Looking for Emotions in All the Wrong Places


“Looking for love in all the wrong places can be dramatic, exciting, and fun,” nobody said. Nobody says this, but a number of us have a number of ten minutes to midnight relationships, and while some consider come of them exciting and fun, they know they aren’t built to last. The music stops at midnight, as we all know, and the curtain closes on our carefully crafted production. We take our costumes and makeup off and prepare them for the big reveal. 

The fairy tale romance is out there, and we know it. We’ve read about it, we’ve seen it in the movies, on TV, and we’ve heard about in rock and roll songs. We’ve heard about the turmoil and tumult that occurs in some relationships … in country music songs, but who wants to live like that? We shouldn’t have to settle. We might be embarrassed to admit that lust just doesn’t do it for us anymore, and we’re done trying to play a role in Gone with the Wind. We lick our wounds, we help them lick theirs, and we set about building our Frankenstein’s monster. We want someone funny, but not mean; somewhat skinny but not lean; dramatic but not traumatic; and nice but not sappy. We search far and wide, until we find that person who wants to get to know us while quietly watching reruns of the Andy Griffith Show and Three’s Company with us, eating a turkey sandwich and a bag of Lay’s original brand of potato chips.

When those after-the-show conversations casually morph into mundane conversation, we realize that some date-worthy people are normal, and they don’t mind listening to what we have to say. They also appear to be doing so with genuine interest. Our friends might not want to hear about the nights we spend with them, discussing the unheralded comedic genius Don Knotts, and they might even remind us how exciting and sexy our exes were.

We enjoyed those relationships for what they were, but they always find a way to transfer their toxic, emotional baggage to us. They affect and infect everyone in their wake, until the dating pool becomes an emotional, as opposed to physical, manifestation of the Cantina Bar scene in Star Wars. In our search for the perfect mate, we uncovered a precious commodity we never considered before normalcy. We never put the normal bullet point in our search engine, because we spent so much time condemning the normal. “Who wants to be normal? Normal is boring, and my parents were normal, and I’m anything and everything but,” we said various strains of this joke so often that we began to believe it. After all of the whirlwind romances leave us in an undefined state, somewhere near unstable, we begin to prize normal people. We seek someone who can yin our yang that might lead to a stable foundation that we can use to build something year by year, day by day, and hour to hour. We realize that the best romance is a “Little bit country and a little bit rock and roll.”

***

Elijah Wood and Tobie McGuire are two different people. I knew this on some level, but when I searched for a movie I just finished, to recommend it to a friend, I searched for Tobie McGuire. It turned out Elijah Wood read the screenwriter’s lines for the character of that movie. I used to know my cultural touchstones so well. Am I slipping? Who cares? We do. Knowing cultural references is important to us, and in many ways we think it defines our intelligence. As I’ve written elsewhere, in Abraham Lincoln’s day, it was vital to a person’s existence that they know The Bible and Shakespeare so well that you could drop and spot all references; in the 1990’s, it was The Simpsons and Seinfeld; and now with devices and streaming, the cultural touchstones are all over the map. There are still some cultural references everyone must know, however, and if a foreigner wants to assimilate into the American culture, they would do well to learn some of our cultural references. I slipped in one of mine, and I told a friend about this. She said, “That’s great, but I don’t know who either of those people are.” As someone who knows cultural references but doesn’t care too much about them, this placed me at a fork in the road. I used to care a great deal, and I once met a person who was as knowledgeable as I was in cultural references. She even topped me in several areas, a novelty I enjoyed. I had a crush on her, based almost solely on this area of her expertise. Our relationship didn’t last long however as she personified, for me, the idea that when selecting a mate in life, cultural knowledge might be on the tail end of the top 100 most important pieces of the pie in my decision making process.

***

“I’M MAD!” I yelled.

“No one cares!” my dad yelled back. Among the many things my dad taught me, one of the primary ones that stuck is no one cares when we’re mad. No one cares when we’re happy, no one cares when we’re sad, and no one cares when we’re mad. “If you choose to sit in the corner with a mad face on, that’s fine, but remember that’s your choice,” he said.

It was all quite frustrating at the time, but I now think my dad was probably, accidentally or incidentally, onto something. I now add to my dad’s emotionally callous response, “While you’re over there, in the corner, remember that it’s up to you to teach the world how they can help you avoid such messy displays of emotion. If you’re so mad that you’re now ready to tip the apple cart, ask yourself why you didn’t do, or say, something sooner. If you’re raging mad now, chances are you’re probably mad at yourself for your inability to do, or say, something sooner, when this was nothing more than a simple disagreement. We were all rational back then, and we probably would’ve listened to your solutions. Shoot that stuff at the source, and you might not ever have to be so mad again. If you’re mad at something someone said, or did, it’s your job to tell them about it.”

“But, they won’t listen to me,” the collective ‘we’ respond.

“Yeah, you’re probably going to have to do it a lot, and you might have to do it so often that it could lead to some form of confrontation or some sort of altercation, but if you don’t, you’re going to end up like Michael.”

Some twenty years prior to the day I met Michael, bullies were laying into him. The bullies were so relentless that whatever they did to Michael affected him twenty years later, when he told his story to a group of people who never met him before. These bullies picked on Michael so often, in his high school years, that he sought the assistance from an authority figure. That authority figure offered some advice that few authority figures would today. “Pick out the toughest one of the bunch and punch him in the mouth as hard as you can,” the priest, in charge of discipline at the high school we went to in different years, said. “He’s going to punch you back, and you’ll probably get beat up, but they will all leave you alone from that point on.”

“What did you do?” I asked after a pregnant pause.

“I didn’t do anything,” Michael said. “I couldn’t believe that a priest was telling me to punch someone.”

That was the end of Michael’s story as far as Michael was concerned. For those of us who never met Michael before, it was only the beginning of our understanding of him. If Michael found a forceful way to rebuke those bullies, his life from that day forward might be different. If Michael reached a point of desperation that required him to punch the biggest bully of the bunch, and he did it, he was probably a different man from the one we met that day. As the priest said, the big bully would’ve punched him back, and it would’ve hurt. Worst-case scenario, Michael ends up in a hospital, but most bullies simply punch back one time and leave their victim on the floor. Worst-case scenario, Michael ends up in the hospital, and he has to get his jaw wired shut, but Michael walks out of that emergency room a man who believes he knows how to handle his own situations. He doesn’t have to rely on the relative ineptitude of authority figures. He can handle himself, and he’s his own man, as opposed to the man we knew some twenty years who stepped away from his fork in the road.

As the years rolled along, in our working relationship, we learned that Michael was a seething ball of hatred. He hated certain people, until they came around. He said the meanest, most awful things about them, but when they stepped near him, he didn’t know how to express himself. Most of us have issues with confrontation, but most of us find a healthy, non-confrontational way of voicing our concerns. Michael didn’t even have that, and when I witnessed it firsthand, I wondered how different he might be if he followed that priest’s advice. It’s possible that Michael’s meek nature was a result of so many instances that one such instance wouldn’t make a dent in his approach, but it might have started the ball rolling.

It’s our job in life to teach others how to treat us. We might have to do it so often that they mock us for repeating ourselves, but we can add, “If you knew how I wanted to be treated, and you did it anyway, why do you continue to do it? What did you hope to gain?” We might have to repeat ourselves with such force that it results in what everyone fears most a punch in the mouth, but what’s the alternative? Where our we now? We’re so mad now that they’re under our skin. If people treat us poorly, we should recognize that as our inability to instruct them properly. Telling everyone that we’re mad, or giving them the silent treatment, is a complete waste of everyone’s time, including ours.” 

We didn’t enter into this argument with Michael. We simply felt sorry for him, but what if we had? We can imagine that Michael would’ve been able to counterpoint our every point. We would’ve argued, and he had twenty years of justifications for his actions. At what point in an argument, do we realize we’re doing more harm than good? At what point do we reach a zero point? We argue because we want everyone to know how smart we are. We argue because we want to persuade others to our point of view. We also argue to save our friends from themselves. At what point, do we realize the other party disagrees with us so much that no matter what we say, we’re never going to persuade them to our point of view? At what point do we realize there’s no point in continuing? Even when they’re demonstrably wrong, it makes no sense to continue the argument, as we can see that they’re not going to change their mind. We can also see that we’re insulting them at some point, and we might be damaging whatever relationship we have with them. As much as it pains us, we realize that some of the times it’s just better, less frustrating, and less maddening, to walk away.

Framing DeLorean: A Review


John Zachary DeLorean’s now historic tale has three bullet points, fraud, embezzlement, and an embarrassing cocaine bust. Those of us who knew next to nothing about the story, prior to watching Framing DeLorean, knew John DeLorean built a “car of the future” that few, outside the producers of the movie Back to the Future purchased. We read those “Metoric Rise and Dramatic fall” magazine articles. We heard that story on late-night talk shows, and we repeated the jokes that dropped from it, “The DMC DeLorean looks great … from the outside. If you’re on the inside though, you’re probably not going to think that, because you might not be able to get out of it.” Bottom line, we thought, the main character depicted in the now historic tale of John DeLorean was a bad guy, on par with Oliver Stone’s bad guy Gordon Gecko. After watching Framing DeLorean, the viewer finds that it’s a lot more complicated than all that. We see an ambitious, talented man who got so caught up in the tent poles of glory and fame that he ended up kicking them all down around him to bring the tent down on himself? We find ourselves asking the questions was the DMC DeLorean a fraud perpetuated on the public, or did its engineer/CEO fear what others might think of him so much that he allegedly engaged in fraudulent activity to try to prevent others from seeing him for who he really is? Even if he wasn’t what they suspected?

No one cares, you say, because law enforcement officials believed he engaged in fraud, and they they gathered enough evidence to successfully indict him on those charges. They also arrested DeLorean after a sting operation, in which they caught him, on tape, taking part in proposal to sell cocaine. A jury found him not guilty in both cases, but no one cares. The charges, alone, damaged his legacy beyond repair. He became a laughing stock, and that was the end of the story as far as we were concerned. As detailed in the documentary Framing DeLorean, the full story is so much more complicated than that. The first two-thirds of the movie, depicts an ambitious, talented man chasing an impossible dream, and the final portions detail what happened when that dream wasn’t realized as flawlessly as the genius thought it should’ve been.  

No one in the film disputes the notion that John DeLorean was an ingenious and wildly successful engineer. After succeeding beyond his dreams as an engineer at General Motors (GM), DeLorean could’ve landed just about any job he wanted in the automotive industry. He decided, instead, to leave the security of his job at GM to pursue the impossible dream of beating the Big Three in the automotive industry at their own game. He also left behind the structure that he had at GM (and by the end of the film, some viewers might say this is key), and the system of checks and balances GM exerted on his designs. The final portions of the documentary cover what happens to a dream, when that man hits a series of roadblocks, and he is not as capable as those in the foundational structure at GM would’ve been at solving them.

When DeLorean left a secure job at GM, he took a team of talented, some say brilliant, people with him. Those brilliant minds thought DeLorean was such a brilliant mind that they left their own secure jobs to set about trying to make history with him. Private investors considered him such a genius that they scrambled to gather whatever funds they could find to back whatever project John DeLorean chose to pursue. He also received $140 million, in public funds, from Great Britain for the work he proposed to do in Northern Ireland, and he had the sentiments of the entire country of Northern Ireland behind him. A majority of Northern Ireland residents still consider John DeLorean a hero for everything he did to revive the economy of their then war-torn country. The employees he hired in Northern Ireland considered working for DeLorean a “dream job”. All conditions remaining constant, those workers probably would’ve worked for DeLorean for the next twenty to thirty years. DeLorean also had what many considered a brilliant engineer, named Bill Collins, follow him from GM to the DeLorean Motor Company (DMC). Collins was purported to be the kind of genius who could make all of John DeLorean’s dreams come true, and he could augment some of the particulars of DeLorean’s dreams to make the DMC DeLorean a top performer.

Even with all that behind him, we learn that the talking heads interviewed for the documentary considered DeLorean’s dream improbable. During that era, becoming a car manufacturer was near impossible, they said. The Big Three, General Motors, Ford and Chrysler had the market seized. No person, in their right mind, would attempt to go it alone, they said. Against everyone’s advice, John DeLorean tried it, and he nearly did it. He nearly accomplished the impossible dream. 

To accomplish such an impossible dream, one has to have an unusual amount of confidence, and John DeLorean obviously did … in the beginning. When he experienced some roadblocks, and the talking heads in the documentary suggest that most of these roadblocks were manageable, DeLorean’s unusual level of confidence began to waver. Did he begin to see the impossible dream for what it was? 

How many people love to play “poke the genius” in scenarios such as these? “He’s a genius, you say? Did you know that once you close those beautiful gull-wing doors, you can’t get out?” “Did you know that critics suggest that the performance and power of the car are not as advertised? Genius you say? I say piffle.” Americans say that Americans love to build someone up only tear them down, but how many of us truly adore genius? We might use the ingenious products of Apple, for example, but we prefer to gripe about its relatively insignificant flaws.   

How many people tell us that our dreams are unrealistic? How many of us can weather those storms no matter what hurdles cross our path? How many of us truly believe we can accomplish that dream? How many of us eventually find ourselves beat down by all of the naysayers telling us that our dreams are unrealistic?

When the DeLorean DMC finally, after eight years, hit the market, it hit a major roadblock. People weren’t buying the car. The car hit the market during a recession, and few were buying brand new cars, and critics began slamming the car for a variety of reasons, including the idea that it didn’t test well.

“All John DeLorean had to do, at this point, was halt production of the car and fix the errors [exposed in the tests],” one of the talking heads said in the documentary.

Those words probably haunted John DeLorean for the rest of his life. For a litany of reasons that might forecast the actions of John DeLorean, he didn’t halt production. This is the pivotal part of the story, and I’m quite sure this is the point where the cynical among us begin sniffing out the fraud. Why didn’t he just halt production? It might have cost him millions to do so, but those of us who know the end result know that this would prove the ultimate downfall of the DMC DeLorean car. This gap in the story line requires explanation, and when we don’t receive it, we fill it in. When we fill it in, we fill it with information we already know. We know that at the end of the story, John DeLorean will go down for fraud, so this is the first chink in the armor, and the place where the fraud begins.  

Another key point in the documentary involves the suggestion that DeLorean secured enough money from private investors to save the company. His brilliant engineer, Bill Collins, would tell us that a suspicious clause in a contract, led to him to be somewhat suspicious, but no one else saw any telltale signs of possible fraudulent activity. The talking heads in the documentary express their confusion over what DeLorean allegedly did with the investor’s money (again, a jury of his peers found him not guilty), because they suggest he had enough to save the company. The details are either a bit sketchy, or it’s difficult to follow talk of money, but it appears as though DeLorean secured the necessary funds from investors, he embezzled it, and then he agreed to take part in the sale of cocaine to replace the investor’s money he stole. (A jury found DeLorean not guilty of attempting to sell cocaine, but he was caught, on tape, in an FBI sting operation.)

One plus one equals two and a group of accountants found the missing investor money that John DeLorean hid in various accounts. We were right. This man was a fraud. The question we keep coming back to throughout Framing DeLorean is, was he fraudulent all along, or did he get too caught up in being a successful genius and a renegade who decided he was the one to take on the Big Three of the automotive industry? Did he love the fame, fortune, and the accompanying family life he enjoyed so much that his passion for the DMC DeLorean diminished by comparison? Did he love his pep rally presentations so much that he didn’t want to taint the character he created and others adored, and he didn’t want to give any “poke the genius” players material with a production delay to fix the structural errors of the car? We can guess that whole idea of structural errors and production delays are a pain in the tailbone for auto manufacturers. We can guess that testers always find something, because that’s their job, and a big-idea-genius-engineer often mischaracterizes their findings so often that he begins dismissing so many of them that he ends up dismissing all of them.  

Was John DeLorean was a victim of big-idea-guy disease? Big idea guys who turn into acclaimed geniuses often have a difficult time dealing with the minutiae of their craft. Big idea guys enjoy stepping on a stage to present their big ideas to their audience. The other guys, guys like Bill Simmons, often prefer to execute their genius in the shadow of the glitz and glamor of the big guys. In DeLorean’s former world, as an engineer in the Pontiac subdivision of GM, he had a number of little guys check and balance his idea on his designs before they rolled off the assembly line. He probably took that part of the process for granted as an engineer, but when he became a CEO he couldn’t ignore that part of the process anymore, and it appears as though he did. We can guess that the star child engineer at GM grew tired of everyone questioning him and diminishing his status, and that that drove him to go it alone. At GM, he probably felt like a Rottweiler in a world of Yorkies nipping at his heels. When he opened the doors to the DeLorean Motor Company, he began building a car of the future, and when those pesky Yorkies began telling him that the car’s performance and power weren’t as advertised and the gall wing doors had a tendency to lock up and prevent exit, he considered these issues small matters in the grand scheme of things. Who cares that the car may not be as powerful as critics would prefer, we’re selling Shangri-La here. When DeLorean was an engineer at GM, he could be a big idea man, because he had a team of engineers and higher ups who would shoulder most of that mindless minutia, and he could be the big idea genius who soaked in all the accolades of the finished product.

Take everything we’ve discussed thus far and add an unbelievable dose of pressure on top. He probably placed most of the pressure on himself to maintain his star status, but we have to imagine that he felt pressure from the family to maintain the lifestyle. Add to that, the pressure of having someone like Johnny Carson as a private investor. Having Carson on board was probably a boon in the beginning, as all DeLorean had to say was, “Carson’s on board,” to entice future investors. That line alone, probably quintupled his investments. When matters go awry, as they did for DeLorean, he likely feared Carson using his late-night show to exact revenge. Coupled with all that, was the idea that Britain invested $140 million, and DeLorean had the economy of Northern Ireland counting on his success. That unbelievable amount of pressure might have played a role in John DeLorean eventually doing what he did. 

The final truth is we’ll never know why DeLorean did what he did, but the otherwise unwatchable movie Game Change served up a quote that sums John DeLorean up well. When speaking of why presidential candidate John McCain does what he does to try to have even his most ardent adversaries love him, his campaign adviser says, “If we could explain why they do the things they do, we’d probably have more of them.”

Is it possible that John Zachary DeLorean was the equivalent of an early 20th Century huckster? Of course it’s possible, but I don’t see how anyone can approach the full story of DeLorean’s career, with an open mind, and walk away thinking it’s probable that he stepped out of the offices of GM set to defraud the world.

When I watched Framing DeLorean, I did not see the main character as a malevolent Oliver Stone character. I saw a Coen Brothers character. I saw a plot that involves a man falling prey to a series of actions and reactions that could’ve been avoided if he just did that one now frustrating thing that could’ve solved the problem early on.  

Unrealistic and Unreasonable Expectations


“Try to avoid unrealistic and unreasonable expectations,” I say to my son when he becomes frustrated that he isn’t as great in sports as he thought he should be, and he throws the same fiery, embarrassing temper tantrums I once did.

“What makes you think you should be great?” I ask him. “How have you arrived at such unrealistic and unreasonable expectations? How much work have you put in? How much instruction have you received? Is it because you’re not great at hitting the ball? How long have you been playing this game? You have unreasonable expectations of yourself, and that will not serve you well in life, trust me.”

‘Why can’t I jack the ball out of the yard every time?’ he asks himself. ‘I’m already seven-years-old, I should be able to do this by now.’ Perhaps it has something to do with the idea that I have unreasonable and unrealistic expectations of him, and I’ve passed it along. I’ve tried hard not to be that parent, but as someone who had unrealistic and unreasonable expectations of myself, throughout my youth, maybe I passed that along. Whatever the case is, my son shows signs of wanting to be better, and I think one of the keys to accomplishing that is to teach him that his unrealistic and unreasonable expectations might impede that progress. 

Failure can be humiliating and embarrassing, but how we deal with it defines us. “Don’t get mad about your momentary mistakes. Learn from them,” I say. “What did you do wrong this time, and how can you correct it next time?” We ignore such instruction, because we believe we are already there. We disregard advice, because we’re already seven-years-old, and it’s probably too late to change our ways now. We consider tidbits annoying chunks of information from some know-it-all who claims to know better than we do. We also fail to process most of the small information that it takes to succeed, because “we already knew that”.    

Former Major Leaguer, and Hall of Fame, pitcher Randy Johnson once talked about the advice that former Major Leaguer and Hall of Fame, pitcher Nolan Ryan gave him. Ryan instructed Johnson to alter his finishing step one inch to the left. Johnson said that seemingly irrelevant piece of information changed his whole career. He says he wouldn’t have been half the pitcher he was without that advice. By the time, Ryan gave Johnson that advice, Johnson was already a major leaguer. He probably pitched, at various levels, for ten years at that point. He probably heard enough advice and tidbits to fill a copy of War and Peace from pitching coaches throughout his maturation as an athlete. One of them probably spotted the same flaw in Johnson’s mechanics that Ryan did, but Johnson ignored that piece of advice. Did Johnson ignore that advice for years, because he thought he was already a great pitcher, only to cede to one of the greatest pitchers of all time, or was Ryan the only one to spot it?

What’s the difference between a Hall of Fame pitcher and a pitcher who never pitched beyond high school? Most would say it’s all about natural, God-given ability. What’s the difference between an all-star pitcher and a Hall of Famer? Baseball is simple. You throw a ball, you catch a ball, and you hit a ball. Some naturally gifted athletes will be able to throw and hit the ball better than we can, but the seemingly insignificant minutia involved in the mechanics of the process might enhance that natural ability. How open are we to such instruction? Are we a blank slate, an eager student in life, or what they call a coachable player?  

Learning, in any venue, is a methodical, meticulous process that requires the mentality of a coachable player to succeed.  The best students enter into each new venture they pursue a blank slate, eager to learn. How many of us enter into a new venture, a curious sponge seeking to learn everything we can to be better? How many of us enter into the same situation believing that with our God-given abilities we’re already halfway there? Once they see us perform, really perform to the best of our abilities, they will see that we don’t need instruction, tidbits, or piece of advice. Those giving this advice might be shocked to see how great we are, we think. How many of us miss the tiny nuggets of information that could define a separation between those who are halfway there and us?

We say such things to the young kids around us, but how amenable are we to instruction, advice, and tidbits? If we could go back in time, via a time machine, and speak to a younger us, would we be as open to advice? Are we now? Did we think our natural abilities would eventually shine through, or did we, do we, have unrealistic and unreasonable expectations?

My brother had an awkward, inaccurate jump shot. My friend and I tried to coach him up with some of the tidbits we learned over the years. He said, and I quote, “It’s probably too late to learn anything new now.” He was sixteen-years-old at the time. I laughed at him then, but I lived by the same philosophy in basketball and many other things.

Most people find sports analogies tedious, but they’re illustrative. When I played recreational sports, I never received proper coaching, and I never had an attentive mentor, but I expected to be a quality player no matter what the sport was or how much coaching I received. Everyone I knew was self-taught, and we considered advice and tidbits of information insulting. When we found out we weren’t as great as we thought we were, we found it embarrassing, humiliating, and infuriating.

“Even the most successful fail more often than they succeed and they’re wrong more often than they’re right,” I will tell my son when he’s older. “Even with proper coaching, and a mindset conducive to coaching, most people won’t excel at sports, but if you can use everything playing sports teaches a person, you might be able to use it in other venues. Most people aren’t great at fixing things either. You might think I’m insulting you, but I’m trying to teach you how to approach matters with a mind that is open and conducive to learning.”

We say such things to our kids, because we wish someone would’ve said such things to us when we were kids, yet when we take our first crack at operating a power saw, we find it humiliating and embarrassing that we can’t do it properly.

Our inability to succeed might be that we want to succeed on our own. We don’t want to give other people credit. We receive a great deal of satisfaction constructing a toy without consulting the instructions. If we’re able to successfully build that toy on our own, without any of these tidbits or advice, we might enjoy it more. We want to surprise people with our natural ability. We want to be what others call a self-made man, a prodigy, and an artist who stuck by his guns, no matter what the experts said. We want to prove how smart we are, and how athletically, artistically, mechanically inclined we are. We don’t want to know “an easier way”, or that we can do something better if we adjust our approach ever-so slightly, and we hate it when someone tells us we’re doing it wrong. We hate it, because we think we should have everything all figured out by now. We want to be “special” and special people give instructions, they don’t receive instructions. Nobody told Mickey Mantle and Alex Rodriguez how to swing, nobody ever had to tell Steve Jobs how to run a company. There was no doubt something special about them, and all of the special people that litter history, but what separated them from equally talented and skilled people of their craft? Were they able to see beyond their unrealistic and unreasonable expectations to see that there was nothing special about them, until there was.   

How many times will we attempt to construct a toy without following the instructions, until we realize that there’s nothing special about us. We’re just not very good at fixing things. Our ability to admit that there’s nothing special about us is frustrating, embarrassing, humiliating, illuminating, and the mindset we should have in any such ventures. We see the latter in the unreasonable and unrealistic expectations our children have, and it proves to be something of an epiphany for us.  

I’ve grown so accustomed to failing the first time I try to construct a toy that it doesn’t bother me that much as it once did when I wasn’t able to without instructions. I now expect to be wrong five to six times more times, even with instructions, and when I exceed that number in the reconstruction process, it might involve some inflammatory curse words, but I no longer find it a humiliating condemnation of my ability. If someone spots my struggle, and they offer a suggestion, I am not as insulted as I used to be, because I’m starting to see that most people know more about fixing things than I do. My motto, throughout this process is, “If one way does not work, try another.” That might sound simple, but we complicate these trivial matters with our unreasonable and unrealistic expectations. “I should be able to fix something as simple as this by now,” we say to ourselves. Some of the times, these unrealistic and unreasonable expectations get in the way of us completing even trivial matters. If we could get out of our way, we might realize there is another way, and once we’re done we might wish that someone introduced us to how counterproductive our unrealistic and unreasonable expectations were years ago.  

Parents can talk about the philosophy and psychology of sports all day long, and we love doing it, but nothing penetrates better than doing it over and over again. This is what sports psychologists call kinesthetic learning. Throw the ball, catch the ball, and hit the ball. He hits the ball solid, he learns. He misses a perfect strike, he learns. He also learns that one of the keys to success in sports, as in life, is to have a short term memory. He learns the power of forgetting what he did last week, yesterday, and in the last at-bat. We can discuss the philosophy of rewarding our sons and daughters with words of encouragement, and we can debate whether the drill sergeant approach might be more effective, and kids are so different that we witness how these approaches can work differently for young individuals, but nothing is better than just plain doing it. We sign our son up for various leagues, and he gauges how he’s doing compared to his peers. He also wants to be better than them. He wants to be great, and I encourage that, but he gets so frustrated when he realizes he isn’t there yet. He’s just a kid, and when kids play sports, they not only want to be great, they expect it. When they aren’t, they don’t understand the difference between their unreasonable and unrealistic expectations and reality. It confuses them, and that confusion leads to frustration. What’s the difference between being a quality seven-year-old athlete and a poor one? Some of it’s natural ability, of course, but most of it involves just doing it over and over again, in practice, in the backyard, and in their dreams at night. Doing it, also allows them to put all of our psychological and philosophical tidbits and advice into play, and it’s there, somewhere in that complex mix, that they learn the various nuances and intricacies of the game.

Movies Operate in Patterns Humans Don’t


“Henry, I don’t think we’re going to catch this guy!” a policeman says as he and his partner chase a motorcyclist down a winding road through some scenic mountains at a dangerously rapid rate, during the opening credits of our movie.

“I think he might be the best we ever saw,” Henry replies. Even if the policemen could get close enough to see the motorcyclist, she is wearing a helmet with a heavily tinted visor that covers every inch of her face. “We’re not going to catch him,” Henry concedes. “He’s too good.” Chance intervenes, and they somehow manage to pull this woman over. When they remove her helmet, they discover that the alleged culprit is a woman. “It’s a woman?” the males whisper in awe.

“And I would’ve gotten away with it too,” she whispers between bared teeth, “if it weren’t for you meddling males.”

Movies operate in patterns humans don’t.

Two grizzled, burly men play darts. The pinpoint accuracy of the men impresses us, but it does not impress the main character of our production, a woman. Some clever wordplay ensues in which the woman, while downing shots of a highly alcoholic drink, subtly and confidently implies that she can beat both of them. “You? But, you’re just a woman,” the men say. They laugh. They laugh harder when she downs that alcoholic drink without so much as a grimace, as she prepares to stand. They’re near hysterics when she takes a dart, and she looks at the laughing men while throwing the dart. She doesn’t even look at the dartboard. The dart hits the center of the target so hard that it blasts through the center, and the wall behind it, where it hits an oxygen tank in a neighboring medical supplies store. The explosive blast sends the two men, now locked in silent awe, through the wall of the saloon and out into the highway. The blast only musses the dart-throwing female’s gorgeous locks of hair a little. She calmly walks toward the men with other blasts, from other oxygen tanks, exploding in her background as she nonchalantly steps on the highway. The 110lb woman then picks one of the 250lb men up with her index finger, as he whimpers, begging for mercy. She ignores his pleas and pulls him in closer, whispering, “And you, you’re just a man.” She then pulls out her sawed off shotgun and blows the man’s head clean off.

Movies operate in patterns humans don’t.

*“There are three things,” according to author Scott Adams, “to know about human beings in order to understand why we do the things we do.

  • Humans use pattern recognition to understand their world.
  • Humans are very bad at pattern recognition
  • And they don’t know it.”

We see patterns in movies, because most of them follow patterns. As Roger Ebert once said, “The motto in Hollywood is if something works, try, try and try it again.” Movies also fall into patterns because movie makers are lazy, they’re not as creative as we think, they to try to affect social change, and they know how much we love patterns. We find patterns pleasing, and they make us feel smart when we figure them out. We find those artistic enterprises that don’t follow our patterns “confusing,” “weird,” and “hard to follow.” They usually end up in “art house” bargain bins. 

We want movies to follow patterns, because we want life to follow patterns. We want to be able to figure people, places and things out. We want to be smart and being smart means spotting outcomes before they occur. We use pattern recognition to predict how others will act and react on a situational basis. We’re wrong on occasion, but we don’t expect to be right all of the time, and we focus on the times when we were right. We’re wrong in life as often as we are when we watch Jeopardy! Yet, how many of us knew the answer soon after the Jeopardy! contestant provided it? We clinch our fists in frustration, because we were so close to getting the answer before they did. How many of us accumulate so many of those almost-got it, should’ve-known, and after-the-fact answers that we actually believe we knew the answer, and we knew so many of those answers that we now consider ourselves trivia masters?

How many after-the-fact, should’ve-known trivia masters, who know a little something something about human nature, can tell us what we’re going to do next, after we do it? “I knew you were going to do that,” they say.

“Wait a second,” we say when they do this to us one too many times. “I already did it. You’re brilliant at predicting what I’m going to do next, after I do it, but if you want any credit for predicting what I’m about to do, you have to say something before I do it.”

“But if I tell you,” they say, “you’ll do something else to prove me wrong.”    

“Fine,” we say. “Tell someone else. Whisper it to them. If that person verifies that you were right, we can start putting together your scorecard.” 

They might have a brilliant response for us, regarding how they knew what we were going to do. They might be able to provide interesting details regarding their meticulous study of human nature, their knowledge of us, and their observational skills in general, but they didn’t put that knowledge on the line when it counted. They might know the patterns and routines of humans, and they might say they can use that knowledge to predict what we’re going to do next, but most of us aren’t as great as recognizing patterns as we think. 

***

The last emotional, irrational cerebral crush I had on someone was a man named John Douglas, a man many credit with being the first to use the art of profiling to capture serial killers. Douglas used extensive interviews with serial killers to gain insight into the mind of men who do such things. His book influenced the creation of the movie Silence of the Lambs, and Netflix later used Douglas’ book Mindhunter for a series of the same name. Silence of the Lambs wasn’t the first movie to focus on the magic of criminal profiling, but it launched the idea of it into the zeitgeist. The idea that certain people exhibit certain patterned behavior can predict future crimes seemed so obvious that we couldn’t believe no one ever thought of it before. If you’re looking for a serial killer, these profiles suggested, look for a single, white man who has military experience and mother issues, and is between the ages of twenty-five and thirty-five. Look for a guy who visits the scene of the crime. Look for the guy who pulled the wings off grasshoppers and tortured other small animals in his youth. Of course, we think, he’s just like my cousin Kirk. I always knew he’d grow up to be a serial killer.   

Movies operate in patterns humans don’t.

The cerebral crush I developed involved far too many emotions, as I fell in love with what I considered Douglas’ rational deductions and persuasive prose. I ignored the idea that Douglas’ study of patterns in human behavior often led to after-the-fact, educated guesses that could help law enforcement officials gain convictions. This earns the “Wait a second …” question all authors dread. Wait a second, I thought your book implied that following the patterns of behavior could lead to the apprehension of suspects that were on the loose. It’s been a while since I’ve read this book, but in my opinion Douglas is not the creative genius he purported to be in this regard. I believed that this veteran FBI expert had enough experience in his field to spot patterns beyond otherwise trivial coincidences. I’ve since heard that veteran law enforcement officials groan when their superiors call profilers in on a case, in the same manner they groan when psychics are called upon. 

John Douglas was correct on occasion, and he trumpeted his success in his book, but how often was his attempts to use patterns of human characteristics and behavior to pinpoint the serial killer wrong? Douglas did not provide a scorecard for his “creative thinking” in his book, but he did confess that there could be a psychic component to it. “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.” This line led to some of us to run away from him. 

The “creative thinking” that some credit Douglas for starting is so ubiquitous in movies and TV shows now that we all know the bullet points, and the procedures that profilers use. We know them so well that we can spot the serial killer twenty minutes into any production. We know, for example, that when the head strong, female FBI agent creates a profile on an Episcopalian from Newark, New Jersey that she’s hot on the trail. None of the other FBI agents can see the correlation between the Episcopalian religion and someone wanting to tear the head off buxom young collegiate blondes, but she has a gut instinct based on years of experience, and we know she’s right. We don’t understand why the other male FBI agents don’t see how the trail she carefully lays out that will lead to the correct suspect. They begrudgingly see the errors of their ways before the credits roll, but they don’t want to give her the credit she deserves. That would shake up their whole world.

Movies operate in patterns humans don’t.  

If we know the pattern, we can spot the climax of a movie far before it arrives, a punchline of a joke before the joke teller gets there, and the return to the refrain of a song, after the bridge, before the band starts in on it. The idea that we can detect patterns and predict outcomes pleases us, and it makes us feel more intelligent for spotting it. We then employ that confidence in our ability to figure out patterns and see coincidences in our everyday interactions to know the people, places, and things around us a little better. The question we rarely ask ourselves, because we rarely remember when we guessed incorrectly, is how often are we wrong? The complicated algorithm can be broken down to a line the Coen Brothers wrote for the actor who played The Dude in The Big Lebowski, “That’s just, like, your opinion man.”

***

I never personally encountered one of those “supercomputers” from the sci-fi movies in the 50’s and 60’s. Those supercomputers were the size of a large room, and the moviemakers depicted them as having knowledge beyond human capacity. The supercomputers in these movies are usually entities in their own right with some ominous one-to-two syllable name, and the movies rarely mention a human programmer. The humans in the movie feed these allegedly autonomous computers data for a problem they want to solve and the “supercomputers” spit out an answer on a tiny, yellow slip of paper (it’s always yellow for some reason). The autonomous computers has data on the patterns of human behavior, and it spits out an answer allegedly not subject to human opinions and biases. If that were the case, one would think that the yellow slip of paper would say, “not much will change in the next fifty years.” That would not move the plot of the movie well, nor would a prediction that suggested, “There will be nothing but good times ahead for the human race.” The prediction on that yellow slip of paper is almost always dreadfully negative, and it’s often something we can’t handle. The only suitable answer, for the characters of the movie is to destroy the supercomputer before it infects the world with its brand of unbiased truth.

Movies operate in patterns humans don’t.  

Hindsight now allows us to view these scary, sci-fi movies as silly. The fear of computers, robots, or any artificial intelligence progressing past human intelligence is evergreen, but the idea that those archaic, room-length 1950’s machines could act independent of a programmer’s influence, or the movie maker’s influence, seems so silly now. We know those yellow slips of paper displayed a prediction based the mover maker’s opinion based upon an “expert’s” opinion, dressed up as a fact from a computer that allegedly escaped the bounds of human opinion and bias. If we could find one of those room length supercomputers from the 50’s to recreate the situation, we’d ask, “Okay, great, now who programmed this computer?” Computers are still not autonomous at this point, and they are still programmed with an opinion, based on an opinion, dressed up as a fact.

When we bite into a bland piece of chicken, loaded with preservatives, one of the first questions we ask is how many generations ago was this piece of meat actually attached to a chicken? We could ask the same questions of facts we receive from our modern, yellow slips of paper from a computer or device, in the form of search engine results, “Who wrote this?” Who provided the data for that modern, yellow slips of paper, and how many generations ago was this answer a primary source fact? 

The response writers of search engine results might have is that their answers are based on agreed upon historical facts, but how much of human history is based on some form of propaganda? How do other countries view our historical facts? Are there any discrepancies? The old saying is that winners write the history books. If that’s the case, how much of our history is based on propaganda, and an opinion based on an opinion of that propaganda that leads to an agreed upon fact? How many generations ago was that fact, upon which we all base our opinions, a fact? How many different incarnations has this grapevine truth gone through before it reached us?

We’ve all heard the George Santayana quote, “Those who don’t know their history are doomed to repeat it.” I’ll confess that I’ve probably used this quote as often as anyone else has without vetting it thoroughly. I also never read a contrarian, like author Scott Adams, dissect the quote and question its greater value. I heard so many brilliant minds drop this quote whenever people, or their leaders, were on the precipice of disaster that I did not question it enough. My prior interpretation of this quote was that if we study the patterns from the past, it will help us know more about our present, and it might help us in future endeavors. If human history is based upon an opinion, based on an opinion from some propaganda, based on a perceived pattern that led to some fact that we now all consider true, how often do we know what’s going happen in the future, how often will we be wrong, and how often will we have to repeat if necessary?

If we follow the patterns of history, will we learn that they are always going to be some human beings who are inherently violent, corrupt, and deceptive? Do we need to study patterns in history to know that? Can we use the map of past human behavior to dictate how we should act and react to others in the future, maybe, when it comes to specific individuals, but how does studying the interactions between ancient Athens and Rome help a country in their current relations with Uruguay? Adams alluded to the idea that the Santayana quote might help naïve leaders who believe that specific leaders of generally corrupt countries will somehow act less than corrupt when the naïve leader proposes laying a path for a new relationship. If that leader and his people fail to study the patterned history of this country, and its leader, they will be doomed to repeat the failures of other leaders who believed they could achieve a different result.

Humans are inherently routine, some might argue, and if we study their general patterns and the trends in history and society today, we can understand how humans will react on a situational basis. We know that residents of South Dakota will react different from residents of Uruguay, but if we gain a general sense of human nature and interaction, we might be able to determine human behavior through patterns. Maybe, to a certain degree, on a case-by-case basis, and depending on situation or issue involved, but how many qualifiers do we need to add to reach a desired conclusion that supports our thesis, opinion, and our biased worldview? If we dig deep enough, in our study of patterns, we (like my friend who could correctly guess what I was going to do after I did it) might find data that supports our opinion and makes us feel like a genius student of human behavior. Our best bet, according to Scott Adams, is stop searching for patterns, trends, and coincidences when trying to figure human nature out, because we’re wrong more often than we’re right. Our best bet is to remove our desire, our need need to be right, and the ego it feeds and admit that we are flawed prognosticators who can predict what will happen in the future.  

How many times have we had someone or something all figured out, only to discover that we were wrong? How many times do we rely on patterns, trends, and the overwhelming, “how could you miss it”, coincidences to figure something or someone out? How many of times have we realized that we were so wrong that we’ve been all wrong, all along? Here’s a line some of us love, “I’m more right than they know.” Some of us love that line so much that we live it. Some of us smile a conspiratorial smile in the face of a correction, believing that they do not know now how right we are, but they will … eventually. They will eventually see the light. They consult their experts, we consult ours, but how often are experts wrong? It depends on who you ask and which experts we consult. We passionately believe our informed beliefs system, and they passionately believe theirs. Who wins, who loses, who cares? Our best bet might be to avoid using other’s opinions to inform our opinion on patterns in human behavior, and while we’re at it, we might want to delete our opinions when trying to form an opinion too. Our best bet is if one way doesn’t work, try another. 

*Adams, Scott, Loserthink, 2019, New York, Penguin, page 66

A Review of the Netflix Series: Home Game


Most people love sports, yet most of us never bothered to ask why. The wide variety of answers for why we love sports might never be apparent to us, unless we meet someone who doesn’t love it at all. We might not be able to learn why we love sports by watching the Netflix series Home Game, and it won’t curb our appetite for specific sports, but it will show the uncomplicated love some people have for their sport, and it might remind us why we love ours.

Home Game’s documentary about Florence, Italy’s sport of Calico Storico will not satisfy anyone who misses American football or rugby. The documentary about the Kyrgystan sport of Kok Boru will not satisfy anyone who misses basketball or polo, and a horseracing fanatic is probably not going to experience satisfaction watching riders pushing water buffalo through a flooded rice field, in Bali’s sport Makepung Lampit. What we will see are the staples of sport. We’ll see the passion, determination, and the temerity it takes to conquer an opponent. We also see an element of sports that we don’t talk about enough, the arduous, sometimes excruciating training it can take to become a champion of any sport. Our initial response might be to view some of the games depicted in these episodes as silly, particularly the Makepung Lampit sport that involves throwing a dead goat in a large, cement vase, but from that vantage point, all sports seem silly. In many first world countries, ten guys try to force a ball through a hoop in basketball. In the third world country of Kyrgyzstan, four guys try to force a dead goat into a large, cement vase. What’s the difference? Would the Kyrgyz or the Balinese people view the idea that first world sports involve crossing lines and putting other balls and pucks in other goals of various sizes as silly too? What would they think of the sport that involves an athlete putting a ball in a can from a great distance, in as few attempts as possible? The point is that we can view all sports as silly on a micro level, but on a macro level what are they but a vehicle for displaying athletic prowess.

We can be sure the documentarians of Home Game did not choose the relatively obscure sports they did to help those sports achieve more popularity, and I doubt the sports will gain a greater following. It’s more likely that they chose the most obscure sports they did to examine the psychology of sports through an alternative lens. When we hear/read interviews of our favorite top tier athletes, they often use boilerplate language that becomes so common we don’t remember much of what they said five minutes after the interview is complete. It might have something to do with the fact that almost all of these episodes deal with sports in different countries, but they appear to give fresh insight into the art of competition, and the desire to win. English is not the native tongue of most of the competitors in the interviews, but we realize that the desire, the will, and the temerity it takes to win and eventually become a champion are a universal language. Most of the episodes require subtitles, and while that might turn some viewers off, it’s equivalent to watching sports with the volume off.

In one episode, we meet a champion named Guyga. Guyga is the champion of West Kinashasa, in the Democratic Republic of Congo’s version of WWF that they call Catch Fetiche. We see kids and teenagers triumphantly run alongside Guyga. We see him train, we hear him talk about his training, and we witness his drive to be the best. After meeting Guyga, the documentarians introduce us to other Catch Fetiche wrestlers, and they engage in similar rhetoric. It’s similar, but for reasons we can’t put our finger on, it’s different. There was something there, and we missed it, so we rewind back to the introduction of Guyga. We see the difference in his walk, this time, and we know we’ve seen that stride before. It’s Mike Tyson entering the ring in the late 80’s, it’s Tiger Woods and Michael Jordan in the 90’s. It’s a champion at his peak. It’s in his shoulders when he walks, and in his stride. When we see Guyga’s face again, we see, without knowing anything else about the sport of Catch Fetiche that Guyga is its champion. In a later shot, Guyga flexes before the camera, and his musculature is impressive, but his face is what we find captivating. He doesn’t appear as thrilled to be on camera as the rest of us are, but he doesn’t shy away from it either. His far off stare that suggests he’s seen battle many times before, and he wins far more often than he loses. The Congolese who run with him make a big fuss about him, and again, he doesn’t appear to need their adulation, but he doesn’t shy away from it either. He’s accustomed to it. He’s accustomed to glory. His stride, and his demeanor, reminds us of the quarterback of our state champion high school football team, the Heisman Trophy winner in college, and the MVP in the NFL. We recognize that for all the tangibles we attain from athletic pursuit, an intangible quality reveals itself in the walk and the face of a champion.

If Guyga decided to retire from the Congolese, voodoo version of the WWF, Catch Fetiche, and he moved to America, and worked in a cubicle next to ours, we’d know there was something different about him. “What’s up with you?” we’d say. “You’re the new guy, yet you walk around the office like a rooster in a henhouse.”

“I used to be a champion in the Democratic Republic of Congo,” he’d say. “Have you ever heard of Catch Fetiche? No one around here has, I used to be the champion of it.”

“I knew it,” we’d say. “I knew there was something different about you.”

In the roller derby episode from Austin, Texas, we see some subtle contrasts between Guyga and the Mad Maxican. After witnessing the glory of an individual champion who has it dripping from every pore, we listen to the roller derby team members speak, and we play a game called spot the champion. We might know more about roller derby than we do Catch Fetiche, but we still know very little. After witnessing Guyga, we think we can spot the look of a champion from a mile away. We think we see it on the face of a key player, who calls herself Ninja Please. The meeker Mad Maxican doesn’t quite have the confident/arrogant demeanor about her that Ninja Please did. Yet, when they take the floor, the Mad Maxican thoroughly outperforms Ninja Please. Why were so wrong about the Mad Maxican? Does it have something to do with the elevated expectations we have when someone says all the right things, as the Ninja Please character did? Does it have something to do with the idea that women, in general, are more humble, and harder to read in this sense, or does it have something to do with the difference between a team player and one who achieves individual glory? Is there an unsung player on the Mad Maxican’s team, who makes her success possible? Is this unsung hero equivalent to an all-star guard on the line of an NFL team, without whom the stars on the team couldn’t achieve half the success they do? We don’t know, because the documentarians don’t delve into those particulars. Perhaps, the Mad Maxican has a quiet confidence about her that doesn’t shine through in interviews. Whatever the case is, we see the contrast of individual successes can have on a person like Guyga and the team success the Mad Maxican enjoys.  

In an episode that covers The Highland Games, in Scotland, the documentarians introduce us to a former champion training an individual who wants to become a future champion. We see the faded glory in that former champion’s face. The athletic achievements of his past instill in him an apparent lifelong confidence, but there’s something missing in his face. We see how much he misses the glory of being a champion. We see the “Youth is wasted on the young” Churchill quote personified in the man that suggests the former champion wishes he appreciated his moment in the sun more.

The episode that Netflix used to promote the series and the one that appears to be garnering most of the critical attention is the first episode in the series depicting a sport called Calico Storico (historical football in English). Calico Storico is the equivalent of rugby meets martial arts. There are linemen who fight on the front line, as in American football, and two ball carriers. The ball carriers attempt to drop a ball in a field-length net. Four teams fight to be champions of Florence, Italy. There’s no money involved, just the pride of the players. The prize for victory is a cow. They don’t slaughter the cow to triumphantly eat it. They simply just walk down the street with it, in a victory parade. Some criticize this episode as a bunch of meatheads plowing into each other, but that criticism misses the mark. Those critics don’t see the passion, the will, or the sheer determination these men put into achieving victory. They prefer to see the sport through a political lens. If the documentarians chose to focus on a woman attempting to enter into Calico Storico, these critics would enjoy the episode more, but there is very little politics in any of the documentaries of Home Game. The documentaries choose to place their focus on the simplicity of athletic competition and athletic achievement. As opposed to modern American football players, the athletes in Calico Storico love their ultra-violent sport so much that they want their children to play in it. One athlete chooses to live in a specific part of the country, so his kid would have a chance to play for the team he did. They suffer minor to severe injuries for their sport, but the prospect of such injuries doesn’t diminish their love of the game.  

The beauty of Home Game beauty is that it reminds us of the unadulterated love of sports. Their love of sports calls to mind the prima donnas of most sports who take their status as a top-tier athlete for granted. If some of their athletes depicted in these documentaries play their beloved sport for money, the documentarians do not mention it in the episodes. The conditions of the countries of most of these documentaries suggest that if the athletes make any money, it’s a relatively paltry sum and not the reason they play the game. The documentarians focus each episode on the beauty of sport without much distraction. Almost all of the sports depicted are unique to our experience, but they detail in the faces of fans and athletes alike, that the language of sports is universal.

Dissected properly, just about every episode of Home Game teaches us a different element of sports that we might not have considered before. They provide us an outsider-looking-in perspective of what it means for the athletes to compete, what it takes to win, and what it means, to them, to become a champion. We see the captivated fans in the stands celebrating goals of a game hundreds to thousands years old. As we watch their game, we see the thrill of their favorite team scoring a goal, the disappointment of seeing their team scored on, the thrills they experience after victory and the agony of defeat. We see ourselves, from their perspective, we remember vicariously enjoying and celebrating the athletic accomplishments of others, and we realize how much we miss it. We appreciate their love of sport from a distance, and it touches us in a very familiar place at the same time.