The Leans

Have you ever tried to get passed someone in tight quarters, and that person leaned left when you leaned right, and then they leaned right when you leaned right? Those who have know all about The Leans.  

This story isn’t about The Leans so much as it grand exits, or grand moments in life. We all want to have moments in life. We love remembering, and we want to be remembered. Some of the times, we dress our moments up to try to make them more memorable. When my work associate announced to me that he was leaving the company, it was obvious he wanted to be memorable. He tried to accomplish that with a grand exit, and he might have accomplished it if it weren’t for a mean case of the leans.

“This is it,” Andrew Parizek said crouching down beside 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 he startled me. He was a close talker, but he narrowed his normally uncomfortable distance until I could smell the cool ranch Doritos he had for lunch. “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 a co-worker whom I considered a close associate. I don’t know how he would characterize our years-long association, but when we had a go-between, we spoke every day. When that third party changed jobs, I thought the my relationship with Andrew was over. Yet, Andrew kept coming over to my desk to talk about the stupid stuff people talk about. “It was great working with you buddy,” I told him.

This “Final Farewell” had been in various stages for about two weeks. Two weeks prior, we discussed his departure at his going away party. One week later, he and I discussed his imminent departure in greater detail, and we also discussed his future at length. We shared brief discussions about the people we knew and the good times we shared. We also talked about how we would miss the little things we both did to brighten the other’s otherwise boring days. We didn’t hug at the end of those discussions, but we engaged in heartfelt, hearty handshakes that expressed how we felt about one another.

I thought that those final farewells were the final farewells, but his presence at my desk informed me that those notions were premature. “It won’t be the same around here without you,” I said, as I had in the other farewells, but I felt compelled to add original material to this one. I don’t remember what I added, but it involved some sentimental junk that I didn’t mean. I was being nice, and I was trying to make Andrew feel important in my life. I liked the guy, but we weren’t what anyone would call close.

“Are you excited about this move?” I asked him, and when he told me why he was excited, and how excited he was, I said, “I’m jealous.” 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. “You’ll succeed,” I said, “because you’re a nice guy and a hard worker.” I meant that. “Are you a little scared about the prospect of leaving the comfy confines our company? I know it’s what you want to do, and all that, but you’re venturing out into an unknown world where the prospect of failure is 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 who would succeed, and that if I stuck to it, all my dreams would come true. It was as sappy and weird as you imagine. 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 to instill a sense of timeless profundity to this final version of his “Final Farewell”. If it were a speech, it might have caused some emotional reactions. 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 reached for a handkerchief if I had what they call emotions.

It was so over-the-top brilliant, coupled with subtle attempts at self-deprecating humor, that I wondered if Andrew plagiarized the material he prepared for this from one of the soldiers’ “going to war” letters that Ken Burns compiled 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 two,” and a “Tour de Force!” I didn’t say any of this, but I felt Andrew Parizek choreographed his speech in a manner that warranted such superlatives.

We were fellow office workers who chatted almost every day for years. We got along on those levels, so receiving an invitation to his going away party wasn’t a big surprise. When I arrived and Andrew offered me relatively little attention compared to his closer friends, it 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. Once I got past the idea that it didn’t matter that Andrew already said goodbye to me a couple times, I politely listened to his spiel as if for the first time. We exchanged email addresses 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 just as excited by it.

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, as she entered into the aisle he was exiting. He leaned left to get past her, she leaned left, and when he leaned to the right, she leaned right. Before they finally 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 those “who were there” to witness his ride into the sunset, I suspect he would’ve been the gentleman he always was and stepped aside to allow my female desk neighbor 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 was the most intense I’ve ever witnessed. I’ve seen 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 prior to that day.

The one thing we know about the public humiliation that results from a case of leans is that no one gets out alive. Most people try to find some way to quell the embarrassment, but I’ve witnessed some get angry. “Get out of my way!” they shout, in an unsuccessful attempt to direct the humiliation sure to follow to the other party. I saw one person grab the other person by the shoulders and gently usher them right, so they could pass left. I’ve seen some giggle at their own foolishness, and I’ve seen some try to change the subject as quick as they can. None of it works. No one gets out alive.

The one exception to the rule I heard about involved a nondescript, middle-aged, restaurant hostess named Susan. She fell prey to three separate and distinct leans with another co-worker. She was able maintain a modicum of dignity following the episode, and she did it with three simple words: “Shall we dance?”

The witnesses to this event said she said it 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. The witnesses of this episode would later swear that she said those three words with a glint in her eye. The glint was faint, they would report, and it was a little insecure, but the observers suggested that they thought Susan knew exactly what she was doing.

What she was doing is subject 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 swore that Susan knew that by saying this she would be 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 the line “Shall we dance” might provide a remedy to 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 who were lucky enough to be there that day, and those who later heard about it, a shield against public scorn that we would use the rest of our lives. We might not have carried it off with the grace 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 Andrew Parizek learned of this antidote prior to his case of the leans, it might have spared him the humiliation. I doubted it 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 someone 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 preceding it, and I doubt that any clever quip would’ve permitted him to save face. His only recourse was to walk away and just hope that witnesses would forget it soon after it happened.

Andrew Parizek was an “always a bridesmaid, never a bride” fella. Everyone I knew liked him. He was a likable guy, but no one I knew liked him so much that they would hang out with him, or consider him a best friend. He was one of those guys who was always there but never the focus of the room. Andrew Parizek wasn’t the type of guy we will remember, and perhaps that’s all he 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 to have the sentiment returned. This is not to suggest that Andrew’s actions were intended to be 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.

We’re Doomed! Long Live the Gloom!

“The planet’s not in trouble,” a comedian said onstage. “It has survived countless threats, tragedies, and catastrophes. The planet will be just fine. Human beings, however, we’re screwed.”

The End of The Road

We’re doomed, and we love it! If ratings, proceeds, and ratings mean anything, doom and gloom is big business. 

We want it in the all-too-near future, “Ten years from now…” Ten years is one of our favorite time frames. Twenty years is too far away and five years is too close. We want urgency, we need now, but not too close. We remember when it’s too close. Anyone who knows anything about pricing knows that round numbers feel like too much. A grocery store chain knows that $10 feels like too much money but $9.99 feels just right. The chicken littles of our future might want to recalibrate accordingly and say, “Nine years and nine-nine days from now…” 

Ten years also seems like enough time for human ingenuity to develop a solution. If we’re facing a true cataclysm that will end the human population, we have to think it would become the sole focus of more than a few of our brightest stars in science, engineering, and just about every other focus we have to attempt to counter the sure-to-come devastation of life on the planet? 

How many times has human life faced extinction only to have some genius come along and devise an ingenious way of saving life? This time it’s different, of course. This time, no one can save us. We’re helpless. How exciting!

We’ve all been here before, in theoretical forecasts, but this is the future. We’re here to report that the ten years in the future that has been forecast for the last seventy years is now here. It is ten years in the future, and a moment, not the moment, but a moment we’ve feared for at least seventy years is here, and we don’t know what to do about it.

The reporters investigated and attempted to locate and expose a human culprit. They hopscotch between various narratives to find a bad guy before it’s too late. They join forces with the scientific community to narrow the focus of their study on human involvement. Regardless whether they’re wrong or right, they have the best intentions.

So Scary, It’s Beautiful!

There are no high-profile news agents ten years in the future. They’ve been exposed in one way or another, and relatively few read, watch, or listen to them anymore. In their wake, citizen journalists rose up on the internet and developed reputations for telling the truth in the years preceding the looming tragedy. Some of the more prominent citizen journalists provided a contrarian belief that certain scientists developed by studying the looming tragedy through various angles that focus on the math and science of the universe. These contrarian scientists eventually proved incorrect, and those with no knowledge of science rained fire upon them. 

“It’s you job to figure this out!” a reporter screamed at a contrarian scientist, as he walked to his car. This confrontation went viral and social media launched “It’s your job!” meme at scientists, and the citizen journalists who supported them.

The contrarian, non-human theories were rejected so often, and so publicly, that most become afraid to voice their concerns with their neighbors, lest they be called a denier. “There’s nothing we can do!” becomes the credo of the day. “The scientific consensus suggests there’s nothing we can do.” 

Teams of scientists hear this, of course, and they’re scared, but some of them brave the cynical firestorm to push this theory that the new, unforeseen, looming, and disastrous event involves a detailed and complicated natural occurrence that has nothing to do human beings. 

“It is,” they write, “an event that occurs throughout the universe on a relatively infrequent basis, and it is going to occur near Earth, unless we are able to do something about it.” 

Numerous scientists attempt to disprove their theory, as is their role, and most of them suggest that their findings are inconclusive. Some of those scientists who unsuccessfully attempt to disprove the theory, decide to pursue the theory in purely hypothetical mathematical and scientific forms. “If true,” they write, “then we could use an end around to avert the looming disaster.” Other scientists join in and posit theories around this new end around theory. 

“It’s time to say it, Science has failed us!” a major online news publication that no one reads anymore states in the title of an article they publish in a desperate attempt to remain popular. The article proves popular, of course, as a crude attempt to develop “if it bleeds, it leads” style click-bat articles that feed into the gloom and or doom themes. “As time continues to tick down,” the article states, “our most brilliant minds continue to fail to find a solution.” 

Scientists develop other theories, and other scientists disprove them. The lack of understanding of science, leads to mayhem all over the world as citizens the world over begin to panic over the delays. In the midst of that panic, as time ticks precariously closer, a scientific hypothesis emerges.

High profile scientists immediately reject the hypothesis, with no evidence, and popular sentiment follows suit. Prominent leaders of the world join the popular sentiment. With the lack of any government endorsements, and more importantly government funding, these teams of scientists desperately seek private donors to help them pursue the hypothesis that no scientist has been able to concretely disprove. The theory does not please anyone and everyone is torn, until it works. The event from the far reaches of the universe is thwarted, and the little dots in the universe, we call human beings, avoid extinction. Most of us feel weirdly disappointed when we realize that we get to live at least a little bit longer.

Science does not experience a popular upgrade in the aftermath, since so much of it failed, so often, when people were really scared. The citizen journalists do not experience more popularity, as the historical record suggests they backed the wrong horse more often than not. One citizen journalist, in defense of his record, and the record, suggests that this is the nature of science. “Most of science is as wrong, flawed, and incompetent as the humans who develop it. Scientists develop theories and other scientists disprove them, until the various teams compile a deeper knowledge of the harmony of math and science in the universe.” He continues, “Scientists are flawed human beings who aren’t large enough to qualify as a speck in the universe. Our/their knowledge and understanding of how universe the works wouldn’t qualify as a speck either. The failure of these brilliant minds only reinforces how little we are, and we can know what we know and still be wrong an overwhelming number of times, until some congealed form of human ingenuity, based entirely on observations, wrong educated guesses, and the infighting we now all know about leads, inevitably and almost accidentally, trip on a truth.” 

The politicians who said the end around theory would never work, because they wanted us to follow the theory that they supported, now attempt to embrace the end around theory as one they supported all along. The reporters and social media outlets who rejected and condemned anyone who believed in the theory move onto other, click-bait stories of the next looming disaster. 

When Tuesday rolls around, everyone forgets how close we actually came to extinction on Monday, as few appreciate a tragedy that never happens. The various teams of scientists who developed, pursued, and helped execute the end around theory are vilified by the scientific community, the politicians eventually join in the condemnation for those who saved the world, and the media seeks numerous angles to further vilify them. A major, online publication produces a series of pictures depicting the team of scientists most responsible for saving the world in mug shots. “They saved the world,” the title of the feature article says. “Why it’s not okay to like them.” 

Some of the scientists who braved the negative forces primed against them to save the world, quit their jobs, others finish out their career anonymously, because their names were never attached to the chains that led to the theories that saved the world, and one unfortunate scientist commits suicide. “Leave my family alone!” was the first sentence of his suicide note.

“He joined a team that wound end up saving the human race from annihilation,” the suicide victim’s friend said in the eulogy, “and they destroyed him for it.”

It is the future, it is the past, and it is the present. 

Mutually Assured Destruction

“He was the worst human being on the planet,” we now hear. “What he did was indefensible!” The definition of defensible involves flowcharts. Who is the alleged perpetrator? “Who are his victims?” What was the nature of his crime? “Was he well-intentioned or just awful?” It’s impossible to know, and we might never know. We base our conjecture on what team we’re on.

If we’re on his team, we qualify with excuses. We have so many excuses. Why? We don’t really know what happened, so why do we care so much about the accused that we’re willing to put our reputation on the line to see our guy go free or be penalized as little as possible? “What if he’s guilty?” What if he’s innocent? “All right, but what if?” We have no serious, vested interest. We’re just watching it on TV.

They don’t believe him. We know they’re on a certain team. If they believe him. We know they’re on the other team. The bad team. We know they’re capable of anything. We don’t know the truth, but we know if they pound the table harder than the other guy, they can sway popular opinion.

“What is the truth?” No one would openly say that the truth doesn’t matter anymore, “but someone has to be right,” and someone has to be wrong. Do we crush the importance of truth under the weight of what’s right? “I don’t know and you don’t know,” but let’s not study that subtle distinction. “Right.” We know that they’re wrong, and no one will be able to convince us otherwise. Our guys aren’t capable of wrongdoing, because like us, they come from better stock. “They would never do that.” We like our side, because they make us feel like a major component.

When we debate the other team’s proponents, we fear they might know something they don’t. We know our stuff, but we don’t have that haymaker to silence all debate. Everyone is searching for the person, place or thing that provides the haymaker. Yet, we don’t even bring it up, thinking that they might know something we don’t, or they could be offended. Saying our guy could be innocent might offend their sensibilities, and our friends might not be our friends in the aftermath.

The End of The Road

We can find the truth, as always, nestled somewhere in between. The lawyers in every industry define a truth. Not the truth. They manage information and disinformation so well that they push us further away from the truth through whatever means necessary. It’s called a quality defense, and we’re willing to pay buku bucks for it. Everyone is afraid of lawsuits, so we don’t question their version of the truth.

There are those who report a truth based on how they see it. Are they right? Who cares? We dismantle truth seekers based on past behavior to destroy them, so no one believes their version of truth. The truth seeker goes on defense, and our assumption of guilt and innocence depends on how much they defend themselves. The more they defend themselves, the guiltier they are. We think we’re onto something. As far as we know, they reported their side’s version of truth. Is their side’s version of the truth true? Who cares, destroy them before they destroy us in a pact of mutually assured destruction.

This might sound cynical, but how could anyone paying attention avoid some semblance of cynicism? Cynicism is the safe place for those seeking foolproof status. You can’t fool me, and neither can they, but while no one can call me a fool, I can’t say I know anything about the spaces in between.