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?

At an age when so many minds are so unfocused, these people claim some levels of tunnel vision. “I didn’t have that level of focus,” some said to correct the record, “not the level of focus to which you are alluding.” They may have diverged from the central focus, but they had more 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’.”

Before laughing at any of these findings, one must consider the limited resources these researchers had at their disposal, concerning the science of their day. As is oft said with young people, the young Freud might not have had the wisdom yet to know how futile this task would be when a nondescript Austrian zoological research station employed him. It was his first 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

 

[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

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The Thief’s Mentality: A Preview


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 Thief’s Mentality IV: The Umbrella


The Thief’s Mentality is not concerned with actual acts of thievery, as much as it is the worldview of the deceptive and the delusional. If all theory is autobiography, the deceptive and delusional view the world from the perspective that the world around them is as dishonest as they are. Furthermore, those who don’t know acknowledge that they are either as dishonest as the rest of us, are in some form of denial or suffering from a psychosis of another stripe. They also believe those who instructed us to act right throughout our maturation (our parents and our teachers) have done this for so long that we’re now convinced that we are more honest than we truly are. The thief’s job, as they see it, is to open our eyes to the world around us to provide us a perspective we’ve never considered before.

The Thief’s Umbrella. We’re no better than anyone else is, and we know it. Our parents pounded this principle home so often that many of us consider it our defining principle. If for any reason we forget that, in our interactions with deceptive people, they remind us of it. They’ll put so much effort into it that by the time they’re done with us, we might end up questioning our integrity. Most of us have had a lover cheat on us, but how many of us have had one cheat so often that we’re still embarrassed by how much they fooled us. Their octopus ink involved psychological projection in the form of repetitive accusations of infidelity on our part. Those of who have never cheated on a lover know how effective such charges are, for they keep us on defense. We’ve all encountered deceptive individuals who employed these tactics so often that we never considered questioning their integrity. If their goals were to prevent us from analyzing them, they were successful, but when we reflect back of those confusing entanglements, we recognize that their accusations said more about them than us. Some might call it projection, others might say that it’s some sort of deflection or obfuscation on the part of the thief, but The Thief’s Mentality suggests that it all falls under a comprehensive, multi-tiered umbrella called the thief’s mentality.

Delusions and Illusions. While some of the characters in these stories may be engaged in one of the various forms of deception, most of them (actual thieves, liars and cheats excepted) are not lying in the manner we traditionally associate with a dishonest person. They believe what they are saying to be true, but the difference between them and most people is how they rationalize what they do. Some of us consider the ramifications of what we are about to do, others just act, and leave it to us to reflect on what they did.

Whether we’re the odd ones or not, their worldview is so foreign to ours, we dig deep to understand how, or why, they think so different. It might be a fool’s errand to try to source such a line of thought, but if we were able to meet their parents, and various other members from their genealogical tree we might discover the seeds of it. For those who consider this a bit of a stretch, The Thief’s Mentality asks 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?

The Stories of Others. “You have to tell your own story simultaneously as you hear and respond to the stories of others,” by Elizabeth Alexander. This quote captures the essence of The Thief’s Mentality. The essays contained in this collection were not spontaneous creations. Rather, they are deep methodical dives into the motives of everyday people involved in everyday interactions. These are their stories, and it was the author’s job to capture them. Some of their stories might be similar to ours, but most of them provide a contradictory view of the world that is so different from ours. We learn through our reading that it’s all a big, tasty stew.

The Sitcom Formula. My favorite sitcoms involve the formula of a normal main character playing the eye of the storm. The ensemble cast members define the show and the main character, through contrast, but the central role the main character plays on the show is that of an observer. (Think Jerry Seinfeld on Seinfeld or Alex Reiger on Taxi.) The main character is so normal that they act as the conduit to the everyman in the audience, pointing out the flaws, foibles, and eccentricities of the side characters. “Wouldn’t your life be so much easier if you just did that this way?” is the main character’s response to the ensembles’ thoughts and actions. Our side characters in life often define us in similar ways, as they add unnecessary complications to their lives, and we play the center to their storm.

We found the “Wouldn’t your life be so much easier if you just did that this way?” questions a more engaging way of framing an argument in these stories. This isn’t to say that The Thief’s Mentality avoids arguments. In the most opinionated pieces in this collection, we present the “I” character’s opinion in conjunction with how the opposing view may have formulated. We do disagree with the manner in which they conduct themselves, but we catalog the probable gestation cycle of the begrudged, and the role we all played in it, but we “but” our way to achieving the final question regarding their nature.   

A POS. Do you know a true piece of work (a POS)? Have you ever met his parents? Yeah, nuff said, right? Chances are his parent’s friends were all POSs too, and so were their kids. Chances are our friend spent most of his youth running around with those kids. Without knowing it, he developed an affinity for likeminded people, until everyone he knew thought the same way and developed in a similar manner, until Ms. Comparative-Analysis came walking down the hall. By the time he encountered her, he knew how to use his “She ain’t all that” to combat uncomfortable comparisons. As he learned more about her, he added a splash of “Who does she think she is anyway?” to fortify his wall. If he eventually befriended her, most of his preconceived notions fell apart, but he wasn’t discouraged. He attempted to convince her that she was a POS too, and she didn’t even know it. He aided her enlightenment with a constant barrage of accusations, and he continued this onslaught to keep her as honest as he wanted her to be. His rationale was that he didn’t want her to do to him what he was more apt to do to her. Even if some part of him knew she never would, he did his best to keep her insecure and unsure of her moral integrity, so she didn’t flirt with the notion that she might be better than he is. He also did this because a part of him knew that if people wanted to keep him honest they would consider using such tactics against him. He also knows that the best defense is a good offense and a constant barrage of accusations will keep her on defense, so that she might never examine him and see his true POS nature for what it is. 

Listening skills. “You’re a great listener,” a casual associate once told me. “In a world of people waiting for others to stop talking so they can speak, you actually listen to what people say, and you pay attention to what they do. I just want you to know how rare that is.” I beamed with pride. I didn’t beam as much when others issued similar compliments, because by that time I happened upon a secret that might diminish their compliments: I didn’t actually care what happened to the people telling me their stories. I listened to their stories so well that I could repeat them with a surprising level of accuracy, and the questions I asked them throughout revealed how fascinated I was with their story, but I may have cared less about what actually happened to them than those who don’t listen. This little secret left me wondering if they would still give me the compliment if I revealed that fact to them. Would they smile in the appreciative way they did if they knew my motives were less than pure and some might say self-serving?

Others didn’t offer me that compliment in such a direct manner, but they opened up and told me things about their life I can only guess they didn’t dare tell anyone else. This indirect compliment expanded when I asked them active listening questions, and they answered every question I had. The intimacy we shared during those moments told me how rare it was for them to have a person so interested in what they had to say.

The easy answer I developed for my dilemma was that I love a great story, and when I hear one, I want to know every single detail of it. I want to explore it beyond the storyteller’s frame, to the extent that the storyteller is examining the short-term and long-term effects of their story in a way that the storyteller may not have considered before. No matter how urgent I became, however, I didn’t care about them. I just wanted to know everything about their story.

The final answer I arrived at was as confusing as the question, for the primary reason most people don’t listen to others is that they’re too self-involved. Yet, I was so self-involved that I was more interested in the stories of others than most are. When I listened to another tell their story, it was almost entirely self-serving, as I strove to know them better than they might know themselves, so that I might understand myself better through all the similarities and contrasts they present in their story. Did I deserve the title of being called a great listener if my motives were not pure, or was the “who cares why you’re listening as long as you are” concept more prominent? I still don’t know the answer to that question, but I do know that in some ways their stories helped shape my story in a way that shaped this collection of essays.

Rocking the Worldview. When we listen to others tell their tale, we develop an idea for how the world works one person at a time. Similar to the manner in which the universe works, we believe that all earthly bodies have a magnetic relationship to one another that defines their orbit, our orbit, and the general sense of order in our universe. When an exception to our rules comes along and redefines it, they do so at their own peril. We don’t allow them to breathe after they hit our tripwire. We rip them apart and help them put all their pieces back together according to our sense of order. Some might argue that that is the essence of The Thief’s Mentality, but this book focuses its theme on those people who tweak the premise of our sense of order.

The Epiphany Effect. The Thief’s Mentality is loaded with epiphanies. A reader could make the mistake in assuming that the reason we wrote the essays in question was to provide the author a vehicle to write all the epiphanies he learned over the years. While that’s not entirely true, we do find the epiphanies so compelling that there is some grain of truth to it, but what is an epiphany?

Most of us park in the same place for work every day, even if we don’t have an assigned spot, and we sit in the same spot for meetings and any other regular event we attend where there are no designated spots for us. Routines have a way of staving off the random and leading to a greater sense of order, and this all leads to a greater sense of overall happiness. One could say that any contradictions and inconsistencies we encounter could lead to confusion and ultimately unhappiness. We watch these contradictions live their lives in a way that makes no sense to our foundational structure, our values, and our way of living life. As we attempt to account for contradictions and inconsistencies and try to gain a greater hold on the way the world works, we experience more and that can lead to greater comfort and more happiness. The relief we feel can lead us to become stuck in our ways, and any idea that questions our newfound sense of order could make us uncomfortable and unhappy. Yet, most of us come equipped with a small window that we leave cracked open to ideas that might rattle our notions. These ideas are, more often than not, not revolutionary ideas that might shatter that window. Rather, they are eye-opening clarifications that tweak our understanding of the way the world works that The Thief’s Mentality calls epiphanies. Merriam-Webster.com defines epiphany as “An intuitive grasp of reality through something (such as an event) usually simple and striking.”

Even though there is a dictionary definition of the word epiphany, it is a unique word in the lexicon for most define it based on their individual experiences with it. The potential power an epiphany might have on a person’s life is characteristically patient for the immediate reaction we have to these thoughts is that they’re so obvious that we think either we have explored them before or we should have.

A revolutionary thought, by contrast, has an almost immediate impact. A revolutionary thought causes our jaw to drop, but an epiphany typically requires subsequent incidents for the recipient to understand how they apply to our lives. When this occurs, the recipient begins to see what they considered an accepted norm in a way slightly different than they did before they heard the thought. For some the word has religious connotations, for others it might involve striking moment, but some consider it nothing more than a subtle crank of the wheel. One noteworthy experience discussed in The Thief’s Mentality, involved an obvious thought the author spent far too much time tweaking. When he first heard it, he dismissed it as so obvious that he didn’t think about it for ten seconds. The characteristics of this epiphany reared its beautiful head later, when the author least expected it, and it continued to do so until he had it all shiny, redefined, and ready for use in his world.

This definition of an epiphany is similar to a subtle twist in a movie that does not reveal itself until the movie is over. “Why did that happen?” we ask our friends on our way out of the theater. “Because she said that to him? Oh, before she did the other thing. Ok, now it all makes sense.” When we begin to notice how often these subtle, otherwise insignificant thoughts apply to our situations we start chewing on it, until we’re digesting it, and we’re viewing the world a little bit differently than we did before we began processing the thought. Others might continue to find such tiny nuggets of information nothing more than waste matter –to bring this analogy to its biological conclusion– but when an eager student begins adding bits of their own thoughts to an epiphany, it snowballs into an individual truth. Once we clear these hurdles and embrace the power of epiphanies, we begin to see what we once considered the accepted truth, as it is for so many, is not as true for us as we once thought.

The Thief’s Mentality plants no flag on whatever unusual points of brilliance these epiphanies unearth for the reader, for the author is but a messenger repeating what should’ve been so obvious prior to processing it. These epiphanies provided eye-opening clarification on a topic we thought we understood, but the epiphany can provide a subtle crank of the wheel that we call the epiphany effect. As I wrote, the epiphany effect can lead the recipient to think they should’ve considered it before, even to the point of considering themselves less than intelligent in the aftermath. “I can’t believe I never saw it quite that way before.” Epiphanies can do that, but the individual who might consider themselves less than intelligent for not seeing it sooner should relax with the knowledge that this happens all the time to such a wide range of people.

One final note on epiphanies, they are elusive and fleeting. As author James Joyce once said, “[They] are the most delicate and evanescent of moments.” An epiphany is not a one size fits all, as most of them do not apply to most people. The delicate nature of an epiphany is such that even when they do apply they are so personal that no one else might understand why it means more than the obvious to us. Locating the qualities of an eye-opening thought and interpreting it for personal usage does not require a level of intelligence, as I wrote, but it does require some level of personal ingenuity to sculpt and shape them for individual interpretation. The fleeting nature of an epiphany suggests that it’s entirely possible that a person could stumble across an epiphany and miss it. Most naked epiphanies, or those that we haven’t shaped for personal interpretation, seem so obvious that we allow them to pass without further thought. By the time we recognize the substantive information of an epiphany, we may not remember the loose, delicate connection it could have had to our lives and the manner in which we could’ve applied it. The author has encountered many situations in which an epiphany could’ve applied, but he couldn’t remember the exact phrasing of the epiphany. How many times do we hear such a subtle crank of the wheel, and when we try to use it, we narrow it down to the author that wrote it, and the book they wrote it in, but we can’t find the exact passage in question when we need it. It’s frustrating. Some might say that if the epiphany were as profound as we suggest, we would’ve remembered it, and while that may be true in some cases, in others, it elucidates how elusive and fleeting they are by nature. As the Joyce quote alludes, the nature of their power requires diligence on the part of the recipient. The Thief’s Mentality is comprised of what some might consider so obvious that they’re hardly worth considering, but it’s these little, insignificant thoughts that end up shaping our thoughts more than the revolutionary ones might.

The Thief’s Mentality: The Hate/Love Relation with Reading Books


The Thief’s Mentality is for people who hate to read books. Most of us hated reading books for a chunk of our life, especially those our English teachers crammed down our throats in high school. We tried to love them, because he told us that these books were beloved classics enjoyed by millions of people for hundreds of years, but we couldn’t block out the “Get to the point!” voice screaming in our head. We looked forward to our teacher’s summations the next day, because they were so entertaining and informative that it prompted us to ask him, “Why didn’t the author just write that?” The teacher informed us that we probably didn’t have the attention span necessary to bring their complex structures together. “That’s probably true,” we acknowledged, “but isn’t it the author’s job to entertain me?”

2) “So, if I hate to read books, why would I buy yours?” I’m not going to say that The Thief’s Mentality is entertaining, I’ll leave that up to the reader, but I’ve written over 500 articles. Most of the articles are unique and they stand on their own. As such, I’ve tried with as much objectivity as possible to collect (for lack of a better term) a “greatest hits” package for the reader. When a writer is on point, they tend to belabor. We all do it. With extensive editing, I think I’ve kept this to a minimum. I’ve tried to write a book that is as stimulating, engaging, and entertaining to you, the reader, as I possibly could. Entertaining you is one of the hardest things to do, of course, as we’ve all jumped through the hoops, performed on the pommel horse, and removed some of our clothing to try to entertain you. For various reasons, most of us come up short, so we all get together, individually, and  try to entertain ourselves. We can only hope that you find it just as entertaining.

The Thief’s Mentality is for those who don’t have time to read, yet we all have time to kill. Some theorize that the average person spends one and a half years of their life waiting in line. Whether we’re waiting to buy tickets to a movie, waiting in line at the local supermarket, or waiting for our latest inoculation at the doctor’s office, we need to have something to do while we’re waiting. Some small time operations place mirrors around elevators, larger operations place digital ads around the areas reserved for the line, but what better way to lessen the pain of waiting is there than an entertaining and informative book? Something that feels substantial, yet not so substantial. This book will not fill that year and a half, depending on how slow you read, because it is a relatively thin book, but it may relieve a couple of hours of pain. We all play around on our phones, and most of us read internet articles, but how many articles can we read about the Kardashians before irreparable brain damage sets in? Human beings need constant stimuli to keep the synapses firing. We need substantive information and entertainment and when fiction writers spend twenty pages writing about a Wisteria tree by a lake, we experience burn out. We want to read an author who knows how to get to the point, and at this point in our lives, we want something entertaining, informative, and different.

3) The Speed Reader. “I can read any book you’ve read, in about an hour and a half, and tell you everything about it. I might even be able to tell you things you missed,” a friend told me after completing a class on speed-reading. “There’s just so much fluff in every book a person reads.” Her arrogance annoyed me, but I thought she had a point. I also considered the idea that the only reason she took a speedreading class in the first place was that she didn’t enjoy reading as much as I did, and she wanted to find an end run around the traditional and methodical ways of educating herself.

I never took her up on the challenge she posed, because I didn’t want to know if she could match my weeks of reading in a little over an hour. This led to another thought that chased me into adulthood, if her abilities to speedread were as accomplished as she suggested, and she could teach me things about books I carefully read, how much of my life did I waste reading that I could’ve spent being more active?

I love to read now that I can choose the books I read, and some of them are the books my English teacher forced me to read, but even the most avid book reader will acknowledge that they spend a lot of time reading them, time that we could spend being more active. Even the most avid readers will cede the point that most books contain a lot of fluff, but we would argue that in the course of careful reading, a reader learns how to use finer points to support their logic and conclusions. In doing so, I would think, the reader learns not only how to form an opinion, but how to map it back to the central point by tracing the manner in which an author uses various rhetorical devices to achieve a conclusion with supporting evidence. The fluff, as my speedreading friend called it, lies in the supporting evidence. The author’s job, as I see it, is to either delete as many extraneous (and in my opinion far too numerous) finer points or make them so entertaining that no reader will consider them fluff. One of my many goals was to find that author who accomplished this feat so well that speed-readers wouldn’t want to skim in fear of missing a word. I found some, of course, and I loved their work so much that I tried to write like them.

4) Descriptions. One of the finer points, this book lover detests are the unnecessarily lengthy descriptions of scenery some fictional authors indulge in. Some of our greatest authors spent so much time describing scenery that even the most ardent book lover might speedread to the point. In some cases, these authors don’t even deliver a payoff for these lengthy descriptions. The purpose of their lengthy descriptions, in some cases, was the unnecessarily lengthy description. The Thief’s Mentality did what this book lover wanted other authors to do, cut the crap and get to the point. The Thief’s Mentality doesn’t inform the reader about the shapes of the clouds in the sky the character walked under, and there are no tumbleweeds rolling across the prairie, because the settings do not involve prairies. We tried to avoid exclusivity, but the settings of all of these stories occurred on the planet Earth. As such, the reader can feel free to assume that the natural settings surrounding the characters in these stories are those familiar to Earth bound creatures. We felt no need to remind the reader that the situations involved in the stories occurred on Earth.

5) Writing to Writers. Some books are letters to their peers, critics, and other writers. The exhaustive descriptions of scenery, for example, are their single leg swings and scissor kick on a pommel horse appeal to the scoring system of their judges. I understand writing “Jack and Jill went up a hill to fetch a pail of water. Jack fell down and broke his crown, and Jill came tumbling after” is too simple and uninteresting for most writers. Writers want to dig into the characters of their stories to let the readers know who Jacks and Jill are, and they delve into descriptions of setting to place the reader at the scene, but those who hate to read consider so much of that nothing more than fluff. One writer I enjoyed reading spent so many pages describing a monster in his novel that I put my reading out of its misery, and I never read the author again. That author is a painter, so his ability to paint intricate detail with words was admirable and exhausting at the same time. I admired the author’s style and his ability to bring this monster to life, but I considered it a chunk of exposition only a writer could love. To paraphrase the late Christopher Hitchens, such passages are private letters, written to appeal to other writers, appearing in public space.

6) Strange Strategy. Most readers who hate to read enjoy it when an author includes some swearing, slang and colloquialisms. They can relate to a character that swears in the manner they do, and they may consider it a strange strategy to delete such words from a collection of essays about real people. The dilemma the author faced was largely self-imposed for while he recognized that using swear words and slang can customize a character to familiarity, abundant usage of such norms can be distracting. Using them is also a very “writerly” thing to do, and it shows how hard the author is working to be “cool” to the reader. The author opted to forgo all such efforts under the guise of consistency.

Another note to add on this subject is that most of us remember an era when network censors were more stringent, and those network censors defined an era. Back then, their edicts seemed so silly. We often said things such as, “Rambo can mow down an entire militia poised against him, but SNL has to fire a guy who accidentally drops an ‘F’ bomb on air? We need to loosen the restrictions on these artists. We need to follow the European model. People cuss on TV in those countries, and no one is harmed by it.” Now that these restrictions are essentially gone and actors can pretty much say whatever they want, some of us miss them. Morality plays an undeniable role, as we cringe when we hear ‘F’ bombs and ‘S’ words on non-subscriber cable stations, but it’s more than that for some of us. Some of us enjoyed the wink and nod creative ways in which scriptwriters dodged network censors, because we said, “They have to do it that way.” We didn’t know it at the time, of course, but looking back, we now recognize how creative those writers had to be to comply with the Broadcast Standards and Practices. What was also not so obvious at the time was how much material we all had regarding those silly standards and practices. When the higher ups considered something naughty, their edicts made the jokes and innuendos naughtier, more humorous, risqué, and more entertaining. As a product of that era, I found some of the efforts to “get away” with various dodges hilarious, and I employed some of them in The Thief’s Mentality.

The Thief’s Mentality: The Search for Something Different


“The Thief’s Mentality truly is, in my opinion, a bit of a world all its own, something different than what I’ve seen in my editing queue or even in the library where I work part time,” –Autumn Conley

 “And now for something completely different,” Monty Python’s Flying Circus.

 “Take that bottle off the thing. Put it over on the dingle,” Dean Ween Group.

“Just because something is different, or strange, doesn’t mean it isn’t quality material,” Dan Gillespie.   

The search is for something different is over. Critics might say many things about The Thief’s Mentality, but I don’t think anyone will question its originality. How many times do we go to the bookstore (online or otherwise), scouring the racks for something different? We don’t even know what we’re looking for, but we know it when we see it. When we find it, we can’t wait to get home, crack the binding, and enter into another author’s slice of life. Most book lovers enjoy other art forms, but there’s nothing more exciting to us than finding a truly original book. When we think we’ve found it, we tell our friends and family, and we call it a “find”. A find is the book lover’s literary equivalent to the reward an archaeologist who spent their whole life digging through some catacombs.

Some book lovers call themselves book connoisseurs, but there are others. We love books so much that the term “book snob” does not phase us. We are a group of book lovers who have read so many books, and been through so many finds, that our desperate search for something original becomes more and more difficult with time. Some of us grow so frustrated that we decide to create our own. We want our own “Take that bottle off the thing. Put it over on the dingle” lyrics. We want to create something unique and weird, and meaningless and poignant at the same time. The constraints restricting (and constricting) an author of any fictional and non-fiction art form are far greater than those of a lyricist, of course, but some avid readers are so hungry to find a different book that we decide to write our own.

As The Thief’s Mentality proves, writing is not a science. It’s an art form. What’s the formula for a great story? Is there one? I think all aspiring authors should cancel their subscription to Writer’s Digest and throw their ‘How to Write Best-Seller’ books in the nearest fire. Most authors of these books have never written one, so why do we follow their advice? This author has never written one either, but I’ll tell you the best piece of advice I’ve ever heard, and it’s so simple that most won’t follow it in favor of the lengthy, more professorial advice ‘how to’ authors provide. In Stephen King’s On Writing, King gives us the super-secret sauce to success: reading a ton and writing a ton. To understand the art form of storytelling at its most primal level, it’s the only piece of advice worth considering. Step one in this process involves the aspiring author reading so often that they want to read something decidedly different from anything they’ve ever read before. Step two involves writing so often that the writer almost accidentally creates something different. The aspiring writer should also forget about writing a best-seller and turn their focus on the only elements in their control. I wish I could take credit for thinking up these two elements, but they are Ray Bradbury’s advice, “Find your own truth”. Another piece of advice I take from singer Stephen Malkmus, “Story is sacred.” He sang that the “song is sacred”, but you get the point. 

It is important that an aspiring author learn the rules of their craft. They need to know how to spell and have a decent grasp of the grammatical rules, but no aspiring author should let that keep them from writing. At its most primal level, a storyteller should know how to tell a story? They should also learn how to generate reactions to everything from their grandiose, all-American tales to the tale they tell about their trip to Walgreens’. Write your story and learn the rules as you go. We all know those writers who can write a grammatically correct story with no spelling errors, because most of them will highlight all of our errors, but can they tell a great story? Most of them are excellent critics. It’s been my experience that if you write an excellent, captivating story, most readers (critics aside) will forgive the occasional error.

There is a continental divide between seeking success and finding it, just as there is a similar divide between the art connoisseur and the rest of us. Those of us in the “book lover” contingent have spent our 10,000 hours reading a wide range of books, until we reached a point Malcolm Gladwell might describe as a tipping point. This point of burnout is as hard to define as it is to see coming, but at some point, we know the formulas of most of the genres so well that we know them too well, and all the joy of figuring it all out has dissipated, and that’s when our search for something different begins.

The Nature of the Artist

One of the primary reasons most authors don’t write something different is that it is very frustrating and extremely hard. Those who haven’t tried it might fall prey to the notion that every revolutionary, transcendent artistic creation is simply the product of a talented author. What is a talented author of a book, a painting, or a transcendent song? Suggesting that one is talented suggests that the fruits of their labor are somehow God-given, otherworldly, or something that they should use. I think the term talented, more often than not, shortchanges a creator, for it allows us all to avoid the discussion of how hard they worked.  

We average-to-below average artists find some comfort in the idea that the great author just had more God-given ability, and this allows us to leave out some crucial details of the labor involved. When we look at Leonardo da Vinci’s oeuvre, for example, we might describe him as a comprehensive thinker, but he had comparatively few artistic creations. Those of us who know how hard he worked on each creation, thanks in part to Walter Isaacson’s book on da Vinci, know the excruciating amount of work he put into the pain-staking detail of each piece. As evidence of this, one reviewer of his book claimed that Isaacson’s book was nothing more than a boring recitation of da Vinci’s process. “A boring recitation of the process?” we ask, “of someone many consider the greatest artist of all time?” Before launching into a book-length rant against the reviewer, creative types must remind ourselves that non-creative types might find a compelling, thoroughly detailed book regarding the artistic mindset of a master a little boring. “Da Vinci was not only talented but smart. We got it already,” was the theme of such snarky reviews. They don’t seem to care that da Vinci combined an unusual understanding of science and mechanics with art, based on extensive experimentation and trial and error, and he used them in his work. They end the discussion with the conclusion that da Vinci had an unprecedented ability to portray real life artistically, and their reply to anything beyond that is, “We got it already.” That just seems like such a violation.     

Creating something different is so hard that most creators stop at some point in the discovery process. They decide, instead, to create a story from a master’s template, hoping that adding their voice will be unique enough that no one will consider it derivative. This isn’t to say that authors of a given genre plagiarize other authors, but when they read one author’s books too often, they cannot hide the influence. Their inspired book might even be entertaining and informative, but it does have a disappointing sameness to it. The idea that one book is more entertaining, or more informative, than another is relative to the reader, but the author of The Thief’s Mentality doesn’t know how anyone could read this book and declare it derivative or formulaic.

The author did not write these essays for the sole purpose of producing something different, just to be different however. Some artists are different in a kitschy manner we all enjoy, but others are different in an altogether fundamental and organic manner. These artists excite me, and they have my whole life. Their adventures don’t always work, of course, but isn’t that what makes the successful forays into the different that much more?  

The Thief’s Menality’s biggest influences are those artists who displayed breathtaking originality at one point in their career. No one artist influenced The Thief’s Mentality, and no one piece from any of these artists did either, but I’m not going to deny there wasn’t some influence from the myriad of books I’ve read over time. At some point in my favorite artists’ careers, they made a break from their formula, and it often occurred after they achieved a certain level of acceptance. For some artists, this foray into something different was a one-off. They were slapped back by their fans telling the world that they love every book in the author’s catalog, except this one. The negative Amazon review can be a powerful force in an author’s mind. Those who loved the switch were able to brave the harsh winds, and for them, the switch proved so invigorating that they didn’t mind the diminished sales and prestige they had in the industry. Their interest in “the formula” that landed them there began to wane, and they viewed the switch as invigorating in an artistic sense. For them, the temporary switch proved fundamental. 

Their subsequent artistic creations were so unusual and revolutionary that the artist’s closest friends and family members didn’t see them coming. “I don’t know where that came from,” they confess. “They were on a different level when they created that piece.”

After sorting through the various books in the genre of social sciences, philosophy, humor, and entertainment, we discovered a book we considered a transcendent book of breathtaking originality. It is a book by David McRaney called You are Not so Smart. Amid all of the Malcolm Gladwell books, the Freakonomics books, and all of the books influenced by them, You are Not so Smart reached this author on this very personal “Something different” level. It provided a blueprint for how to formulate The Thief’s Mentality. If the fan of that book decides to read this one, they might not find many similarities after all of the work that followed that initial inspiration, but You are Not so Smart appealed to us on such a personal level that we wanted to write our own version of it.

Even art connoisseurs initially greet breathtakingly original creations with confusion, disappointment and suspicion. “Why didn’t they just stick with what they do best?” we ask. Another question we ask is how can any person, even a critic who gets paid to listen to music, listen to an album one time and know that it is “revolutionary, brilliant, and a tour-de-force!” We all know that critics often receive advanced copies, but they don’t appear to need time to process the unique greatness of the material. Most people need a little time to appreciate works of breathtaking originality and transcendent qualities. Once their brilliance is processed and we lick the carcass clean, we all realize how brilliant their decidedly risky venture was. The artists who had the largest impact on The Thief’s Mentality were often unusual, offbeat individual trailblazers who viewed the world from a very different corner.

It’s almost impossible to escape some influence in any artistic pursuit, but we think that all of the rewriting and editing of these essays have drained whatever influence may have inspired us to begin writing them. All but two of the essays contain unique experiences we’ve had with the unique people we’ve encountered in life, so the only probability for influence lies in the analysis, but thanks to hundreds of rewrites, we don’t think the author of the piece who provided some momentary influences would be able to spot their role in it. 

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

 

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 attempt 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. We realize that on those occasions when mowed in our typical pattern, the reason it flew by was that we probably sleepwalk 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 is. 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 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. 

So, you want to be a Kindergarten, Flag Football Coach


“Coach! Coach! Coach!” is something every kindergarten, flag football coach will hear in a huddle, on just about every play. When the coach responds, they are likely to hear classic gems like these, “I have a new shirt,” “I felt a raindrop,” or “I have a loose (or new) tooth.” Then there are the most common questions that follow every play, “When do I get the ball?” and “When do I get to score a touchdown?” The other comments I’ve heard are, “I don’t have a mouthpiece,” and “how come you’re not wearing sunglasses today?” Some of the kindergarten children repeat the shouts of “coach!” so often, while you’re attempting to tell the players involved in the next play how to run it that by the time we get to their question/comment, they forget what they wanted to ask/say. Once we complete that exercise, and get the kids to the line of scrimmage, ready to run the play in the time allotted by the referee, be prepared for them to forget everything you just said. (Even when we keep it as simple as possible, by telling them to hand the ball off and run left or right, they often run the opposite way about 50% of the time.) 

For those interested in prepping themselves for this adventure, try herding small kittens, not cats, kittens into something. I’ve never tried that before, but I have to imagine it is similar. Then, try to get the kittens to perform a very specific task. I know that the average 6-7-year-old brain is superior to the felines, but I’ve found that the attention and retention levels are about the same.

The easiest part of being a FF coach is putting flags on your team’s players throughout the game, as the other team will pull those flags off on every play, and some flags mysteriously fall off on every other play. (I’ve tried to show the kids how to put those flags on themselves, but it takes a level of dexterity for which most kindergarten-age kids are not quite capable yet.) The coach will be responsible for doing this while telling those involved in the next play, what that play is. The coach must do this while answering all of the questions and comments the other 5-7-year-old children can think up in the middle of a huddle. (Even though I provided some of the highlights above, they are but an example of the questions/comments I’ve heard in the past five weeks.) The volunteer, with no discernible experience in this regard, must be able to juggle these three things while trying to adhere to the referee’s unspoken timetable for getting your players to the line of scrimmage to pull next play off in a timely manner.

In this, my fifth game, I flirted with dropping the whole notion of plays, as they only invite more questions and different levels of chaos, but just handing the ball off on every play doesn’t teach kids the fundamentals of the game very well. On the subject of plays, I don’t think it will shock the potential volunteer to learn that if you plan to have a playbook, the goal should be to keep it as simple as possible. I thought adding a simple reverse would fall under this heading, until I witnessed in real time. (Picture a herd of wet cats attempting to run to the source and away from it at the same time.) I also added a pass play, in which the receiver runs a simple curl route. I thought this was a simple enough play, until I saw it play out live. (If the coach is lucky, they’ll have one player who can throw and one player who can catch.) The coach should also prepare for the idea that most players won’t know what they’re supposed to do on any given play, so you’ll have to provide individual instructions to each player before the snap, and you’ll have to tell them where to stand, and you’ll have to repeat it. Again, the coach will have to accomplish this while trying to keep the referee happy by getting your players to the line and pulling off a play in time.

The coach should also prepare to repeat those very specific instructions at least twice, and answer all questions that follow. The most popular question a coach will have to answer in each huddle is, “When do I get to I score a touchdown?” My pat response is, “That team over there is not going to let you score a touchdown. You have to go get it, when it’s your turn.” The reason we must continually express the idea of taking turns is that once they score a touchdown, they want to do it repeatedly, and as many times as we express the idea, most kindergarten-age children don’t fully comprehend the idea of taking turns.

As stated in the opening paragraph, they will introduce questions in each huddle by shouting the word “Coach” an average of two to three times a play, and this can be overwhelming in a five-man huddle. I’ve instructed them that, “We can only have one voice in the huddle,” so many times that some understand, but most do not. I’ve instructed them to keep all comments and questions related to football, but they’re kindergartners. One important note to add here is the patience and understanding a flag football coach must employ. Remind yourself, throughout the game, that they’re kindergarten kids. They can’t remember what we said five seconds ago.

As kindergarten kids begin running toward one another they will inevitably run into one another, and the volunteer coach with no prior experience handling such matters, will have to address such injuries on about every third play. The coach will also have to deal with the emotional aftermath of a child having their flag pulled. To us, this is part of the play. Person A runs down the field, person B pulls their flag, and the play is over. To the kindergarten mind, this is a humiliating condemnation of their athletic ability. They might regard it as an unfair part of the game, or the coach’s fault, and some of them may display their frustrations.

My advice to the kids throughout the season was to run straight down the field. Do not dance, do not juke, and focus your attention down the field. After the first practice and the first game, the kids followed this instruction well. They almost always gained a couple yards as a result, so when they had their flag pulled, I always focused their attention on how many yards they gained. 

Some kids still considered it humiliating, and they displayed their frustrations. When we experienced such a display, we simply moved on and let his parents handle the matter. As a voice of authority, on the field, the inclination might be to correct that child’s behavior in some way, but we have to remember that these are other people’s kids. It may embarrass us to have one of our team members act this way, but we have to respect our boundaries while trying to keep control of the individual players. The best advice I provide the kids who don’t succeed on their play is to have a short-term memory. “Try your hardest on every play, but if you don’t succeed, employ a ‘next play’ mentality.” I developed this mindset after years of playing recreational sports. It worked well for me, but it’s too complex for the disappointed, kindergarten mind to comprehend. 

My advice to anyone who chooses to volunteer for such a role is to enter into it with a plan. Watch some YouTube videos on kindergarten flag football. Some videos there show some very helpful drills a coach can run, in practice. Have a plan, but ditch the playbook. I whittled our game plan down to my handoff left and handoff right. We mix one, maybe two, reverses a game and a pass play. Conduct a practice that is very active and participatory. Don’t let them stand in line idle. If there is some idle time, you might want to have them do jumping jacks or something else active, until their turn arrives. When you provide any instructions, ask them to repeat the things you said. One question I ask is, “How do we catch the ball?” They raise their hands, and I call on one of them. “Two eyes and two hands,” is their response. In my recreational league, we have 20-minute practices before each game, and the option of having a midweek practice. I tried one midweek practice, and it was so chaotic that it was pointless. I learned that kindergarten-aged children have an increased level of focus on game day that applies in the 20-minute practice, because they want to prepare to score a meaningful touchdown in the game, and they want to tackle the other team, but to a kindergarten-aged kid, a one-hour, midweek practice is all about directionless, unfocused fun. The two most important elements of coaching kindergarten, flag football is to try to teach them some things that stick, and let them have some fun. Let them worry about winning and losing, for you need to focus on what you can control. We should also make sure we take turns giving the ball to each kid. Not only is that what they signed up for, but it maintains their focus. I try to compliment each player on their strengths and ignore any weaknesses they might have. This keeps them happy, focused and interested. The most important ingredient is to try to keep it fun for the kids.

After dealing with these kids one hour a day, for six weeks, I now have profound respect for anyone who chooses to have a career dealing with kindergarten children full-time. If, at one time, I considered my son’s teachers unreasonably strict, by instituting a level of structure to try to establish some level of order, I now empathize. I’ve heard kindergarten teachers say things to their assistant teachers, such as, “Could you take care of Johnny today. I can’t deal with Johnny today.” I now have a couple of Johnnies that I only deal with for one hour a week, and if I could have one on-field assistant answer the questions, and tend to, just one of my Johnnies, I probably wouldn’t be writing this piece to release my frustrations.

For all of the frustrations, there are numerous joys. There are the touchdowns that the quicker kids score, and those touchdowns scored by the kids who want it so bad that they’re willing to learn whatever techniques you teach them to score. There are also the tackles, which in this case involves pulling a flag. We had two kids, who weren’t as quick as the others, who learned the flag-pulling techniques from the drills we taught them. They learned them so well that by the end of the season, they had a couple of touchdowns but they had so many tackles that I think they learned a lot throughout the season.