[Editor’s Note: This is a sample of an essay in the Thief’s Mentality: A Collection of Essays. Some of the essays in this collection are serious, some are quasi-serious, and others have little to no seriousness at all. This essay is an example of the latter, but I would not have included this piece, or any of the others in the collection, if it didn’t adhere to the thesis. Having said that, this essay is a round about discussion on the pursuit of women. Todd was something of a ladies’ man, and he was an oaf. Yet, the women I knew loved him.]
I knew I would be able to have relations with Todd’s mom moments after Todd introduced us. She gave me extra looks when she knew her son wasn’t looking. Those looks informed me that all she needed was a thumbs-up to start the proceedings. If Todd’s mom was attractive, my humility wouldn’t permit me to write such a thing, but there were reasons that a 40-something female made it clear that her intentions with her son’s 20-year-old friend were less than honorable, and most of those reasons had more to do with her marketability than mine.
Todd’s mom wore a frayed, yellow T-shirt that read, “Smell the magic” with an arrow pointing down. Her hairdo led observers to believe she spent quite a bit of money on oils, and a considerable amount of time curling. I wasn’t able to determine if either of these enhancements were natural or not, but judging by her overall appearance, my educated guess was that the woman hadn’t darkened the door of a beauty salon since Mikhail Gorbachev stepped down as general secretary. She also wore a what-are-you-looking-at? expression that led one to think an apology might be necessary, until it could be determined that this was her natural expression.
Todd’s mom was the first parent I met who didn’t have puritanical notions about underage drinking, smoking pot, and premarital sex. She was the proverbial free spirit, open about her disregard for the conventions of our constrained society. In other words, Todd’s mom was the first cool parent I ever met, so cool that she offered to drink and smoke with us as soon as she was off work.
After she extended that invitation, and Todd gauged my reaction to it, Todd’s mom shot me another extra look, over Todd’s shoulder that said, “Those pants of yours will be coming off!” No full-grown woman had been that attracted to me at that point in my life, so her extra looks were quite a turn-on, even though there were things going on with her that my young mind could not yet process.
She also said snarky, bitter things that slipped beyond the definition of cool to a dreaded arena few can escape of one trying too hard. I’m sure that cynical bitterness did not lead her to name her only-begotten son Todd, and I do not believe that his mom’s near palpable hatred of men had anything to do with her sentencing him to a life of misery with a moniker like that. I’m sure she just liked the sound of the name.
Most people don’t consider it possible to curse a child with a name. Even a person with an odd, one-syllable sound attached to their identity is not cursed, naysayers might add. A child can go onto achieve great things as an adult, in spite of their name. For an example, we need look no further than the illustrious career of Aldous Huxley. They can gain acceptance among their peers, they can be happy, and they can escape anything put before them. A name is a trivial concern in the grand scheme of things. Contrarians have to admit that some names might cripple a child, such as those that rhyme with embarrassing body functions, but seldom will a parent intentionally set out to hinder their offspring in such a manner.
And then there’s Todd. Naming a child Todd might not seem cruel, on the surface, as it’s a rather common name in American society today that dates back to medieval England. It means “fox”, as in “clever or cunning”. Chances are everyone knows at least one Todd, and most don’t presume that the name boxes them into any sort of predestination. They might consider the notion irrational, but I would venture to guess that most of those that believe that do not have the name Todd.
When I first met Todd, I thought he was an idiot. That assessment was unfair, of course, because I based it on the sound of his name. When I learned that Todd couldn’t tie his own shoes, however, I considered that a bit of a stretch beyond that initial assessment.
“Come on!” I said, “You’re 19!” I was a naïve 20-year-old, and I was not difficult to fool. I didn’t know that at the time, of course, but I sensed a certain susceptibility that I would have to expend effort to defeat. Even with that acknowledgement, I thought the idea they were trying to sell me was beyond the pale.
This revelation occurred when Todd asked his girlfriend, my friend Tracy, to tie his shoes. I joked that I considered this an excellent domination technique I would consider exploring the next time I was around my girlfriend, but that little joke paralyzed the room to silence. If Todd considered it funny, he didn’t show it. He feared Tracy in the manner a lamb fears a border collie, and she wasn’t even smiling a politely. She had a don’t-go-there!” glare on. My initial thought was that her glare had more to do with the domination theme of my jest, and I felt some remorse for saying that, considering that my girlfriend was Tracy’s best friend. That remorse ended for me when I convinced them I was joking, but the cloud continued to loom over us. I soon realized that that glare had less to do with more joke and more to do with the storm that gathered in the silence that followed. I began to feel trapped, as if I’d tripped a tripwire that would reveal domination techniques, or some sort of sexual peccadillo I didn’t care to explore with them. Their continued silence suggested they were ready to share if I was ready to hear it, but I feared I might have placed them in the uncomfortable position of having to reveal details of their relationship. The glare and the weighted silence were such that I was considering the idea that they could lead to some sort of physical altercation between Todd and I, when he finally broke down and told me the story of how he never learned how to tie his shoes.
Todd did not willingly reveal his story. I had to prompt the revelation, after I tired of the tension between us.
“So, if you don’t know how to tie your shoes,” I said, believing the shoes were symbolic of a Pandora’s Box that I would regret ever opening, “why would you buy tennis shoes that have laces?”
The answer to this question was what he called a funny story. His funny story involved a loving mother purchasing Velcro and slip -on shoes for her son throughout his youth. Purchasing tennis shoes with strings was for Todd a way for the young man to break the shackles of a mother’s hold with the first paycheck he earned. The funny story involved the shoe store attendant tying the shoes for him and Todd walking around the store saying, “I’ll take them” with the pride so many young people experience with their first, individual purchase. It involved that young man arriving home for the night and preparing to take those shoes off for bed, only to realize that once he untied his shoes, he would never be able to wear them again without assistance. The punchline to this funny story was that Todd decided to sleep in his shoes that night.
I was the only one in the room not laughing.
“It was like buying a sweater with a stain on it,” Todd said to expound on the funny story, “but you don’t see the stain until you get home.”
As a younger man, I sought out the weaknesses of my fellow man to use against them when the need would arise. Some juicy tidbits, however, go beyond the typical malleable information one can tease into mockery and ridicule. It wasn’t just that Todd never learned how to tie his own shoes. If that were the case, I would’ve used this intel without a second thought. It was the whole backstory, and the idea that Todd’s mother did things to prevent him from learning and progressing in life, to a point where he until he needed another strong woman to help him deal with the consequences, to help him tie the shoes he never learned to tie. It was so funny that it rose to the level of tragedy, and revealed the ultimate relationship between the two. Even when Todd joined with a bunch of fellas engaged in a round of competitive, good-natured ribbing against me, I knew couldn’t say, “What are you talking about? You can’t even tie your own shoes.” As painful as it would be to withhold this information, I knew I had to if I wanted to remain friends with Todd. This dilemma would never arise, because I somehow forgot about it, and I think I forgot about it, because I chose to forget about it. I wanted to be friends with Todd, and if a guy wants to be friends with another guy, he has to block large chunks of matters otherwise considered unforgettable.
In the moment, though, while Tracy tied his shoes, I found myself trapped between not wanting to pursue the matter and demanding an answer to a question that I did not want to ask.
“How did you get out of first grade without tying your shoes at least once?” I asked. “Don’t teachers have to check a box on a report cart before they advance you the next grade?”
The answer to that question was another funny story, and more material about a mother’s desire to protect her son by continuing to purchase slip-ons and Velcro for her boy, in spite of his teachers’ instructions. I had more questions, but I feared they would only lead to more revelations about a single mother’s stubborn attempts at protecting her son in a manner I considered bordering on neglect. It was then that I realized the full import of Tracy’s don’t-go-there glare, so I flipped the switch of my curiosity to the off position. I kept that switch off for much of my friendship with Todd, and I even defended him against the ridicule from those that train themselves to go after weakest in the herd, until I learned of Todd’s lifelong fear of cotton.
“Oh, c’mon!” I said. I was naïve as I stated, and I had some difficulty coming to grips with certain characteristics I learned about the various Todds I’d met, but I now had to deal with the idea that one of them was afraid of cotton. It was the second such hurdle our friendship would have to traverse. Todd and I had to work through the fundamentals of his fear. We established that Todd had no fear of towels, for example, and he wasn’t afraid of the 50 percent of my shirt that wasn’t polyester. Unmanufactured cotton and cotton balls, such as the cotton aspirin companies use to keep the pills in place, however, terrified him. “It’s what they call an unexplainable fear,” Todd explained, as if it was a suitable explanation. The fear was also, I would soon learn, a type of fear that called for a strong woman to step in and defend.
[Editor’s note: To read the rest of this essay, and the other entertaining, informative essays included in this collection click here.]