1) The Thief’s Mentality
If everyone is immoral then no one is. Kurt Lee introduced us to this concept when he showed us his mower. “He stole that mower,” a mutual friend informed us, sometime later. “Kurt shows it to everyone, but he doesn’t tell them that he stole it?” Why is this relevant? Kurt Lee not only stole most of the artifacts in the overstuffed pawnshop he called a garage he did everything he could to prevent everyone else from stealing them from him. The only reason he felt comfortable showing me his mower was that he had it chained to the wall. That reinforced chain lock was beautiful and shiny and worth about ten times what the mower might fetch from the most generous pawnshop owner might offer for the lawnmower. Yet, Kurt Lee was more concerned with the prospect of someone stealing the mower than he was the quality of the mower he used. When a Kurt Lee introduces us to the idea that we shouldn’t trust anyone outside our own home, we fear that this mentality exposes our sheltered existence. We wonder if he knows more about the world than we ever will. Further examination reveals Kurt Lee’s characteristics that are not as illustrative as we initially fear and more of an inescapable, genealogical trait that leads to a mindset I call The Thief’s Mentality.
2) He Used to Have a Mohawk
The groom at a wedding I attended used to have a mohawk. The best man and the bridesmaid introduced this information in their toasts. I wondered what the groom thought of these speeches that I knew were delivered with the best intentions. Did he consider them condescending? Did they hurt his feelings? I looked over at him, but he didn’t betray his emotions. My guess was that he enjoyed those characterizations, because he enjoyed the days when he had that mohawk, and he missed them. As we all began laughing, the groom smiled an embarrassed smile. I wondered if he missed the days when he made his audience so uncomfortable that they wouldn’t dare laugh at him.
3) That’s Me in the Corner
A child danced in the introductory part of that wedding reception. He appeared to enjoy it, but he wouldn’t participate in any of the activities that followed that obligatory first dance. When the mother called upon him for increased participation, he waved her off. He wasn’t going to participate beyond the initial dance, yet his subsequent attempts to make a crossover between actual and vicarious participation were noteworthy. He laughed harder than anyone else did from the comfort of a non-participatory chair, he shouted out comments, and he did everything possible to participate from that chair. That’s me in the corner, I thought, that’s me trying to create my own non-participatory spotlight, losing my sense of belonging. I couldn’t explain my unusual need to watch this kid, until it dawned on me later that I thought I might be witnessing an early chapter from my own autobiography.
4) A Simplicity Trapped in a Complex Mind
How does the average person deal with those that experience greater challenges in life? We’ve all experienced victims who have fallen to unimaginable depths, but have we ever encountered a victim who fell from a plane higher than we could ever imagine? How would we explain it? How would we deal with it?
Everyone in The Family Liquor Store knew the story of a man of excessive talent who went crazy “Like That!” they would say with a snap of their fingers. The Family Liquor Store rested on the corners of despair and failure, and David Hauser was their effigy, but no one knew how a man could fall as far as he did. We developed an answer, and it made us all feel better about ourselves to know it.
5) You Don’t Bring Me Flowers Anymore!
The adult baby could not exist if not for his enablers, but his species might not exist if he saw the purpose of his involvement. These two elements result in the carrier finding comfort in mental adolescence. Yet, he finds ways to establish value and importance, even when it adversely affects those around him.
6) Don’t go Chasing Eel Testicles: A Brief, Select History of Sigmund Freud
The field we now know as psychology was not Sigmund Freud’s first career choice. He began as a marine biologist, trying to find what many considered the holy grail of scientific discovery of his time: the elusive testicles of the eel. He didn’t find what other premier scientists of his day could not find, and Don’t go Chasing Eel Testicles asks the question if his failure to find the eel testicles defined the rest of Freud’s career in a manner I’ve never heard anyone ask before.
7) Charles Bukowski Hates Mickey Mouse
The lifelong goal is to be one of the cool kids who all the women want to date. The formula for achieving that goal for much of my life was to be cynical, angry, and a Rage Against the Machine soldier. We hated wholesome, traditional fare that made kids happy, until we grew up and realized the façade that some of our generation’s best writers and comedians created to be cynical, angry, and Rage Against the Machine soldiers. This essay provides the continental divide between provocative theory and reality.
8) Every Girl’s Crazy about a Faint Whiff of Urine
How much time, money, and effort do we spend in our quest to be attractive? How many deodorants, scented shampoos, perfumes, colognes, and body washes do we purchase to mask the natural scent of our bodies, so someone, somewhere might find our scent pleasant? How many hours do we spend spraying, brushing, scrubbing, applying, lathering, and repeating if necessary? Recent surveys report that scent factors very low on our list of priorities when seeking a mate. Why, then, do we spend so much money and effort to present the illusion that we don’t have an unappealing odor?
9) BusyBody Nation
It should have been an uneventful walk in the park on an otherwise uneventful Thursday, but a couple of begrudged busybodies interrupted my otherwise uneventful day. They could not permit my dog to chase a couple of ducks into a lake without making eyebrow-raising threats against me. I decided that the rest of us should push back against the tide of busybodies attempting to restore their definition of order by exposing their begrudged feelings for what they really are.
10) The Balloonophilia Conflict
“There are no absolute truths,” is a defense the wonderful employ.
“That’s a wonderful sentiment,” the speaker will reply, “but if something is true 50.001% of the time, that’s good enough for me to accept it as general rule.”
Making general assessments about nouns (a person, place, or thing) in our culture today, leads the assessor to encounter a wide range of wonderful, emotive defenses. The wonderful defense centers on the idea that all assessments are generalities. My counter to this ever-present defense is that we base all generalities on general rules, and while it is true that there are exceptions to general rules, the exceptions do not nullify the general idea behind a general rule. If a speaker makes the claim that an individual engaged in freakish behavior 99.8% of the time is a freak, the wonderful will often focus on the .2% anecdotal information regarding the fact that that freak is an exception to the general rule the speaker espouses.
“I knew a guy one time who did one thing that suggests your general rule does not apply,” they say.
“Good for him,” we say, “but does that mean the general rule is not true?”
11) Fear Bradycardia and the Normalcy Bias
I was watching a movie that never existed wondering why the potential victim just stood there screaming when a monster lowered onto him to bite his head off. Author David McRaney suggests that such a scene is more realistic than we could ever imagine, except for the screaming. Do victims choke in the clutch? McRaney suggests that it goes deeper than that. He says that most of us would probably just stand there, looking up at the monster silently wishing that this event never took place. He says this reaction is an involuntary reaction to unprecedented horror, and it will cost us our lives if we find a way to prepare for such a moment.
12) The Unfunny
I’m not funny, and I’m not ugly. This was not a casual observance made by one woman on the way to a minor league hockey match. These characterizations have been corroborated a number of times. So how does a not funny and not ugly man continue the bloodline, especially when they’re telling me that I don’t date as often as I should?
I knew plenty of not funny and not ugly fellas who were dating, and some of them, like my friend Todd, managed to date some beautiful women. I was not happy. I decided to explore being clever. I found out that clever does not always translate to laughter, but it relies heavily on ingenuity and originality. Some might argue that those two words are synonyms, but I was an original personality who didn’t apply his ingenuity well. “Oh, you’re original,” some of my closest friends have said in various ways over the years, “I’m not sure if it works for you, or how you might make it work for you, but you are original.” The ingenuity portion of our routine occurs in the application process. I knew girls would not claw each other’s eyes out for clever, because they reserved such levels of violence for the pursuit of men who were handsome, or handsome and clever, and I was apparently whittled out of those demographics long ago. I knew I needed a method to meld my unusual and obnoxious nature with my irritating personality that some considered idiotic. I needed to use the comedic stylings of Andy Kaufman as a template.
We dedicate this piece to the unfunny who think they’re funny. We know humor is relative, but we’ve always been able to make our brother and dad laugh, and we say odd things that our grandparents delight in. At some point, truly funny people learn to branch out beyond immediate familiarity to universal material. When we, the unfunny, took our humorous anecdotes out into the world, we ran into a wall. No one knew what we’re talking about, and we wanted to be funny. People like funny. Everyone wants to know what a funny person is going to say next. They enjoy a humorous analysis of the nouns (people, places, and things) that surround them. Some of us have never been able to locate this universal definition of familiarity, and some of us don’t care. We dedicate this piece to us.
13) When Geese Attack
Those of us who love Shark Week and all of the other, all too numerous home movie, reality-oriented clip shows that appear on just about every network now, spotted the formula for their success. The producers of these shows will document some of the most horrific attacks on a human, and then they will air the victims stating they have no hard feelings for the beast that attacked them in the testimonials they offer at the conclusion of animal attack videos. Those of us who tell mean-spirited jokes know this formula too. We know we can tell the most awful jokes about our co-workers, and those who laugh at the jokes will eventually laugh after they dress it up with kind, compassionate statements first. “What an awful thing to say,” they will say before laughing.
14) Anti-Anti-Consumer Art
Walking through an art gallery, the ubiquity of the anti-consumer theme struck me. Every piece of art seemed to focus on the same theme, yet patrons considered each anti-consumer piece unique, bold, and a tour-de-force? One would think that an aspiring young rebel would acknowledge this ubiquitous theme by sticking a middle finger up in the parody the theme has become by producing an anti-anti-consumer theme. Doing so, however, might land the piece the artist works so hard in the dreaded land of anti-anti that some might consider the work pro-consumer and pro-corporate.
15) I’m Disgusting, He’s Disgusting, She’s Disgusting, Wouldn’t You Like to Be Disgusting Too?
Seinfeld might be my favorite sitcom of all time. I found the character’s peculiar demands for hygienic excellence hilarious, until I witnessed two grown men discuss their superiority on the matter and form a friendship on that basis. They both agreed that the common habits of their fellow man were gross, they both agreed that an acquaintance of ours was gross, and they agreed that our employer’s bathroom was an absolute cesspool teeming with germs. I laughed in the middle of this discussion, in the same manner I laughed at the Seinfeld’s obsessive quirks, but these two men weren’t laughing. They had smiles, but they were beaming smiles, the kind of smiles that one gives in recognition of finding a like-minded soul at long last. I realized that by their definition, I was disgusting and I didn’t even know it.
16) Fear of a Beaver Perineal Gland
“Do you know what’s in that?” a friend of mine asked as I approached our table with a strawberry shake in hand.
We’ve all heard this line from informed consumers, and we usually hear it when we have our delectable morsel dangling before our mouth. Those who condemn our dietary habits are informed consumers who order yoke free eggs and tofu, with a side of humus, yet they glance at our dangling morsel with some confusing variation of envy.
17) The Expectation of Purchasing Refined Tastes
A friend provided us so many excellent restaurant recommendations that she became our go-to-gal for recommendations. After establishing some credentials with us, she progressed from a foodie to a foodist. When she would detail her preferences, it was obvious how much thought she put into her recommendations, but it was also obvious that she regarded those who didn’t put enough thought in their diet as inferior beings. Our reactions encouraged her to begin branding these people, and those people who wore inferior clothing, those that drank an inferior coffee bean, and those who didn’t know the difference. She knew that most people prefer McDonald’s coffee, but she found comfort in the idea that those people were probably Americans, and they were probably truckers from Iowa. She led me to wonder if her progression was natural, or something endemic in the human need to feel superior about something.
Why do we consider dining at a Thai restaurant superior to a night out at Chucky Cheese? This piece is not about the quality of food at either locale, it’s about the superiority one feels informing another that they ate exotic food at a particular locale. Why is a wine from an exotic, foreign country considered a superior drinking experience when compared to an evening spent drinking a supermarket wine? It’s an experience the informed consumer must have and, and, detail for their friends. Coffee is another experience that people must indulge in for all the fruits of life. As I detail in the piece, blind taste tests judge McDonald’s coffee to be on par with some of the finer coffees available to the public, but it has no value at the water cooler the next day, not when compared to the refined, exotic Kopi Luwak bean. Drink that, and more importantly pay the exorbitant price required for a drink of that, and the crowd at the water cooler will be hanging on your every word. The key word of this piece, just to give a tease, is the word expectation.
18) Eat Your Meat! How Can You Show Appreciation for Life, If you Won’t Eat Your Meat?
I’ve always had some innate disgust for people with certain dietary preferences. I didn’t realize that this disgust was because of my dad’s endless preaching on the topic, until I condemned my nephew for his preferences. I realized that convincing children to show appreciation for food is a time-honored concern that dates back to the cavemen. When the caveman’s children stated how they were tired of eating Mammoth, their mother probably felt compelled to remind them of the sacrifice and danger their father faced to provide them with their meal of the day.
19) Esoteric Man
I found it difficult to evaluate an advertising executive, who was trying to sell my wife on radio ad space, because he dressed like every guy I hated in high school. I knew I was being unfair, but “We don’t see things as they are, we see them as we are.” The way things were can complicate the way things are in life, and we cannot escape that fact.
The guy’s checkered pants reminded me of one of my many arch-rivals in high school. The checkers were multi-colored, of course, but some of those colors were pink, and my arch-rivals wore pink. I hated this ad exec. I hated him in the same manner I hated my arch-rivals. The ad exec wore sensible shoes, chic eyeglasses, and he wore his hair in a coif. He was also a people person that knew how to relate to the folks, and I hated him before he said twenty words.
20) Groundhogs, Led Zeppelin, and Our Existential Existence
What did you think of that guy in high school who loved Wham and Genesis? Do you still think less of him? Our particular, individualistic taste in music defines us, and we define our peers in accordance. Some of us still view those who listen to Led Zeppelin as superior. Why we arrived at that particular notion is an interesting question, but how we arrived at it might be a far more interesting one. If music is the guiding principle for our definition of individuality, the next question is how instrumental were we in determining what music we would spend our lives playing? Most of us remain trapped in the music of our high school and college years, but did we switch the bands or musical genres we listen to during these years, based on what that cool person at the end of our row stated was the best band of all time? We might believe that at some point in our lives, we leave that mercurial teenage mindset behind us, as our high school years become smaller and smaller in our rear view mirror, but some social scholars have stated that we never leave high school.
21) Deserve vs. Earn
What’s the difference between deserving the various gains in life and earning them? To some, the differences are negligible. The philosophical divide is so wide between the two words that some consider the words antonyms. “I didn’t deserve a raise, I earned it.” “No one deserves to win a game, they earn it.” On that note, can a person earn love, or do you deserve it? If the person, in question, is nice to people, and they live their life the right way do they deserve to be loved? Love, after all, is not something one can measure with metrics. It just is what it is. If we deserve to be loved, what kind of love do we deserve?
22) Unconventional Thinking vs. Conventional Facts
“Everything your father told you about matters is wrong,” they say. The primary reason lines like these are so seductive is that we want them to be true. We were the dumb guys in class who sat in the back and never knew the answer to the teacher’s question. We were embarrassed by this as adults, and we tried to learn, but there is a temptation to believe that everything the better students learned turned out to be a bunch of rubbish. We were right, in other words, to avoid the structured learning of traditional knowledge that occurred in school. Various outlets now provide alternative information, based on unconventional thinking, for dumb guys to learn and believe. “Turns out we weren’t as dumb as we thought. Right?” The discussion of alternative theories regarding various loopholes in our legal system and financial system are so seductive that they could be true, or they cannot be proven wrong demonstrably. Some of us learn, over time, that the latter is more important to them than the former. The idea that we might have more information leads us to believe that we are no longer dumb guys, and the idea that a greater quantity of information does not necessarily equal quality information does not enter our purview.
23) Finding the Better, Happier Person Through Change
We are damaged, because we were damaged in our youth, specifically by our parents. How do we escape that? How do we forge our own frontier. Some say change, others say more change, and still others say change cannot occur without drastic change. When I spoke to my friend, after numerous drastic changes, she didn’t want to discuss our childhood, or our more recent past, she wanted to talk about her drastic changes. When I grew uncomfortable, she acquiesced to a conversation of our shared past, but she only did so under the guise of a discussion regarding what those people from our past might think of her drastic changes.
She had a rough childhood. She sought a way to escape her past. She didn’t seek spiritual or philosophical change. Her changes were more on the superficial side. Yet, she thought if she could change her packaging, she could change everything. The mistake she made was that she thought we were all as fascinated with her changes as she was.
24) Are you Superior?
A couple of bandannas, beneath hats turned backwards, and sunglasses pulled me over. They were two dudes. The idea that they were cooler than me was obvious in the first ten seconds. I, like most people, suffer from an inferiority complex but were they superior? I questioned their motives throughout our conversation. Who wouldn’t? Did these two drive up on me just to chat? I was suspicious. Soon our conversation ended, and I watched them drive away realizing that I was such a mess on various topics that I couldn’t even enjoy simple, casual conversations anymore.
24) Find Your Own Truth
“Find your own truth,” was the advice author Ray Bradbury provided an aspiring, young writer on a radio call-in show.
Most people loathe vague advice. We want answers, we want that perfect answer to help us over the bridge, and a super-secret part of us wants those answers to be easy, but another part of us knows that a person gets what you pay for in that regard. When we listen to a radio show guesting a master craftsman, however, we want him to give us some nugget of information that will explain to us how that man happened to carve out a niche in the overpopulated world of his craft. We want tidbits, words of wisdom about design, and/or habits that we can imitate and emulate, until we reach a point where we don’t have to feel so alone in our structure. Vague advice, and vague platitudes, feels like a waste of our time. Especially when that advice comes so close to a personal core and stops.
25) The Best Piece of Advice I’ve Ever Heard
“You’ll figure it out,” Rodney Dangerfield informed a young, aspiring comedian that sought his counsel on how to succeed in their shared craft.
The first thought that comes to mind when one reads the Dangerfield quote, is that the respected comedian was being dismissive. How does one fix another’s act, art, or pursuit in life? Is there a universal, miracle cure? We don’t know the question that aspiring comedian, Jerry Seinfeld, asked Rodney, as Seinfeld reports it was “something about comedy”. We can guess that aspiring comedians approached Rodney all the time with various questions so many times that he grew tired of it. Thus, we can only guess that when Seinfeld approached Rodney, Rodney said whatever was necessary to have Seinfeld leave him alone. Either that, or Dangerfield found the answer to that question to be so loaded with variables, and so time-consuming, that he didn’t want to go down that road again with, yet, another aspiring comedian. Dangerfield might have even viewed the young comedian’s act, and decided that it was so bad that he didn’t know how to fix it. The “You’ll figure it out” response seems dismissive and overly simplistic, but this essay suggests that if we apply this advice to other matters in life, we consider this best advice we’ve ever heard.
26) Know Thyself
Bothered by the pesky complaints of philosophy fans wanting them to be more direct in their philosophies, some philosophers believed that the Ancient Greeks granted them a gift in the form of a maxim. Among the many things, the Ancient Greeks offered the world was a simple inscription found at the forecourt of the Ancient Greek’s Temple of Apollo at Delphi, “Know Thyself”.
These two simple words provided, if nothing else, a framework for philosophers. Modern day philosophers might call the discovery, the ancient philosophers’ “Holy Stuff!” moment, a previous generation might call it a “Eureka!” moment, and to all philosophers since, the foundation for all philosophical thought. For modern readers, the discovery may appear vague, and it was, but it was vague in a comprehensive manner from which to build the science of philosophy. It was a discovery that provided the student of philosophy a Rosetta stone for the human mind and human involvement.
Perhaps a modern translation, or update, of the Ancient Greek maxim know thyself may be necessary. Perhaps, ‘keep track of yourself’ might be a better interpretation for those modern readers blessed, or cursed, with so many modern distractions, that keeping track of who they really are has become much more difficult.