The Social Contract of Lending: Hairbrushes and Rakes


I remember the moment I my first paycheck was placed in my hand as if it happened yesterday, even though decades have passed since that day. I remember the sense of pride I felt when Paula, the cashier at the restaurant we both worked in, handed me the fruits of my labor. Paula didn’t last long at the restaurant, for reasons endemic to her character, but her face is enshrined in my personal Mount Rushmore of memories. The lessons my father and grandfather taught me about the value of a dollar might have been nothing more than a creative way they found to avoid giving me more money, but whatever it was their lessons did to me was born the day I received my first paycheck.

I don’t remember the bus ride over to that restaurant, but I remember stepping off the bus, knowing that my paycheck was waiting for me inside the restaurant. I remember waking with anticipation. It was the first morning I woke with memorable anticipation since a certain someone ruined Christmas for me. I knew I would no longer have to endure the guilt and embarrassment of asking my father and grandfather for money. I was as free as a teenager could be. That day was the day I learned the power of the dollar, firsthand, and it is still one of the top ten greatest days of my life.

My beloved hairbrush, except it was blue.

The hairbrush I purchased with that first paycheck was my argument against the accusation my father and grandfather made that I would never learn the value of a dollar. My grandfather lived through The Depression, and my father lived in the aftermath of it, and they knew the value of a dollar and the subsequent scarcity of it much better than I did. I knew nothing about it, so their words went in one ear and out the other until I cashed that first paycheck. Buying products with my own money, introduced me to the power of the dollar, but the more profound lesson I learned occurred soon after the intoxication of my financial freedom led me to blow that first paycheck in one weekend. I went from being a power player in control of my financial fate to the vulnerabilities inherent in being dead broke in the course of one weekend, and the only thing I had to show for it was a hairbrush.

My father and grandfather informed me that when I purchased a product, I was to care for it in such a way that extended its life cycle beyond generally accepted norms. Doing so, they said, paid homage to the cogs in the system that made that product available for my convenience. Caring for it also suggested an appreciation for the idea that I was only able to demand that my fellow man provide a service to me by providing a service to him. This newfound purchasing power, and the subsequent values inherent in the dollars I earned, taught me more about the power of the dollar than their theoretical lessons ever could. If I purchased a meal, for example, they suggested I should all but lick that plate clean in appreciation. If I purchased a rake, I was to hang that rake in such a manner that it wouldn’t fall off its peg, and/or collect any water that might cause rust. There was no excuse for a rake falling off a properly secured peg, in their world, and if it did, its rattling tone would reverberate throughout our genealogical tree.

Their lessons also suggested that the care I was to show my products should pale in comparison to the care I showed products another person might lend to me. If a man were generous enough to lend me his rake, in my time of need, I was to treat that rake with reverence. Not only was the rake not mine, it was not mine. I was to treat such a rake as if the Baby Jesus himself had once suckled on it. Not only was I to return it in a timely manner, but I was to return it in the condition in which I received it, or replace it for the man if it was not. The horrible responsibility inherent in borrowing things from others has led me to just purchase brand new rakes at hardware stores. If I were to encounter a moment of desperate need, without the resources to purchase another one, it’s much less taxing emotionally for me to do without. 

Purchasing a new rake is not easy for me either, for doing so is a condemnation for how I treated the previous one. I would much rather use a rake that is no longer 100% productive than endure the personal embarrassment and remorse I experience when replacing one. Even if my standards and practices lead the productive lifespan of the lawn tool to last ten years beyond its life expectancy, I still experience a small scale Oskar Schindler dilemma when I throw away an old rake thinking there was something I could’ve and should’ve done better to extend the life of that old rake.

I know most people do not receive such philosophical training, but when I decided to loan my beloved hairbrush to a friend, and he disrespected it, I considered him unprincipled. I worked hard for that hairbrush. It cost me approximately one half hour of manual labor. As a general practice, I didn’t keep that hairbrush in the family bathroom, fearing that others in my family might use it. I knew where it was at all times, and I developed a spot for it that I thought might prevent me from losing it. When I did loan the brush to my best friend, I monitored his usage and stipulated terms of its usage. Once he no longer needed it, I told him, he was to return it in the manner I loaned it to him.

On another occasion, I loaned a Queen’s Greatest Hits cassette tape to another friend. Although this tape endured hundreds, if not thousands of plays, its condition was excellent relative to usage. The friend I loaned it to managed to lose the case and the jacket within a week, and he had to spend another week locating the tape. He never found the case or the jacket, but he did manage to locate the tape a week later. The friend didn’t offer to compensate me for my loss, or display any of the guilt that should follow such an egregious violation. I would’ve considered this a reflexive response, he did not. When I informed him, in a heated argument, that I would be compensated, he said. “It’s just a cassette tape geez.”

“It’s my cassette tape,” I said, “and you do not dictate its usage.” He decided to compensate my for the loss later, much later, after I offered him a month’s long sampling of my father and grandfather’s many lessons on value, relative value, and the penalty of violating those standards. In the aftermath of this incident, my friend found it less stressful to buy the products he wanted, rather than borrow anything else from me.

The thing that still grates on me is that this friend who borrowed my cassette tape knew the story of my hairbrush, and the friend to whom I loaned it. He even joined me in condemning my hairbrush friend. To have him say, “It’s just a tape geez,” seemed a violation of a value I assumed he and I shared. I wasn’t sure if I should continue to befriend him if our values were so disparate, and I told him so. “It’s just a tape geez,” he said, and he added my name at the beginning as if to strengthen his case that I should rethink this line of thought.

There wasn’t a clamor for usage of my beloved hairbrush, and that’s the way I preferred it, but anytime one values a possession in the manner I did this hairbrush, there are always going to be some who are seduced by its tangible and intangible qualities.

After a couple years, a piece of plastic splintered off the mainframe of that hairbrush. The splinter started as a simple fracture, but it grew over time, until it was sticking out from the brush at a length as long as the average person’s index finger. The splinter that became an embarrassing break was an eyesore, but I didn’t want to cut that piece off or try to fix it in anyway, for it had been my experience that whenever I tried to fix something I only made it worse.

When my friend asked if he could borrow the hairbrush, I was reluctant. As I said, I considered the practice of lending items out so rife with unforeseen ramifications that I couldn’t understand why anyone would want to enter into such a transaction. I laid out some of my stipulations for him to consider before using it, and he said, “It’s a brush. I’m going to brush my hair with it a couple of times, and I’ll hand it back to you. I promise.” His intention was to make me feel silly for valuing a simple hairbrush in such an unusual manner. When he added the words ‘I promise’ after evaluating me, it revealed how uncomfortable I was with the notion of lending out my beloved brush to anyone, even someone I considered a best friend. I felt foolish, and I begrudgingly acquiesced, but I watched him use it intently.

He watched me watching him use it, and he informed me that I might have some hang ups that a psychologist might find fascinating. He then pretended to throw it, and my near hysterical reaction caused him joy. As anyone who knows anything about psychology can probably guess, my friend asked me if he could borrow my hairbrush as often as he could. He enjoyed watching my squirm. I lied at times, and told him I didn’t have it. He knew I was lying, and he capitalized on it. He enjoyed doing something that might cause me to lie, and he tried to force me to prove that I didn’t have it by opening up my school bag. I told him that I would not be emptying my bag to show that my hairbrush was not there, and he would just have to believe me. I also speculate that he knew I wouldn’t be able to use the hairbrush for the rest of the day, in fear of revealing the lie. If I wouldn’t allow him to use my brush, then he would develop a way to prevent me from using it too. 

To avoid having to go through that again, I told him he could not borrow my hairbrush on another occasion, and I offered him a pre-planned explanation. I informed him about the hygienic concerns he should have when using another’s brush. I wasn’t concerned about such matter, but I considered it an excellent excuse regarding why he shouldn’t want to borrow another person’s hairbrush. When he proceeded to rip my excuse apart, I endured with the knowledge that my rationale was sound.  

On one of the other occasions when I did lend it to him, he began fiddling with the splintered piece of plastic that hung off the brush. His fiddling included twisting the splintered piece in such a manner that it would fall off. I caught him in mid twist, “Wait a second,” I said. “What are you doing?”

“Oh, you want that left on there?” he said.

A brush is just a brush, and a rake is just a rake, but it seems common sense to me that when two parties enter into a social contract of lending, an unspoken stipulation accompanies that agreement that suggests the recipient of another’s largess has no standing when it comes to the condition of that product. These are ancient rules compelling both parties to recognize guiding principles restricting both parties to act in a conscientious manner regarding the item in question no matter how inconsequential one party regards said product.

I understand that a rake is just a rake, but if I was to borrow another’s rake, and I damaged one of its rake teeth, I wouldn’t say, “It’s just a rake. Just favor the left side going forward.” I would consider such a statement an atrocious violation of my personal constitution that I wouldn’t be able to look the owner in the eye ever again, and I don’t understand how other grown adults, with presumed mentors teaching them about guiding principles, can violate such principles and absolve themselves of guilt by commenting on how inconsequential the item in question is.    

I have tried to understand such matters in an objective manner, but I can tell you with these two friends of mine, it does not involve an attempt to excuse away guilt. I think they genuinely believe that my tape and my brush were disposable items that would be lost, broken, or in some way ruined eventually. The fact that it happened while in their possession was simply the laws of chance occurring in that brief window of time. In the case of my friend who lost the Queen’s Greatest Hits tape, he wanted me to buy the idea that because I owned the product for twenty years, it was bound to be lost sooner or later whether I loaned it to him or not. He didn’t say those words, but that was the gist of his reaction to my righteous anger.   

I could go into further details on this matter to break it down into the minutiae involved in such an agreement, but I consider them so fundamental that neither party involved should be required to undergo the near-militaristic training I received, in this field, to understand its fundamental role in a civilized society.

In my friends’ defense, neither of them intended to lose, ruin, and destroy my products. They were just careless people who hadn’t been taught the same principles I was. In the case of my hairbrush friend, he was also an unconscious fiddler. He fiddled with everything he could get his hands on, and that fiddling often led to an unconscious destruction of everything he didn’t lose. I knew my friend’s habits, and I knew that the subtext of his condition involved a mother replacing everything he lost or destroyed. I also didn’t want to lend him my hairbrush because I knew that his mother would not replace anything of mine he destroyed with anything short of a civil case brought against them. I knew that if he destroyed my hairbrush, I would have to work another half hour to buy another one, and I would have to budget accordingly. He didn’t understand any of this, because he didn’t have to, and he considered my desire to have my hairbrush returned to him in the condition he received it quaint and quirky.

I spent most of my teen years with this friend, and I watched him blow through money like a high stakes Vegas gambler. He had no regard for the various components of power money wielded. He spared no expense when it came to having a good time. He didn’t make discerning choices with money in the manner one might to make his good times last as long as possible, but, again, he didn’t have to. I was the tightwad who made discerning choices. I decided, for example, not to throw a softball at the target to win my girlfriend a prize at a fair, because I knew I would not hit the target. I also knew that when I didn’t hit it, I would play the stupid game until I did. I knew that my competitive instincts would override good sense, and I would end up blowing through whatever money I did have to win her a prize of minuscule value. I also knew that standing next to her, as a man with money in his pocket who chose not to spend it, that that placed me in a much more prestigious position than one who spent it all on something frivolous. At various points in my life, I was the kid with money, making decisions on how to spend it. At various other points in my life, and I was the kid without money who lost the power to decide. I knew that the kid with money had a lot more power and prestige than the kid who didn’t. I decided against playing the stupid softball game, enduring the abuse for doing so to spend my limited resources on tickets for her to ride the rides at the fair with me, and I bought food for her too. I thought the fun we ended up having proved that I made wise, thoughtful choices with my money, but the only thing they remembered from this weekend was my refusal to play that stupid softball game.

In the course of that night at the festival, my friend played every stupid game the festival offered, and he ran out of money. He called his mom to inform her of this, and he added a forceful chastisement for her lack of foresight. “I told you that $20.00 wouldn’t be enough,” he said. Not only did my friend’s mom avoid commenting on my friend’s irresponsible spending habits, she accepted her role of not showing enough foresight to give him more than $20.00, and she felt guilty about it. The heated exchange that occurred outside the fairgrounds, in which my friend said his mother made him look foolish in front of us, was so foreign to my experience that the only reaction I could find was laughter. 

Most authors reserve this space for a conclusion that reveals how his antagonist’s lack of principles eventually led to his downfall, and how the author wallowed in the glory of that man’s eventual realization. This is not one of those stories. My grandfather, my father, and I thought my friend’s story would not end well. We thought he would eventually learn the responsibilities inherent in responsible spending. “One way or another he will learn them,” they told me. “Every man does in his own ways and on his own time.” My friend did go broke numerous times in his adult life. After an employer fired him, he filed for unemployment, then disability, and then welfare. He said, “I don’t agree with the idea of government assistance, but I can tell you they saved my tailbone.” After discovering a loophole in the bankruptcy laws, he found a way to file for bankruptcy twice. When he needed a loan from a bank, he knew his credit rating was such that they would turn him down, so he and his wife filed for it under his wife’s name. I thought our principles would reveal our characteristics over time, but they didn’t. The reader might suggest that falling to a point where he had to use such resources was a punishment in and of itself, but my friend had excuses all lined up for anyone who might condemn him for such actions. As far as any shame or remorse he might have felt, I can tell you that he took some pride in figuring out how to manipulate the system.

“She always believed in me,” my hairbrush friend said at his mother’s funeral. “Even when she probably shouldn’t have, she always had my back.” I considered that sentiment a touching testimonial to his mother, and in my experience with the two of them, it was 100% true. As a person who spent most of my maturation without a mother, I envied her unconditional loyalty to him, but that jealousy blinded me to the idea that although unconditional loyalty can be a beautiful thing to watch, it doesn’t always serve as well as I thought it did in the moment.

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Scat Mask Replica IV


If your child exhibits creative qualities, my advice is to offer them tantalizing constructive criticism. This may not work in every case, as every child is as different as every adult is, but too much encouragement leads to the dreaded parent-approved stamp, and if you’ve ever been a kid then you know that stamp will collect dust in the attic. As much as our children hate to admit it though our opinions are important to them, and they want to impress us, so discouraging them too much will provide diminishing returns. Parents don’t want to destroy their child’s dreams of course, but there is a sweet spot between being too encouraging and too discouraging.

We might reach a point one day, when we can artificially induce creativity into the brain, but to my understanding, the science of creativity is still a mystery, and the idea of developing it to the point of establishing a career out of it might be so farfetched as to be futile. To become a successful creative artist, a young person needs to be hungry and driven with almost inhuman ambition. How does a parent cultivate such extremes? Anyone who knows anything about the elusive qualities of creativity knows that some of the most brilliant and unique material reveals itself when a creative mind strives to prove their detractors wrong. Does this mean that we should be constantly criticize everything they do? I would say no, but every child is different. In my firsthand experience with the topic, the best mix is a stew of compliments. Provide your child a compliment, and if that doesn’t work, add a dash constructive criticism. The problem with that, of course, is that you’re playing a long game when trying to cultivate a creative mind. The parent who can find the perfect blend that works over the long haul needs to tell the rest of us how to do it, because it’s hard to find. If it were easy, we would have a lot more brilliant, creative types.   

Too much constructive criticism could break your child of course, but too much encouragement could lead the child to experience a sense of accomplishment in the field of creativity, and feeling accomplished might be the worst mindset for a creative type to know. The ideal stance for a parent to take is one in which a creative young mind is forever striving for our approval and to prove us wrong about them, so they can wipe our influence off their map. When our child completes a project, we might want to take a critical stance, no matter how much we appreciate the incredible progress they’ve made. We might also want to say that one creation is the best project they’ve ever completed, but we should be honest in our appraisal, and we don’t want to say this about every piece they’ve done, as one of the greatest creative motivators is to attempt to outdo what we’ve accomplished in the past.

To encourage our child to navigate the dizzying path to success, hunger and angst are vital. Thus, a parent may never be able to give up this façade. Giving it up, may squash further ambition. At some point in the process, they might break our heart by saying, “How come nothing I ever do is good enough for you?” They may then go through the list of their accomplishments, and an accompanying list of all the people they care nothing about who are impressed by their accomplishments, and without knowing it, they will have answered their own question.

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You are Not so Dumb


“You are what we call a processor,” my boss said in a one-on-one meeting. “You study the details of a question before you answer. It might take you more time to arrive at a conclusion, but once you do, you come up with some unique, creative thoughts. There’s nothing wrong with it. We just think differently, and when I say we,” Merri added to soften the blow, “I include myself, for I am a bit of a processor too. So, it takes one to know one.”
Merri added some personal anecdotes to elucidate her point, but the gist of her comment appeared to spring from the fact that she was a quality manager who knew I was struggling under the weight of a quick thinking co-worker that she considered a marvel. I may be speculating here, but I think Merri knew that the best way to get the most out of me was to sit me down and inform me that in my individual manner I was a quality employee too. That woman just called me slow, I thought as she continued. She may have dressed her analysis up with a bunch of pretty adjectives, but the gist of her analysis is that I was a slow learner. I tried to view the comment objectively, but the sociocultural barometers list a wide array of indicators of intelligence, but foremost among them are speed and quickness. She just informed me that I was the opposite of that, so I considered her analysis the opposite of a compliment. I also tried to come up with some compelling evidence to defeat her analysis of me. Yet, every anecdote I came up with only proved her point, so I chose to focus on how unfair it was that those of us who analyze situations before us, to the point of over-analyzing, and at times obsessing over them, receive less recognition for the final solutions we find. We receive some praise, of course, when we develop a solution, but it pales in comparison to those who “Boom!” the room with a quick formulation of the facts followed by a quick one. Even on those occasions when my superiors eventually deemed my solution a better one, I didn’t receive as much praise as the person who came up with a quick, quality one in the moment. I don’t know how long Merri spoke, or how long I debated my response internally, but I changed my planned response seven or eight times based on what she was saying. Two things dawned on me before Merri’s silence called for a response. The first was that any complaint I had about the reactions people have to deep, analytical responses as opposed to superficial, quick thoughts, were complaints I had regarding human nature, and the second thought I had was any response I gave her would be a well thought out, thoroughly vetted response that would only feed into her characterization. I figured she might ever respond, “And that’s exactly what I’m talking about.” Putting those complaints about human nature aside for a moment, Merri’s characterization of my thinking pattern was spot on. It took me a while to appreciate the depth of her comment, and that probably proves her point, but she didn’t really know me well enough to make such a characterization. I think it was a guess on her part that just happened to be more right on than she’ll ever know. Merri’s characterization gradually evolved my thinking about thinking, and it led me to know a little bit more about knowing than I did before my one-on-one with her. Her comment also led to be a little more aware of how I operated. Before I sat down with her, I knew I thought different. I went through a variety of different methods to pound facts home in my head, but I never considered the totality of what she was saying before. This was my fault for the most part, but I never met a person who thought about the thinking process in this manner before. They may have dropped general platitudes on thinking, with regard to visual, auditory, and kinesthetic learning styles, but no one ever sat me down and said, “You’re not a dumb guy, you just need to learn how you think.” Merri’s commentary on my thinking process was an epiphany in this regard, for it led to a greater awareness about my sense of awareness, or what psychologists call my metacognition. The first level of knowledge occurs when we receive information, the second regards how we process it in a manner that reaches beyond memorization to application, and the third might be achieving a level of awareness for how we do all of the above. When she opened my mind’s eye to the concept of processing speeds, I began to see commentary on it everywhere. I witnessed some characterize it as ‘deep thinking’. This might be true in a general sense, but I am inclined to view this as a self-serving term. Slow processors have endured so much abuse over the years that we consider this re-characterization a subtle form of revenge against those who have called us slow. When a person informed me that I might be a deep thinker, I loved it so much that I wanted to repeat it, but I cringed every time I felt the urge, because I think we should leave such characterizations to others. There is an element of truth to it, however, and it arrives soon after a processor begins to believe he’s incompetent, slow, or dumb. Most reflective processors are former dumb people. Intelligent people may disagree, but if most theories are autobiographical then we must factor my intelligence into the equation. My autobiographical theory goes something like this. I spent my schooling years trying to achieve the perception of a quick thinker, and I failed miserably. When the teacher asked a question, I would raise my hand. My answers were wrong so often that a fellow student said, “Why do you keep raising your hand? You’re always wrong.” I would also hear groans, ridicule, and embarrassment for other incorrect answers in other classes, until I was so intimidated that I didn’t answer questions anymore. The byproduct of this was that I began considering my answers to the questions more often, until it achieved a cumulative effect on my thinking processes. Before Merri provided my thought process a much-needed title, I assumed I didn’t know enough to know enough. I took this perspective into everyday situations. I didn’t just consider other, more knowledgeable perspectives to resolve my dilemmas I relied on them for answers. The cumulative effect of this approach led me to begin processing information more and more often, until I gathered enough information to achieve some level of knowledge on a given subject. In my search to find intellectuals who could conceptualize this notion in different ways, I discovered the term ‘down the stairs’ thinking. If a ‘down the stairs’ thinker attends a corporate meeting in which a corporate idea, or concept, is introduced, the supervisor will conclude that meeting by asking if anyone has any questions or input they would like to add. The processor says nothing, because he can’t think of anything while in the moment. The meeting ends, and he walks back to his desk (down the proverbial stairs), when an idea hits him. I write that specific timelines to stay true to the analogy, but my ideas unfortunately do not occur that quickly. I often have to chew on the problem at hand for far too long, and the cliché ‘let me sleep on it’ definitely applies to my thinking type. This dilemma might lead one to ask, if an idea is good enough, who cares when an idea hits as long as it hits? The processor who wants the perception of being quick cares. He wants others to marvel at his intellect in the moment. The seeds of frustration and confusion are borne here, until someone comes along and clarifies the matter for us. A college professor once praised a take-home, assigned essay I wrote on some required reading. She claimed that the ideas I expressed in that essay were “unique and insightful” and she wrote that she wanted me to participate more in in-class discussions, because she said she thought I could add something to add to them. My wrong answers in high school and the resultant teasing all but beat class participation out of me, but I wanted to live up to her compliments. I did try to participate more often in the college class, the next day, but the experience only reiterated why I shouldn’t be answering questions in class. I was so wrong so often that she gave me a worried look. When we took the final in this class, it involved an in-class essay on another book. This teacher watched me in a manner shop owner might a suspected shoplifter. I think she suspected that I cheated on the take home essay, and she wanted to see if I could provide an equal performance on an in-class essay. I received the same grade on that final, and many of the same comments followed that grade. She and I both walked away from that experience with the knowledge that no matter how hard one tries to promote it, or affect it, we all think different. There are quick-thinking, reactive brains that can process information quickly and instinctively produce an answer in the manner a knee pops up when a doctor hits it with one of those rubber hammers. Others require some slow roasting, and while it may be embarrassing and frustrating for those who can’t come up with a quick answer, once they learn how they learn, think about how they think, and become more comfortable with the way in which they operate, it can liberate them from the idea that they’re as dumb as they once feared. The theme of David McRaney’s You are Not so Smart was obviously that we are not as smart as we think we are. The various essays in that book describe why we do the things we do, and how various psychological mechanisms condition us to do the things we do. I loved that book so much that I’ve written probably thirty of my own articles on the theme. This particular article is the antithesis of that book, and its purpose is to provide some relief for the confusion and frustration some have regarding their thinking style. If the information in this article spares one person from the decades of frustration I experienced in this regard, I might even consider this the best article I’ve ever written. I would do so without ego, for I am merely passing information along. If the reader identifies with the characterizations we’ve outlined here, I do have one note of caution: You may never rid yourself of this notion that you’re less intelligent than the firecracker over there in the corner, but if you can come to grips with the manner in which you think, process information, and know it to the point of arriving at an answer without all of the frustration you experience when everyone else is shouting answers out, I think you might be able to achieve some surprising results. You might never reach a point of bragging for I don’t know how they would, but attaining knowledge of self can go a long way to understanding how we operate, and it’s our job to take such information and use it accordingly. 

…And Then There’s Todd


[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.]

The Thief’s Mentality: The Brief Synopses


1) The Thief’s Mentality

The Thief’s Mentality examines the comfort some seek to explain their variables by suggesting that if everyone is as immoral as they are then no one is immoral. Kurt Lee introduced us to this concept when he introduced us to a mower he recently obtained. “Stole,” a mutual friend informed us, sometime later, “Kurt stole that mower.” Why was this piece of information 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 anyone from stealing them from him. The only reason he felt comfortable showing off his mower, was that he had it chain locked it to the wall. The chain lock was more impressive than the mower, and the lock probably would’ve fetched ten times more than the most generous pawnshop owner might offer for the mower. Kurt 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) And Then There’s Todd

Todd had no discernible value in the dating world, as far as we were concerned, yet his status among the women we knew was unquestionably greater than ours was. Todd was a long-standing member of the ‘not ugly’ club, but unlike a majority of our members, he was not clever. Prior to Todd, we thought being clever was the ticket out of our club. What made Todd’s unparalleled success so frustrating and inexplicable was that Todd not only lacked clever characteristics, he was an oaf. As a nineteen-year-old young man, Todd had yet to learn how to tie his own shoes, and he feared cotton balls, but he somehow managed to date the most beautiful women in the establishment we worked in together. What was his secret? Those who knew Todd well would venture to guess that there was no secret formula to his success with women, and that he was just Todd.

3) 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?

4) 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 this failure defined the rest of Freud’s career in a manner I’ve never heard historians ask before.

5) 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 this show 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.

6) He Used to Have a Mohawk

At a wedding reception, I learned that the groom 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 pseudo condescending, though well-intentioned comments these two were making about him. I also wondered if those words hurt his feelings, and if he missed the days when he had a mohawk, and he made people so uncomfortable that they wouldn’t dare make such comments about him.

7) 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 further 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. 

8) 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 that fell to that depth 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 that 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.

9) 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 affects those around him.

10) 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 a Rage Against the Machine soldier. It’s the difference between provocative theory and reality.

11) 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.

12) 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 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, wonderful people will often focus on .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 that 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?”

13) Platypus People

My friend’s mom greeted me at the door to inform me that her husband was an infidel. This was her way of informing me that her husband engaged in an act of infidelity on a business trip. I spent the next couple of days (that were actually minutes) listening to the man’s coerced confession, the wife’s torturous definitions of male sexuality, and the brutal physical altercation that punctuated the evening. What the Finnegans taught me that day, more than any other more obvious lesson, was that some people defy all psychological categorization in the same manner the platypus does in other fields of science.

14) The Weird and the Strange

Are you an oddball, weird, different, or strange? These classifications are, of course, relative, and any attempts to define them are arbitrary. If you are not any of these classifications, in a more organic manner, and you’re bored with your normalcy, you should know there are rules to achieving those perceptions, and there are ramifications to diving too deep into them.        

15) 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 the 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 it’s an involuntary reaction to unprecedented horror in our lives, unless we find a way to prepare for such a moment.  

16) The Unfunny 

I’ve been told that I’m not funny, and I’ve been told that I’m not ugly. They also told me that I was not dating as often as I should have. I knew plenty of not funny and not ugly fellas who were dating, and some of them, like Todd, managed to date some beautiful women. I was not happy. I decided to explore 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 originality well or often. “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 that violence for the pursuit of men who were handsome, or handsome and clever, and I was whittled out of that group 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 that 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.

17) 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 on in the dreaded land of pro-consumer and pro-corporate.

18) I’m Disgusting, He’s Disgusting, She’s Disgusting, Wouldn’t You Like to Be Disgusting Too?

Seinfeld might be my favorite show 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.

19) 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 a 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.

20) 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 tag 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.

21) 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. It 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.

22) 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 archrivals in high school. The checkers were multi-colored, of course, but some of those colors were pink, and my archrivals wore pink. I hated this ad exec. I hated him in the same manner I hated my archrivals. 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.

23) Groundhogs, Led Zeppelin, and Our Existential Existence

What do 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.

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 the helps 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 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 in depth analysis might reveal it as some of the best advice you’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.

Don’t Go Chasing Eel Testicles: A Brief, Select History of Sigmund Freud


We all envy those who knew, at a relatively young age, what they wanted to do for a living. Most of us experience some moments of inspiration that might lead us toward a path, but few of us ever read medical journals, law reviews, or business periodicals during our formative years. Most of the young people I knew preferred an NFL preview guide of some sort, teenage heartthrob magazines, or one of the many other periodicals that offer soft entertainment value. Most of us opted out of reading altogether and chose to play something that involved a ball instead. Life was all about playtime for the kids I grew up around, but there were other, more serious kids, who we wouldn’t meet until we were older. Few of them knew they would become neurosurgeons, but they were so interested in medicine that they devoted huge chunks of their young lives to learning everything their young minds could retain. “How is this even possible?” some of us ask. How could they achieve that level of focus at such a young age, we wonder. Are we even the same species?

At an age when so many minds are so unfocused, they claimed to have tunnel vision. “I didn’t have that level of focus,” some said to correct the record, “not the level of focus to which you are alluding.” They may have diverged from the central focus, but they had more direction than anyone I knew, and that direction put them on the path of doing what they ended up doing, even if it wasn’t as specific as I guessed.

The questions we have about what to do for a living have plagued so many for so long that comedian Paula Poundstone captured it with a well-placed joke, and I apologize, in advance, for the paraphrasing: “Didn’t you hate it when your relatives asked what you wanted to do for a living? Um, Grandpa I’m 5. I haven’t fully grasped the mechanics or the importance of brushing my teeth yet. Those of us of a certain age have now been on both sides of this question. We’ve been asking our nieces and nephews this question for years without detecting the irony. What do you want to do when you grow up? Now that I’ve been asking this question long enough, I’ve finally figured out why we ask it. Our aunts and uncles asked us this question, because they were looking for ideas. I’m in my forties now, and I’m still asking my nieces and nephews these questions. I’m still looking for ideas.”

Pour through the annals of great men and women of history, and that research will reveal legions of late bloomers who didn’t accomplish anything of note until late in life. The researcher will also discover that most of the figures who achieved success in life were just as dumb and carefree as children as the rest of us were, until the seriousness of adulthood directed them to pursue a venture in life that would land them in the annals of history. Some failed more than once in their initial pursuits, until they discovered something that flipped a switch.

Those who know anything about psychology, and many who don’t, are familiar with the name Sigmund Freud. Those who know anything about Freud are aware of his unique theories about the human mind and human development. Those who know anything about his psychosexual theory know we are all repressed sexual beings plagued with unconscious desires to have relations with some mythical Greek king’s mother. What we might not know, because we consider it ancillary to his greater works, is that some of his theories might have originated from Freud’s pursuit of the Holy Grail of nineteenth-century science, the elusive eel testicles.

Although some annals state that an Italian scientist named Carlo Mondini discovered eel testicles in 1777, other periodicals state that the search continued up to and beyond the search of an obscure 19-year-old Austrian’s in 1876.[1] Other research states that the heralded Aristotle conducted his own research on the eel, and his studies resulted in postulations that stated either that the beings came from the “guts of wet soil”, or that they were born “of nothing”.[2] One could guess that these answers resulted from great frustration, since Aristotle was so patient with his deductions in other areas. On the other hand, he also purported that maggots were born organically from a slab of meat. “Others, who conducted their own research, swore that eels were bred of mud, of bodies decaying in the water. One learned bishop informed the Royal Society that eels slithered from the thatched roofs of cottages; Izaak Walton, in The Compleat Angler, reckoned they sprang from the ‘action of sunlight on dewdrops’.”

Before laughing at any of these findings, one must consider the limited resources these researchers had at their disposal, concerning the science of their day. As is oft said with young people, the young Freud might not have had the wisdom yet to know how futile this task would be when a nondescript Austrian zoological research station employed him. It was his first job, he was 19, and it was 1876. He dissected approximately 400 eels, over a period of four weeks, “Amid stench and slime for long hours” as the New York Times described Freud’s working environment. [3] His ambitious goal was to write a breakthrough research paper on an animal’s mating habits, one that had confounded science for centuries. Conceivably, a more seasoned scientist might have considered the task futile much earlier in the process, but an ambitious, young 19-year-old, looking to make a name for himself, was willing to spend long hours slicing and dicing eels, hoping to achieve an answer no one could disprove.

Unfortunate for the young Freud, but perhaps fortunate for the field of psychology, we now know that eels don’t have testicles until they need them. The products of Freud’s studies must not have needed them at the time he studied them, for Freud ended up writing that his total supply of eels were “of the fairer sex.” Freud eventually penned that research paper over time, but it detailed his failure to locate the testicles. Some have said Freud correctly predicted where the testicles should be and that he argued that the eels he received were not mature eels. Freud’s experiments resulted in a failure to find the testicles, and he moved into other areas as a result. The question on the mind of this reader is how profound of an effect did this failure to find eel testicles have on his research into human sexual development?

In our teenage and young adult years, most of us had odd jobs that affected us in a variety of ways, for the rest of our working lives. For most, these jobs were low-paying, manual labor jobs that we slogged through for the sole purpose of getting paid. Few of us pined over anything at that age, least of all a legacy that we hoped might land us in annals of history. Most of us wanted to do well in our entry-level jobs, to bolster our character, but we had no profound feelings of failure if we didn’t. We just moved onto other jobs that we hoped we would find more financially rewarding and fulfilling.

Was Freud’s search for eel testicles the equivalent of an entry-level job, or did he believe in the vocation so much that the failure devastated him? Did he slice the first 100 or so eels open and throw them aside with the belief that they were immature? Was there nothing but female eels around him, as he wrote, or was he beginning to see what had plagued the other scientists for centuries, including the brilliant Aristotle? There had to be a moment, in other words, when Sigmund Freud realized that they couldn’t all be female. He had to know, at some point, that he was missing the same something everyone else missed. He must have spent some sleepless nights struggling to come up with a different tactic. He might have lost his appetite at various points, and he may have shut out the world in his obsession to achieve infamy in marine biology. He sliced and diced over 400 after all. If even some of this is true, even if it only occupied his mind for four weeks of his life, we can feasibly imagine that the futile search for eel testicles affected Sigmund Freud in a profound manner.

If Freud Never Existed, Would There Be a Need to Create Him?

Every person approaches a topic of study from a subjective angle. It’s human nature. Few of us can view people, places, or things in our lives, with total objectivity. The topic we are least objective about, say some, is ourselves. Some say that we are the central topic of speculation when we theorize about humanity. All theories are autobiographical, in other words, and we pursue such questions in an attempt to understand ourselves better. Bearing that in mind, what was the subjective angle from which Sigmund Freud approached his most famous theory on psychosexual development in humans? Did he bring objectivity to his patients? Could he have been more objective, or did Freud have a blind spot that led him to chase the elusive eel testicles throughout his career in the manner Don Quixote chased windmills?

After his failure, Sigmund Freud would switch his focus to a field of science that would later become psychology. Soon thereafter, patients sought his consultation. We know now that Freud viewed most people’s problems through a sexual lens, but was that lens tinted by the set of testicles he couldn’t find a lifetime ago? Did his inability to locate the eel’s reproductive organs prove so prominent in his studies that he saw them everywhere he went, in the manner that a rare car owner begins to see his car everywhere, soon after driving that it off the lot? Some say that if this is how Freud conducted his sessions, he did so in an unconscious manner, and others say this might have been the basis for his theory on unconscious actions. How different would Freud’s theories on development have been if he found his Holy Grail, and the Holy Grail of science at the time? How different would his life have been? We could also wonder if Freud would have even switched his focus if he found fame as a marine biologist with his findings.

How different would the field of psychology be today if Sigmund Freud remained a marine biologist? Alternatively, if he still made the switch to psychology after achieving fame in marine biology, for being the eel testicle spotter, would he have approached the study of the human development, and the human mind from a less subjective angle? Would his theory on psychosexual development have occurred to him at all? If it didn’t, is it such a fundamental truth that it would’ve occurred to someone else over time, even without Freud’s influence?

We can state, without too much refutation, that Sigmund Freud’s psychosexual theory has sexualized the beliefs many have about human development, a theory others now consider disproved. How transcendental was that theory, and how much subjective interpretation was involved in it? How much of the subjective interpretation derived from his inability to find the eel testicle fueled it? Put another way, did Freud ever reach a point where he began overcompensating for that initial failure?

Whether it’s an interpretive extension, or a direct reading of Freud’s theory, modern scientific research theorizes that most men want some form of sexual experience with another man’s testicles. This theory, influenced by Freud’s theories, suggests that those that claim they don’t are lying in a latent manner, and the more a man says he doesn’t, the more repressed his homosexual desires are.

The Williams Institute at UCLA School of Law, a sexual orientation law think tank, released a study in April 2011 that stated that 3.6 percent of males in the U.S. population are either openly gay or bisexual.[4] If these findings are even close to correct, this leaves 96.4 percent who are, according to Freud’s theory, closeted homosexuals in some manner. Neither Freud nor anyone else has been able to put even a rough estimate on the percentage of heterosexuals who harbor unconscious, erotic inclinations toward members of the same sex, but the very idea that the theory has achieved worldwide fame leads some to believe there is some truth to it. Analysis of some psychological studies on this subject provides the quotes, “It is possible … Certain figures show that it would indicate … All findings can and should be evaluated by further research.” In other words, no conclusive data and all findings and figures are vague. Some would suggest that these quotes are ambiguous enough that they can be used by those who would have their readers believe that most of the 96.4 percent who express contrarian views are actively suppressing their desire to not just support the view, but to actively involve themselves in that way of life.[5]

Some label Sigmund Freud as history’s most debunked doctor, but his influence on the field of psychology and on the ways society at large views human development and sexuality is indisputable. The greater question, as it pertains specific to Freud’s psychosexual theory, is was Freud a closet homosexual, or was his angle on psychological research affected by his initial failure to find eel testicles? To put it more succinct, which being’s testicles was Freud more obsessed with finding during his lifetime?

[1]https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eel_life_history

[2]http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2010/oct/27/the-decline-of-the-eel

[3]http://www.nytimes.com/2006/04/25/health/psychology/analyze-these.html

[4]https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Demographics_of_sexual_orientation

[5]http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/assault/roots/freud.html

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The Thief’s Mentality: A Preview


The best thief I ever knew accused me of stealing from him so often that I began to question my integrity. I dated a woman who cheated on me so often that I’m still embarrassed that I wasn’t more aware of her infidelities. Her octopus ink involved psychological projection in the form of repetitive accusations of infidelity on my part. Her charges were so effective that I spent most of our relationship defending myself. I’ve also encountered compulsive liars who used such tactics on me, so often, that I never managed to question their integrity. If their goals were to prevent me from analyzing them, they were successful. The more I thought about it, the more I realized their accusations said more about them and their worldview than it ever did me. Some might call this projection, others might call it deflection or obfuscation, but I believe the games these people play fall under a comprehensive, multi-tiered umbrella I call the thief’s mentality.

Kurt Lee introduced me to the confusing mind of a deceptive person, even though I wasn’t aware of it at the time. The art of deception was such a key component of his personality that he was hypervigilant to the signs and signals of possible transgressions occurring in the minds of those around us. He spent his life so attuned to this frequency that his instincts often led him astray.

Kurt taught me more about how a deceptive person thinks, than any other person I’ve encountered, movie I’ve watched, or book I’ve read on the subject. He would serve as my prototype for those who would exhibit a wide array of similar traits, traits I would only later deem the attributes of the thief’s mentality.

The most interesting aspect about the man, a characteristic that might defy that which I will describe throughout this piece, was his charm. When it served him, Kurt Lee had the propensity to be nice, engaging, and infectious. He was also a funny guy, and a genuinely funny person can disarm us, unless we stick around long enough to learn more about their sensibilities.

Those who knew Kurt Lee, on a superficial level, envied him for the ways in which he openly defied authority figures without guilt. Those who actually spent as much time around Kurt Lee as I did, however, witnessed that for all the charisma a piece of work (POS) displays, they ultimately end up destroying themselves from the inside out.

One afternoon while on a city bus, Kurt decided to play with the crocheted ball on top of the stocking cap of the elderly woman that sat in front of him. My reaction to this spectacle may be one of the things I have to answer for on Judgment Day, because I found his appalling act hysterical.

Hindsight informs me that my youthful attraction to Kurt Lee’s antics may have had something to do with learning about the mores and rules my mother taught me. Why haven’t I ever played with the ball on top of an old woman’s stocking cap? What’s the difference between Kurt Lee and me? Is it about morality, or does it have more to do with common decency? My mother taught me that when a young, healthy male sees an elderly woman, he should smile at her and try to think up something nice to say. My mother taught me to hold the door for her, and she said that I should consider it a privilege to give up my seat to a woman like that on the city bus, if no other seats were available.

Not only did Kurt Lee ignore those typical conventions, he chose to pursue what we could term the exact opposite. He decided to violate the most vulnerable member of our culture’s sense of security by playing with her stocking cap. Of course, it was wrong, but it was also a fascinating exploration of human nature. How would this old woman react? How would a real POS counter that reaction? Why did he do it in the first place? Did he think he would get away with it? Did he even care? I would never know the answer to the latter questions, but my fascination with the answers to the former led me to urge him on with laughter. That was wrong, too, of course, but I now believe my laughter was borne of curiosity. I wanted to learn more about the moral codes by which we all abide. I hoped to learn that by watching another solidify my rationale, with no regard for the consequences of violating them. At the time, I really didn’t have those thoughts, but I couldn’t wait to see how it would end, and I dare say that most of those who are more successful in abiding by the standards their mothers taught them would not have been able to look away either

The vulnerable, elderly woman did eventually turn on Kurt, and she did so with an angry expression. She allowed the first few flicks of the ball atop her stocking cap go, presumably taking a moment to muster up the courage to tell him off, and then she gave him that angry look. Kurt Lee appeared ready to concede to that initial, nonverbal admonition, until he spotted me laughing. Egged on by me, he did it three more times before she reached a point of absolute frustration that led her to say something along the lines of, “Stop it, you young punk!”

To that, Kurt began thrusting his hips forward in his seat, while looking at me, whispering, “She just wants unusual carnal relations!” As a teenager trying to elicit more laughter from another teen, Kurt Lee did not use that term. He selected the most vulgar term he could to describe his interpretation of her desires.

Had Kurt Lee decided to stick his middle finger up in the face of a healthier, younger adult, it would have been just as difficult to avoid watching. The fact that he chose such a sacred cow of our culture for his act of rebellion, however, made his actions over-the-top hilarious. In my young, unformed mind, this was a real life equivalent to David Letterman’s man-on-the-street segments, taken up ten notches on the bold-o-meter. I would later learn that Kurt Lee was not the type to make profound statements about our societal conventions. He was more of a doer, and doers just do what they do and leave the messy interpretations of what they do to others. I would also learn, by the manner in which Kurt Lee selected his victims based on their inability to fight back, that Kurt Lee was something of a coward. At the time, though, I found his actions so bold that I couldn’t look away, and I couldn’t stop laughing.

As time wore on, I discovered a wide array of fascinating explorations of human nature, but those paled in comparison to Kurt Lee’s mentality, his philosophy, and what drove him to be so different from everyone I had ever met. To listen to him speak on the topic, there was nothing different about Kurt Lee. He simply had the courage of his convictions. He ascribed to the more conventional line of thought that we were all afraid to be like him, but he also suggested that for the rest of us, we have had this inherent part of our makeup denied so long, by parents and teachers instructing us to act differently, that we now believe we are different. The import of his message was that this was not about me, and it’s not about him. It’s about human nature and the thief’s mentality.

“If you could get away with it, you would try,” was his answer to any questions posed to him. “You mean to tell me you’ve never stolen anythingEver? All right then, let’s talk about reality.” Kurt Lee was a thief, and like most thieves, he did not defend his position from the position of being a thief. He would substitute an exaggeration of your moral qualms regarding thievery, claiming that any person who has stolen even once is in no position to judge someone who steals on a regular basis.

In short bursts, and on topic, Kurt Lee could lower the most skilled debater to the ground. We called him a master debater, with the innuendo intended, because it was almost impossible to pin him down on specifics. It was a joy to watch. Prolonged exposure, however, opened up all these windows into his soul.

When we asked him how a guy from the sticks could afford the latest, top-of-the-line zipper pants, a pair of sunglasses that would put a fella back two weeks’ pay, and an original, signed copy of the Rolling Stones, Some Girls. He would tell us, but even his most ardent defender had a hard time believing Santa Claus could be that generous.

Kurt Lee stole so often by the time I came to know him that the act of shoplifting lost its thrill. He decided to challenge himself as top athletes, and top news anchors do, by hiring third-party analysts to scrutinize the minutiae of their performance. He asked me to watch him steal baseball cards from the shop owner that we all agreed was in need of a good lesson because he refused to buy our cards 99 percent of the time. On those rare occasions when he agreed to buy them, his offers were so low they were almost insulting.

I posed a theory about our transactions with this shop owner. I theorized that the intent behind his frequent refusals to buy our cards was to establish his bona fides as a resident expert of value. That way, when he informed us that any of our cards were of value, we were ready to jump at the chance, no matter what amount he offered. “By doing so,” I concluded, “he actually makes us feel more valuable, because we think we finally have something worthy of one of his offers.”

“You’re right,” Kurt Lee said. “Let’s get him.”

I felt validated for coming up with a theory that Kurt Lee accepted, but in hindsight, I think Kurt Lee would’ve used anything I said to motivate me to conspire against the owner.

“One thing,” Kurt Lee said before we entered. “I don’t know if this needs to be said, but I’m going to say it anyway. Don’t watch me, don’t talk to me, and be careful about how often you look at me. Don’t try to avoid looking at me either.” When I laughed at that, a laugh that expressed some confusion, he added, “Just don’t do anything stupid or obvious.”

It was an invitation into a world I had never known, and Kurt Lee’s provisos might have been necessary, because I was as nervous as I was excited. I considered the idea that my foreknowledge of this crime could implicate me as an accessory, but I couldn’t shake the asexual intimacy that Kurt Lee was sharing with me, with this invitation into his world.

Before we entered the shop, Kurt Lee opened his pockets, in the manner a magician might, and he asked me to confirm that he had no cards in his pockets.

Throughout the course of our hour in the shop, I didn’t witness Kurt Lee steal one thing, and I mocked him. “What happened? I thought you were going to steal something,” I said. “I’m beginning to think you’re chicken.”

He allowed me to mock him without saying a word. When I finished, he opened his jacket to show me his inner pockets. What I saw knocked me back a couple steps. I actually took a step back when I witnessed the number of baseball cards that lined his inner pockets. I would’ve been impressed if he displayed one card, and three or four would’ve shocked me, but the sheer number of cards he stole without me noticing one act of thievery, led me to believe that Kurt Lee wasted his abilities on the petty art of shoplifting. I considered telling him to try his hand at being a magician for I thought what I was witnessing were the skills of a maestro of deception. If he could hone in on those skills, I thought the possibilities were endless for Kurt Lee.

Soon after recovering from that awe, I began to wonder how one might acquire such a deft hand. As with any acquired skill, trial and error is involved, but nestled within that lies the need to find a utility that permits the thief to proceed uninhibited by shame. A skilled performer in the arts or athletics delights in displaying their ability to the world, in other words, but a thief prefers to operate in the shadows, and they acquire their skill with a modicum of shame attached. Success as a thief, it would seem to those of us on the outside looking in, requires either a defeat of that sense of shame or the ability to manage it.

Shame, some argue, like other unpleasant emotions, becomes more manageable with familiarity. When a father introduces shame to his child, in the brutal assessments a father makes regarding the value of the child, the child becomes familiar with an intimate definition of shame before they are old enough to combat them. When such brutal assessments are then echoed by a mother’s concern that their child can’t do anything right, the combined effort can have a profound effect on a child. When those parents then console the child with a suggestion that while the child may be a bad seed, but they’re no worse than anyone else is, something gestates in the child. The moral relativism spawned from these interactions suggests that the search for the definitions of right and wrong is over, and the sooner the child accepts that, the more honest they will become. Seeing their mother scold a teacher for punishing their child for a transgression only clarifies this confusion a little more. In that relativist scolding, the child hears their mother inform the teacher that the child can do no wrong, and they see her unconditional support firsthand. Over time, the child must acknowledge that their parents will not always be there, so they will need to develop personal defense mechanisms in line with what they’re learned. The child also learns to accept these realities for what they are, for the Lee family has never had the courage necessary to commit suicide.

I hated discounting the level of individual ingenuity on Kurt Lee’s part, but he was simply too good at the various forms of deception for it to have been something he arrived at on his own. Attempting to source it might be a fool’s errand, but I wondered if I were able to sort through Kurt’s his genealogical tree, if I might find sedimentary layers of grievance, envy, frustration, and desperation that worked their way down to him. To those that consider this a bit of a stretch, I ask how much of our lives do we spend rebelling against, and acquiescing to parental influence, and how many of us can say we are entirely free from it?

I was so obsessed with this, at one point, that I bridged a gap between being curious and badgering, something Kurt Lee made apparent in his volatile reaction:

“You think you’re better than me?” Kurt Lee asked, employing the universal get-out-of-judgment free card of moral relativism. This time-honored redirect relies on the lessons taught to us by our mothers, that we are no better than anyone else is, but Kurt Lee’s rant began to spiral out of control when he tried to pivot to what he believed its logical extension.

If no one is better than anyone else is and everyone resides on the cusp of whatever Kurt Lee was, the logical extension required the inclusion of an individual that many perceive to be so harmless it’s almost laughable to suggest otherwise. The individual, in this case, was a kid named Pete Pestroni. If Kurt Lee’s arguments were going to hold water, the idea that Pete Pestroni was a wolf in sheep’s clothing would have to become an agreed upon fact. I’m still not sure why Kurt Lee went down the Pete Pestroni road so often, but I suspect it had something to do with the idea that if Pete was immune, in one form or another, everyone else had to be too. Pete was just too weak, or too scared, to let his wolf run wild, in Kurt Lee’s worldview. We would laugh at the implausibility of Pete Pestroni having a Kurt Lee trapped inside, a thief dying to come out. Our intention was to laugh with Kurt Lee, but he wouldn’t even smile. Some part of him believed that if everyone was a thief, then no one was, at least to the point of separating the thief out for comparative analysis. This was a sacred chapter in Kurt Lee’s personal bible, and an ingredient of the thief’s mentality that took me decades to grasp.

The thief’s mentality is a mindset that involves a redirect of exposing an uncomfortable truth, or a hypocrisy, in others, so that the thief might escape a level of scrutiny that could lead to an uncomfortable level of introspection. An individual with a thief’s mentality may steal, but that person is just as apt to lie and cheat. The thief’s mentality begins as a coping mechanism for dealing with the character flaws that drive the thief to do what they do, but it progresses from those harmless, white lies to a form of deception that requires a generational foundation. 

The thief’s mentality is deflection, by way of subterfuge, a means to explain the carrier’s inability to trust beyond the point that they should be trusted, but some thieves’ outward distrust of others reaches a point of exaggeration that says far more about them than those they accuse. Their cynicism is their objectivity, and others’ faith in humanity is a subjective viewpoint, one that we must bear. We live in a dog-eat-dog, screw-or-be-screwed world in which those who trust anyone outside their own homes are naïve as to the point of hopelessness. If the listener is to have any hope of surviving in such a world, it is incumbent upon them to see past the façades and through the veneer, others present to the truth.

The truth, in Kurt Lee’s worldview, held that TV anchors with fourteen-inch parts, and perfect teeth, ended their days by going home to beat their wives. He didn’t believe that a person could attain wealth by honest means. He insisted that because some states convicted some Catholic priests as pedophiles that meant all Catholic priests were, and he had a particular fascination with infidelity in the White House. “You think JFK and Clinton are different? They’re just the ones that got caught is all.” There was also his contention that little old ladies who complained about having someone toy with the balls on the stocking caps just want to have unusual carnal relations. As with most tenets of a person’s worldview, there was some grain of truth in Kurt Lee’s, but he often had to put forth a great deal of effort to support it.

In most such discussions, Kurt Lee’s audience was immune. “I’m not talking about you,” he would say to the parties concerned, so they would view the subject matter from the perspective of an ally. If we begin to view ourselves as an ally, we might join him in convincing our world that he’s not that bad, or the world is as bad as he is. Yet, our agreed upon immunity from his charges begins to fracture in the course of the thief’s logical extensions. When that happens, the thief turns their accusations on us. We may consider ourselves virtuous and moral, but the thief knows everything there is to know about hidden agendas. They maintain a perpetual state of readiness for that day when we break free of the constraints of morality and loyalty to expose our evil, naked underbelly to the world. They have us all figured out, because they know those lies we tell. It’s the thief’s mentality.

Thieves may even believe their exaggerated or false accusations, regardless of all we’ve done to establish ourselves as good, honest people. The validity of their accusation, however, pales in comparison to a thief’s need to keep a subject of their accusations in a perpetual state of trustworthiness. They make this accusation to keep us in check in a manner they know we should keep them in check. The import of that line provides us a key to understanding why an individual with a thief’s mentality would make such a charge against us, and the Pete Pestronis of the world that are so honest it’s laughable to suggest otherwise. Some might call such accusations psychological projection, the inclination one has to either deny or defend their qualities while seeing them in everyone else. Others might say that it’s some sort of deflection or obfuscation on the part of the thief, but I believe it all falls under a comprehensive, multi-tiered umbrella that I call the thief’s mentality. Still others might suggest that Kurt Lee’s accusations were born of theories he had about me, the people around him, and humanity in general. If that is the case, all theory is autobiography.

Whether it was as complex as all that on an unconscious level, or some simple measures Kurt Lee developed over the years to prevent people from calling him a POS, I witnessed some try to turn the table on the accusations by telling Kurt Lee that other people trust them.

Kurt Lee’s response to one particularly defensive combatant was so clever that I thought it beyond his years. Again, I hate to discount individual ingenuity, but it just seemed too clever for Kurt to deliver as quickly as he did when he said:

“So you think if someone trusts you that means that you’re trustworthy?” is how Kurt Lee responded. He said the word trustworthy, as if the word itself was an accusation, but that wasn’t the brilliant part of his response. As brilliance often does, his arrived in that section of an argument when the participants say whatever they can to win, regardless what those words reveal. Kurt Lee suggested, in not so many words, that those who consider themselves a beacon of trustworthiness are suffering from a psychosis of another stripe. The reason I considered this response so perfect, as it pertained to this specific argument, was that it put the onus of being trustworthy on the person who challenged Kurt Lee trustworthiness. It also put any further questions regarding Kurt Lee’s character –or what his inability to trust the people in his life said about him– on the back burner, until the questioner could determine whether the level of his own trustworthiness was a delusion that group thought led them to believe.

With all that Kurt Lee taught me about this fascinating mentality, always fresh in mind, I’ve had a number of otherwise trustworthy friends ask me how to deal with the thief in their life. They fail to understand why their beloved doesn’t trust them in even the most banal arenas of life. These worried friends said things like, “I don’t know what I did to damage our bond of trust, but they call me irredemable.” My friends are insecure about their trustworthiness, as we all are, yet they wonder what they did to trigger the damning accusations regarding their trustworthiness.

“How do I win him back? How do I regain his trust?” they asked, with sorrow in their hearts.

“I’m sorry to say it’s not about you,” I tell them. “It’s the thief’s mentality.” 

I am sorry to say this, because these concerned friends have consigned themselves to some sort of relationship with the afflicted, one that requires them to spend long hours, days, and years with this person. I have explained the plight of the thief, to the best of my ability, via my personal experiences with Kurt Lee, and it has helped these concerned and confused souls frame the accusations with a name for what their loved one does. The idea that there might be a name for it, also suggests to them that someone has had similar experiences so often that they developed a name for it. Whatever short-term relief they experience in the moment, the idea that their loved one is never going to trust them anymore than they trust themselves dispels it.

The damage that thieves, like Kurt Lee, incur is irreparable. They may not enjoy the lives they’ve created for themselves, and the idea that they can’t even trust the one person in their lives that they could, or should. On the flipside, their accusations do allow them to spread their misery around a little. It lightens their load to transfer some of their toxins to others. It also gives them a little lift to know that we are a little less trusting than we were before we met them. They must find some relief in the belief that they are not such an aberration, but this relief is temporary, as the toxins that have made them what they are as endemic to the biological chemistry as white and red blood cells. Nevertheless, it must please them to know that after our interactions with them, we now view humanity in the same cynical, all-hope-is-lost manner they do.

If it’s true that a mere 2 percent of people are self-aware, then the lack of self-awareness, at least as it pertains to what we are, and what we are to become, is as endemic to the thief’s mentality as it is in every other walk of life. Like the rest of us, thieves do not believe they live on an exaggerated pole of morality. Rather, they believe they reside in the middle, right alongside the rest of us, somewhere on the good side of the fuzzy dividing line. They also know that we’re all tempted to do that one thing that could place us on the other side. What separates them, to their mind, is their lack of fear, coupled with their refusal to conform to the norms our parents and mentors taught us. They are also keenly aware that we place most of humanity on their side of the fuzzy line because we all have problems trusting those we don’t know well enough to determine whether they will make moral decisions in life. Some take this natural state of skepticism a step further. Some thieves’ exaggerated, outward distrust for those around them says far more about them than about those they condemn and accuse. It’s the thief’s mentality.