedic foil.

If my moment did consist of some subconscious effort to ruin Todd, I was woefully unsuccessful. For the girls who loved Todd before ooga booga, appeared to love him even more after it. Years later, the only explanation I can come up with is that he displayed an endearing element of vulnerability about him.

He also had those eyes, the crystal-blue kind that made women swoon. “Could one call them dreamy?” I asked.

“Dreamy?” one woman asked. “I don’t know if I’d use the term dreamy, but they definitely make him more attractive.”

Todd also had that hair, the same oiled and curled hair his mother had, only more natural blonde. It was a little dirty and somewhat unkempt, but he fit the mold of one who could get away with such a look. That look even seemed to work to his advantage with some women, in the sense that it might have added to this endearing element of vulnerability he had.

His most glaring vulnerability was that he was not very bright, but the female reactions to Todd led me to believe that women dig a man who is not very bright, even if no self-respecting woman will admit to such a thing. They might not want to settle down with such a guy, since the ones we choose to marry are such a deep reflection on us. Couple that with the instinctive, and some might say primal, decisions we make when we seek a suitable provider for whatever children we might have if we marry them. Those instincts do nothing for Todd, in my opinion, but the compassionate instincts that compel them to defend such a man, regardless of the ideas we all have about him, are the key to someone like Todd having so much success in the dating world. She might want to convince the Todds of the world that everyone else is wrong about him. While doing so, she might spend so much time defending and befriending him that she becomes attracted to him in a way that she cannot explain.

These were all guesses I made trying to understand what was for me an inexplicable attraction women had to the man, but whenever I posed my theories to the women that never met Todd, scorn and ridicule followed.

“That is all so ridiculous!” is what they said. This reaction was so ubiquitous among women, from all walks of life, that it requires notation, but the time I spent around Todd informed me that if a guy has all the ingredients listed above, the eyes, the hair, and an air of vulnerability about him, and he has a way of making a woman feel smarter on top of all that, he’s bound to land permanent residence on “hotty” isle. As long as that guy doesn’t say or do anything to tarnish his presentation, and Todd never did anything to diminish his presentation.

One measure of a man is how many women he is able to attract. If that were the lone measure, most men would list Todd as a man among boys. I don’t know many men who would want to follow Todd’s blueprint for landing women, but when such discussions arise among young men looking to become players, I inform them that I’ve witnessed one successful formula firsthand. I’m as in the dark on this topic as they are, I tell them, but I’ve witnessed a real-life asterisk in the equation for them to consider. I tell them about how Todd could work a room of women without effort. I tell them how I saw the man move from one woman to another without leaving any of them upset in the aftermath. He had one-night stands with a woman who was not his girlfriend, and I saw those two girls begin yelling at one another, screaming insults and threats over a breakroom table, without considering the role the Todd –the man who sat between them– might have played in the situation. When these fights would erupt between the scorned women, Todd would play peacemaker, and he would do everything a man could do to prevent them from harming one another. Then, when the smoke cleared, he would begin hoping, with all sincerity, that they could all be friends again. The most annoying aspect of my Todd testimonial arrives when I attempt to convey the idea that Todd did all this without considering the true import of his actions.

Most people who hear Todd’s tale believe he had a carefully orchestrated plan for achieving success. I’ve tried to explain the anomaly Todd was to these people, and they naturally assume that he was smarter and craftier than I assert. There was no plan, I tell them, for he did not accentuate certain aspects of his personality to appeal to women, and he did not work on his faults. As far as I know, he did not develop schemes and plot paths to take that would attract more women. At one point in the arguments I’ve had with people on this matter, we reach a bottom line. “Bottom line, you’re jealous,” they all say in numerous ways, “if he had as much success with women as you suggest, he obviously had more success than you, and he must’ve been craftier and smarter than you.” He did have as much success as I detailed, I tell them, but he wasn’t craftier or smarter, he was just Todd.

No research, I know of, concludes that giving a child a relatively normal name like Todd, Gil, or Ned affects them in any way. There is no sociological evidence to suggest that the Todds, Gils, or Neds, of the world, live different from anyone else. If you’ve ever known one of these unfortunate, possibly cursed individuals, however, you know there is a fundamental difference about them that they will spend most of their lives trying to overcome. Something about those odd, one-syllable sounds affects their identity so much that it affects their existence. They don’t all become square pegs in a round-hole world of more pleasing sounds, some of them are exceptions to the rule, some of them are just Todd, but the preconceived notions most of us have of such sounds grease their slide to the outer layer.

 

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


I watched the show Seinfeld. I loved Seinfeld. I found the character’s peculiar demands for hygienic excellence hilarious, until I witnessed two grown men discuss their superiority on the matter and form a friendship on that basis. They both agreed that the common habits of their fellow man were gross, they both agreed that one particular person, that all three of us knew, was gross, and they agreed that our employer’s bathroom was an absolute cesspool of germs. I laughed in the middle of this discussion, in the same manner I laughed at the Seinfeld character’s obsessive quirks, but these two men weren’t laughing. They had smiles, but they were beaming smiles, the kind of smiles that one gives in recognition of finding a like-minded soul at long last.

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

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

“Your kitchen counter has more germs than your floor,” one of my co-workers said when he approached our lunchroom table. “Your dishrags and sponges are cesspools of germs, and using them on a continual basis doesn’t rid your kitchen of germs, it spreads them around,” he concluded. 

That’s right. A male said this. These sentences are not included to state that it is less than macho to be hygienic, but to point out that an obsession that was once believed to be indigenous to the white, female demographic has now crossed income brackets, social stations in life, and gender.

“Install a lighter colored counter top, so you can see germs better.” “Stainless steel is the best defense against the spread of germs.” “The most germ-ridden room in most homes is the kitchen, sometimes containing up to 200 times more fecal bacteria on the kitchen cutting board than on the bathroom toilet seat.” “Your fingertips can spread more germs than any tool in your kitchen.” 

The best way to avoid germs, it appears, is to avoid the kitchen, the bathroom, and your fingertips … They’re gross! The bathroom may be obvious, but what your bedroom? Furthermore, if you have any thoughts of going into the basement, you may want to think about investing in a gas mask and Tyvek suit with hood and boots. Your basement a cesspool teeming with pathogens no one can pronounce! It’s gross! Disinfect everything! Sanitize! Sterilize! We need more government research on this matter! We could get sick! We could die!

Our mothers taught us that the best way to avoid pathogens was to clean, but we’re now learning that being clean is nothing more than a good start. She didn’t know that the optimal way to avoid germs is to clean the cleaning products. She used the same sponge and dishrag for more than a week without dipping it into a solution that contained one part bleach to nine parts warm water. She didn’t know. She used the same cleaning products for more than one task with no knowledge of cross contaminants.

As CBS News Reports: “If you’re cleaning up appliances, counter tops, tables, et cetera, it’s almost mandatory that you use different cleaning agents. There should be different designated sponges for each function. After you clean up the debris from the meat carcass, place your sponge in this cleaning solution for about a minute or so. That will kill all of the potential pathogens.”{1} 

She didn’t know.

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

One of the worst things Seinfeld creators, Jerry Seinfeld and Larry David, brought to the American conversation is this hygienic conversation. These conversations did occur, in a sporadic manner, before the Seinfeld mindset began invading our culture, but in the aftermath of the great show, it seems every fifth conversation we hear now involves some form of obsession over cleanliness. We all thought that the character Jerry played was hilarious with his obsessions. We had no idea how influential this mindset would be. People now claim, with pride, that they don’t just wash their hands. They use a paper towel to open the bathroom door. “Oh, I know it!” the sympathetic listener proclaims with pride. “It’s gross!”

No one has a problem with cleanliness, or those that strive for greater hygienic practices, but when we obsess about it to such a degree that we begin to tip a scale into believing that we’re superior to another human being because we have better hygienic practices could it be said that we’ve stretched into the perverse?

A Psychology Today (PT) piece details this perversity stating that some obsessives will avoid a shopping cart that has a crumpled piece of paper in it {2}. Why do they do that? It’s gross. It’s evidence that someone used this shopping cart, at some point, since its creation. We all know, on some level, people use shopping carts, but we regard that evidence repellent. The simple solution is to select another cart, but how obnoxious is that? Why would we want to avoid one cart that has some evidence of another left behind for another that doesn’t have such obvious evidence? It would be one thing, if that cart had a crumbled piece of soiled tissue paper in it, but if it were nothing more than a crumpled ad for that store, why would anyone avoid using that cart? It’s evidence of other people, germs, pathogens, and a general lack of uncleanliness on the part of the store. It also initiates in us what the author of the PT piece describes as:

“A desire to keep that which is outside from getting inside.”

The thing about being disgusted is that it’s both learned and selective. If the hygienic person, that has obsessive characteristics, happens to see the person that left the crumpled ad from the store in the cart, and they find that person to be somewhat attractive, the PT piece states that they would not be as disgusted by the crumpled ad, and the subsequent use of that cart. If they judged that previous cart user to be gorgeous, they would be even less disgusted. To take this idea to its logical conclusion, if the hygienic person, with obsessive tendencies, saw that it was an attractive celebrity that left the crumpled ad in their cart, that customer may feel privileged to use that cart regardless what that celebrity’s hygienic practices are. They might even save that piece of paper, and take it home to tell their friends and family that the celebrity touched it. If the customer appeared to be somewhat overweight, or of foreign descent, they would be more apt select another cart.

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

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

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

What doesn’t make as much sense to those that believe their disgust has philosophical purity, is the decision making process that concerns those outside our immediate realm. We view our boss, for example, as a stranger that exists outside our immediate realm. We may interact with our boss on a day-to-day basis, but not in the intimate manner, we will a family member. The natural inclination we have is to place them below our family members, but the study also suggests we place our boss below the weatherman on the list of people that we would share a toothbrush with, if forced to do so. If our overriding concern were hygiene, why would we prefer to share a toothbrush with a weatherman we’ve never met to a boss that we interact with on a day-to-day basis? A weatherman is often better looking. The weatherman is often more clean cut and better dressed, and we dislike our boss.

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

The piece does have one point of inconsistency in that one area of the article states that “Those that avoid objects touched by strangers report fewer colds, stomach bugs, and other infectious ailments,” and in another paragraph, it states “Exposure to benign bacteria stimulates the immune system so that it is better able to fight bad bacteria.” Perhaps the explanation resides in the word “benign” but other than that, the two purported facts appear to be a contradiction in terms.

The Origin of Disgust

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Expectation of Purchasing Refined Tastes


“One of the worst things a person can be,” purveyors of social commentary say in various ways, “is a consumer, and I say this in the most condescending manner possible.”

Such statements often receive wild applause and raucous laughter from esoteric, refined consumers in the audience, spurning them against buying products. An overwhelming majority probably considers such statements brave and bold, but they don’t consider the idea that the condemnation is direct at them too. No one, in such an audience, would stand up and say, “Hey, I’m a consumer. How dare you crack on my people?” These people picture a consumer they know, some poor sap who actually purchases consumable products. They know the truth, of course, but they define themselves against a marker of exaggerated contrast, and they’re often not objective enough to understand that authors of such quotes intend to include everyone but the author.

“What is the difference between consumers who deign to purchase consumable products sold at McDonald’s and those sold at the local mom-and-pop shop?” I would love to ask this of such authors. The answer, of course, would be that one while one may be a consumer, the other is a consumer, and we are to pronounce the latter in the most condescending manner possible. This distinction became clear to me when I informed some friends of mine that blind taste tests showed that McDonald’s coffee tested as high as the coffee found in some of the small mom and pop coffee shops the more erudite attend.

“Pshaw!” my friends responded, albeit not with that word exactly. They opted for more refined and somewhat polite (see condescending) words, but the message of that response was that they are more cultured than those involved in blind taste tests, more posh and eclectic. They eat sushi and Thai, after all, and they broaden their minds by listening to exotic podcasts and watching obscure documentaries.

I confessed that I couldn’t taste the difference between the beans, and most of the products I consume would be more at home on a 1950s table, before the research on food taught us what we now know. I confessed that I enjoy some broadcast television and I enjoy reading mainstream books sometimes. I may as well have admitted to being a Neanderthal.

These people are coffee aficionados. They enjoy exotic coffee beans exclusive to urban coffee shops that I’ve never attended. Their homes come equipped with exotic coffee makers that require minimal mixing times, gentle air pressure pushes, and low brewing times for professional cuppers and true coffee connoisseurs. I am not welcome in this world.

That world involves community venues (see coffee shops in the Neanderthal’s lexicon) with artistic geniuses throwing brilliant ideas at one another under exotic Matisse paintings, all while learning to love various styles of coffee beans that are beyond me. Some of the community venue customers have goatees, and others have cornrows and dreadlocks, but they are all very Euro. They also feel a little sorry for bourgeoisie like me, who know little beyond the pleasures of a mundane McDonald’s cuppajo. “Pshaw,” they say, but they would never actually say pshaw, as I mentioned, for elitists say, “Pshaw,” and they abhor elitists.

They feel at ease when bracketed, alongside fine wine drinkers. They eat Foie Gras, black pudding, and organic foods. The posh, eclectic types don’t eat caviar anymore, beluga or otherwise. “Caviar is a product consumed by consumers with wealth,” they say in the most condescending manner possible. Their condescending caricature of consumers with wealth mirror those found in episodes of Scooby Doo, Captain Planet, and Gilligan’s Island. Caviar doesn’t provide prestige in community venues. Foie Gras is the new caviar.

“But blind taste tests conducted by various institutions, including Consumer Reports and other online Canadian websites found that McDonald’s and Dunkin’ Donuts coffee tested better than the products sold at Starbucks or Tim Horton’s[1],” I told my friends.

This didn’t shock them, as they heard tell of similar blind tests done with similar products, but that never led them to question their beliefs. They were confident that their tastes were more refined than Americans’ taste. (A phrase to read in the most condescending manner possible).

They answered my follow-up clarification with, “Oh, no!” and a titter almost leaked out in reaction to my lack of knowledge. That condescending titter may have made it out of the less refined. It was obvious to all of us that I knew nothing of coffee, and they appeared to be a little embarrassed on my behalf, for being so clueless to attempt to step foot onto their home turf.

“We don’t like Starbucks,” they said, “And we’ve never heard of this Tim Horton’s.” 

They missed the general point I was trying to make, but it wouldn’t have mattered if the magazines performed specific blind taste tests on their specific brand of coffee. They would continue to consider themselves exceptions to the rule. They are posh and eclectic. I couldn’t know to whom I was talking when I was talking to them. No one could.

✽✽✽

In his book, You are Not so Smart, author David McRaney cites such blind with professional wine sippers. The tests incorporated cheap wines as well as expensive, exotic wine, and the goal was to see if the connoisseurs could tell the difference. The results were quite shocking. Not only did they exhibit an inability to discern between the chintzy and the pricey, but the brain scans of the professionals also revealed that they were not lying when they stated their preferences. Their brains actually altered with excitement when they drank the more expensive wine. One particular test asked controllers to place the same wine in two different bottles. They informed the professional sippers that the wine in Bottle A was expensive and exotic, while Bottle B contained a bargain brand. The subjects’ brain scans lit up in response to the contents detailed in Bottle A, allowing the conclusion that the professional sippers grew more excited by the expectation of sipping something more expensive.[2]

Elevated expectations, in other words, are not limited to Pepsi drinkers, domestic beer drinkers, or those consumable products developed by corporations that spend billions on marketing to achieve brand name recognition. Some just prefer imported beer, expensive wine, and Colombian coffee. These allegedly high-end products define them in a manner they find pleasing, but we’re all products of marketing, packaging, and environment. Expectation might also lead us to believe a product can redefine us.

“Have you tried the latest lager from Djibouti?” Gucci asks Dior. “You simply must! It exhibits an exceptional respect for the ancient art of brewing. It is a highly fermented lager with a light malt, corn, water, hops and a yeast that gives it a bright, golden hue with dazzling reflections.” When Gucci concludes his exotic narrative, Dior must have it. Is Dior so excited to try it because Gucci’s narrative elevated his expectation? Maybe, but he also wants the aura and the identity inherent to drinkers of lager from an exotic sounding place like Djibouti. He wants that prestige, coated on his epidermis for the attendees of the next party he attends to see. The fact that those who have even heard of Djibouti could not spot it on a map makes its lager even more alluring. Even if Dior doesn’t know anything about Djibouti either, what’s a little pregnant pause between friends?

These types wouldn’t be caught dead sipping a McCafé drink, as those consumers who prefer a community venue that offers exotic coffee beans with exotic flavors for the exotic mind would define drinking that as consumerism in the most condescending manner possible. If they entered a community venue that offered an exotic coffee bean, and they saw paintings of cartoon clowns on the walls, my friends would consider the bean it produced inferior. If, on the other hand, that same venue had Matisse paintings on display and all the consumers donned goatees and dreadlocks, I’m quite sure they would be sipping on that same bean with a satisfied smile.

The advertisements for such products might not show sports heroes clinking glasses or horses kicking field goals, but that’s not who they want to be anyway. As they pass by their local McDonald’s, en route to the community coffeehouse that offers an environment more suited to someone with esoteric and refined taste, they scoff at American consumers who are susceptible to such blatant marketing. They do this without recognizing that the stratified American marketplace appeals to consumers and consumers.

If an individual attempts to open a McDonald’s franchise, the franchise adviser will inform them that all McDonald’s franchises must be X number of miles from the next nearest McDonald’s location. They base this notion on the fact that the marketplace cannot sustain two such facilities too close together. Those in charge of mapping out franchise locations would inform a potential franchisee that the optimal location would consist of no fast food restaurants within X miles of the franchisee’s desired location, but with the ubiquitous nature of fast food restaurants they concede that  is becoming a logistic impossibility. If that franchisee wants to open a McDonald’s right next to a community venue, however, the franchise locator will inform them that this is much more feasible, as they appeal to such different demographics. The point is that those who believe they are not susceptible to the crass marketing schemes employed by the famous Golden Arches franchise may be right, but those marketing schemes are too immediate for Foie Gras eaters. They prefer a more subtle marketing scheme that appeals to quieter sensibilities, an environment tailored to their personality, and a presentation that speaks volumes with no slogans. They are different from consumers, but they are really just another link in the chain of this huge, monolithic beast we all call capitalism.

There may be a difference between the taste of the exotic Kopi Luwak bean and the beans used in McDonald’s coffee, but most don’t know the difference, at least not to the degree that they can tell in a blind taste test. That may be an exaggeration of the extreme. Perhaps the Kopi Luwak coffee berry that passes through the digestive system of the Peruvian Civet Palm Cat, and is then picked out of that cat’s dung, is so refined that there is a discernible difference between that and McDonald’s coffee. On a linear scale (say Starbucks) McDonald’s coffee proves comparable in blind taste tests, if not superior.

Even if I presented this information in conjunction with the tests that suggest McDonald’s provides a superior cup of coffee, I’m sure these friends would pshaw me. Whether or not they’ve ever tried a selection on the McCafé menu, they would know it to be an inferior product. Their pshaw would contain elements of the messenger within a message, for they would assume that it was Americans who were involved in those blind taste tests, and those Americans were likely truck drivers and church goers from a place like Iowa. They would know that everyone they know knows better. They know I know little about coffee, and they know I have no idea to whom I’m talking when I’m talking to them.

I prefer to think I’m not one of these people. I prefer to think I’ve made conscientious choices that have made me a Bud man and a Pepsi drinker, based on the flavor of those drinks. I understand that the feds prohibited Budweiser and all alcohol producers from visually representing humans consuming alcohol in their TV commercials. In reaction to this prohibition, marketers of such products began selling a lifestyle to those who might consume their products. We all watched those commercials, and we even enjoyed a few of them. Some of us might have unconsciously selected our brand based on the lifestyle those commercials projected, but did we enjoy the products more because we enjoyed the affiliation? My friends would pshaw at such reflection, for they know who they are. They know they’ve made conscientious choices in the products they’ve decided to consume, but the fundamental question remains: Are we buying products based on flavor, discerning tastes based on trial and error, or a level of refinement we gather with experience and age. Or, are we all susceptible to the purported lifestyle the marketing arms sell to consumers and consumersWhen we begin to purchase a product to a point that we establish some level of brand loyalty, are we making the statement that we are informed consumers who choose one product over another based on our refined individual tastes, or are we attempting to purchase a lifestyle that some part of us knows we’ll never achieve, until we purchase it so often that we do?

[1]https://www.theglobeandmail.com/life/food-and-wine/food-trends/mcdonalds-tim-hortons-who-makes-the-best-brew/article4183891/

[2]McRaney, David. November, 2011. You Are Not So Smart. New York, New York. Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

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

You Don’t Bring me Flowers Anymore!


“You’ll make it work in the end,” an adult baby said with a hand on his wife’s shoulder, as she pined over their financial affairs, “you always do.”

The wife recognized the compliment for what it was, but the full import of the gesture failed to register with her at the time. She had no idea, for example, that her husband would not be participating in the sacrifices required to “make it work out in the end,” unless she was adamant, and she could be adamant. Even when she was adamant and detailed with her instruction, however, he would only alter his lifestyle for as long as he deemed necessary to get over what she declared a dire financial state.

The adult baby intended the compliment to serve as a statement of appreciation for his wife’s abilities, and he wanted her to know he would stand by her, as long her findings didn’t affect his preferred lifestyle in the long term. Thus far, she did have an excellent record when it came to making their lives work, and he wanted her to know that he recognized that. Her record of achievements in this regard did not begin and end with finances however. The family made sacrifices to offset his irresponsible behavior, and she informed him of the sacrifices they needed to make to offset his actions. He saw the effort she put forth, and he was aware of the idea that his family needed to sacrifice, but he viewed it from third-party perspective.

Adult babies are like small children playing with toys in the living room. Neither party expects others to clean up after them. They simply don’t put that much thought into it. If no one instructs them to pick up their mess and no one enforces the practice to the point of making it the child’s habit, the idea of cleaning up doesn’t enter their purview. They play as much as they want to play, then, without any effort or sacrifice on their part, the area is clean. They won’t even notice that the area is clean, when they return to it, it just is. It always is.

Adult babies hear about financial problems, but like those mysteriously disappearing toys on the floor, they hear about those financial pile-ups so often that the adamant tirades go in one ear and out the other. They know everyone in the family must make sacrifices, and they even echo the wife’s sentiment to the children, but they know that these temporary blips have a way of working themselves out.

The wife may have to work some overtime or even, take on a third job to keep food on the table, but no one ever starves. He might not have much involvement in the lives of his children, but they receive the attention they need. All they know is that the home is always sound, so sound that he can eat his tortilla chips and watch his shows in peace. The little woman may harp, and she might nag a little, but she gets over it once she’s had her say. She always does, and to keep a happy home, he knows that he has to let her have her say.

If he wants to continue doing what he wants to do, he will not only have to endure those occasional rants, he will respond with a line that suggests that the woman is always right. A nice “Yes dear!” sprinkled into those conversations makes the clocks run on time, balances the books, and allows him to live the life he’s always wanted.

The adult baby has no powers of reflection. His woman might be adamant that he look around on occasion, but she’s not adamant very often. If she was adamant more often, he probably wouldn’t be an adult baby, for the adult baby species would be on the endangered list were it not for its enablers.

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

Sheila’s ex-husband, Craig, used to bring Sheila flowers. He bought flowers for her when they dated, and he continued to buy her flowers long after they tied the knot. Craig loved Sheila, and he didn’t want to be just another man who brought a few roses home to the woman he loved. He bought flowers. The rooms of flowers he bought and choreographed made cinematic statements of how much one man can love a woman, and he did so regardless of the effect it had on their financial statements.

“How can you put a price on love?” Craig would ask when she interrogated him.

As far as finances were concerned, Craig would be the first to tell you that he knew little to nothing. “The wife takes care of all that,” Craig said on one occasion, “and she can be a real drill sergeant. That woman can drain the romantic symbolism out of flowers and turn them into economic principles. She can be so anal-retentive, like that character on the show Friends. Monica Geller. That’s what we call her,” he added with a laugh.

“Money is her big topic,” Craig said when he talked about how she was always harping on him.

As is often the case when one person complains about another, Craig refrained from offering any details of Sheila’s argument, for those details might have revealed the substance of her argument. Craig did not say anything about how Sheila complained about his spending habits. He didn’t acknowledge her complaint that he signed up for multiple credit cards without telling her. He also would not repeat Sheila’s line, “You spend money like a child learning the power of money for the first time, and what’s worse is you’ve done so for so long that it’s obvious that you are incapable of gauging the consequences of your actions.”

I made the money she complained so much about,” Craig said to conclude his rant. “And I’m a grown-ass man who worked as hard as any man I know. I don’t know who she thought she was, always trying to tell me how to live?”

As with most adult babies, Craig lived by his own set of rules and standards. As far as he was concerned, no one –not even his beloved wife– was going to tell him how to spend the money he earned. He confessed that he might have had some problems with impulse control, “But hell who doesn’t?” he asked. Spending money and purchasing things gave Craig a sense of identity he couldn’t explain. He confessed that purchasing products gave him a rush.

“You’re selfish,” Sheila said the day she found evidence of yet another one of Craig’s out of control spending sprees, evidence he usually did a better job of concealing. “You’re the most selfish person I’ve ever met.”

“Only to you guys,” Sheila quoted Craig replying to that accusation. Craig was referring to Sheila and their two daughters. Craig apparently said this without reflection, and to remind her that he was not a bad guy. “People love me,” he added, assessing his character via perceived public opinion. “While I might seem a little self-involved when it comes to you three, I’m not a bad guy. I know better. I help people Sheila. Your opinion doesn’t extend beyond these four walls, so don’t try to tell me that you know who I am.”

We all say things we regret in the heat of the moment, but sometimes, our words define and expose us. The things we say reveal what we believe our image is, what we believe others see in us or what they should see. As far as we’re concerned, those aren’t lies, fabrications, or exaggerations. We might step on a landmine on occasion that exposes our failure to mature in all the ways our peers have, but, hell, everyone has made missteps.

While not all adult babies are male, the majority of the demographic consists of over-nurtured, 40-something males who are unable or unwilling, to shake free of the leash of the people who control them. Women have reminded them of the need to share, that they need to eat their peas and clean up their messes, but at some point, the adult baby became fed up with it. Women have set their clocks, raised their children, and handled the more inconsequential matters for most of their lives, while they did what was necessary to provide. Even though their wives have had to make sacrifices and they’ve done whatever was necessary to supplement the family income, the adult babies argue, “I’m the one who’s been clocking in and out for decades, without complaint, and now you’re asking me to do more? Where does it all end?”

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

“Women have it so good,” the adult baby says. “They get to sit home and watch their shows, while the man goes to work and caters to the whims of a boss. Whatever happened to the idea that the man is the king of the castle?”

If the man wants a new motorized vehicle that only travels on water, he gets it, even if he lives in a land-locked state that requires the vessel to sit in a high-priced storage unit 364 days a year. If the man wants a leaf blower that has a high-powered engine, when his is working just fine, he gets it, and if the man wants the electronic gadget or device, that one of his friends has, he gets it. The woman is in charge of the accounting, and she attempts to balance the books in the wake of his attempts to indulge his desires. “I don’t know how she does it,” the adult baby says if his friends ask how he can afford such luxuries, “but she makes it work.”

Experts might have informed Craig that his current predicament resulted from a cycle of dependency, but Craig probably would’ve dismissed that as daytime talk show gibberish. He was unaware of his role in the matter, and he was naïve to the fact that as soon as the first eighteen years of his cycle of dependency ended, he married a woman, straight out of college, who reminded of his mother. He was not cognizant of the fact that the responsibility for his welfare transferred from a mother who coddled him to the wife tasked with doing the same.

Craig was crazy in college. He “got drunk” in a manner that suggested he was trying to make up for the time he spent acquiescing to his beloved mother’s request that he act more responsible. He also engaged in a number of sexual liaisons, until he met the good woman that could cook like his good old ma’. Craig never lived alone. He didn’t encounter the pratfalls of being irresponsible in those years, and he never learned the level of freedom that allows one to succeed and fail. Craig was thus deprived the lessons that young people learn during these years and carry with them throughout life.

Even when we marry, buy a house, and have kids, there is that constant need to relive the crazy, college years when we were old enough to know the complexities inherent in adulthood, but young enough to shrug off the consequences of ignoring them. Back then, we thought we were equipped and entitled to show all those who mattered that we were no longer children,  back when we were young enough to shrug off the ramifications that come with continuing to live like them. In our adult years, we flexed the muscles of independent living in college, all while our parents footed the bills. We were in a zone toddling between adulthood and childhood that allowed us the freedom to form an identity without any concerns for the responsibilities that might help better form it.

Few, however, have the resources to make those crazy college year last well into adulthood, and the lack thereof requires most to make choices no one wants to make. We work hard to put ourselves in a comfortable position in life. We kowtow to bosses, and we hold our tongue when our peers have said things with which we disagree. We try to build an empire that will allow us to do most of what we want, but some others who just do it. That’s the gist of their answers to the curious who question how they’re able to afford such luxuries on their salary, with two kids, “Like Nike says, you just do it.”

Most full-fledged adults know the despair that results from crushing debt, and they learn to fight off the impulses and temptation that could drive them to shut-offs, red box “past-due” notices, and shameful credit ratings. We’ve all made our share of mistakes. We’ve all been broke at one time in our lives, and we all know the horrible feeling of not having as much money as someone else, but we’ve all come to terms with bitter reality that the good times of living like a child ends. For some of us, this is a long, painful process. Others might never have to face these inevitable truths because others make it all work out for them.

The women in the lives of the adult baby learn to do everything they can to avoid leaving them to their own devices. As a result, the babies don’t experience embarrassment, aren’t required to deal with inadequacies, and ever fail. They are good boys and good sons that become good and honest men, but they are the half of those relationships rarely held to account for their failings.

“I never spent us into unmanageable debt,” Craig said. It was his best defense, for in those moments when the family had to sacrifice Craig decided to control his spending, in the short-term. He refrained from purchasing big, luxurious items when the family budget hovered near ground zero. He even felt some guilt for the role he may have played in the familial sacrifices, albeit only in the short term. To rectify whatever damage he may have caused, Craig bought his wife flowers, but he didn’t just buy her flowers. He made his apologies cinematic.

“You can’t buy me flowers anymore!” Sheila shrieked, “We’re broke!” Sheila would later say she felt bad about the times she yelled at him like that, because she knew he meant well. She said he bought her flowers, because she used to love flowers. “They used to be one of my guilty pleasures,” she said, “until I realized how much I was going to have to pay for them.”

In the wake of their divorce, Craig entered the house to collect those prized belongings of his not listed in the decree. Craig also considered this his opportunity to tell us his side of the story. He answered all of the questions posed, as listed above, and he pointed out the days when he acted “all growed up” to counter Sheila’s claims. Craig also informed us of all the purchases he didn’t make, because he knew the family couldn’t afford it to counter Sheila’s claim that he was such a spendaholic.

We couldn’t help but wonder if the purchases he didn’t make, and the moments Craig recounted for us to counter Sheila’s claims, were all the more remarkable in Craig’s memory because of their rarity.

We reminded Craig of one of his favorite sayings, “Money is power! Money is freedom!”

“Was I saint in our marriage?” Craig asked. “I was not, but I was not an idiot. We always found a way to made it work. Somehow or another, she always made it work in the end.” We couldn’t help but avoid thinking he slipped up in the second sentence saying she as opposed to we in the second sentence, as he slipped a final bouquet of dead roses into a living room now full of dead roses to complete what he considered a final cinematic statement to his ex-wife.

He Used to Have a Mohawk


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

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

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

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

I attended this ceremony at the behest of my uncle, who was quite fond of the bride. He did not know the man that used to have a mohawk however. As such, he did not know if the haircut was a result of some sort of an identity crisis, or the psychology that chased Mark after he relented to chop it off and begin mingling with common folk again. My uncle only met Mark a few times, but he assured me that the man was nice.

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

To distinguish themselves in the beginning, those that Mark reminded me of tried to establish some sort of association. They might start by displaying a fiery temper, so others might say, “Don’t mess with Jed, he’s insane.” If that display doesn’t work, they feel compelled to provide a visual to promote it with a quick mean-faced punch. I’ve even witnessed some going so far as to say such things about themselves with the hope of kick starting such a reputation. They don’t conclude this with “Tell your friends,” but the end game is obvious to those on the receiving end. If this chain of events does not produce the desired effect, the plan B of ornaments of self-expression begin to appear, that take the form of physical shouts of ‘I am here!’ from their otherwise anonymous corners.

I’ve heard some mohawks speak of sitting in front of a mirror, for over an hour to gel those eight-inch spikes up just right, to achieve a perception that is exclusive to an eight-inch Mohawk. The unspoken goal is to entice someone, somewhere to look at them. Some consider them strange, but at least they’re looking. Some ask questions, but at least they’re asking. Some might even ostracize them, but even that is evidence of a concerted effort directed toward them.

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

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

The best man laid a deft, joke teller’s emphasis on the words ‘was’ and ‘mohawk’ to punctuate the joke. He received some laughter for the effort, but there was nothing raucous about it because there was nothing raucous, shocking, or rebellious about Mark anymore. The mohawk was gone.

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

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

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

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

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

A song can provide a brief, abridged interlude to any ceremony. In such a special ceremony, a song can add to the overall theme that the bride and groom are trying to establish in their ceremony. The best-case scenario, learned by way of the contrast offered by Mark and Mary’s union, is to condense those songs to the meaningful lyrics, or the meaningful portion of the song, that the couple hopes will capture the essence of their ceremony.

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

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

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

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

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

Bereft of Brevity

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

The bride, the groom, and the priest stood up there like jackasses, staring at one another while those two songs dragged out to four minutes each. Four minutes may not seem long, unless you’re the one trying to make more of this moment than it might otherwise have.

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

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

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

 

Fear Bradycardia and the Normalcy Bias


“Didn’t you hear the old, Native American woman say something evil lurks in that there lake?” one of the great-looking people on the shore screams. Dougie ignores them, apparently unaware of the golden rule of modern cinema: Always listen to Native Americans, especially if they’re old and speak in hallowed tones. “You’ve gone too far, Dougie!” the great-looking people on the shore continue to shriek. “Come back!”

“C’mon, you chickens!” Dougie says, backstroking leisurely. “It’s fun, and there’s nothing evil out here!”

The music that cues Dougie’s impending doom spills out of the Dolby surround sound. A subtle roar follows, and those of us in the audience tense up. We grip the armrests so tight that our forearms flex. We join the gorgeous people on the shore, mentally screaming out warnings to Dougie, telling him to get out of the water. We then join the collective hysteria that erupts when the water of the lake begins to swirl.

“Dougie, please!” we shout in unison.

“Aw, shut it!” Dougie says, waving off the warnings. 

The trouble is the character actor who plays Dougie is unattractive and chubby. Those of us who have watched thousands of movies know movies, and we know casting. We knew Dougie’s role in this movie would meet an unfortunate demise.

The monster roars to an impossible height. Dougie looks up at it, and as his fate becomes apparent, he screams. Is the monster evil, or is it just hungry? We don’t know, and we don’t care. It’s going to eat Dougie, the comedic foil in our movie. The monster takes its time, so we can see the full breadth of its horror. It gnashes its teeth a little. It swivels its head about. It looks menacingly at Dougie. Dougie continues to look up and his screaming continues until the monster lowers onto him and bites Dougie’s head off. The idea that this macabre scene took a full thirty seconds leaves those of us who have watched too many horror movies nonplussed.

“Why didn’t he just move?” monster movie aficionados have asked for decades. “Why did he stay in the water, screaming, for thirty seconds? Why didn’t he even try to swim away?” We can live with the fact that the monster would naturally move through the water much quicker than Dougie, since the monster is aquatic and Dougie is not. We can also live with the fact that Dougie probably didn’t have much of a chance the moment he jumped into the water. Still, we horror movie aficionados would love, just once, to see victims do a little more to prove that they, like all humans share an inherent survival instinct.

When I later learned that actors have to stay on their mark, I was a little less disgusted with the actors who played Dougie roles. I still want them to move, but I now know they must obey the director who commands them to stay in a designated spots for the decapitation scene. This cliché scene may strike horror in some, but I would venture to say that either the terrified are under the age of 30, or they haven’t watched a thousand horror movies yet. For those of us who have crossed both thresholds, we know it’s just plain irrational that a person wouldn’t move or do something to get away from a menacing monster. We certainly wouldn’t just stand in one spot, looking up, screaming, at the person, place, or thing looking to seal our fate.

Author David McRaney argues this point though. He claims that not only are Dougie’s reactions normal, but they are closer to the truth than anything monster movie aficionados might expect. In McRaney’s incredible book, You Are Not so Smart, he suggests that the one conflicting detail of this monster scene that might counter how we think we would react in a similar moment of unprecedented horror is Dougie’s screaming.[1]

Those of us who are not as knowledgeable about psychology believe there are two basic reactions to catastrophic, chaotic moments: action and non-action. We break it down to those who act and those who choke. Those who act may also be broken down into two categories: The selfish who fight to save themselves and the martyrs who act in a heroic fashion to save others. Either way, casual, non-psychology types insist there are but two reactions to such situations. Either the individual involved in the situation does something to save their lives or they choke.

McRaney argues that there is a third reaction, though casual, non-psychology types are more apt to view this course of action as little more than an extension of choking. Psychologists call it fear bradycardia. The difference between fear bradycardia and choking is that a victim of fear bradycardia experiences a heart deceleration, as opposed to the acceleration we might expect in such a traumatic situation. An acceleration of the heart could lead a potential victim to fumble about and select an incorrect reaction, but a deceleration might lead one to freeze up in a manner some call attentive immobility. Fear bradycardia is a reflex, an involuntary, automatic instinct that often occurs in moments of unprecedented chaos and horror, heaped upon the unprepared.

Put succinctly, fear bradycardia is the idea that in our movie not only will Dougie not scream or scramble out of the way, he will reflexively stop moving and simply hope for the best possible outcome. The normal reaction one might have to surviving a plane crash, for example, is that we need a moment to gather the most terrifying thing that ever happened to us. We might also need a moment to come down from the horror of it, and the euphoria we experience when we realize we’re one of the survivors. The concept psychologists are describing, when they talk about the term fear bradycardia, goes one step beyond that. It suggests that we will remain frozen beyond the normal moment necessary to deal with the situation. It suggests that if the plane is on fire, in our scenario, and other survivors are screaming that the plane is going to blow, we might not do enough to assure our survival, as we will remain frozen hoping that this moment simply passes. This fear bradycardia reaction involves an automatic, involuntary instinct that exists in all of us. Some refer to this state as tonic immobility, but no matter the name, it falls under the umbrella of another psychological term, normalcy bias.

McRaney details several incidents in which people experienced fear bradycardia: an F5 tornado in Bridge Creek, Oklahoma, survivors of floods, and even the infamous 9/11 Trade Center terrorist incident.

According to some first responders, the one commonality in most similar tragedies is that victims wander about in a dreamlike state. These first responders say that their first responsibility is to shake survivors out of this state. For even if their world is falling down around them, most survivors shut down and go to a safe, more normal space in their minds, if no one is around to shake them out of it.

In the aftermath of the 9/11/01 terrorist action, most first responders spoke of the calm that evacuating survivors exhibited. They stated that most of the survivors obediently followed instructions, without any panic, allowing for a safe exit that ultimately saved many lives. The first responders we saw interviewed on the news stated that the heroic first responders provided a model for proper evacuation procedures.

Other first responders agreed with that sentiment, but they added that the unspoken sense of order among the survivors was so calm and quiet that it bordered on eerie. Very few survivors were screaming, they said, and though there wasn’t room to sprint, there is no record of anyone pushing, shoving, or doing anything out of the ordinary to get out of the burning, soon to be falling buildings. There is no record of survivors complaining about the slow, orderly exit, or attempting to find their own alternative exit, if there was one available. We might think these are normal, human reactions to such a horrific episode, but the limited records we’ve found suggest no such incidents occurred.  

McRaney cited some of the accounts first responders of 9/11/01 reports of some survivors taking a couple extra, crucial moments to complete the log-out procedures on their computers. Before following the instructions of first responders, some even gathered their coats. Others engaged in mundane conversations, with their coworkers on the way out of the office, in a manner we might deduce helped them achieve some level of normalcy amidst the chaos.

Those of us on the outside looking in might view this as lunacy. If I were in that situation, we might think, I’d be running, screaming, and I might be crying. I might even knock an old lady down in my departure, but I would do everything I could to get out. I don’t care what this author says I’m all about survival brutha.

Television shows and movies depict such drama on a regular basis, and we’ve all watched such drama and trauma play out on our screens, be it some horror flick with a monster and a Dougie or our favorite cable news program. We’ve all placed ourselves in the shoes of the characters involved in such stories, and we list how we would do things differently. We’ve all shouted these condemnations at our various screens when the Dougies just sit there as a monster nears them, and we all know how we would’ve reacted before the menacing monster bites our head off. The central question of McRaney’s thesis, however, is this: While we might think we know how we would act, unless we’ve experienced such a moment in our lives we can never really know.

“If you haven’t,” McRaney writes, “you can never know how prepared you will be, and you can never know how you’ll react. The ideas we have about how we will react may be lies we’ve told ourselves so often that we might end up not knowing the actual truth after it’s too late to rectify it.”

Shutting down computers, gathering coats, and having mundane conversations are automatic, involuntary responses that occur because of this dream-like, faux normal state we defer to when it becomes clear that no amount of rationalizing will ever render the horrific, unprecedented, chaotic moment normal. We shut down to block out the flood of external stimuli that might otherwise cause us further panic.

“The people in the World Trade Centers on 9/11 had a supreme need to feel safe and secure,” McRaney writes. “They had a desire to make everything around them go normal again in the face of something so horrific that their brains couldn’t deal with it in a functional manner.”

As stated previously, most casual, non-psychology types might characterize this as choking in the clutch, but McRaney states that it goes beyond this, because they do not freeze as a response to panic. “It’s a reflexive incredulity,” McRaney writes, –attributing the term to Amanda Ripley– “that causes you to freeze up in a reflexive manner. This reflexive incredulity causes you to wait for normalcy to return beyond the point where it’s reasonable to do so. It’s a tendency that those concerned with evacuation procedures –the travel industry, architects, first responders, and stadium personnel– are well aware of, and they document this in manuals and trade publications.”

Sociologists McRaney cites say, “You are more prone to dawdle if you fail to follow these steps and are not informed of the severity of the issue.” Failing to gain the necessary information leads to speculation and to the inevitable comparisons and contrasts of other more familiar incidents.

Men, in particular, seem to have an almost imbedded desire to rationalize fear away. Fear, by its very nature is irrational, and most men feel it incumbent upon them to keep fear a rationalization away. In the face of a tragedy that alarms most, the rational, no fear, man is prone to say, “It’s bad, but it’s not as bad as a previous experience I once had?”

Their preferred culprit for unwarranted fear is the media and politicians. The media wants viewers, and politicians want voters, so they pound horrific details home to keep us afraid and focused on them and their efforts to investigate and rectify. All of this is true, but it’s also true that the terrorist incident on 9/11/01 was one of the most horrific to ever happen in our country.

I add politics to this discussion to illustrate the mindset of those who rationalize horror away. They do so to lighten the load such an incident might have on their minds if they don’t find a way to deal with it. The problem arises when they face the type of horror they’ve rationalized away for most of our lives. At that point, they fall back on what they know, hoping to normalize the incident in such a way that they can deal with it in terms with which they are more familiar, until it becomes apparent that the incident is far worse than anything their rational mind could imagine.

To those who suggest, “There are “politics at play here”, and we should all start viewing the hype of politicians and media players as nothing more than hype.” I say this is a rationalization in and of itself. Most of us recognize that some media outlets and politicians make their bones on promoting fear, but at times, a bit of fear –an emotion capable of igniting awareness– might save our life.

For these reasons and others, it is crucial for a city facing an ensuing crisis to allow the local media to inundate us with reports of that impending storm, because the media needs to help us redefine our norm. It is also a reason for those of us who make fun of our friends for paying attention to the flight attendant’s pre-flight instructions, to drop our macho façades and listen. We may also want to drop the pretense that as frequent flyers we are prepared for anything. We must redefine our sense of normalcy in preparation for the many things that could go wrong in the air or upon our return to ground.

In spite of McRaney’s findings, I still find it hard to believe that the movie scenes that depict the near-catatonic reactions Dougie displayed as the monster neared him are closer to the truth than I am about how most people will react. I live with the belief that a survivor’s instinct will kick in for anyone facing impending doom. As those dumb enough to corner a badger into a corner know, most beings will do whatever it takes to survive, and I believe that the human being, regardless how chubby or unattractive they are, have that same instinct. The difference might be that the badger hones those skills more frequently, but we’ve all experienced mini-disasters and personal traumas in our lives, and most people have a decent batting average when it comes to reacting to them. Will that be enough to avoid experiencing fear bradycardia, tonic immobility, reflexive incredulity, or any of the normal bias tendencies we have in the wake of a horrific incident? We don’t know, and we won’t know until the decisive moment reveals if we are so ill prepared that we fall prey to automatic and involuntary instincts that result from lying to ourselves for so long that we will end up rationalizing ourselves to death.

[1]McRaney, David. November, 2011. You Are Not So Smart. New York, New York. Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

 

Groundhogs, Led Zeppelin, and Our Existential Existence


We love to define ourselves through artistic venues. It’s who we are, and we believe that listing off our current preferences provide our audience a concise definition. Our tastes in all of the art forms define us, of course, but the appreciation of music appears to have a greater universal appeal than other art forms, and this provides us a more common denominator of what we are versus other fans of music. The question this idea spawns is do we control our characteristics, in this manner, if music is this great barometer? In high school, our favorite music artists changed by the day, dictated to us by the prevailing winds of “cool”. We might believe that at some point in our lives, we leave that mercurial teenage mindset behind us, as our high school years become smaller and smaller in our rear view mirror, but some social scholars have stated that we never leave high school.

What this means, to some, is that it is almost impossible to reach such a level of confidence regarding our identity. It is possible to know thyself to elevated degrees as we age, but we are forever susceptible to getting this definition slapped around by the prevailing winds of cool and uncool. This spawns another question: Do we ever reach a point where this dimension of our identity is absolute and true? We would all prefer to believe we’ve made individual choices regarding who will listen to on a regular basis, but are those preferences ours, or have they been shaped by group thought, rebellion to group thought, and/or a rebellion to rebellious thoughts?

Research scientists often study other animals to get to the root source of human psychology. They prefer to study animals, based on the idea that their actions and reactions are more primal in nature. Humans are often more difficult to test in such groups, because human tend to project idyllic images of who they prefer to be, rather than what they are. Animals test much better because they remain closer to the primal state, and they may tell us more about our psychological base than a test of hundreds of humans in a test group might.

Animals do not have the mental capacity to sit around and contemplate greater questions about their identity, as most of the concepts involved are too foreign and complex for them, but how simple, and primal are their brains? 

There have been occasions, on nature shows, where we’ve witnessed groundhogs watching something eat one of their own, and we’ve assumed that this desire was born of simplicity. Could their desire to watch be more complex than we’ve ever imagined? Is this desire to watch similar to our complex desire to rubberneck an accident on the interstate, or is that a primal, base desire on our part?

We’ve all heard groundhogs screech and chatter when something eats one of their brethren, and we’ve always assumed that the screeches are a mechanism they use as one last, ditch effort to try and save their brethren. We also assume that they are attempting to warn other groundhogs in the vicinity, but could these screeches be similar to those that we engage in during horror flicks when we watch something slaughter one of our own in a slasher flick? Is the fascination they have to horror similar to ours, in that they’re horrified, but they can’t look away? Do they speak about the images they saw later, in the manner, we might when walking out of a theater, and do they mourn the lives of former friends and family members in the aftermath?

When humans die, we attempt to minimize the individual so we can all live better lives in the aftermath. “Yeah, but he was old,” is something we might say to minimize the horror of death. We might say something along the lines of, “He smoked,” or “He had been running himself ragged for so long that it was bound to happen sooner rather than later.” One has to wonder if groundhogs have similar comments for their deceased. We have to wonder if they feel the need to achieve some sort of distance from the deceased to help them deal with it better. Do they say, “Yeah, well Alfonso was slow. He didn’t work out enough, and building and rebuilding his home was one of his lone forms of exercise. I knew he was going to die, and to be frank, I say good riddance.”

Do groundhogs like and dislike other groundhogs based on personality traits? If this is the case, how far do they take it? Do they ostracize other groundhogs that have strange growths on their head, or are they more accepting than us? Do they castigate another groundhog based on that groundhog’s work ethic, his kids’ obnoxious behavior, and would one groundhog ever exclude another groundhog based on a titty twister?

I used to love to give titty twisters to other fellas. Don’t ask me why. I thought it was funny. There were no sexual motivations, and I didn’t consider titty twisters a proclamation of dominance over a titty twistee. I just thought it would be a funny thing to do that to that guy that was just standing there being far too normal. I liked to shake people out of having too normal a day. It’s who I was, and who I will probably always be. I don’t force people out of the norm with physical actions in that manner anymore. I’m more subtle now. When I gave a titty twister to this one guy, however, he punched me in the chest for it. I twisted his titty. Things were too normal for me. The people around me were too normal, their conversations were too normal, and I thought we all needed a random shake.

A reaction like that might have left me doubled over, on a normal day. I loved unexpected reactions. This guy’s reaction carried a mean face with it though. I thought we were friends. His mean face told me that the punch rejected everything I valued, and our friendship never recovered. I’m sure groundhogs reject other groundhogs’ over over-the-top attempts at humor, but do they hold grudges? This guy told people he hated me after that.

Does a groundhog do anything to shake up the norm, or is his existence so primal that he’s happy to be alive for one more day? Does that attribute say more or less about the human being that we take life for granted to such a degree that we’re no longer happy to be alive? Is this desire to shake our lives out of the norm a complex desire, or is it a simplistic, biological need we have to keep our brains firing at a rapid pace?

If a groundhog decided to perform a sexual act in a different position, for example, would we document this decision as simple or complex? If the groundhog displayed a sense of listlessness prior to trying the new position, how would we document that? If the groundhog performed his act on other groundhogs when his selected mate wasn’t around, would we view this adulterous act as complex or simplistic? If we could see inside the groundhog’s brain, and view his dreams of an army of aliens shackling him to a wall, while suckling on his reproductive organ for the semen nutrient these aliens needed to survive, would we consider this a complex fantasy for a groundhog or a simplistic, base desire?

This titty twistee, former friend was a heavy metal dude, and I was a heavy metal dude. I thought this would be enough for some sort of lifelong association. I was wrong. Most of the people I grew up around were heavy metal dudes. Hessians is what we called ourselves. I wanted to be a hessian so bad I was willing to do just about anything to make that happen. I had a tough time getting in. I didn’t like Rush or Iron Maiden, but I did like Kiss. Kiss was not enough to get into those circles. Kiss was too popular by the time I became a teen. They were too mainstream to be cool. I had to like an outlier group, and if it wasn’t going to be Rush or Iron Maiden, then I was offered Slayer or Megadeth. Sorry, I said. I wanted to be a hessian, but I couldn’t appreciate any of these groups. They had cool monsters on their albums and all, but their music was beyond me. I wore the mandatory jean jacket, and I had the mullet, but for some reason I was on the outside looking in for most of my young life. It may have had something to do with the fact that I didn’t say the word ‘dude’, but I didn’t give a durn about nothing, and I thought authority figures were laughable. I thought that would be enough.

One thing I learned, in the beginning of my public square humiliation, was that calling my grandma “My Nana” would be out, if I wanted to be a hessian. I didn’t have to hate my grandma, that trait was reserved for punkers, but I didn’t have to like her so much either. A hessian greets their Nana in a nonplussed manner. He may want to consider shaking her hand, and greeting her with a “hello ma’am!”, but he should then go on about his business after that, as if he’s not so concerned with her existence. A hessian does not run across a room and hug his Nana. That’s something for people who listen to Genesis and the B-52’s.

Genesis lovers valued simplicity over analytical pragmatism, so we hated them, and we gained a lot more mileage hating something than we did expressing any kind of love for anything. Hatred gives a hessian character and complexity. “You don’t like Phil Collins?” “No, I think he’s gay.” Loving something gains one scorn. Loving something gives other hessians license to hate another for, whether it’s loving Kiss, Happy Days, or their Nana. Loving something gives hessians a weakness to poke and prod, until the recipient of such scorn is too embarrassed to love anything, unless it’s Metallica. One can say that they love Metallica and still be a hessian, but that’s it.

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

Hessians can smile, and they can laugh, but they need to reserve that for moments when someone is the subject of scorn and ridicule. A hessian can like Kiss and Van Halen, but as I said that’s not enough, and they cannot (I repeat cannot) like Poison, Cinderella, or Faster Pussycat. I assume that Facebook has made life for teens in America easier by comparison, for a person can now block those people that question the constructs we have about our personality on Facebook.

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

“Yeah, II and Zoso are great,” I would say to beginners. “But wait until you get to the point of loving III and Fizzy Graph.” (Fizzy graph is what the Zeppelin guys called Physical Graffiti.)

It was a glorious world to enter. It was a world of opportunity, a world where girls existed, and a world where one could taste forbidden fruits, and still be a fella. It was a world where hessians, punkers, and even some Genesis guys could stand side by side in a mutual admiration society. It was a world where musicians and music lovers of all stripes could talk, laugh, and listen to the greatest music ever produced, for as all Zeppelin guys know, all music stems from Zeppelin.

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

A Zeppelin guy still had to fortify their Zeppelin guy status, then the Zeppelin guy status if they were lucky enough to achieve it. A Zeppelin guy still had to guard himself against complacency in the Zep guy world, or they could lose their status. It was right to enjoy the music on the album In Through the Out Door, for example, but a true Zeppelin guy could not love it. There were far too many synthesizers on that album. John Paul Jones had far too much influence on that album. It lacked the raw, Page/Plant magic of the first six albums, and if a fella wanted to maintain their The Zeppelin guy status, they had to know that.

We all realize that the brain of a groundhog is less complex than that of the human’s, but we also know that even the most simplistic, primal minds react to music. If a groundhog listens to the same music, over time, will they develop an affinity for certain kinds of music? Will certain groups of groundhogs break out of the pack and develop discerning tastes? Will these groups begin to develop an affinity for Zeppelin over Genesis? Will they begin to ostracize Genesis lovers for the mileage it gains them in their group? Would they reach a point, in their progression, where it was no longer about the music for them but the iconography and complexities they developed in their particular group in the groundhog community for the music they chose to love? Would their love for the music strengthen over time? If it did, would it reach a point where one could characterize it as complex, or, would we deem it a simple desire to belong to that group of groundhogs that listened to that form of music, and would the groundhogs ever begin to see the distinction for what it was?

Abbie Reinhold


“Be nice,” is the advice I would give someone who was accused of being crazy. “Be nice and smile a lot,” I would add. This doesn’t sound like an adequate defense to such a malleable charge, but if someone accuses us of being crazy there’s probably not much we can do to change their mind. This defense acknowledges that by suggesting we convince those who surround the accuser that we’re kind and we genuinely care about them. By doing so, we might gather a defense team who will mount a defense team that leaves our accuser in the minority.    

Most of us have never had others seriously question our sanity. They might say things like, “You’re crazy,” or “You’re insane,” but they often say that with a wink and a nod. To those who have seriously been accused of being so far outside the mainframe that it has diminished their quality of life, we offer this advice because we’ve witnessed others rush to the defense of a person they consider nice, regardless what anyone else says. These defenders are prone to dismiss most eccentricities of the nice and kind as endearing qualities. As these eccentricities begin to build up, people will talk. They will share stories and compare notes, but again, if the subject of this scrutiny is considered nice, sweet, or genuinely kind, their defenders will only ramp up their defense.

One of the primary components of selling this nice façade is a warm, pleasant smile. A genuine smile not only speaks of peace of mind, it disarms observers searching for cracks in our foundation, and it might serve us well in our attempts to conceal our eccentricities. Anyone who has seriously been accused of being crazy might be surprised to learn just how disarming a simple, warm smile can be. “You think she’s crazy?” observers might say in the face of another’s accusations regarding a subject’s crazy characteristics, “because I think she seems nice.”

“And you’re basing that on her smile?” we argue. “Ted Bundy had a radiant smile too. Do you think he was normal?” It doesn’t matter to them, for the idea that a crazy person seems nice, based on their warm, glowing smile is the primary point and the end of the discussion to others.

Observers have bullet points that they look for when they’re trying to spot crazy people. Are these bullet points fair? It doesn’t matter. We have created them to help us avoid saying, or doing, the wrong thing to the wrong person who might go crazy on us. One of the most prominent bullet points we look for is nastiness.

Most people don’t choose to be nasty, but they’ve been attacked so many times over the years that when they meet new people they’re defensive. They attack before anyone can attack their vulnerabilities. They become so accustomed to being attacked for their characteristics that being nasty is the first arrow they reach for in their quiver. The goal of this preemptive attack is to convince us to avoid them, and that is just fine to the crazy person for they have not found a better alternative to avoid being attacked. The problem with this strategy is that the accused might find otherwise sympathetic souls joining in on the discussions of their unpredictability, until the crazy person’s peers reach an agreed upon characterization that they will not expect. The solution is so simple that most crazy people have never considered it as a viable strategy before, smile and be nice.

✽✽✽

I used to work for an online company. The company rewarded its employees with a month long sabbatical for tenured service. While on this sabbatical, my department hired a number of new people. One of them was a crazy person named Abbie Reinhold. One of the first things Abbie did, to introduce herself to the group, was defeat any impressions we might have about her. This preemptive attack was comprised of confrontation and nastiness that dared anyone to challenge the impression she may have made. This defense gained her a reputation, however unfair, of being a cat lady.

To this point, no one knew if Abbie Reinhold owned a cat. She simply fit the stereotype, arrow for arrow, bullet point for bullet point. She could’ve been the prototype for the cat lady on the television show The Simpsons. The stereotype is an affixed staple in our culture, because there are examples of it. It’s not true that all women who own cats are crazy, of course for we’ve all met perfectly sane women who have an inordinate number of cats as companions. We’ve also encountered women who scream at these cats, as if they’re human, and they find that they get along a lot better with cats than they do humans for all of the psychological underpinnings that are indigenous to a cat lady.

When I arrived back at work, I found that those in charge of making seating arrangements placed this crazy woman across from me, in the cubicle I faced. Did I know that Abbie Reinhold was a little crazy? How could one not sense that something was off about her, based on her preemptive attacks?

My attempts at building a psychological profile on someone, based on first impressions, had been so wrong, so often, at that point in my life that I decided to give Abbie Reinhold a chance. Mary, one of the precedents for how wrong I can be, sat right next to Abbie Reinhold. I was so wrong about Mary that I decided Abbie Reinhold might be another Mary. Mary was a woman of solitude, and a little “off”, but it turned out that Mary was such a sweet woman in all other matters that she became anecdotal evidence for how wrong the psychological profiles we build can be.

As that first day wore on, I noticed that Abbie talked to herself a lot, and while I do deem those who talk to themselves a lot a little crazy, I cut all new employees a little slack. Some of the cases we worked on for this company, could be quite difficult and overwhelming, and I had firsthand knowledge of how difficult and overwhelming the job could be for a new person. For this reason, I paid little attention to Abbie Reinhold on that first day.

On the second day, Abbie Reinhold began talking to herself when I sat down at 8:00 A.M. up and to the point when she left at 5:30. Man, I thought, this poor woman is really struggling. Abbie’s frustrations were on display for all to see, but as I said I empathized. We all have coping mechanisms for dealing with the stress and pressure of the job, and we all know that coping mechanisms can vary, and they are often unique to the person. If this woman’s coping mechanism included talking to herself, who was I to judge? She did talk to herself a lot though.

The third day was something altogether different. The coping mechanism of talking her way through a case progressed to screaming. Abbie developed the habit of silently screaming at her computer. Everything about her face and mouth suggested she was screaming, except for the sound. Her head was bopping, and she bared her teeth. I glanced around to determine the source of her frustration. I couldn’t find anything. She was new though, and I continued to offer her some slack, but the progression didn’t ebb and flow in the manner it had in the past days. Abbie’s frustrations had progressed. Matters, such as these, don’t usually phase me. I’m a calm and levelheaded guy, but I had one foot pointed to the door in case her frustration resulted in some sort of ultimate resolution.

I worked in various computer companies for near a decade at that point, and I saw so many anomalies of human behavior that her idiosyncratic behaviors were noteworthy. Nothing more and nothing less. Did those of us around her laugh when she laughed for no apparent reason, we did. Did we share raised eyebrows when some noises escaped her otherwise silent screams, we did. Those who might call us out for those judgmental reactions have to understand that it’s human nature to laugh at something we don’t understand. When we witness what we consider a confusing anomaly, our impulsive reaction is to either laugh or cry, and I wasn’t so afraid of her that I would cry. I came close the next day, when I saw her eat a cookie, as everything about that act appeared to crystallize the notions I had that she might be crazy.

I would never go so far as to say that I’m a macho man who fears nothing, but I can say without fear of rebuttal, that I’ve never experienced anything resembling fear, while watching another person eat a cookie. I don’t think I feared her, in the truest sense of the word, but I did have goosebumps.

What are goosebumps? Some have theorized that they are a physiological phenomenon we’ve inherited from our animal ancestors. They’re useless to us, because we don’t have a coat of hair, but the reason other animals may use the same elevations in the skin is to protect against the cold and to make themselves appear larger when confronted by a potential threat. I didn’t consider Abbie Reinhold’s ravenous consumption of the cookie threatening, but the physiological phenomenon occurring on my arm suggested that I might want to consider getting larger just in case.

I assumed she was diabetic, as I have known many diabetics who were calmed by a cookie. I don’t know if that was the case with her, but she ate that cookie in the manner I suspect one would after starving themselves for three days.

I watched every bite she took. I don’t know what I was waiting to see, but I was watching. Watching is probably the wrong word to describe what I was doing, for I was not looking at her. By the time Abbie Reinhold began eating the cookie, she and I established the rule that I was not to look at her, so I trained myself to pay attention to her, without looking. I was looking at my computer, but I wasn’t typing or doing anything work-related. I was staring at her without looking at her. When she finished that cookie without any progressions, I did not sigh, but I was relieved.

In the days that followed, I would see her laugh. When a person sits behind a computer for ten hours a day, the mind drifts. Those of us who worked in the service industry dreamed of a day when we didn’t have to work with people. Once we achieved it, we realized we needed more human contact. To satisfy this need, we drift back to the rude thing the supermarket checker said to us, and we conjure up a perfect comeback while staring at our computer. We remember the hilarious thing our friend said to us, and we laugh, and we think up the perfect addition to their joke. Some of the times, we find ourselves so wrapped up in these memories that a smile or a grimace might slip out. When this happens, we drop that expression as quickly as possible, and we scan our surroundings to make sure no one saw it. This woman didn’t seem to care about any of that. Her smiles turned into uproarious laughter. Her grimaces turned into silent, vehement screams.

In the professional climate of office workers reading the words on their computers, the white noise of the sounds of typing, can lull all employees into a safe harbor of the mind. Anything and everything is distracting. Drop a pencil on the carpet, and six people might turn to watch you pick it up. In this climate of solitude and servitude, whispers are distracting and annoying. The relatively benign sounds of soft laughter can lead others to roll over to see what you’re laughing at on your computer. Other employees did this, in the early days of Abbie Reinhold’s tenure on our team. After a couple more of these incidents, fewer and fewer rolled over to Abbie’s desk. We would laugh, however, but it was a laugh of empathy, for we knew how often we drifted into our own daydreams. We managed to restrain ourselves from displays of emotion, but we knew how close to that line we were. Over the course of our brief tenure together, Abbie shattered the shackles of embarrassment by reenacting scenes from her life without shame. When a non-team member would stop by our desk to ask us a question, and they would see her turning left and right with laughter or anger, they would ask us about it, and we would say, “Just ignore it.” On one such occasion, she placed a hand between her breasts and apologized to her computer screen for laughing so hard. She wasn’t speaking to me, the unfortunate witness to her activities. She wasn’t speaking to anyone.

When Abbie Reinhold talks to herself, she gesticulates in a casual manner that one uses to expound upon meaning. These gesticulations progress to a flailing of the arms, in a manner reserved for partygoers having one hell of a good time. She swirls in her computer chair, in a Julie Andrews, “The Hills are Alive” manner, when she appears immersed in a wonderful moment in her life, and she says mumbles responses to the fictional characters who surround her.

I wondered one day if she is talking to people in the future or the past, or is she one of those rare individuals who –like a Kurt Vonnegut character– is unstuck in time, and is living in the past, the present and the future at the same time?

I wondered what Abbie Reinhold would think of me if I started talking to myself, followed by uproarious laughter and wild gesticulations. Would she laugh from a distance at my foolish actions, to reveal how oblivious she is to her own? Would Abbie laugh at me with full knowledge of her actions, but by ridiculing me, she hoped to gain some distance from the things that crazy people do? Would she view my foolish display as an opportunity in which she could define herself to others, thus lifting herself above those who engage in such activities for the purpose of either changing the minds of those around her, or vindicating her beliefs in her own sanity? The unlikely alternative, I suspect, is that she would see what I was doing and identify with in a manner that might establish some sort of solidarity between us. Even if I mimicked her without any form of mockery, I doubt that she would defend me against anyone who ridiculed me for talking to myself. I doubt she would say anything along the lines of, “Hey, I talk to myself, how dare you crack on my people.” I doubt that she was that objective.

On one of the days that followed, Abbie Reinhold stood. She was not looking at a fellow employee named Natalie, but she wasn’t looking away either. She was just standing. She did stand near enough to Natalie that Natalie thought the Crazy Lady had a work-related question that she couldn’t articulate. Natalie was a senior agent on the team, assigned to answering agent questions.

“What’s up?” Natalie asked her.

“Just stretching,” the crazy lady said.

“What’s wrong with that?” I asked when Natalie informed me of these details.

“She was standing still,” Natalie informed me. “I don’t think she moved a muscle.”

“Did you ask her what muscles she was stretching?”

This Crazy Lady also eats her earwax. She pulls it out, examines it, and she eats it on occasion. Some of the times, Abbie Reinhold looks at it and discards it. I often wonder what her selection process involves. What’s the difference between a good pull, and a bad one?

I wondered if I cracked a joke about people who eat their own earwax, what Abbie’s reaction would be. Would she laugh from a distance at such foolish people, or would she defend her fellow earwax eaters? “Hey, I eat my ear wax, how dare you crack on my people.”

✽✽✽

Some readers might find this piece mean-spirited, as we should never discuss (much less laugh at) those who have vulnerabilities. To those charges, I submit to the court of public opinion, exhibit A: Abbie Reinhold.

Abbie Reinhold was not a sympathetic figure, and witnesses to Abbie Reinhold’s demeanor would testify to the fact that Abbie Reinhold could often be witnessed laughing as hard, if not harder, at the idiosyncrasies of those around her as anyone else. (I think this raucous laughter might have been born of the relief of being on the other side of that laughter for once.) We understood that she was defensive by nature when we met, but she began leveling attacks against us before we knew her last name. We have no knowledge of the incidents that drove her to attack us, and we empathize with anyone who has been attacked for their characteristics, for we have all experienced such attacks throughout our lives.  

When it comes to using past grievances to fuel nastiness, anything can provide an impetus. Perhaps she made unfair associations that led her to unfair conclusions about us, but we were ambivalent to her presence, until she attacked us with her shield. Abbie Reinhold brought her past grievances to the table not us. We did not seek to chastise, or ostracize, Abbie Reinhold. We viewed her as nothing more than another employee in a large company, until she made her presence known.

For those in the court of public opinion who are not willing to take some anonymous author’s word for it, we submit exhibit B: Sheila Jones. Sheila Jones was what many might consider the prototype for a nice, sweet, woman who has lived long enough, and experienced just enough, to know the best and worst of humanity. Sheila is the type of person who chooses to view humanity from the magnanimous position of believing that her waste matter stinks too. Sheila is one of those rare individuals who genuinely seeks to find the best in everyone, and those who know her well would probably say that Sheila is the prototype for those individuals we laud by saying, ‘she never had an unkind word to say about anyone.’ Not only was Sheila an audience to the stories we told about Abbie Reinhold, she would break that mold by contributing to them.

I make no claim to being as nice and understanding as Sheila was, is, and always will be. She is one of those rare individuals who are nice, understanding, and empathetic to the plight of the 99.9 percent of the population. When the subject of Abbie Reinhold arose, not only did Sheila join the pack of hyenas, ripping at the carcass, she laughed as hard as any of us did, even if it was behind a hand.

The question I have, now that I have achieved enough distance from this story to have some objectivity on it, is would anyone like Sheila want to trade such stories if Abbie Reinhold was a nice person? Would anyone as nice as Sheila laugh as hard as she did, if Abbie Reinhold was a sweet person who just happened to have been afflicted with some noteworthy eccentricities? The males might have, for males are predisposed to enjoying stories that pertain to the weaknesses and frailties of another, a trait that we can trace to their king of the hill mentalities. Mean girls might have too, for many of the same reasons. We’ve all heard of people raised with Midwest values and southern hospitality. Sheila had all that, plus a personal level of sympathy for others that those of us who knew her considered unmatched. Thus, we can only guess that if Abbie was anything from ambivalent-to-nice to someone like Sheila Jones, she would have shut down any discussions about the woman’s eccentricities with a simple word about decorum and niceties. If Abbie was a nice person who just happened to do odd things, the women in our group like Sheila might have even shamed the rest of us who engaged in such discussions. “She’s a nice person,” is something they might have said, and they would’ve dismissed every characterization of Abbie Reinhold on that basis. The fact that these women not only laughed uproariously at the stories of Abbie Reinhold’s idiosyncrasies, but shared their own experiences with her, and drove the discussion in many cases, should suggest to any crazy people seeking to proactively diffuse any attempts at characterizing them in an unfair and exaggerated manner, that the best way to ingratiate themselves to those who might end up defending them, is by being nice.

The Leans


“This is it,” Andrew Parizek said at my desk. I was listening to music in my earbuds, so I didn’t see, hear or sense his approach. By the time he said that, Andrew was so close that he startled me. Andrew was a close talker, but he narrowed his customary gap in this particular instance. “My final farewell to you, my friend,” he added. “I’m leaving the company. I’m on my way out the door.”

“Oh shoot,” I said to my co-worker who I considered a close associate. I don’t know how he would characterize our multi-year association, but when we had a go-between, we spoke every day. When that third party moved desks, I thought the triumvirate was over. Yet, Andrew kept coming over to my desk to talk about the stupid stuff stupid people talk about. “It was great working with you buddy,” I told him.

This “Final Farewell” had been in various stages of an active gestation cycle for about two weeks. The prior weekend, he and I discussed his departure at his going away party, and we also discussed his future at length. We didn’t hug at the end of that particular discussion, but we engaged in a heartfelt, hearty handshake at that going away party that expressed how I felt about him, coupled with some discussion of the good times we shared together, and how much we would miss the little things we both did to brighten the other’s otherwise boring days.

I thought that those final farewells, and all the ones prior to it, were the final farewells, but his presence at my desk informed me that that notion was premature. I told him it wouldn’t be the same at the company without him, as I had in the previous final farewells, but I felt compelled to add original material to this one. Therefore, I added some sentimental junk that I didn’t mean. I was being nice, and I was trying to make him feel important in my life. In truth, I liked the guy, but he bothered me, in insignificant ways, at the same time.

I asked Andrew Parizek if he was excited about his future prospects, and I told him that I was jealous that he was doing something so important with his life. I wasn’t jealous, as Andrew was moving onto a career that I didn’t want to do, but it seemed like a fitting sentiment to add to this final version of our final farewell.

I also told him that I thought he was a swell fella, and a nice guy, and I meant that.

I asked Andrew if he was a little scared about the prospect of leaving the comfy confines our company offered to venture out into an unknown world where the prospect of failure was greater. He said yes to all of the above. Then he launched.

He spelled out for me, in explicit detail, this new venture of his life. He did so with magnificence and aplomb. He was also magnanimous. He spoke about how he thought that I was delightful, and the type that would succeed, and that if I stuck to it, all my dreams would come true. It was sappy and weird. I hid my revulsion for his word choices. He tried to be multisyllabic, and he used as many –ly words as he had in his vocabulary. He tried to instill a sense of timeless profundity to this final version of his “Final Farewell”. If it were a speech, it might have caused great emotion. The audience might have been applauding at the end, some may have cried, and others may have even stood to applaud. The over the top farewell was one that often elicits such near-compulsory emotion. Andrew lit up in moments where ‘dreams can come true’ lines poured out of him. When the line “If it can happen for me, it can happen for anyone” brought him to crescendo, I might have placed two fingers on a handkerchief if I had one within reach.

It was so over-the-top brilliant, coupled with subtle attempts at self-deprecating humor, that I wondered if Andrew plagiarized some of his material from the “Going to War” letters that Ken Burns collected and displayed from soldiers for his The Civil War documentary. If it wasn’t, I felt safe in my assumption that Andrew practiced and rehearsed this speech that day, before a mirror. Whatever the case was, I felt compelled to inform him that I thought this version of the final farewell was an “Experience for anyone lucky enough to hear it,” “Your best, final farewell since final farewell number four,” and a “Tour de Force!” I didn’t say any of this, but I felt Andrew Parizek choreographed it in such a way that it warranted superlatives.

We were fellow office workers, and we were associates, as I said. We got along on those levels, so receiving an invitation to his going away party wasn’t a great surprise to me. When I arrived at his going away party, we said our hellos, goodbyes, and as I said some talk about his future endeavor, but our conversation didn’t last that long. The relative lack of attention Andrew offered me compared to his closer friends, didn’t wound me. I thought he offered me as much attention as our association warranted.

This Casablanca-style parting was just way beyond protocol as far as I was concerned though. I wished him well and all that, and he again went into the same speech he gave me at the party. Andrew also told me that he wanted me to email him, so we could keep updated on each other’s lives. I knew that wouldn’t happen, but I thought it was a nice sentiment. He then concluded with another note about how he was nervous about his future, but he was excited by the prospects of it too.

By the time he began to step away, he was all but yelling good wishes to me. My mouth wasn’t open, but the display did set me back a pace. Then it happened …

Andrew Parizek entered into a wicked case of the leans with my desk neighbor. He was exiting the aisle my cubicle was in, and my desk neighbor was entering into it. He leaned to the left to get by her, she leaned left, and when he leaned to the right, she leaned right. Before they made it past one another, they performed four separate and distinct leans.

If Andrew was extracting himself from a casual conversation, and exiting the aisle in a routine manner, he might have been able to avoid the spectacle that ended up occurring between these two. If he felt no need to execute a departure to be earmarked in the annals of time for all of those “that were there” to witness his ride into the sunset, I suspect he would’ve been the gentleman he was and stepped aside to allow my female desk mate to pass. At worst, the two of them may have engaged in two leans, if it wasn’t Andrew’s hope that this “The Final Farewell” include women waving handkerchiefs and someone, somewhere saying, “You know what, there goes one hell of a good feller.” I assume that Andrew pictured the rest of us as side characters in his exit left behind to chronicle the attributes of the main character of this “The Final Farewell” scene.

I don’t keep a ledger on such things, but I do believe that the Andrew Parizek v. desk neighbor case of the leans to be the most intense I’ve ever witnessed. I’ve been a witness to a number of severe cases in my day, and I’ve ever been a party to a few, but I don’t think I witnessed four separate and distinct leans before that day.

I’ve witnessed two separate leans on so many occasions it’s not worth noting, and I’ve witnessed more than my fair share of three. The one thing we know about the public humiliation such as these is that no one gets out alive, for as the cliché illustrates “it takes two to tango.” I’ve witnessed some scream, “Get out of my way!” in an unsuccessful attempt to blame the other for the tango and avoid personal embarrassment. I’ve seen witnesses laugh and one of those involved turn angry on those laughing to change the subject. None of it works. No one gets out alive.

The only individual able maintain a modicum of dignity following such an episode was a nondescript, middle-aged, paunchy restaurant hostess named Susan.

“Shall we dance?” was what she said.

She said that in the second of what would be a reported, and corroborated, three leans. Susan said it in the midst of what should have been her humiliation. Other witnesses to this episode would later swear corroborated the fact that Susan had a glint in her eye when she said those three words. The glint was faint, and it was a little insecure, but it suggested to those observers that Susan knew exactly what she was doing.

What she was doing is susceptible to interpretation, of course, as this woman named Susan maintained a degree of humility that prevented her from addressing the full import of her purported casual salvo against future ridicule. Those who witnessed Susan issue this phrase will swear, to their dying day, that Susan knew that by saying this, she was setting the rest of us free from the ridicule that follows such an episode. We can only assume that Susan suffered similar ridicule for much of her life, and that it bothered her so much that she sought to put an end to it. If that wasn’t the case, it might have had something to do with Susan’s hope that this line might provide a remedy to so many other future sufferers. Her hope, we can only guess, was that the witnesses of this episode would spread the word to put an end to this scale of human suffering. Whatever the case was, this unassuming restaurant hostess provided those of us who were lucky enough to be there that day, a shield against public scorn that some of us would use the rest of our lives. We might not have carried it off with the grace and aplomb Susan did that day, but we would always think of her, and silently thank her, for freeing us from this ever-present spectacle in our lives.

Had my Andrew Parizek learned of this antidote prior to his case of the leans, it might have spared him the humiliation. I doubted this at the time, and I still do, for I considered Susan’s humorous quip an antidote to two, and in her case three, separate and distinct leans, but I wasn’t sure that even her ingenious response could shield one from the public fallout of four.

Four separate and distinct leans were so unprecedented, to my mind, that I doubt there is a sufficient antidote. Couple that with the fact with the Gone with the Wind-style, dramatic exit that Andrew hoped to execute preceded it, and I doubt that any clever quip would’ve allowed him to save face. His only recourse was to walk away and just hope that witnesses would forget it soon after it happened.

We all want to be remembered, and perhaps that’s all Andrew Parizek wanted when he delivered so many final farewells to so many people that he accidentally said goodbye to the same people more than twice. I don’t know how much preparation he put into his final farewells, but I’m sure he did it so that he could let each of us know how important we were to him and to have the sentiment returned. This is not to suggest that Andrew’s actions were, in any sense, self-serving, but everyone wants those around them to remember that we were here. It is possible that had Andrew escaped unencumbered by my desk neighbor, his final farewell might have had the lasting effect on me he hoped for, but the lasting memory I now have of him consists of him shucking and jiving with my desk neighbor, trying to get past her for a dramatic ride off into the sunset.

Mindhunter


“The stories and legends that have filtered down about witches and werewolves and vampires may have been a way of explaining outrages so hideous that no one in the small and close-knit towns of Europe and early America could comprehend the perversities we now take for granted. [These] Monsters had to be supernatural creatures. They couldn’t be just like us.” John Douglas and Mark Olshaker wrote in an excellent memoir titled Mindhunter to explain that serial killers are not a recent phenomenon.

What’s more scary the idea that monsters are real, or the idea that your neighbor could commit monstrous acts? Before we giggle at our predecessors for believing werewolves and vampires walked among them, we need to keep a number of things in mind. They were afraid. We’re afraid, and we still don’t know what drives ordinary people to commit monstrous acts in general. We might have better theories and educated guesses, thanks in part to the interviews conducted by John Douglas and Robert K. Ressler and many others, but we still don’t enough to stop current and future monstrous acts. When we’re afraid, we want answers, and future generations might giggle at us for our “more modern, informed answers”. The answers we have, thanks to advancements in the fields of law enforcement, science, and technology inform us that we’re not surrounded by vampires, werewolves, or any kind of literal monsters, but ordinary people who are in some ways triggered to commit monstrous acts. The question is, do these answers provide us more comfort, or do they make it more frightening?

Our predecessors obviously considered the latter more horrific, and they developed the idea of monsters to help create some distance between themselves and those who would commit such acts.

We could very easily say that our predecessors were less informed on such matters, but that is almost solely based on the idea that they didn’t have the science and technology we have to help them explain matters. (Anyone who thinks it’s a stone cold fact that we’re smarter on average, need only take an 8th grade examination to compare.) I don’t think they were less intelligent, or that most of them truly believed that men all over the world were turning into wolves and vampires. I think they wanted an explanation that might help them avoid discussions on the subject of whether or not a normal man was capable of such monstrosities.

Those of us who watch the NFL often enough begin to think we know what we’re talking about when we question our favorite team’s general manager (GM). If I were a GM, I would open my press conference with eleven words, “You know nothing. Please keep that in mind throughout our Q&A.” If I led an investigation on a psychopath committing serial crimes, I would issue the same intro. Most of us know nothing about law enforcement. Most of us know nothing about the long, laborious task of collecting evidence, and the mind-numbing task of studying case files. We might think we do, because we’ve logged thousands of hours watching movies and TV shows on the subject, but we know nothing.

If we were to devote our lives to learning more, by way of TV shows, movies, and the books in the true crime section of our favorite book store, we might one day reach a point where we know next to nothing. If, that is, are engagement is studious. I knew nothing when I first picked up the book Mindhunter decades ago, and I probably know next to today. I knew nothing when I proceeded to buy all the books written by Douglas and Olshaker, and all of the other books that line the true crime section of the book store, and I know next to nothing now. I do know that Mindhunter was the best of these books, and I couldn’t believe it took over two decades for someone to make a movie, or a TV show on Doulgas’ excellent memoir.

Those who haven’t yet watched season one of the Netflix series, based on the book, should know that the consensus is that it starts out slow and confusing. To some, each episode of the series is slow and laborious, because it does not involve FBI agents knocking down doors, taking over investigations, or engaging in gun fights. Mindhunter is not the typical profiling show of FBI agents trying to catch a serial killer before he acts again. It is the story about two FBI agents who used the information gathered during interviews with psychopaths to understand such people better for the purpose of helping law enforcement identify them sooner, apprehend them later, and then convict them. Uber fans of the book, who never understood why no one made a movie about this chapter in John Douglas’ life, and this chapter in criminal justice, realized that sometimes even fantastic books don’t play very well in visual mediums. The Mindhunter series on Netflix is largely cerebral, and if you have no interest in this subject, the pace can appear plodding in parts.

Those of us who loved the book and wanted viewers to see the genius of the book for themselves cringed through the slow start, because we know that a slow start can be a death knell for any movie or series on a streaming device. The reason for the slow start is that a series such as this one needs to establish the modus operandi (M.O.) behind the FBI agents interviewing criminal minds to understand the criminal mind better, the series also has to establish the characters involved to spark interest, and the series creators needed to add the requisite (albeit fictional) romance. The characterization and the modus operandi of the FBI agents is necessary for any show, of course, but if I were the head writer of the series, I would’ve opened with the Ed Kemper interviews and dropped the backdrop information in accordingly. I might have also attempted to integrate the M.O. into the first episode, but I would have done so after the initial Kemper interview. My cringe was not because the series was done poorly, but as a member of the short attention span generation, I cringe when a series start out at a snail’s pace, because I can hear the millions of viewers who didn’t read the book, flipping to the thousands of other options available at their fingertips. Those who are patient enough to work through the largely fictionalized characterizations, will learn of a fascinating retelling of a 1995 memoir, by the same name, written by John Douglas and Mark Olshaker.

Although Mindhunter, the book, would influence some award winning movies and TV shows, the more faithful-to-the-book Netflix series, contains little to no action scenes. The book, and the series, are more about the groundbreaking work two FBI agents did to change the procedures law enforcement officials use to investigate violent crime. This story is more about the cerebral tactics these two agents advanced to a level unseen in the FBI prior to their arrival. Previous work done in the FBI influenced their work, as did the work of local level law enforcement officials, and the occasions when law enforcement officials brought in a psychiatrist to assist them with a case. In the book Mindhunter John Douglas also noted that his work derived some influence from literature, specifically, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes, Edgar Allen Poe’s The Murders in the Rue Morgue, and a British novelist named Wilkie Collins.

The work Douglas and Robert Ressler did inspired the creation of numerous gun-toting FBI-chasing serial killer Hollywood movies, including Manhunter, The Silence of the Lambs, The X-Files and hundreds of other movies and TV shows, but John Douglas says he didn’t care for any of those portrayals.

“They don’t put across accurate portrayals, and [that] aggravates me,” he said. “I can’t look at those movies.” As for the Netflix series, Douglas says, “They’re going by the book and I am very pleased.” Watching the series, he said, “is like reliving my life all over again.”

We can guess that Douglas didn’t care for the Hollywood attempts to tell his story because they felt the need to Hollywood his story up, and I join him in this general sentiment. I loathe movies that do whatever they can to add action scenes, and a romantic angle, to involve the audience in the lives of their characters.

After watching the Netflix series, however, I now understand why various producers, directors, and all the players involved in making the Hollywood versions of his tale, felt the need to Hollywood it up in their versions of the story. If they maintained a stance that their versions would adhere to the book more faithfully, they probably wouldn’t receive funding for it. Their rejections would probably state that no one wants to watch FBI agents doing behind the scenes work.

John Douglas characterized his twenty-four year career in the FBI, as putting himself in the mind of the hunter. To do so, Douglas developed a process of interviewing and studying psychopaths for the purpose of understanding their methodological approach to choosing victims, securing their removal from the public space, and covering their trail.

On the latter, Douglas wrote, “No matter how much a criminal thinks he knows, the more he does to evade detection, or throw us off the track, the more behavioral clues he’s going to give us to work with.”

When asked how John Douglas would describe his role in these investigations, he said, “If you’re a cop and I work with you on a case, I help to develop a more proactive technique.”

Douglas also tried to clarify the role the Investigative Support Unit (which is part of the FBI’s national Center for the Analysis of Violent Crime at Quantico) played in investigations:

“We do not catch criminals. What we try to do is assist local police in focusing their investigations, then suggest some proactive techniques that might help draw a criminal out.” Douglas then writes, “We (also) try to formulate a strategy to help the prosecutor bring out the defendant’s true personality during the trial.”

My analysis of John Douglas, the work he did after the interviews in the field of profiling, and what I once considered the most brilliant books I’ve ever read on the subject, might sound like a love affair gone awry from this point forward. Like an impulsive, physical attraction to another person, I was gaga over this book, and my initial impulses resulted in me failing to view this book objectively.

Before I get into that, however, there is one chapter that no one will ever be able to make me see the light on: Everybody has a Rock. In this chapter, Douglas writes that he attained a confession from an alleged perpetrator by placing an ordinary rock in the corner of the room. It was not the rock that various law enforcement officials believed the alleged perpetrator used to inflict blunt force trauma to the head of Mary Frances Stoner. It was just a rock that Douglas found that he considered roughly the same size and shape as the one law enforcement believed a perpetrator used in Ms. Stoner’s murder, and he placed it in the corner of the interrogation room before the interview. Douglas used numerous behavioral techniques in that interview with the alleged suspect to inform him that he knew the suspect as well, if not better, than anyone who interrogated him previously. Throughout the interview, the suspect kept glancing over at the rock waiting for Douglas to broach the topic of the rock. John Douglas never did. He used it as a triggering stressor, combined with the detailed information he had on the suspect, to make him sweat. Long paragraph short, the man confessed, and Douglas concluded this by writing:

“If the triggering stressor is a legitimate, valid concern, it will have a good chance of working. [The rock] could be mine. Yours would be something else and we’d have to try to figure out in advance what that would be. But there would be something. Because everybody has a rock.”

We all have a vulnerability, in other words, a susceptibility of sorts in the case against us, and it’s law enforcement’s job, and the prosecutor’s job to find it. It’s not a ground-breaking idea, of course, but when it works, it can sound so perfect, as in this case, that it sounds like a magician revealing that he’s had a rabbit in his hat the whole time.

Most also credit John Douglas as a pioneer for a controversial art form called profiling. When I first read Mindhunter, I was an unquestioning fan. I considered John E. Douglas a flat out genius, and I thought he personified the idea that every problem is one genius away from a solution. In the decades since, I’ve read numerous naysayers state that many of the profiles Douglas and other profilers have created for unknown subjects (UNSUBs), are equivalent to Forer Effect.* I was a little shocked by the pushback for I considered profiling an art form, if not a scientific approach to help law enforcement locate and determine which type of criminal was most probable. I considered profiling on the verge of hard science. I was also shocked to learn that many law enforcement officials groan when profilers enter into an investigation, because they don’t believe profilers can help them in investigations any more than they believe psychics can.

One of my naysayer friends asked me the pointed question if I thought psychics could help law enforcement locate and determine suspects. “Of course not,” I said, “but that’s not what John Douglas does.” After a back and forth that involved the details we both knew from the book, the naysayer encouraged me to re-read page 151 of his Mindhunter book.

Page 151 of Mindhunter contains John Douglas’s description of profiling, a description I now consider tantamount to a confession:

“What I try to do with a case is take in all the evidence I have to work with –the case reports, the crime-scene photos, and descriptions, the victim statements or autopsy protocols– and then put myself mentally and emotionally in the head of the offender. I try to think as he does.” So far so good, this was the summary I provided my naysayer friend. The next part is what I presumably skimmed over in my first reading. “Exactly how this happens, I’m not sure, any more than novelists such as Thomas Harris who’ve consulted me over the years can say exactly how their characters come to life. If there is a psychic component to this, I won’t run away from it, though I regard it more in the realm of creative thinking.” {Emphasis mine.}

The next paragraph in the book details Douglas’s praise of psychics, “I’ve seen it work,” he says. Douglas does admit, however, that hundreds of psychics were brought in to help law enforcement officials solve the Atlanta child murders, and they weren’t even close in their descriptions of killers and methods.

Other naysayers who argue that the effectiveness of criminal profiling John Douglas is suspect, ask how many of his profiles were wrong? One suspects, if other naysayers are correct, and what Douglas does is equivalent to what psychics do, that he is wrong more often than he is right, but that he might say that that’s the nature of profiling. Mindhunter is John Douglas’ book, and he can include any information he wants, but if Douglas and others’ profiles had a praiseworthy track record, I think he would’ve proudly listed those statistics. He probably still would’ve added that profiling is an art form, it’s not a science, but he could’ve added something along the lines of “Our figures show that qualified profilers have been proven correct ‘X’% of the time since we developed the technique for law enforcement.”

It’s been a long time since I read the book word for word, but I can’t remember the chapter listing the success rates, and there is no statistics of listing in the index. In the end, this is a memoir of John Douglas’ life as an FBI agent, and the many successes he’s had. As I wrote, he doesn’t have to list anything he doesn’t want to list, but for those of us who believed in him and his techniques, these facts would’ve given us ammunition against his naysayers. Having said all that Mindhunter is a great read, and he never claims he found a scientific approach to crime solving.

As has been reported, season two of this Netflix series will focus on profiling and the Atlanta child murders, but those who might fall prey to the belief that profiling is a hard science that will result in some sort of exactitude must keep all of this in mind.

They should also keep two key facts in mind when watching the focus on the Atlanta child murders. The state was able to convict suspect Wayne Williams of killing two grown men, but they were never able to convict him of a killing a single child. As Biography.com states, “Once the trial (of the case of those two grown men) was over, law-enforcement officials declared their belief that evidence suggested that Williams was most likely linked to another 20 of the 29 deaths the task force had been investigating. DNA sequencing from hairs found on different victims revealed a match to Williams’s own hair, to 98 percent certainty. But that 2 percent doubt was enough to prevent further convictions.” (One has to imagine that the various levels of law enforcement were disgusted with the prosecuting attorney’s office for their unwillingness to pursue these charges to preserve their success record.) 

I noticed that the first season of Netflix’s Mindhunter paid little attention to the art of profiling. I cannot remember if the series used the term, unless they said something like, “we could use this information to build a profile on him”. As far as I remember, the first season didn’t use the term at all. Perhaps, that was because Douglas didn’t coin the term in the time period season one covers, or it may be that the series producers wanted to stay away from the controversial term. (If they used it, I expect fans will help me correct the record.) Regardless, I read that they will put more focus on profiling in season two.

The almost painful confession I must make in regards John Douglas, and his insight into criminal profiling, is that I believed it 100%. Even though Douglas confessed in his book that profiling was more art than science, I considered the art of profiling based on science, behavioral science, and I considered John Douglas an indisputable genius. Even though he said, if someone were to accuse him of using psychic components, “I won’t run away from it.” He then added, “I’ve seen it work.” Any rational mind would respond, “Okay, fair enough, but how often do psychics provide unequivocal assistance to law enforcement work? How often does their information lead to a suspect who is later convicted?” I’m sure there are some who might cite a case for me that pinpoints a case in the history of law enforcement where a psychic helped solve a case, but my rational mind takes me back to that question, “If this particular psychic has a gift, and they were able to help law enforcement solve a case, how often have they been wrong throughout their life?” If there were more documented stats on the powers of even one psychic, perhaps juries and the overall court system would accept and acknowledge evidence that was obtained with a psychics insights in the courtroom. At this point in history that has not happened.

In my excitement, I failed to read his book with enough skepticism. I do this, because I enjoy falling in love. I’m a relatively intelligent person who appreciates how math and hard science can help explain most of the inner workings of the universe, but I will not apologize for the emotional, almost romantic attachments I have to ideas before the facts roll out. I continue to believe, for example, that for every problem that plagues man we are one genius away from finding a solution, but I am now more skeptical of the former FBI agent’s influential approach, techniques and procedures than I was when I first read his book. Although I was wrong, painfully wrong, I believe a book such as this one highlights the discussion of belief. When I learned that many in law enforcement do not value criminal profiling as much I thought they should, and I reread Mindhunter in a more skeptical mind frame, I was swayed that it wasn’t the hard science I assumed on initial reading. I’ll take the arrows when they come my way, but I won’t give up the optimistic beliefs that have served me well over the years.

*The Forer Effect is the observation that individuals will give high accuracy ratings to descriptions tailored to their personality, but is in fact vague and general enough to be assigned to a wide range of people. This effect can provide a partial explanation for the widespread acceptance of some beliefs and practices, such as astrology, fortune telling, graphology, and some types of personality tests.

Scat Mask Replica VIII


How much money does the average Fortune 500 Company spend learning the mind of consumers? How many psychologists, linguists, and marketers do their preferred advertising agencies consult before they start production on a commercial? They have to know how to make us laugh, what makes us cry, and they need to know what intrigues us. They also have the unenviable chore of finding a way to keep us from fast forwarding through commercials. The average commercial is only thirty seconds long, so advertisers need to pack a lot into a tight space. With all the time, money, and information packed into one thirty-second commercial, one could say that commercials provide a short, detailed report on the culture. If that’s true, all one needs to do is watch commercials to know that the art of persuasion has altered dramatically in our post-literate society. Booksellers argue that we don’t live in a post-literate society, as their quarterly reports indicate that books are selling better than ever. I don’t question their accounting numbers, but some of the commercials big corporations use to move product are so dumbed down and condescending that I wonder if fewer and fewer people are buying more and more books.

When advertisers make their pitch, they go to great pains, financially and otherwise, to find wonderful messages. They then hire a wonderful actor, or spokesman, to be the face of the company. By doing so, of course, the companies hope that we associate the wonderful person with them. If you’re not a wonderful person, their carefully tailored message suggests you can be if you follow their formula. If I am forced, for whatever reason, to watch a commercial, I find their pitches so condescending that I try to avoid their message.

Thirty seconds is not a lot of time when it comes to the art of persuasion, so advertising agencies are required to take shortcuts to appeal to us. These shortcuts often involve quick, emotional appeals. The problem with this is that people who watch commercials adopt these shortcuts in casual conversations, and they begin using them in everyday life.

This mindset is so ubiquitous in our society that I find it refreshing when someone approaches me with fact-based, critical thinking. I walk away thinking, “Hey, that’s a good idea!” Whether it’s actually a good idea or not, I appreciate the thought they put into making the appeal.

Some appear to think that the art of persuasion involves crying. “Don’t cry,” I say. “Prove your point.” A picture says a thousand words, right? Wrong. We’ve all come to accept the idea that powerful figures and companies require an array of consultants to help them tailor their message for greater appeal. Yet, if one has facts on their side, they shouldn’t need consultants, they shouldn’t need to be attractive, and the idea that they “seem nice” shouldn’t matter either. I know it’s too late to put the genie back in the bottle, but I don’t think the art of persuasion shouldn’t require superficial appeals.

***

What if we had a time machine and we could visit the future? How disappointed would we be to learn that little to nothing has changed? There’s little doubt that we would witness some leaps and bounds in technology, and we can guess that science will advance our knowledge on some matters, but what if everything else is pretty much the same? How many hundreds of millions do movie and TV producers spend trying to tell us that the future will be awful? Do they want to make a prediction that turns out correct? Do they have a message on the present that they want to propagate? Regardless, the provocative nature of such a forecast is lost on most of us, because movie producers have made that prediction so many times before that it has lost its effect. My bet is that the future will not change as much as these doomsayers want it to, and if it does, it will probably be for the better.

***

Brian Dettmer

How many people truly want to create works of art? “I would love to write a book,” is something many people say. How many want it so badly that they’re willing to endure the trial and error involved in the process getting to the core of a unique, organic idea? How many of us know firsthand, what a true artist has to go through? If others knew what they have to go through, I think they would say, “Maybe I don’t want it that badly.”

On the flip side, some say that there are artistic, creative types, and there are the others. There’s no doubt that there are varying levels of talent, but I believe that with enough time and effort most people could create something beautiful and individualistic.

Leonardo da Vinci was a talented artist, who painted some of the greatest pieces of art in world history. From what I’ve read about the man, however, he achieved so much in the arts that it began to bore him. After working through his apprenticeship and establishing himself as one of the finest painters of his day, he received numerous commissions for various works of art from the wealthy people and government officials around him. He turned some down, never started others, and failed to complete a whole lot more. One theory I’ve heard on da Vinci is that if he had a starving artist period, he probably created hundreds of thousands of pieces in that period, but that a vast majority of those pieces were lost, destroyed, or are otherwise lost to history. By the time, he achieved a level of stature where those in his day wanted to preserve his work, painting bored by him so much that he created comparatively few pieces. Either that, or in the course of his attempts to create that elusive “perfect piece” da Vinci began studying the sciences to give his works greater authenticity. In the course of those studies, he became more interested in the sciences than he was in painting. These are just theories on why we only have seventeen confirmed pieces from Leonardo da Vinci, but they sound firm to me.

***

There is a hemispheric divide between creative types and math and science types. One barometer I’ve found to distinguish the two is the Beatles. So many types love the Beatles that we can tell what type of brain we’re dealing with by asking them what Beatles era they prefer. With the obvious distinctions in style, we can break the Beatles down into two distinct eras, the moptop era includes everything they did before Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band, and the “drug-induced” era that followed. Numbers-oriented people generally love the moptop era more, and the creative, more right brain thinkers tend to prefer Sgt. Peppers and everything that followed. The moptop era fans believe the Beatles were a better band during the moptop era, because “they were more popular before Sgt. Peppers. Back then,” they say, “the Beatles were a phenomenon no one could deny.” Moptop era fans often add that, “the Beatles got a little too weird for my taste in the “drug-induced” albums that followed.” Although there is some argument over which album sold the most, at the time of release, it is generally argued that the latter half of their discography actually sold more than the first half. Numbers-oriented people should recognize that the latter albums were bound to sell more if for no other reason than the moptop Beatles built a fan base who would purchase just about anything they created after the moptop era. Those who lived during the era, however, generally think that the Beatles were less controversial and thus more popular during their moptop era, and if you’ve ever entered into this debate you know it’s pointless to argue otherwise. We creative types would never say that the pre-Sgt. Peppers Beatles didn’t have great singles, and Revolver and Rubber Soul were great albums, and we understand that those who lived during the era have personal romantic attachments to their era of Beatles albums, but we can’t understand how they fail to recognize the transcendental brilliance of the latter albums. We think the brilliance and the creativity they displayed on Sgt. Peppers and everything that followed provided a continental divide no one can dispute.

Further evidence of the popularity of the latter half of the Beatles catalog occurred in 1973. In 1973, the Beatles released two greatest hits compilations simultaneously for fans who weren’t aware of the Beatles during their era. The blue greatest hits album, which covered the 1967-1970, post Sgt. Peppers era has sold 17 million to date, while the red greatest hits 1962-1967, moptop-era album has sold 15 million. As anyone who has entered into this debate knows, however, it’s an unwinnable war.

Portion Control


“Excuse me,” a customer calls out to a server. “I ordered a roast beef sandwich, and I believe my slices are insufficient.” Has this ever happened? Has a customer ever called a server back, with bread pealed back, to inform a restaurant employee that they need more slices? I know it has. I know if I interviewed a number of servers on this topic, they would tell me to sit down before they began their tales, but I’ve never witnessed it firsthand. The more common complaint occurs in whispers long after the server walks away, as most of us avoid confrontation and situations that could draw attention to us. Most of us quietly cede portion control to the restaurants we choose for our dining experiences.

“MORE? You want more?” a Dickensian character might say in a manner that drops a proverbial spotlight on us. When we go to an established franchise we’ve learned to accept their nationally accepted portion control, but do we accept the same norms from an upstart mom and pop’s deli at the end of the block? Anyone who has worked at a restaurant has heard a wide array of complaints from customers, but how many hear that the portion of meat on a sandwich is too small, or that there aren’t enough fries? Would we deem that so bold as to be obnoxious? It might seem like such a violation of sorts of our conditioning that we might view the complainant as gluttonous?

Franchise websites suggest that portion control is vital to establish a level of consistency in a national chain, and they discuss the health benefits of lesser portions for the consumer and the profit potential for franchise owners. “Customers don’t complain about more portions,” they write, “but they will certainly complain about less.” I realize that writers of such columns have franchise owners in mind when they write such things, but I’ve never heard customers openly complain about less.

How many ounces of roast beef should we expect when we purchase a roast beef sandwich? Is there a generally accepted or preferred amount? How much does it vary with each restaurant? We could look this amount up, but the actual number is relatively unimportant when compared to our expectations. It’s a ‘we know it when we see it’ amount that varies, and if the restauranteur violates that principle most of us simply go to a restaurant that meats (sic) that expectation.

If the restaurateur notices our absence and finds a way to ask us why we left, they might say, “Well, why didn’t you say anything? We could’ve provided you a couple more ounces of roast beef to make you happy.” The problem for most restaurateurs is that most of us are members of the silent majority who don’t complain. We don’t fill out suggestion cards or comment cards, then we tell the cashier that everything was fine when they ask how our meal was, and we never go back. We also whisper things to our friends that close restaurants down.

If it benefits all parties concerned to speak up, why don’t we? As with just about every adult predilection, it goes back to high school. We see the hungry patrons in line behind us at the deli, and we remember the groans, fidgeting, and ridicule we heard when we asked one too many questions in our Algebra II Trig class. Even if we still didn’t understand the teacher’s explanations, we learned to shut up and stop asking so many questions. Our peers’ audible fatigue conditioned us to stop asking questions, don’t appear difficult in any way, and avoid complaining. Thus, when we feel the hungry patrons behind us, who just want us to move along so they can get their sandwich, we do. Even though we’re not satisfied, we shut up and move along to avoid causing a scene, and some of us do this so often that we start ceding portion control to the restaurant.  

How many customers prevent a waiter from leaving their table with the complaint, “I only have four broccoli florets on my plate, I’m accustomed to having five?” How many people would say, “I’m accustomed to a half a cup of mashed potatoes. Does that look like a half cup to you?” The more likely complaint would be, “I ordered the eight ounce steak, but this looks like six ounces to me.” I’m sure there are some who complain about this portion control restaurants have on us, but I have to guess that that percentage of the population is so small that it’s hardly representative. The rest of us know that they’re in charge, and we’ve learned to accept this facet of life. 

Most complaints lead to a manager visiting our table, and that manager brings a proverbial spotlight with him. When that manager kneels before our table that we’re being difficult, and we experience the same anxiety we did in Algebra II Trig. “It’s not a big deal,” we say to attempt to soften the blow, “I just thought I should get a couple more slices of beef for my roast beef sandwich.” I’ve witnessed some go bold in the face of a one-on-one with a restaurant manager, but most people shrink from the magnitude. We don’t want to appear difficult. The manager might consult a franchise advisor, as I’m guessing that a person complaining about portions happens so infrequently that they don’t have a standard operating procedure, but my guess is that the manager does whatever he has to do, under the “customer is always right” imprimatur to make us go away.

The inclination most restaurants might have to avoid such stated and unstated complaints is to go “bigee” on the portions. I witnessed this as a deli employee at an upstart, now defunct bagel shop franchise. The national chain decided to allow an owner to open a franchise in our area, and they apparently believed that their key to success was bigger portions. They never said that they wanted to compete with the portions Arby’s provided, but that was my takeaway. They provided over-abundant roast beef portions on a bagel sandwich. I was a dumb kid who didn’t know anything about market testing, or any of the particulars franchises uses to establish themselves in a given area, but when I took my first bite of their roast beef sandwich, all of my fixins fell out the other side. The sandwich was excellent. The roast beef was so tender, and I thought all of the other fixins were fresh and tasty, but their portions were so large, on a comparatively weak bagel, that everything fell out the other side. I told the owner of this particular franchise that I thought it gave the sandwich a sloppy presentation.

The manager lifted an eyebrow on me, but he said nothing further. I thought he totally dismissed my observation, until the franchise advisor walked in the bagel shop, days later, to see how things were going. My manager encouraged me to ask my question. I repeated my question, and I added, “We’re a bagel shop. My motto would be if you want more meat go to Arby’s.” I said that the bagel shop didn’t have to say such things openly, but that it should be our M.O., and I said that I thought bagel shop patrons would understand that, even expect it, before they set foot in our restaurant.

We all enjoy eating out at restaurants, but how much of our enjoyment of the food centers around presentation? How many of us would be turned off by a sloppy sandwich at an otherwise clean bagel shop? I told the franchise adviser that I thought portion control, and the art of presentation were everything. I said that a patron of Arby’s might find a sandwich overflowing with meat more attractive, whereas a bagel shop patron is more likely to prefer a clean presentation that appears more structured, regardless of the portions. To me, it was all about demographics. 

I’m sure that their insider information told the owners of the franchise that if they wanted to open a location in the Midwest market, they had to increase their portions, but my gut instinct told me that if you’re going to increase portions, make a larger, stronger bagel. The bagel they sold did not adhere to the illusory notion of portion control, and when the bagel shop went out of business in our area, I felt vindicated.

Harry Frazee, Ed Barrow, and The Curse of the Bambino


Have you ever had a bout of insomnia over a mistake you’ve made? Have you ever stopped in the midst of obsessing over that topic with the realization that it happened thirty-two years ago? Most people don’t. Most people are blessed and cursed with short-term memories. We’ve all made mistakes though. We’ve made errors in judgment based on uninformed choices, and dumb decisions that seemed so right at the time. Most of us are able to move on in life, even after making decisions that proved catastrophic at the time. Most of us have never made a decision, or series of decisions that proved so catastrophic that people will be talking them one hundred years from now, characterizing our choices as some of the worst mistakes in human history. Other than those decisions made by those involved in the Black Sox Scandal, there might only be one person, in baseball, that continues to be mocked, ridiculed, and scorned one hundred years after he made historically poor decisions, Harry Herbert Frazee.

Ed Barrow, Babe Ruth, and Harry Frazee

Harry Herbert Frazee (June 29, 1880 – June 4, 1929) was an American theatrical agent, producer, and director, and he remained successful in this field until the day he died. He also happened to be a successful boxing promoter who once landed one of heavyweight champion Jack Johnson’s matches. Harry Frazee also bought the 1915 and 1916 World Series champion Boston Red Sox, who won the 1918 World Series for him. One of the players he sold was also on the 1912 World Series championship team. The error in judgment, uninformed choices, and dumb decisions that Frazee made were to sell, and sell/trade almost all of the best players on those teams. Yet, for all of the successes and failures of Harry’s life, many believe his tombstone should read, “Here lies Harry Herbert Frazee, the man who sold Babe Ruth.”

Most writers love to write provocative articles from an angle no one has ever considered before. We enjoy taking a well-known story and providing a non-traditional perspective that opens our readers eyes to “the other side”. The other side, of the story we now call The Curse of the Bambino involves a suggestion that the conditions surrounding Harry Frazee’s sale of Babe Ruth to the Yankees were a lot more complicated than most people know. The author of such a provocative article is then obligated to back up his assessment with data that supports his thesis. This thesis becomes more provocative when the author can provide data that most people don’t know.

The Curse of the Bambino suggests that the sale of Babe Ruth from the Red Sox to the New York Yankees prevented the Red Sox from winning the World Series from the point of sale in 1920 to the publication date of the Dan Shaughnessy book in 1990 (the Red Sox won the World Series in 2004). Some of the authors, who attempted to write the other side of the sale of Babe Ruth and eight other players from the Red Sox to the Yankees, looked at the data from a baseball perspective, others chose a financial lens, and some had slide show presentations that suggest while history will never judge Harry Frazee kindly, the reactions to his sales and trades were evenly divided among fans and sportswriters at the time. Anytime we read an article that suggests a matter is far more complicated than we ever knew, our natural inclination is to weed through their narrative for the simple truths. One simple truth that permeates all of the articles written on this topic is that Harry Frazee made historical mistakes, and those mistakes led to the Yankee dynasty of the 1920’s and the early part of the 1930’s.

Another simple truth that is impossible to ignore is that the Red Sox won three World Series in four years before the sales and sale/trades, and they finished no higher than fifth in the thirteen years following the sales/trades. Other than a blip in 1925, the Yankees finished no lower than third in their league, and they won seven pennants and four World Series championships over the same thirteen-year period, following the trades. Another fact that’s impossible to ignore in all of the data is that among all the players involved, there were three people most responsible for this shift in the balance of power, Babe Ruth of course, Harry Frazee, and former Boston Red Sox manager-turned-New York Yankee business manager (general manager) Ed Barrow. 

Those of us who enjoy reading authors take those simple truths and attempt to provide another perspective on them, enjoyed the article written by Glenn Stout titled Harry Frazee. In this article, Stout writes that The Curse of the Bambino, and the subsequent demonization of Harry Frazee, was largely a myth created by writers to help Boston Red Sox fans explain their team’s disastrous loss to the Mets in the 1986 World Series. The thesis of the The Curse of the Bambino was there was no other way to describe that inexplicable loss. Stout writes that 1986 Red Sox fans were looking for someone to explain the inexplicable to them. They wanted a scapegoat, and they found one in Harry Frazee. His actions, over sixty years prior, allowed them to think there was more going on than some clutch hitting by the Mets, and an error in game six of the series that led to the Red Sox defeat that year. It was, of course, the ghost of Babe Ruth haunting them.

Stout also writes that Harry Frazee was not a greedy owner who wanted money more than a successful franchise. He writes that Frazee was independently wealthy from an early age, and he died that way. He also writes that Frazee was a wealthy and successful man before and after the trades that depleted the Red Sox and built the Yankees eventual dynasty. He writes that when Frazee died, a majority of the fan base, a majority of the sportswriters, and a majority in baseball didn’t hold him singularly responsible for the fall of the Red Sox. He states that while history might make Frazee appear incompetent, the reality of the situation that occurred during the 1920-1923 period was a lot more complicated than most people know.

To illustrate his point, Stout wrote a book with Richard A. Johnson called Red Sox Century, in which they provide a note Harry Frazee wrote to explain that the sale of Babe Ruth was based on Ruth’s contractual demands, and “[Ruth’s] disruptive influence on the team, and the fact that [Ruth] had “jumped the club” at the end of the 1919 season.” In the book, they also provide Frazee’s frustrations with The Bambino:

“While Ruth without question is the greatest hitter that the game has seen,” Frazee wrote in a 1,500-word statement, “he is likewise one of the most inconsiderate men that ever wore a baseball uniform.”

The Red Sox owner said Ruth had “no regard for anyone but himself” and was a “bad influence on other and still younger players on the team.”

He continued: “A team of players working harmoniously together is always to be preferred to that possessing one star who hugs the limelight to himself. And that is what I’m after.”

The sale of Ruth aside for a moment, Glenn Stout attempts to defend the fire sale of the other eight players by writing that the minor leaguers the Red Sox received in those subsequent trades didn’t pan out, as some of them suffered career-ending injuries.

Injuries are a part of the game, of course, and they can make owners and GM’s look bad when they make deals for players who were injured so early in their careers they appear anonymous to history. This attempt to defend Frazee is valid, until one asks the question how many minor league prospects reach their full potential? Whatever the actual answer is, it surely pales in comparison to the prospect of whether or not a player who has already won three World Series might succeed. Stout does not specifically address this particular idea in his defense of Frazee.

Stout also writes, “no one could know that Babe Ruth would become Babe Ruth”. Fair enough, but at the point of sale in 1919, Ruth played six seasons for the Red Sox, and in that brief span, he set the record for home runs in a season twice, and he led the league in eight different batting categories in 1919, the year before Frazee sold him. He was also a dominant pitcher early in his career, before he switched to hitting. 

As one of his peers, Rube Bressler said in his interview for the book The Glory of Their Times “[Ruth] played by instinct, sheer instinct. He wasn’t smart, he didn’t have any education, but he never made a wrong move on a baseball field. He was like a damn animal. He had that instinct. [Animals] know when when it’s going to rain, things like that. Nature, that was Ruth! 

Stout’s point that Frazee couldn’t know Ruth would be one of the top five players of all time is a valid one, as I point out, but it sounds like if he wanted to know the potential The Babe had to be great, all he had to do is ask around. Some of those who provide an alternative view of this story suggest that Frazee saw how undisciplined Ruth was, and how unintelligent he was, and he figured that Ruth’s 1919 season was a peak performance, and he wanted to receive peak value for his services.

Stout, and numerous others, state that the previous owner of the Red Sox was calling in Frazee’s loan, and that Frazee was in a tight spot financially. If Frazee didn’t pay the loan back that year, he might have lost the franchise. Yet, Stout and others assure us Frazee was never personally broke and none of the sales between the Yankees and Red Sox involved Frazee’s attempts to enrich himself personally. If that’s the case, and I appreciate the author’s attempt to dispel this simplistic notion, I cannot understand the deals Frazee made with the Yankees following the Ruth sale. If those latter deals involved Frazee’s continued efforts to save his franchise, one would think he might dip into his considerable personal finances and help the Red Sox over the temporary blip. I prefer to think, as Daniel R. Levitt, Mark Armour, and Matthew Levitt write, that Frazee somehow became addicted to making deals with the cash rich Yankees to help him resolve the Red Sox debts. 

Those of us who know history, cannot put blinders on. No matter how many alternative “time and place” perspectives various writers put before us, we know that Frazee sold Ruth for money, and no matter how much money he received from that sale, it paled in comparison to the money Ruth would’ve generated for Frazee in the coming years. Stout’s argument that, “no one could’ve known that Babe Ruth would’ve become Babe Ruth” is a decent one when we think about how many could’ve been should’ve beens dot baseball history, but Frazee received $100,000 and a loan of $300,000 from the Yankees for the services of Babe Ruth. We can speculate that this wasn’t the initial offer from the Yankees, and we can guess that Frazee and his people drove that initial offer up by detailing for the Yankees Babe Ruth’s current, 1920 market value. We can also guess that they had detailed forecasts on Ruth’s future, market prospects to drive that price up further. We can speculate that in those dark room negotiations, Frazee and his people displayed intimate knowledge of Ruth’s current and future market value to persuade the Yankees to pay more for Ruth than any major league franchise had ever paid for a single player before. One thing we do know is that many around the league considered the Yankees fools for paying that much money for one player.

Harry Frazee probably tried to feed into this with his explanation for selling Ruth, “With this money the Boston club can now go into the market and buy other players and have a stronger and better team in all respects than we would have had if Ruth had remained with us.” Sportswriters and fans believed this at the time, for they probably shared the sentiment that one man does not a team make. With the amount of money the Yankees were paying, many inside baseball thought Frazee got the better end of the deal, but no one knew how addicted Frazee would become to using the Yankees’ money to escape debt, no one, it seems, except Ed Barrow.

***

Ed Barrow

Authors Daniel R. Levitt, Mark Armour, and Matthew Levitt introduced this name Ed Barrow to us in an article titled Harry Frazee and the Boston Red Sox. Ed Barrow, they state, played a prominent role, perhaps the most prominent role, in the sales/trades the Red Sox made to the Yankees following the sale of Babe Ruth.

“[Glenn] Stout and [Richard A.] Johnson claim that Frazee made sound baseball deals with the Yankees and that he could not have foreseen what the trades would do for either club,” Daniel R. Levitt, Mark Armour, and Matthew Levitt write. “This argument does not hold up. Ed Barrow, manager of the Red Sox from 1918 through 1920, left the Red Sox and became general manager of the Yankees. Barrow knew the Red Sox players as well as anyone, and he spent the next few years grabbing all of the good players, like future Hall of Fame pitchers Waite Hoyt and Herb Pennock, catcher Wally Schang, shortstop Everett Scott, third baseman Joe Dugan, and pitchers Joe Bush and Sam Jones, among others. In fact[,] Barrow liked his former players enough that he got the Yankee owners to give Frazee $305,000, convincing evidence that both teams agreed that the talent was imbalanced. To argue that Frazee made good deals is to suggest both that Barrow and the Yankees somehow lucked into their dynasty and that the money was not the central piece of the deal for Frazee.”

In my opinion, the answer to the many questions we have regarding why Frazee sold so many players to the Yankees revolves around the question why did Ed Barrow quit his job as Red Sox manager to become the business manager (general manager) of the Yankees? The answer to those questions involves the insider information Barrow had about Harry Frazee, the debt the Red Sox were experiencing in those years, and how Frazee planned to resolve that debt.  

Before Ed Barrow left the Red Sox in 1921, we can assume that for most of his three year tenure, he was so satisfied to be the Red Sox manager, that if it were up to him he would retire from baseball as their manager. He led the Red Sox to the 1918 World Series championship after all. When Frazee sold The Babe, it probably came as a shock to Barrow, but we can guess that Frazee sat him down and explained to his manager why the sale was necessary. When Frazee sold four more players, we can guess that Barrow required a more detailed explanation, as Frazee opened the books for him to show the manager the debt Frazee incurred as owner of the Red Sox. This moment, right here, resulted in the changing of the tide in baseball more than anything else. Regardless what the books said, Barrow obviously realized that his owner was susceptible to bad deals that arrived with large sums of cash. 

Ed Barrow also knew, as many did at the time, that due to the “Black Sox Scandal” and Frazee’s disputes with American League Bam Johnson and the other teams in the American League loyal to Bam, Harry Frazee was limited to dealing exclusively with the Yankees. (Note: There is a consensus among the writers of the various articles I read on this particular topic that these circumstances forced Frazee to deal exclusively with the Yankees for the reasons listed here. The idea that Frazee and the Red Sox could have dealt with a team in the National League is not mentioned in any article I’ve found, and there is no reason listed for why this wasn’t a possibility for them.) We can also presume that in his dealings with Frazee, Barrow saw the writing on the wall for the Red Sox franchise, and his owner’s willingness to sell his team down the river for large sums of cash.

As anyone who has experienced debt knows, if we find one way to resolve some of our debt, we are prone to follow that path down the drain to become debt-free. Barrow may have experienced some disgust when Frazee began selling his 1918 World Series Champions, but he was probably one of the few who knew the situation so well that when the previous Yankees general manager died in 1920, Barrow probably raced down to the Yankees front office to pitch them on how he, if hired him as their next general manager, could persuade Frazee to sell more players to the Yankees and help them build a dynasty.

As the new business manager for the Yankees, Ed Sparrow helped the owners of the Yankees engineer four subsequent trades with Frazee and the Red Sox that involved 12 players and $305,000 “to help Frazee recover from his debt”. As the Levitts’ and Armour article suggests, the idea that Barrow convinced the Yankees to add $305,000 to the deal provides compelling evidence that both teams knew the Red Sox were getting the raw end of the deal. If we are to believe the writers who write from another perspective, it’s simplistic to say that Frazee made these maneuvers for the money, and “the reality of the situation was a lot more complicated than most people know”. If he didn’t need the money, as they write, and it was his goal in life to continue to own a profitable, winning major league baseball franchise, then he was either an incredibly poor business man, or someone who did not know baseball very well. Whatever the case was, Barrow knew who he was dealing with, and he knew how to convince Frazee to sell/trade twelve more players to the Yankees.  

When Barrow’s new team, the New York Yankees, won their first World Series two years later, in 1923, four of the eight starting position players were from the Red Sox, and four of the five starting pitchers on that championship roster were former Red Sox players. The Red Sox finished last in the American League that year, and “their skeletal remains would be the doormat of the league for many years”. With this team of former Red Sox players, Barrow would oversee the Yankees winning six more pennants, and three more World Series. During his tenure as general manager, the Yankees would win a total of fourteen pennants and ten World Series. This level of success, initiated by Barrow’s maneuvers with Frazee, would lead many to call Barrow an “empire-builder for the first quarter-century of the Yankees’ dynasty.” These sales/trades also landed Ed Barrow in the baseball hall of fame and Yankee Stadium placed a plaque of him in center field.

As Harry Hooper, the center fielder for the ‘15,’16, and ’18 World Series champion Red Sox, states in his interview for the book The Glory of Their Times, “The Yankee dynasty of the twenties was three-quarters the Red Sox [dynasty lineup] of a few years before. All Frazee wanted was money. He was short of cash and he sold the whole team down the river to keep his dirty nose above water. What a way to end a wonderful ball club.

“Sick to my stomach at the whole business,” Hooper followed Ruth’s hold out with a hold out of his own just to get out of Boston before it all came crumbing down, and Frazee sold Hooper to the Chicago White Sox.

It would be devastating to any franchise, of any sport, to sell one of the top players of his era, who would become one of the top five greatest players to ever play the game. Yet, even selling a once-in-a-generation talent like Babe Ruth is not enough to sink a franchise for eighty-four years, in a manner suggested in The Curse of the Bambino. It’s even difficult to believe that Ed Barrow taking advantage of Frazee to the point of selling/trading twelve other players over the course of three years can curse a franchise for that long, but as we all know winning breeds winning. In the course of those eighty-four years (1918-2004), the Red Sox did have some high quality, competitive teams. Various Red Sox teams won division titles, pennants, and they competed for the World Series in 1946, ’67, ’75 and ’86 only to fall short. The Yankees, of course, would win 26 World Series championships in the same time-frame, and they would appear in 39 World Series. Many of those Red Sox teams were unlucky, but unlucky is difficult to grasp when it occurs over the space of eighty-four years and the score with their cross town rivals was 26-0 when it came to World Series championships. Some people need an explanation, any explanation, to explain how some bizarre plays and unlucky events lead to a championship drought, and the 45% of the population who believe in ghosts thought they found the reason in Babe Ruth, Harry Frazee, and The Curse of the Bambino. Now that it’s over, and Boston Red Sox soaked the curse for all that it was, what do Red Sox fans talk about now that Boston has won the World Series four times including 2004?

Patterns and Routines


Why do certain chores feel more time consuming when we do them a different way? If we mow the lawn in a different pattern, chances are it will still take around 45 minutes if everything else remains constant. We thought if we mowed in a different direction, it might shave a couple minutes here and there, but it doesn’t. The perimeter equation of a rectangle remains constant regardless how we do it. Our primary goal was not to shave minutes. It was to do this tedious chore different. We don’t get too far into the mow before it dawns on us that this tedious chore appears to be taking longer. It isn’t, and some part of us knows it isn’t, but we can’t shake the perception. On those occasions when we mowed in our typical pattern, it flew by because we were probably sleepwalking through it. How many typical patterns and routines do we sleepwalk through in this manner? How many times do we wake up with the realization that it’s July, and we forgot to appreciate the beautiful month of June for what it was. How many times do we realize that we’re almost fifty, and we forgot to appreciate our forties for what they were? How much time do we lose following typical patterns and routines?

I saw a bunch of bright yellow bananas in a supermarket bin on Monday, and I couldn’t wait to sink my teeth into its brand-new solidity. I thought about that first bite a couple times in the store, and on the short drive home, but by the time Tuesday rolled around, I realized I slipped Monday’s banana into the routine of eating breakfast that Monday. I normally eat two eggs, toast, and I drink a glass of orange juice for breakfast. Then I top it off with a banana. I absently ate that banana as part of my breakfast routine, and I totally missed its freshness. When I bit into Tuesday’s banana, it was delicious, and I tried to appreciate it, but I couldn’t help but think about how much more fresh and delicious that recently purchased banana might’ve been if I remembered to appreciate it.

Most of us hate to admit that our lives have fallen into patterns and routines, but to those who might argue that they’re an exception, I say add a dog to your life. Dogs spend so much of their lives studying our patterns that when they peg them, they can often tell us what we’re about to do before we decide. On that note, my primary takeaway from the movie My Dinner with Andre was that we should try to break routines and patterns whenever we can. If we can break a couple of rituals one on day, we might feel more aware of one Monday before we turn fifty. In that movie, one of characters talked about opening the door with his left hand for a day or two just to break that routine in a way that might lead to other breaks. The gist of that exchange was that we have so many patterns and routines that some of the times we accidentally sleep walk through life.

One of the best ways I’ve found to avoid falling too deep into routine is a grueling workout. I’m not talking about a simple workout, because some of the times we workout so often that working out becomes nothing more than a part of our routine. I’m talking about a grueling workout that leaves the buns and thighs burning, and when the buns are burning, the brain cells are burning just as bright. This idea led me to believe that a grueling work out might provide a brief, temporary cure to what ails us.

When too many Mondays melt into Tuesdays without notice, the best way to break the routine is to push our body beyond our otherwise lazy boundaries. If we’re feeling excessive fatigue, we can burn our brain and body bright with a long and grueling workout. I’ve expressed variations of this cure so often that some people say it before I do, to mock me for routinely advising that this is the ideal way to break up routines. The footnote I now add to that routine advice is before we put our mind and bodies through a rigorous workout, we need to make sure we’re happy first. It doesn’t happen after one grueling workout, of course, and it might take a regular routine of three workouts a week, with at least one grueling workout mixed in, but after a while, we might start to become more aware of the choices we’ve made in life. We need to make sure we’ve attended to life’s matters, because the acute awareness grueling workouts provide can make us happier than we’ve ever been, but they can also make us angrier and more depressed. If we have dotted our I’s and crossed out T’s, a grueling workout can cause us to appreciate life a little more than we did yesterday, but it can also lead to some painful critiques.

I’ve snapped at people on a Tuesday for something that didn’t bother me that Monday, and the only difference was I had a grueling workout the night before. My various computer chairs were comfortable for years before I decided to discipline myself to working my buns rock hard. I’ve always liked Peanut M&M’s, but after a couple of grueling sessions, I considered the candy so delicious that I thought of eating them by the pound. I also realized how unproductive my job was in the grand scheme, how fraudulent my bosses were, and how I had little to no home life to look forward to once my excruciatingly slow workday ended. The grueling workouts made me more aware of the little things life has to offer, and some of them made me happier, but others made me so angry and depressed that I realized one of the reasons that people drink so much and smoke so often is to dull their brain to a point that they don’t question the choices they’ve made in life.

The mantra of patterns is, “If at first you don’t succeed try, try, and try again.” An addendum to this quote, that some attribute to W.C. Fields, suggests, “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try—and then quit! No use being a fool about it.” A quote by the Canadian humorist Stephen Leacock and published in 1917, suggests that, “If you can’t do a thing, more or less, the first time you try, you will never do it. Try something else while there is yet time.” My addendum to this line of thought is, “if one thing doesn’t work try another.” If you can’t jam a square into a round hole, there’s no sense in making a fool out of yourself by continuing to jam it home. Try something else, or look at the thing and realize that it’s never going home. How many people make fools out of themselves by screaming at the manufacturer of the shapes? We scream to gain distance from our personal failing, “It ain’t me. Don’t look at me. The instructions say do this and that should fix it.” We throw a fiery temper tantrum to distract from the fact that we’re incompetent. We just fixed something just last week with wonderful aplomb. There’s nothing different about us with this particular project. It’s the manufacturer. “That’s fine, but have you tried a way other than just jamming it home? Try another way.” We then paraphrase Albert Einstein, “The definition of insanity is trying one thing one way, over and over, and expecting different results.”

We’ve all heard the phrase life is short, enjoy every minute you’re alive, because before you know it you’ll be on the other side of fifty thinking about how much life you’ve missed. “I agree with that in principle,” a person in pain told me, “but, at times, life seems to take forever.” No one wants to be in pain, and when the conversation switches to that topic, most people say, “Pull the plug.” I don’t want to face that scenario, but if I do, I believe I might think that I want another 45 minutes of being alive in an otherwise pattern life of too many routines.  Mowing the lawn might be a poor example for this scenario, for no matter how one mows a lawn, the results will always be the same. Unless we push a mower faster, it’s always going to take the same amount of time, and unless we change the levels, it’s always going to mow the same length. Nothing will change in other words, unless we realize that we’re not sleepwalking through it in the manner we normally do. On this particular mow, I thought about how much time we lose by adhering to the routines we develop. I was thinking about writing this piece too, and while writing this piece might not add much to my life, it’s different from anything I’ve written before.

Scat Mask Replica VI


My son has a very healthy imagination, and I encourage it in every opportunity I can. We play all sorts of imaginary games, some involving his stuffed animals. We put these animals through various life scenarios. I am in charge of developing these stories, but he will often spider web these stories into other side stories. In one of these sessions, he gave his stuffed turtle an unusual name. Playing the role of the tiger in this production, I asked the turtle if his parents were weird. “If they gave you such an unusual name,” Tiger said, “your parents must be weird people.” I was not testing my son, or playing any type of psychological game. The reader might flirt with such notions, because it was an odd thing for a dad to say to his six-year-old son. My only defense is that we play so many of these games that he wears me out.

Tiger pressed turtle for an answer on this question, and the turtle refused to denounce his parents in anyway, saying, “No, I have great parents who love me and don’t let me get hurt.” That was all turtle said, and we moved into other areas of the turtle’s life story. Months prior, someone suggested that my son’s lack of displays of affection could suggest that he might be on the spectrum. Boulderdash, I say. I say his lack of displays of affection means that his parents are doing one hell of a bang up job. I’ve seen my son’s six-year-old friends worry when they can’t see their parents at the park. ‘Shouldn’t that be the other way around?’ I wonder. I know my son doesn’t worry about such things. I know he considers every minute we can’t see him a momentary minute of freedom. I’ve witnessed other boys appreciate their parents. I’ve seen other kids his age, kiss their parents without them having to ask for one, and my reaction is 180 degrees different from envy. I think if a six-year-old voluntarily displays affection for their parents, it suggests there might be some deficiency in their home. It’s a guess, and it’s probably wrong. Some six-year-old boys are just more affectionate than others are, but that just seems so unnatural to me. If my six-year-old boy says, “Leave me alone”, and he hates hugs and kisses, it means he takes me for granted. He takes it for granted that I’ll always going to be there for him, and he knows that I will always “protect him from getting hurt”. As a person who has never had a parenting job before, it strikes me that if you’re doing your job, your child should be surprised to learn that other kids like you and think you’re fun to be around you, because he thinks you’re one of the most boring people on earth. Then, if you’re doing one hell of a bang up job, you might eventually reach a point when you’ll hear how much he appreciates what you do from his turtle.

A forty-something man on our block died recently. It’s a sad thing when any person dies that young, but I didn’t know this guy as a man. I knew him as a rival when we were in our early teens. One could go so far as to say we “hated” each other in the harmless way young, testosterone-driven teenage males hate each other. We did whatever mean, harmless territorial peeing things that two teenage boys do to each other. I tee peed his house, he egged mine, I threw an M-80 in his yard, and he shot a bottle rocket under our car. I sidewalk chalked something awful about him on his driveway, and he lit firework snakes on the sidewalk leading up to our house (some of those stains are still there some 35 years later). I spotted him on our old block some 35-years later, and I waved at him. He did not wave back. He apparently believed that our teenage rivalry should extend into our forties, and I found this out soon after I waved at him. I was driving into our old neighborhood, and he was driving out when I stuck that hand up. He gave me the nastiest look he could. That look said, “I don’t like you, and I never will!” That’s fine, I guess, but how about I wasn’t asking if I could come over for dinner, or if I could play with his Star Wars figurines. I was putting my hand up in the air to him as nothing more than a momentary, symbolic greeting. It’s your job, sir, to put your hand up in the air back at me! You don’t have to smile when you put your hand in the air, and a wave is not a promissory note on future conversations. You just wave back, and everyone moves on with their lives. It’s what we adult humans do when we somewhat, sort of recognize each other. If you can’t forget the things I did to you at 13, well, that’s kind of on you. If he was still alive, I’m sure he could give you a laundry list of things I did to him, but I don’t remember them, and none of them would post date 1983. If anyone suspects that I bullied him, and it affected his personality in such a way that he could never forgive me, I can only say this in my defense, this kid gave as well as he got. When my family would drive onto our block, he would have a special twinkle in his eye when he spotted me, knowing that we would be spotting his latest bit of carnage. When I saw how much he enjoyed this, I realized what I was up against, and I stopped. He didn’t, and he apparently didn’t want to let it go 35 years later.  

Sports announcing is a cut-throat business. The person who gets more excited will win the job. I know that’s not an earth-shattering revelation, but when I hear a hockey announcer almost lose his lunch when a goalie sticks their foot out, I see the profession for what it is.

“HE STUCK A FOOT OUT! HE STUCK A FOOT OUT!” the announcer screams.

As we watch the replay about seven times, the color analyst speaks about the command the human being playing goalie has of his body, as if he’s never seen it before. “I hope the viewers at home recognize how brilliant this save was,” the analyst says with reverence as we watch it. “To have the wherewithal to know not only how, but when, to stick that foot out, you just can’t teach that. The goalie is in the zone, and he’s just playing on another level.”

As one who has never played hockey, I have to imagine that sticking a foot out is the very thing they teach goalies that when they see a puck nearing the goal line. It is not our intent to diminish the athleticism it takes to play goalie in this piece. When a puck is traveling at a high rate of speed and the goalie has a center in front of him, trying to block his view, and that goalie gloves the puck, it’s impressive. Those of us at home know we probably couldn’t do that on a regular basis. When a wing flicks a puck to the goal and a goalie sticks his foot out to stop its progression, however, that’s just what we call sports.

The key to most sports (spoiler alert!) is to cross lines. The other people on defense don’t want the offense to do that, so they will use the parts of their body to try to prevent that from happening. The idea that a person puts a hand out to block a pass, and another puts a hand out to catch that pass can be brilliant at times, but most of the time it’s just a guy doing what he’s practiced for years. If an announcer can convince a viewing audience that’s brilliant, they will win the job.

Some of my favorite inspirations arrived in tight spaces. My manager put me on suspension. “Get your numbers up in 90 days or you’re gone!” he said. With my little world crashing down around me, flashes of inspiration bombarded me. Some were so good that I had to write them down. A guy interrupted me with a question, and I thought his mannerisms were perfect character-driven piece. The inspiration for another piece arrived when another fella said goodbye to me. My mind was on fire when I heard a set of lyrics from a Sufjan Steven’s song, and those lyrics inspired a novel I would spend the next two years writing.

It turned out it wasn’t a great novel, but the inspiration for it struck me during a very inopportune moment of my life. I’ve had these moments before, I think we all have. They’re the “You’re not supposed to think about that now” moments when creativity seems to flourish. I had an “in-class” friend one time. We engaged in “what you’re not supposed to do” fun in class, when the teacher wasn’t looking. When we ran into each other in the hallway, we had nothing to say to one another, other than a conspiratorial “there he is” point. I used to love to make my brother laugh in church, with stupid, little in-jokes that would not have been funny anywhere else. This was naughty “You’re not supposed to do that here” fun that required subtlety and a deft hand to avoid getting caught. Was that what I was doing here, with my job on the line and my boss watching every move I made? Regardless, my mind was on fire with naughty, “You’re not supposed to be thinking that now” thoughts that I would spend the next two years completing.  

I did manage to quiet the inspirations long enough to survive the suspension, and I spent the next five years juggling my need to be creative and the need to be productive for the company. I wouldn’t say that these tight spaces always resulted in creative inspiration, but I was never that close to losing my job again, and I would never have that much inspiration flooding my brain either.