XXX: Daniel, My Brother

“Don’t tell me you didn’t know,” Jackie said. She said that after Daniel took a playful swing at me for complimenting him on his hair. In the months we worked together, Daniel was a blonde, yet he walked into work one day with red hair. I considered it odd that an early twenty-something man would color his hair, but I knew Daniel was having some difficulty finding a date. I figured that he changed his hair color to see if that might change his fortunes in the dating world. I also thought he might enjoy having someone compliment him for that effort, but my error was obvious in the swipe he took at me.

He smiled when he took that purposefully errant swing, but I knew the smile. That smile suggested that Daniel did not want to go down that road, and he wanted to nip that line of thought in the bud before the teasing started.

“What was that?” I asked Jackie. I turned to Jackie, because Daniel left the room after taking that swipe. I also turned to her because the matter genuinely confused me.

“Don’t tell me you didn’t know,” she said. Behind the statement was a look that suggested she thought I was being clever. In the back and forth that followed, I broke her down and convinced her I had no idea what happened. “C’mon” she said attaching my name to her call for honesty on my part. She continued to look at me, waiting with a smile, for my clever smile to break. “He’s bald,” she said when she reached a point where she acknowledged that my confusion was genuine. “He didn’t color his hair. He wore a different hair piece today.”

I searched through the “How could you miss that?” moments that Jackie detailed for me, but to my embarrassment I missed them all. There may have been small bits of information I missed that Jackie revealed to me, but these little bits of information were like bits of code that developers use to form a program, and once I had them, I couldn’t believe I missed them. Recalling these moments left me quiet, and I’m sure my mouth was hanging open, because Jackie was smiling while she watched the import of this idea dawn on me.

“There’s no way,” I said. Immediately after saying that, I realized I wasn’t directing that statement at the idea that Daniel could be bald, but how I could miss all the signs.

Jackie then confessed that she didn’t know if he was bald for sure, “But,” she said. “All signs point to yes.”

If I didn’t notice this, could it be true, I wondered. A number of people complimented me on my ability to notice things that others couldn’t see, but I just missed a forest by focusing so much attention on the trees. My passion was human interaction, and I reveled in telling people things about themselves that they didn’t even know. I noticed habits, and I discerned characteristics from those habits. I don’t know if I was wrong more than I was right, but I still remember those occasions when people would stare at me with open-mouthed awe. I still live with the time when one woman said, “Get out of my head!” Yet, I failed to notice something that should’ve been so obvious on a man that I worked side-by-side with forty hours a week, for months. I didn’t ask too many people about it, because I didn’t want it to affect Daniel’s work life, but I had to ask someone to see if I was the only one that missed it.

“That would explain a lot,” that someone said staring off into the distance. That was all they said, and they didn’t spend too much time staring off into the distance. It was nothing more than an interesting explanation for this person, because, I can only presume, she didn’t put as much stock put into being observant as I did.

After Daniel left the hotel for greener pastures, this curiosity turned into a full-fledged debate. We didn’t talk about it all the time, but when we would reminisce about old employees his name, and this debate, would come up. We wouldn’t arrive at a conclusion for years.

***

My brother was a tenured member of a jiu jitsu academy, when the owners of the franchise decided to open the doors to the public. My brother recognized a face among the new attendees, but he couldn’t put his finger on where he knew the guy. In the midst of this session, the lead trainer called out numbers. “Number seven against number five,” he would say to initiate a match between two grapplers. In the midst of one such session, one grappler had another in a headlock, and in the process of the other attempting to wriggle free their hairpiece came off. Daniel, my brother thought, finally placing the grappler, and answering the question that plagued me for years. My brother knew the dilemma that plagued me, of course, and he said he nearly shouted, “Daniel!” when that hair piece came off, and he almost went over to Daniel to say hi to him, but he played it cool and waited a while for the presumed embarrassment of the moment to subside.

***

Daniel’s most notable peculiarity arose when he tried to find a suitable presentation for a situation. When Daniel and I would talk about the weather, the mechanics of the workplace, or whatever it was two common people talked about, for example, Daniel appeared to be having one whale of a time. He was enjoying these common, everyday conversations with a little too much verve and laughter. I didn’t consider the idea that his reactions were situational, so I would retrace my words to pinpoint the source of his reaction. When I thought we were having what I would call a particularly entertaining conversation, on the other hand, Daniel was largely ambivalent. It took me a long time to realize that Daniel’s reactions varied with the situation. 

Daniel was not a phony, but his otherwise inexplicable changes occurred within various settings. This peculiarity dawned on me that when we were at a party, and his reactions were such I could’ve been discussing the mating habits of the carpenter ant, and this man would be laughing throughout, on the edge of his seat, and delightfully receptive to anything I had to say. He was at a party after all, and he wanted onlookers to think he was having one whale of a good time. This desire appeared to supersede the idea of actually having a good time. That presentation was Daniel’s party persona, one that he reserved for such situations.

“I’ve never met anyone who disagrees with my views on race that wasn’t at least a little racist,” Daniel said to me one day apropos of nothing. The shot came so out of the blue, that I knew, knew, this was his challenge to my beliefs system. I don’t know how long I spoke, but by the end, Daniel received a condensed version of my philosophical beliefs system. I might as well have been shouting down a well, however, for when I finished Daniel reiterated his charge. This was his non-racist presentation.

There was no piercing Daniel’s logic, because on this one issue Daniel’s confidence was sound. The problem for the management of the hotel we worked in was Daniel’s actualization of this plank of his presentation was proactive. He did not grasp the simple idea that treating others the way you want them to treat you is a substantial plank of the non-racist presentation, and that the goal is to avoid treating members of another culture different. 

Daniel attempted to affect what he assumed their language was, and he found what he believed to be their cultural views on matters delightful. It was never Daniel’s intent to be condescending, and everyone who knew Daniel knew this. The problem for Daniel was that he worked at the front desk of a four-star hotel, and the wide array of individuals he encountered from different cultures were well educated and well spoken. Daniel derived his affections from TV, music, and other more condescending fare. The manager spoke to him about their concerns more than once, but Daniel couldn’t comprehend the complexities of the issue.  

On one evening, a biracial, newlywed couple checked in to the hotel. “Congratulations!” Daniel all but screamed. He was so overwhelmed with joy that he appeared near tears. The couple appeared used to such reactions, but we were not. The hotel had had hundreds of newlywed couples check in throughout our tenure together, and Daniel never offered them anything beyond an obligatory congratulations. With this couple, Daniel congratulated them so many times that he crossed the line of customary, and I was embarrassed for him, until I realized that this was Daniel displaying his non-racist presentation to the couple and us.

This led me to believe that Daniel’s philosophical challenge to my beliefs system was not mean-spirited. He was simply seeking a good guy presentation at my expense, and the theatrical congratulations he directed at the newlywed couple were simply an over-extension, on his part, to acclimate to societal norms.

These descriptions of Daniel might lead a reader to believe he was on the spectrum, but I do not think that was the case. I think Daniel spent an amount of time in solitude, in a hospital bed I assumed, that can prove devastating to one’s ability to mingle with the world in a normal manner. Daniel was able to have conversations on a number of complex issues, but he found comfort in simplistic generalizations, and he mistook them for profundity.

The idea that he suffered some life-derailing ailment was evident in the way he interacted with people, and I gathered that that ailment was a form of cancer that left him without hair for much of his adult life. He never spoke of this ailment, as I said, so I could only guess its nature. 

At some point in his presumed hospital stay, Daniel learned the ways of the world by watching TV, and TV provided him answers for deep, philosophical dilemmas. The problem, as anyone that watches too much TV knows, is that it deals in soundbites and clicks, and most TV shows do not delve into the complexities involved that viewers might split on. He learned all that he thought he needed to know to participate in adult conversations by repeating the simplistic generalizations that led to programmed responses, yet he didn’t have the facilities necessary to scrutinize the issues and various resolutions on a deeper plane. When I attempted to discuss these issues with Daniel in a deeper manner, he shut me down with other simplistic generalizations.

In the immediate aftermath of Daniel’s departure from my world, I considered him an impaired individual, but the more I chewed on it, the more I discovered that Daniel’s essence was not that different from our own, and his thought process was not that different either. We all say that we listen to both sides, but how many of us actually do? How many of us simply repeat what we hear without giving the simplistic generalizations we enjoy, support, and espouse sufficient thought? Daniel’s thought process was similar to the depiction of a sophisticated computer in a 1970’s movie, in which a research doctor inputs a problem and the computer spits out an answer on a small, yellow piece of paper. The fear of that bygone era was that the artificial intelligence of their computers would one day surpass our more organic intelligence, yet one thing we fail to input in the equation is that we are the ones who program those computers to arrive at an answer for us.  

Is Daniel so different from the programmed minds that spit out information so small they could be listed on a little, yellow piece of paper that appeases the controlling voices of the echo chamber we choose to call our motherboard? Was Daniel so young when I knew him that his grasp on complex, philosophical issues was quite normal, and he would learn to free himself from the shackles of simplistic generalizations that he uses as an autonomic response to cues from others’ words and concepts, or will we grow content to repeat what works for our peers in given situations? Put another way, can a programmed mind ever grow to make the connections necessary to grow beyond expected responses, or is it just easier for us to regurgitate the repeated messages and programmed responses that we all agree sound progressed?

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