Scat Mask Replica X


Money: “Show me the money,” Cameron Crowe once wrote in a screenplay to summarize his thoughts on negotiations. Winston Groom’s negotiations to sell the rights of his novel Forrest Gump to Paramount probably didn’t influence Crowe to write the line, but if you’re ever involved in negotiations keep this quote in mind.

For some reason, some of us have philosophical problems with “too much” money. We don’t want to appear too greedy, and we’ve all heard people say things like, “It’s not all about the money for me, money isn’t everything, and money is the root of all evil.” Most people who say such things already have so much money that it’s no longer a concern for them. If you’re ever at a negotiation table, and the other party wants something you have, wipe all of that nonsense about money from your mind. This might be the only chance you have to make real money.

If you hire someone to negotiate for you, and most people should, send them in with the instructions that you want them to bleed every last dime out of the other party. Once your team determines the other team of negotiators is not going to pay another cent, take it, take as much front-end money as possible, and run away as fast and as far as you can. Don’t think about the back end, the asides they offer in lieu of money, the otherwise symbolic, prestigious titles they offer, or anything but the money. The job of the other team’s negotiators is to pay you the least amount of money possible, and they will use several creative measures to accomplish that. Ignore all of that and the voices in your head screaming about the prospect of making money on another end, and remove those cartoon dollar signs from your eyes. As the negotiations between Winston Groom and Paramount suggest, “Show me the money,” should be the first and last things you say in any negotiations.

Winston Groom is a writer, and though he probably experienced some level of negotiations selling Forrest Gump and his other books to book publishers, he probably knew negotiating the rights of his book with a Hollywood production studio was a different league. This was probably the most advantageous position Groom had ever been in in life, and he didn’t know anything about such negotiations. He probably hired a team of lawyers and other specialists to handle the negotiations for him. We can guess that negotiators on Paramount’s side were so eager for the project that they showed their hand at various points. Groom’s negotiators probably knew, at some point, how much Paramount wanted his book. We can guess that numerous advisers probably guesstimated how much money this story could make for both sides, especially if they knew Tom Hanks and Robert Zemeckis signed onto the project at the time of negotiations, and Groom’s team probably walked away from that table with several proposals from Paramount. Groom ended up selecting the proposal that gave him $350,000 on the front end, and while this is a sizable amount, sources report that it was less than the top proposal of front-end money. Groom chose the proposal with less on the front end because his negotiators worked out a clause that would give Groom 3% percent on the backend, movie’s net profits. Who wouldn’t take less on the front-end if they knew they could make 3% of $661 million on the backend that, by my math, equals over $19 million?  

When Groom informed Paramount that he didn’t receive a single royalty check, Paramount informed him that this fourth highest grossing film of all time (at that time), that grossed $661 million didn’t make a net profit. Their accountants suggested that the movie ended up actually ended up $62 million in the red.

Groom sued Paramount and won, and as one part of the settlement, Paramount agreed to purchase his second novel Gump and Co. We have to imagine that the star and director of Forrest Gump didn’t have to sue to receive their royalty checks, because Paramount didn’t want to upset them. They didn’t extend the same courtesies to Winston Groom, however, because they probably figured they wouldn’t have any future dealings with him. Groom declared that the other parts of his lawsuit against Paramount left him as “happy as a pig in sunshine,” but these deals don’t always end up this way. Thus, if we’re ever lucky enough to be at a negotiations table, and they want something we have, we should walk in saying “show me the money” and leave screaming it.

Crazy: While involved in yet another discussion of crazy people, my friend displayed some acknowledgement that he had some vulnerabilities on the issue. The acknowledgement was a subtle reddening of the skin that suggested he no longer thought everyone was talking about everybody else when they talked about crazy people. He thought everyone was talking about him now. My friend has always been a little off base, but that never stopped him before. He’s always enjoyed conversations about crazy people, and he enjoys them as a spectator might a sporting event. I knew he was off base on many subjects, but I managed to disassociate him from his peculiarities while in the midst of our conversations. Something happened. Someone who meant something to him said something substantial that flipped him.

As a middle-aged man, my friend spent most of his life insulated by what he considered the truth. His belief in this truth was so entrenched that he couldn’t understand how anyone could believe anything different. He viewed his truth as the truth. We don’t know who flipped him, or if it was a number of people. We don’t know if there was an incident, or an accumulation of moments that led to his epiphany, but we have to believe that he had to have it repeated often enough by numerous people he respected that he had his thoughts altered. Whatever it was they said, they said it to a less malleable, middle-aged man. When we’re young and insecure, we’re more adaptable to the idea that we could be wrong, but this middle-aged man seemed to be backtracking on what he considered fundamental principles sacred to his personal constitution one year prior. His reddened skin also suggested his path to recognizing he had some vulnerabilities on the issue were not kind or easy.

Eating: “Eating is one of the only joys I have left in life,” my uncle wrote in a legal document to his caretakers, “and if you that away I will take legal action.” A muscular degenerative disease deprived him of 98% of his motor skills, and he couldn’t manage anything more than a soft whisper in the waning years of his life. Then the institute he loved as much as they loved him stated that his coughing fits proved so troubling that they decided oral feedings were no longer feasible, and they provided a list of alternatives from which my uncle could choose. At this point in his life, my uncle was no longer objective. He wouldn’t view this ordeal from the institute’s perspective, as he said he’d rather die than not eat. When we tried to encourage him to view this matter from objective perspective, however, we forgot to do view the matter from his perspective. The threat of a lawsuit, coupled with my uncle’s legal statement that the institute should have no legal consequences if something should happen, had my uncle eating until the day he died.

New Year’s Resolution: My New Year’s resolution is to put more effort into avoid reading any stories about the personal lives of known figures. I am as susceptible to click bait as anyone else is, and I fell for one. I accidentally clicked on a story about an athlete’s personal life. In my defense, the article contained a deceptive headline that suggested the article might be about his athletic exploits on the field. The minute I read the words wife, cheating, and divorce, I clicked out of it, but the damage was done. I accidentally rewarded the writer of a salacious article by clicking on his entry. My New Year’s resolution is to be more diligent to avoid this in the future.   

Christmas: Christmas is my favorite holiday by a long shot, but some people say that the commercialization of Christmas is ruining the holiday. First, that ship has sailed, and there’s no calling it back now. Second, can’t we walk and chew gum at the same time. I view Christmas as a multi-tiered holiday. It is a symbolic celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ, and I write symbolic because some suggest he was born in September, and that he was not born on 12/25. I have no problem with that finding, but I also don’t mind an arbitrary, symbolic celebration of His birth. I think we can celebrate His birth, let children enjoy Santa Claus, and spend some time with family. If, however, you feel that commercial enterprises are ruining Christmas for you, I suggest that you do everything you can to avoid their advertisements. Throw the ads away when you receive them in the mail and fast-forward through them on your DVR. I don’t understand why that is complicated. Those of us who don’t want anyone else to ruin Christmas for us don’t let them.   

Subjective Interpretations: Facts are facts and truth is truth, but how many truths are subjective interpretations of an event that boil down to perspective? A friend and I had what he called a wild weekend. He did not inform me how much fun he was having when we were out, but when he returned to work on Monday, he reported this to our co-workers. It was a forgettable weekend for me, bordering on a complete bust that I considered embarrassing. We flirted with some women, we followed them to a bar, we danced, and we followed them to a third bar. En route to the third bar, I knew the women were going to ditch us. All the markers were there. “Should we even go?” I asked my friend. He said, “Yes!” followed by a, “Hell yes!” I reiterated my guess that the women seemed bent on ditching us. “Well, we’ll never know if we don’t find out.” I considered taking a step in that third bar a punctuation mark on their ruse. I pictured them laughing at us. They probably weren’t laughing, but that was my mindset at the time. Even though they ditched us, our friend returned to work on Monday to tell anyone who would listen about our wild weekend chasing chicks. I considered his version of our weekend such an exaggeration that I thought he was lying. In hindsight, he didn’t say one falsehood. It was just a matter of perspective. He left out the part where the women ditched us, but who wouldn’t? He considered that weekend a lot of fun. He enjoyed hanging out with a friend and flirting with some women. That wasn’t enough for me. I wanted to forget about the weekend. I thought it was embarrassing. My friend didn’t care. He had a blast. It was a matter of perspective.

Friendship: Having friends is important. To balance our mental well-being, it’s important to have fun in life. It is also important have someone outside the home, and outside the office, with whom we can confide. We should spend time accruing friends and strengthening the infrastructure of those friendships, and to accomplish the latter it is important to develop a respectful and sympathetic way to say no to them every once in a while. Saying no to a friend can be one the hardest things to do, especially when they plan an outing that doesn’t sound very appealing. We might have substantial conflicts in some instances, but some of the times we just don’t want to do what they plan. Why is it so hard to say no to friends? We don’t want to hurt their feelings, so we sort through various ways of letting them down easy, but they all sound contrived and lacking in sympathy. When we don’t have conflicting plans, or a reasonable answer other than we just don’t want to do what they’re planning, some of us just ghost the friend and hope that the whole situation goes away. We might later apologize, suggest we had a conflict, and hope everything sorts out on that basis. How is that the best, most respectful way to say no to a friend? Shouldn’t we just say no thank you? We’ve probably all ghosted a friend once or twice, but when someone displays a level of friendship and respect that suggests they want to spend time with us, we should feel compelled to return that display of respect with a level of respect greater than or equal to that which they displayed. We all know that saying no thank you can be one of the easiest and hardest things to do, but it’s far more acceptable than ghosting someone.

A Catch is not a Catch


Other than the fact that I wanted to see a Big 10 team beat an ACC team, I had no rooting interest in the College Football Playoff semifinal game that pitted Clemson against Ohio State University (OSU). In the third quarter of this game, a Clemson receiver caught the ball and made, at least, three full steps before the ball came loose. Numerous replays show the ball didn’t move throughout those steps, and the officials on the field declared that the receiver made the catch, he fumbled, and an OSU defender retrieved the ball and took in the end zone. The replay officials, in the booth, carefully examined this play and determined that the receiver did not make the catch.

Announcers, analysts, all players involved, and fans can argue about what the definition of a catch is, per the rules of the league, but two facts undercut the “it was not a catch” argument in this particular instance. The first argument involves our common sense that the receiver did catch the ball, and I consider it ridiculous to suggest otherwise. I don’t care what the league rules dictate, 99.9% of the population from all genders and just about every age group knows that that was the dictionary definition of a catch, and if there is a rule that suggests otherwise, it should include an asterisk that suggests that officials and replay officials use their common sense when needed. The second, and far more frustrating point, is that the replay officials reviewing this play needed indisputable evidence to overturn the call the officials on the field made that this was a catch, and they obviously thought that they found it. One person in the broadcasting booth suggested it was not a catch, and that the replay officials would overturn the officials on the field, because the receiver did not make a football move. The idea that he made, at least, three steps did not move this broadcaster, because those three steps did not advance the ball up the field. This definition is so ridiculous that it almost requires an obnoxious reply, “What if a receiver catches a ball and for whatever reason remains still for an elongated period of time? If he doesn’t make a football move, how long can he remain in that position before the officials officially declare the pass complete?”

The overturned call in this game, coupled with the irrational rationale behind it, made me so sick that I fast-forwarded through a chunk of the game. Again, I had no rooting interest, and I’ve probably rooted against OSU more than I’ve rooted for them in my life, but I cannot shut out that part of my mind that calls for rational, common sense. As illogical and irrational as fast-forwarding through the game to try to pretend the replay officials didn’t overturn the call was at least as illogical and irrational as the call was. 

I imagined being a top broadcaster who is skilled enough and lucky enough to call such a game. I have to imagine that the promotion and the subsequent uptick in salary would change the way I buy products. I would probably buy some large products without any guilt, and I would loosen the purse strings on my budget as the huge checks rolled in. If a play like this happened in a game I was calling, however, I would probably be so sick and irresponsible that my impulses would drive me to ignore the increase in salary and the luxuries it affords me. I would probably also ignore any concerns I have about the network dismissing me after the game. 

“A call like that disgusts me. My heart goes out to all of those involved at OSU who worked so hard to make this day happen, and my heart goes out to their fans too. This replay official just single-handedly robbed all of you of the chance to play for the national championship. I’m sorry Jed,” I would say to my broadcasting partner, who would probably have to lead the search for a new broadcasting partner the next day, “but you make a call like that, you deserve to be fired. I know officials have a tough job, and they need league rules to protect them and provide some parameters that promote consistency in their calls, but to declare that there’s indisputable evidence that that was not a catch just doesn’t make sense to me on any level.”   

In the post-game analysis, some obnoxious fool dropped the obnoxiously foolish comment that all obnoxiously foolish analysts make when an official blows a call that affects a game (Clemson won 29-23). He wrote that to avoid allowing officials decide a game, OSU should’ve scored more touchdowns. He correctly pointed out that OSU had at least two opportunities in the red zone that resulted in field goals. He failed to mention that if Clemson wins the national championship this year, it will be their third in four years. I mention this, to note that if a team wins a national championship, they have to have a competent defense at the very least. If that team wins three of four, their defense is probably great. OSU made some costly mistakes that affected this game, it’s college football after all, but I have some problems with analysts who say a team should’ve been able to overcome disastrous live calls from on the field officials. I have greater problems with analysts who say that a team should’ve been able to overcome disastrous calls from a replay official who is able to slow the film down and analyze the play for however long it takes them to reach an official conclusion.

Any time a team loses a huge game like this one, as a result of one disastrous call by an official on the field or in the booth, at least one of these ingenious analysts trots out the ingenious insight that if the losing team considered scoring more touchdowns that would’ve resulted in more points, and that would’ve increased the probability that they won the game. The losing team, they add, shouldn’t have put themselves in a position where a bad call could determine the outcome, and these analysts write these articles in a manner that casts blame on the losing team for failing to consider that. As ridiculous as these suggestions sound, their argument is correct and logical, but is it as logical as a statement that suggests that it doesn’t matter how many touchdowns a team scores if there are enough bad calls from officials and replay officials, made against them? 

Let’s Make Football Violent Again


“Make football violent again,” was a hat the safety for the Minnesota Vikings, Andrew Sendejo, wore in an NFL training camp. The instinctive reaction we might have to such a call is that Sendejo is trying to be provocative, for no one who knows anything about violence would condone it in anyway. We might also say that, as a professional football player, Sendejo is setting a poor example for the youth who look up to him. Our society should be moving in the exact opposite direction, others might say, especially when it comes to young men. 

An argument that condones violence in any way will never make its way to a broadcasting booth of any kind, unless it is to condemn it, but that doesn’t mean it’s without merit, when it comes to football at least. If the argument did make it on air, in some form, we have to imagine that the broadcasters would say, “I don’t condone violence, but …” to distance themselves from Sendejo’s argument, but there is a but argument that is worthy of some consideration. The but argument focuses on the unpleasant fact that some young men have violent impulses, and they need an outlet, or a ‘somewhat’ controlled and monitored environment, to indulge that primal impulse for violence. Most audiences don’t want to hear anything about that. They prefer a more rational discussion that focuses on ways to make would young men less violent in a way that might help make our world less violent. No rational discussion by a professional in any field would focus on the need for an outlet for violent activity.

The well-intentioned opponents of the game now know that football is too entrenched for them to make any strides with regard to banning football from the high school level on up. Yet, they are making strides at banning tackle football in youth groups, and they are using the banner of ‘player safety’ to lessen the impact of some of the more violent hits in the game from the high school level on up. Proponents of the traditional game know that some measures are required to make the game safer, as athletes become stronger and faster, but as these measures to remove violence from the game progress, proponents warn, ‘Be careful what you wish for.’

We’ve all heard horrific tales of the wide array of what can happen on a football field, and we’re all sympathetic to the players and their families affected by it. Among these stories, are those that involve brain injuries, including concussions and repeated severe concussions that could lead to CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy). We’ve heard that various forms of CTE have ruined lives. We’ve heard neurologists state that scientific studies of the harm football causes young people is now irrefutable. We’ve had neighbors tell us that these studies scare them so much, they won’t let their children play the game. The NFL has heard all of this too, and they’ve made substantial rule changes to try to lessen the violent impact of the game, in the hopes of influencing college football, and high school football officials to follow suit.

The ‘be careful what you wish for’ crowd has heard all of these arguments too, and they’re sensitive to them. No one wants to see a young life affected to the degree we’ve witnessed in far too many instances, but when esteemed neurologists list sports’ alternatives for concerned parents, proponents suggest that they fail to recognize the need young boys have to hit one another in a violent manner. Those other sports might satisfy the need young people have for competitive athletic activity, team play, and various other character-building exercises that build self-esteem, but they don’t satisfy the primal impulses young men have to commit violent acts on one another.

Those of us, who played an inordinate amount of unnecessarily violent, pickup games of tackle football, know that football was our favorite way to satiate that primal need for violence. We didn’t know anything about these beneficial qualities, and we didn’t know the possible harm we were doing to ourselves when we played these games, but we saw our non-football playing friends go out for the evening just to “crack some skulls.” We thought they were joking, or engaging in some false bravado, but they had all this pent-up rage, and this general sense of animosity and anger that they couldn’t explain. They needed to unleash in an impulsive, irrational manner. They wanted to hurt someone, and they always got hurt in the process, but they wore their bruises and open cuts as symbols of valor. They failed to adequately explain what a rush it was to the rest of us, because they probably couldn’t understand it well enough to explain it. The only thing they knew was that they gained respect from their peers for their violent tendencies, and it did wonders for their self-esteem. They also enjoyed an element of team spirit in some cases. Those fight nights gained them what the rest of us attained playing football.    

“No one is saying that if we ban football or make it less violent, it will automatically lead to more violent young men, but if you think it will make them less violent, be careful what you wish for,” proponents say to parents who will not allow their children to play football. When our grade school banned football on the playground, we played kill the man with the ball. Our school administrators caught on, and they banned that. Soon after that, we played kill the man with the pine cone. If we dilute football to the point of hopscotch, proponents say, boys will find a way to hit each other, tackle each other, or some way to inflict pain on one another, because we cannot legislate the impulsive, primal nature out of boys and young men. Most parents, who raise their children in safe, happy climates cannot understand why they have violent tendencies, and we might not remember why we did, but football proponents suggest that the sport satisfies something in us that no other non-contact sport can.

Even though this impulsive need for an outlet to indulge violent tendencies has existed throughout human history, we have to imagine that B.C. humans didn’t want to discuss it in polite company either. The games the cavemen and the ancient Romans played were more violent, of course, and modern man might think he stands above that which occurred back then, and we might have a more advanced brain than those who sit below us in the animal kingdom, but the primal need for an outlet still exists in some. This conversation is so unpleasant and uncomfortable that the major broadcasts networks will never cover it on one of their pregame broadcasts, and I don’t think we’ll ever hear this as a topic on one of the all too numerous sports radio programs, because it feeds into the portrayal of young men as primal beasts. Yet, we all know this unpleasant side of young men exists, and if we don’t provide them a monitored, somewhat controlled method of channeling their impulses and needs, it might result in other unintended consequences our society doesn’t want to consider.

My Favorite Band is Better Than Yours


“You’re favorite bands suck! Trust me, they SUCK.”

Why do I like them then?

“I’m telling you that the band members cannot play their instruments, and their lyrics are stupid. They ripped off just about everything they did from better artists, and they weren’t very good people.”

What’s the difference between my favorite bands and the more technically proficient musicians playing meaningful, important songs? The arguments that critics and other music experts make involve a long, complicated algorithm that involves, in part, the technical proficiency that their well-trained ears hear, meaningful, important lyrics, and insider stories that detail performance inadequacies. These insiders write about moments our favorite guitarist couldn’t complete a complicated riff, and the record company, or the producer, had to call in a studio musician to do it. They know that our favorite music involves drum machines and drum samples that our favorite drummer wasn’t talented enough to complete to anyone’s satisfaction, and they know when technical wizards enhance the vocalist’s voice in parts. They tell us about how our favorite albums, by our favorite musicians, were tweaked in final mixing process, with special effects boxes, overdubs, and everything that the non-musicians accomplished in the high priced studio for the right money.

“Your favorite album, from your favorite artist, is a fraud perpetuated on the public,” they say. “It is an overly produced, computer enhanced contrivance that your favorite artist will never be able to play live without assistance.”

For the rest of us, this long and complicated algorithm ends in a big fat, “No one cares!” box. No one cares if the lyrics in these songs are deep and meaningful. Some do, of course, as they want others to view them in a serious light, so they avoid silly music with silly lyrics. Most people consider lyrics anywhere from silly to irrelevant. They might seek out the lyrics to find out what the vocalist is singing in the song, but most people don’t care one way or another if the lyrics prove sophomoric. Most of us bake that idea into our listening experience. Most meaningful, important music is woefully overrated. Most of us also don’t care if our favorite musicians are good people or bad people either. Cringe worthy headlines might stain the reputation of a musician, but our emotional attachment to most musicians does not extend to their personal life. Experts and critics don’t consider this an adequate defense. They require us to defend our favorite musician based on their criteria.

We know that if we enter into a debate with experts and critics, standing toe-to-toe, to defend our favorite band, they would beat us to pulp. If our debate had an audience, would these critics and experts persuade anyone in that audience? Would they care? Who is their audience? Are they trying to persuade us, or are they writing these critiques to one another? How many sacred cows of rock receive less than four stars? Are critics afraid that no one will invite them to cocktail parties if they violate the standard ratings?

We know most experts and critics can hear technical proficiency better than we can, and we know that all of the reasons we have for enjoying one band over another are tough to explain, except to say our appreciation for creative flair is greater than our appreciation for technical proficiency.

The experts will also tell us everything we want to know, and some that we don’t, about better artists who didn’t achieve one-fourth the acclaim our favorite artists did. They will comb through the historical timeline and lament the cheated artists who were better at the craft, and they’ll tell us how our favorite artists stole the sound of those artists and simplified it for mass appeal. They’ll tell us something about those time and place intangibles that factor into the equation of how one artist achieves more popularity over another. They’ll tell us about some kind of successful, but contrived appeal our favorite artists made to achieve fame. They’ll also tell us that our favorite artist is a well-packaged marketing gimmick for people who know nothing about real music. Some of them will then give us a list of artists we should be listening to instead, and some of us will give those artists a listen.

Most naysayers do not list their favorite groups, because if they say that our favorite bands suck, and they offer an alternative, we might think their favorite bands suck. It diminishes a contrarian’s argument to provide an alternative, but putting themselves in such a position is also admirable in that sense. If we find their argument compelling, on that basis, we might listen to their favorite artists. After a couple listens, we might admit that their band is probably technically superior, but they don’t display the same creative flair our favorite bands did. Something is missing, as their band failed to capture the magic our favorite band did.  

Even if our favorite artist is guilty of all of the above, we think the people involved in the album(s) created something that the more accomplished, and perhaps more deserving, artists either wouldn’t or couldn’t achieve. At this point in the argument, the experts might ask us why we fell in love with our favorite band. Was it the iconography that surrounded our favorite artist at the time, and did your peers convince you that they were great? Were they a better celebrity? Did our favorite artists have a better voice, were they better looking, or did they have some other superficial appeal that we found more pleasing than the better artist’s appeal? This is difficult to answer for most of us, because most of our attachments to music are emotional, as opposed to rational, and we cannot defend or explain why we prefer our bands to theirs, but we’re also not susceptible to having our minds changed on the subject.

I used to be that guy. I used to engage in the “my music is better than yours” childish game that some critics and music experts do. I don’t think I ever said those words, but I thought you would know the truth the minute you heard it. Even though I had no personal stake in my favorite band’s success, I loved their music so much that it became “my music”. I introduced “my music” to everyone I knew. For all of the reasons inherent in why we identify with our music, I was personally insulted when they didn’t enjoy it, and I considered far too gratifying when they did. I was far too proud to be the one who “discovered” the band among my peers. I think I considered it creativity on my part. I knew the joy I felt was vicarious, but I wasn’t doing anything else creative at that point in my life, so I think it filled that void.

The problem others had with “my music” was that it was silly. My serious music aficionado friends wouldn’t go anywhere near that group, that album, or that track on the album, lest they be hit by the stank of unserious music. They didn’t want anyone to consider them silly. If I attempted to promote a new album, they said, “Didn’t you like that track from that one album?” I did, I responded, I do. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with silly songs. I don’t understand why serious aficionados dismiss a whole chunk of music because it’s unserious. My music doesn’t focus on depression, pain, anger, anti-social behavior, relationships, drug addiction (primarily heroin), war, death, and other emotionally charged topics.  

One particular instance involved an “undiscovered gem” I found from an “undiscovered” artist. That album blew my mind at the time, and I still, thirty years later, consider that album one of the top ten of all time. I wanted to be that guy who introduced that album to everyone I knew. I considered the album the product of creative geniuses. The music on that album spoke to me on a level I felt compelled to share with everyone I knew. Everyone I forced to listen to this album enjoyed it, but no one I knew bought it. Three years later, another band stole their sound. This other band personalized that sound a little here and tweaked it little there to make it fit with the zeitgeist better. I loved that album too, and I introduced it to everyone I knew. Everyone I knew loved it, and everyone I knew bought it. That album sold five million copies. This band went on to national acclaim, and critics still recognize them as one of the greatest, most original artists of all time. Yet, they stole that sound, and I learned later that they publicly admitted it. The band that I declared one of my favorite artists currently carries an asterisk no artist wants of being critically acclaimed, but never well received.

What was the difference between these two bands? The answer, again, involves a complicated, multi-tiered algorithm that takes us through a wide variety of boxes that might explain how one critically acclaimed band succeeds while another one does not, but it, too, ends in another big fat, “No one cares!” box. The artists who do not succeed probably went through a similar, frustrating algorithm that included paying their dues through exhaustive touring, spending mind-numbing hours in studios, doing radio interviews, and various other promotion efforts, until it ended in a big fat, “Thems the breaks” box to explain why they didn’t succeed. To the fans who, like me, vicariously wallowed in the misery of watching their favorite artist do everything required to succeed, only to end up in the bargain bin of record stores, hearing thems-the-breaks and no one cares doesn’t sit well. My advice to all of you is save your breath, and don’t waste your time trying to convince your world of the band’s virtues. It makes no sense to us, the critics, or the experts why some bands succeed where others do not. It can be as simple as time and place, looks, and a well-designed, comprehensive package that hits for whatever reasons. What we consider the greatest music of all time might be relatively boring to others, and music is as relative as comedy.

Scat Mask Replica IX


My favorite artists offend me on a personal, philosophical, and artistic level. They’re emotional robots who have as much sympathy for others as they do for themselves. My favorite artists might use some swear words and some provocative imaginary, but they’re not reliant on them. They’re also not offensive for the sole purpose of being offensive. They don’t care who they offend in their pursuit of artistic purity, and they don’t pick safe targets. Some might say that it’s not possible to be observant, creative, and artistic without sympathy, but my favorite artists ask how an artist can report on the world if they handicap themselves by being sympathetic to the people they report on. My favorite artists refute my worldview in a rational and constructive manner, and I find their challenges to my belief system engaging. They might not change my mind on one single issue, but I don’t think they care. I don’t think that’s why they’re here.

Acting is as difficult and specialized as any other art form, but for all the overblown accolades and financial rewards we provide actors, they’re little more than vessels who carry artistic messages to the people. It takes special qualities to convince an audience that they’re another person. It takes other qualities to capture emotions and convince an audience that those reactions are genuine. Taken down to their core, these elements involve lying, so an individual who wants to become an actor should be an unusually good liar. Those who spent an inordinate amount of their youth learning the subtle intricacies of convincing others of a lie, before they ever thought of becoming an actor, might have the qualities necessary to convince others of the lie that they’re another person. These qualities are difficult to quantify and qualify, but they do lead to some sort of ingrained qualities that is evident to all who seek them for their productions.  

For entertainment purposes, an audience agrees to enter into any fictional production with some suspension of their critical facilities, but at some point, the audience wants that latitude they offer rewarded. This is where those with ingrained qualities shine. Some are better at it than others are, of course, but at some point all inherent qualities are equal and it becomes difficult to distinguish one quality actor from another. Physical traits play a huge role, of course, as some casting agencies won’t let prospective applicants in the door without a decent headshot, but as with any profession those with a hunger to succeed, can overcome physical limitations, so what separates a quality actor from those who can never quite manage to capture the same on-screen magic?

If an actor has established a motif after acting in 40 different productions, how difficult is it to convince other people that they are a 41st character. Landing a key role in a beloved production can advance a career, but it can also kill it, if the audience’s association with a particular character is too strong. We call it being typecast. We’ve also witnessed some actors who are so charismatic they can play themselves every time out, but the others are chameleons and shape shifters who assume another’s characteristics so well that the audience forgets there’s an actor playing the role. How do any of these types wipe the slate clean, so they can help the audience wipe their slate clean? Is it easier for a quality actor to be an empty vessel? I would think that a strong sense of identity would be a difficult obstacle for any actor. If they have little-to-no character of their own, wouldn’t it be easier for them to assume the characteristics of another? When I watch a master craftsman accomplish what so few can do, I wonder if there’s an equation that suggests the less character an actor has in life the better they are at playing another.

On that note, we’ve all heard the stories of method actors who demand that everyone involved in the production call them by their character’s name. Is this a silly, childish game? No, according to some on the inside, and those who want inside, some actors demand this, so they can get “locked in” on their character. In order for them to play pretend properly, others have to join in on the façade. If someone breaks that spell by reminding them that they’re Joey as opposed to Esteban, they can’t continue. Does it kill the empty vessel thing? Is the spell is broken? I’m not an actor, and I have no idea about the process involved in playing another character, but I wonder how much of this is stoked by public relations outlets trying to hype a role one of their clients is in to build the mystique of the actor’s abilities. If it’s all true, and I don’t doubt that it is, in some cases, it seems so silly to me.

We’ve all met unusually good liars who couldn’t find a channel their ability in anyway. We’ve heard them lie about matters we considered so inconsequential that we wonder why they lied about it in the first place. After we hear enough lies from unusually good liars, and the quantity is not as important as the quality, it becomes apparent that they want us to think they have a master plan. They might not have a master plan, but some elements of their intangible qualities lead us to believe they do. Some of these qualities suggest that they pity the rest of us for our struggles, and they might even be laughing at us. They don’t look like they have a plan. They look as bored, unfocused, and as random as the rest of us, but what if they weren’t? What would we think of them if they were someone else? How would our opinions change if they had such an adventurous past that it informed their present? What if their past was so adventurous that they couldn’t wait to tell us their tales? What if none of them were true?

Screenwriters love coming-of-age scenes, and to express their views of coming of age in the compressed time a movie allots them, they use common tropes. One of their favorites tropes involves an actor playing a teacher asking a pre-teen actor a question about a classic book. The child actor’s answer is often far too complex for their age. (The screenwriter is attempting to rewrite and vicariously relive their pre-teen years by appearing more intelligent than they actually were in junior high.) The child actor’s lines often involve shocking, adult swear words that sophisticate their answer in a manner that the screenwriter intends to shock the audience’s sense of moral values. Using children in such scenes feels like a cheat, because moviemakers know adult audiences will feel silly if something a child says offends them. We are to forget that we’re watching a movie created by adults, and that the child actor is reading the lines adults write for them. In the movie, the principle suspends the kid for using offensive language in class. While in the principal’s office, the adult actors playing the child’s parents are dutiful and respectful before the principal. While walking away from the principal’s office, the adult actors offer the child actor sympathetic condolences that suggest that not only is the matter closed as far as they are concerned, they are actually quite proud of the spunky kid for speaking his mind. The supporting character actors, playing the teacher and the principle, eventually develop an indirect way of showing support for this precocious child actor by rewarding him for an unprecedented level of sophistication. (The screenwriter is receiving the vicarious accolades that they felt they always deserved.) (End Scene.)

“I don’t care if you disagrees with some of the ideas expressed in that book,” I would tell my child, as we walked away from the principal’s office, “you sullied your reputation with the language you chose to express your opinion. It’s immoral and disrespectful to say such words in a classroom setting, but more than that, it leads others to believe that you are not capable of formulating a decent argument without using such words. If your argument begins and ends with swear words, no one will remember what you said in between. They will only remember that you “had the cajones” to say a swear word in class, and while that might pay some immediate dividends among your peers, they will not respect you long-term for it. If however, you drop an articulate refutation of the book that expresses a passionate view, you might blow those kids away. No one cares about a book at your age, and they won’t care what you think of it either, unless you say something so profound that they can’t help but notice. Trivial moments like these define you. They might also affect who you’re going to be.

“If you insist on offering your class such a provocative refutation, don’t forget to back that characterization up with details,” I would add. “It’s not enough to call your philosophical opponents a name. You still have to defeat their arguments. Most provocateurs forget to do that when they are trying to sound cool, and most of us forget to hold them accountable for this failure. Most of us will only remember the name you called them. It’s pointless. If you choose the other road, while standing on this philosophical fork in the road, and you strengthen your mind to a point that you can defeat other people’s ideas with concise factual data, and/or a persuasive opinion that is not dependent on emotional provocation, you will leave an impression on them that you are an intellect.”

The Joker is one of the greatest bad guys of all time, and I love stories that involve The Joker, but I never feared the character in an artistic sense. For most of my life, The Joker never really hurt anyone. It was all a game. He said things that made him sound psychopathic, and he had a deranged laugh, but the worst thing he did, for decades, was create precarious James Bond-like situations for Batman to undo, under time constraints, to save the good citizens of Gotham. I never feared The Joker, in an artistic sense, in the manner I did the Tommy DeVito character that Nicholas Pileggi and Martin Scorsese created for Joe Pesci in Goodfellas, based on the real-life actions of Tommy DeSimone. Their Tommy DeVito character made me so uncomfortable that I wanted it over. I didn’t care how it ended. I just wanted to return to my comfort zone. I don’t recall ever having such a visceral reaction to a character before, and to my mind, that’s art. If The Joker ever caused such a reaction to an audience, that ended when DC Comics’ editors put an end to any killing in the second year of The Joker’s publication history, and they did it because they didn’t want to influence young, impressionable minds to commit violent acts. Their goals were laudable, but they essentially defanged The Joker. The psychological games The Joker played were some of my favorites, but in the era of The Sopranos and Quentin Tarantino, The Joker seemed like nothing more than the other team in an exciting chess match, until Christopher Nolan and Todd Phillips changed that in the movies.

“I pay hard, cold cash for such an experience,” I informed a friend after she said she didn’t care for another movie, because it made her feel uncomfortable. I told her about my experience with Tommy Devito, and how uncomfortable he made me, and how much I loved it. She couldn’t understand that mindset. She considered such characters and their movies too realistic and too unnerving. I told her that I think that should be every moviemaker’s primary goal.

Most people don’t think this way about artistic enterprises. If they attend violent or horror movies, they want them toned down just a tad, so they can maintain a comfort zone, and they don’t want to pay their hard-earned money to experience anything that rattles their core. I’ve experienced moments in other movies when they tweak my comfort zone, and I always think back to my friend saying that she doesn’t want to be uncomfortable in a movie theater. If she had a particularly violent past, or even a violent incident that such movies unearthed in an uncomfortable manner, I could understand, but she didn’t. She was just a casual moviegoer who doesn’t enjoy it when movies, or art in general, take her to uncomfortable places. I know most people don’t think this way, as evidenced by most of the movies they make, but as a movie connoisseur, I seek those that offend me, horrify me, and takes me to uncomfortable places. The theme of my rant might be violent movies, but I often wonder if the world would be a better place if more people welcomed, with open arms, those who constructively challenge our ideas and ideals in a rational manner, as opposed to those who just provide us more blankets in our comfort zone.  

Being Little and Big in Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood


One of my favorite messages from the movie A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood involves the failure of the reporter Tom Junod to expose Mister Rogers as a fraud. One of the movie’s opening scenes involves Tom Junod’s editor assigning Junod to write a small 400-word bio about Mister Rogers. At this point in Junod’s career, he was the dictionary definition of the cynical reporter bent on uncovering unsavory characteristics about his subjects. “These people are not my friends,” the actor playing Junod says in reaction to his editor telling him that the reason she assigned him this piece was that no one wants to speak to him now. At this point in his career, Junod developed a reputation for destroying his interview subjects, and no one wanted to be the subject of any of his future pieces. The inherent nature of his defense was, “Isn’t it my job to report on these people, warts and all? The American public needs to see the warts. If they don’t need to see that, they want to see it. Shouldn’t I focus on the unsavory elements of the subjects I interview? Isn’t that the modus operandi of the serious reporter, “You build them up, and I’ll tear them down?” Ton Junod, like so many cynical reporters, and cynical, broken people who want to destroy institutions one person at a time. We give them awards, we make docudramas that memorialize their plight, and we can now repeat the inconsistencies they discovered at the drop of the subject’s name. “Isn’t it my job to tell my audience that everything we love and cherish is an absolute fraud?” they ask.      

Fred Rogers from “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood”

These themes lay the foundation for Junod’s mission to try to destroy Mister Rogers. At one point in the film, we hear Junod openly state that he thinks Mister Rogers is a fraud, and that he thinks it’s his job to expose him. After his initial interview with Mister Rogers is cut short, Junod infers that Rogers and his people aren’t giving Junod enough time to interview Rogers properly. Those of us who know reporting in the modern era, know what the inference of proper reporting means. We know that Rogers, and his people, know Junod, and we know that short, evasive interviews prevent a subject from slipping up and revealing all that they have to hide. Even though the movie doesn’t go to great lengths to portray Junod’s frustration, we suspect that Junod probably asked Rogers and his people, “What are you hiding?” In a turnabout from what Junod was probably more accustomed, Fred Rogers personally creates more time for Junod. This leads to a series of interviews in which Mister Rogers begins asking Junod questions about his life.

“I’m supposed to be interviewing you,” Junod says at one point. Again, those of us in the audience are accustomed to believing that Mister Rogers is obfuscating. He answers some of Junod’s questions throughout, but we can only guess that the cynical, seasoned reporter has witnessed a wide array of rhetorical tactics subjects use to avoid answering questions, and he believes Rogers is engaging in them when Rogers continues to ask Junod questions. We can also guess that the interaction between the two men grew more heated than the movie portrays, as Junod attempted to expose Mister Rogers’ inconsistencies. The interesting turnabout happens when Junod realizes that Fred Rogers isn’t using rhetorical tactics, as he pokes and prods, and that the man genuinely cares about the self-described broken man named Tom Junod. The movie doesn’t involve the usual tropes that most on-screen exchanges do in which one of the two parties eventually experiences an obvious epiphany. It depicts Rogers as a somewhat naïve character who genuinely believes in what he’s saying, and he reinforces that notion with his answers. The implicit suggestion of these exchanges are that Rogers continues to ask Junod leading questions, because he genuinely cares about the broken man before him in the manner he cares about most complete strangers, and that implies that his care for children is as genuine.

Tom Junod’s final report does not culminate in a finding that leads to scandal, and he is not able to uncover an inconsistency that reveals what is wrong with Mister Rogers. Instead, he writes a story titled Can you say Hero? that thematically asks the question what is wrong with the rest of us? Why do we need/want to see the warts? Why do we need to complicate our heroes with inconsistencies that lead us to think they’re frauds and we’re frauds for believing in them? Though the movie, and the Junod story on which it’s based, depict Junod in a number of the revealing moments that characterize Mister Rogers, we find out that Junod heard about most of them secondhand. Regardless, the article pokes through the myth of Mister Rogers to portray Fred Rogers as “the nicest man in the world”.

The reason I love this angle in this movie is that we all know and enjoy “the story” of the nicest man in the world, who has an “inconsistency” of some sort that evolves into a lynchpin we can recite at the mere mention of the man’s name. “I know he performed for children for X number of years, but didn’t he …?” Americans prefer that angle. We love reporters who remove a brick from our foundation to reveal us as frauds. We grew to love and admire the various screen stars who, in some small ways, helped shape who we are today, and we all love to learn, in a bittersweet way, that it was based on a big lie. Either that or we enjoy seeing those who portray themselves as a paragon of virtue torn down, so we don’t have to feel so inferior in that regard. As Junod’s bio on Fred Rogers details, he couldn’t find that angle that would’ve and could’ve destroyed everything Fred Rogers built. He couldn’t produce that devastating expose to win that award from his peers for tearing down the American institution that was/is Mister Rogers. What he found instead was a man named Fred Rogers, whom he called “the nicest man in the world”. 

Tom Junod later summarized his time with Mister Rogers in a piece for the Atlantic, “In 1998, I wrote a story about Fred Rogers; in 2019, that story has turned out to be my moral lottery ticket,” Junod wrote in The Atlantic. “I’d believed that my friendship with Fred was part of my past; now I find myself in possession of a vast, unearned fortune of love and kindness at a time when love and kindness are in short supply.”

My takeaway from the legacy of Mister Rogers, as presented by the movie A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, is that he mastered the art of being present. He would speak with fellow adults in a manner that suggested there was no one else in the room. When he talked with children, he listened to them with the same level of acuity he did with adults, and he didn’t get caught up in how cute they were, how precocious they were, he just listened to them in a way that wasn’t condescending.

Being present sounds like new age, gooey, foo foo fluff, because it is, because most of our foo foo friends use such words. Being present involves putting forth a concerted effort to be in the moment while in the moment. It involves forgetting about the big stuff for just a moment to tend to the little stuff. We might want a happy home, but we have to chop wood and carry water before we can achieve that. Before we win championships, we have to wax on and wax off.

When it comes to the little things, some pride themselves on their ability to multitask. Some are better at it than others are, and depending on what they do, multitasking might be required, but how many other tasks can we accomplish at optimum efficiency? Do the results of some tasks suffer in lieu of others when you’re multitasking, or are you just that much better at it than I am? It’s impossible to know the totality of a man from movies, books, magazine articles, and various YouTube, but from what I gathered Fred Rogers was the opposite a multitasker.   

Anybody who lived during the era of Mister Roger’s Neighborhood knew and loved the creative and elaborate intros of the various children’s shows. Some of us loved those intros so much that that was all we watched. The intro to Mister Roger’s Neighborhood didn’t have any of that. It involved a man changing his shoes while singing a song called Won’t you be My Neighbor? The pace of Fred Roger’s creation was purposefully quiet, and painfully slow, and those of us with varying levels of ADD or ADHD couldn’t watch the show. Those of us who eventually aged out of the show couldn’t think of it without thinking of Eddie Murphy’s Mister Robinson’s Neighborhood skit. For most of us, Mister Rogers Neighborhood was the premise of a joke. The movie A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood and HBO’s Won’t you be my Neighbor reminds us of the big things that led us to tune him out and the little things that annoyed us, and they informed us of Fred Roger’s little and big theme.

Actor Tom Hanks said he watched hundreds of episodes of Mister Rogers Neighborhood to prepare for his role in the movie, before he realized Fred Rogers created the show for children. As the comedian that he is, Tom Hanks left the ironic, obvious punchline as a standalone after he received a laugh. If he continued, I think he would’ve said that every minute and ever second of Fred Rogers’ creation was devoted to children. Fred Rogers took great pride in how quiet his show was, for example, and when he spoke, his tone was so measured we could almost hear the punctuation fall into place. Linguists say that our ums and ahhs are quite useful, because they help listeners follow our sentences better. Fred Rogers didn’t um and ahh, but his tones were so carefully measured and methodical that those of us with ADD and ADHD couldn’t watch his show. We wanted him to finish his sentences quicker. When he told us he was feeding his fish, it drove us nuts. “Just feed the fish!” we screamed at our TV. There was a method to this madness. He developed this routine after a blind child wrote him to say she was worried that he wasn’t feeding his fish. He fed the fish, as part of his introduction on the show, but she didn’t know it. So, he began telling his audience that he was feeding his fish. Then, there was the silence. If Mister Rogers brought in an expert on how to build or fix something, there were long periods of silence involved in the process. This drove some of us nuts, but it was a carefully orchestrated part of the show, designed to help children understand the methodical, quiet approach to building.

Some cultural writers state that the approach of Mister Rogers Neighborhood, and Fred Rogers personal approach, suggest that he was anti-consumerism. While I don’t doubt that, I don’t think there is direct correlation to the idea that Fred Rogers was an anti-capitalist. I realize that marketing is a fundamental element of capitalism, but I think Rogers disliked certain elements of marketing more than he did capitalism. I don’t think he minded when company XYZ would say that their product was better than their competition’s product in a pure marketing ploy. What bothered Mr. Rogers was this idea that some marketing ploys lead people (children in particular) to feel shame. I think he disliked this idea that some marketing ploys encourage children to think they need the latest and greatest toy, and I think he abhorred the idea that the other child felt a sense of shame for being stuck with what some marketing ploys encouraged them to believe was an “inferior” toy. I think he detested the idea that marketing arms created the need people have to have more products and better products than their neighbors had.

How many of us wear battle gear? We’re adults now, so most of us don’t wear Masters of the Universe gear anymore, but we wear T-shirts that have strong messages on them to inform our peers that we’re strong on the outside. Mister Rogers met just such a person, a young child who carried a pretend sword. The young child refused to show any of the signs of endearment to which Mister Rogers was more accustomed from children. This did not bother Mister Rogers in the least. After the child’s mother failed to convince her child to say something to Mister Rogers, Mister Rogers leaned in on the kid and whispered something in the child’s ear. When asked what he whispered, Mister Rogers replied:

“Oh, I just knew that whenever you see a little boy carrying something like that, it means that he wants to show people that he’s strong on the outside. I just wanted to let him know that he was strong on the inside, too. Maybe it was something he needed to hear.”

The movie A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood wasn’t a big movie. It focused on the little things Fred Rogers did, in an effort to focus us on his message that our primary job duty in life is to attend to the little things. He also gave other messages in a more overt, less symbolic manner that we shouldn’t get so tied up in trying to accomplish big things that we forget about the little things. “There’s nothing wrong with you, if you don’t accomplish stupendous things,” he said in various ways. “I like you just the way you are.” If we attend to the little things every day, for the rest of our lives, as we fortify our connections to the little people around us, who are just like us, we might be able to accomplish big little things. 

 

Platypus People


They’re platypus people! They’re platypus people! It’s a kookbook!

 

Platypus people do not have a duck’s bill or an otter’s body, but in many ways they are as foreign to us as their Australian counterparts were to scientific community in England, in the late 18th century. The weird, strange, and just plain different people we meet tend to stray from the premise we all share from time to time. We might not even know that we share a premise, until we hear someone else say something that suggests they’re operating from an altogether different premise. When that happens, it can be shocking.

It’s almost as shocking to us as the introduction of platypus was to Britain’s scientific community. They were so rocked by it that they thought the semi-aquatic, egg-laying mammal was an elaborate and well-conceived hoax. They thought they had a comprehensive catalog of the animal kingdom prior to the introduction of the platypus, and we empathize, for when we met our first platypus person, we thought we had a decent catalog on human nature.

“Who thinks like this?” we asked ourselves. We thought someone glued a proverbial bill of a duck on an otter’s body to try to pass him off as a new species when we heard what he thought of the world. We did not physically dissect him to find the truth, in the manner the skeptical Brits did when they encountered the platypus, to search for the taxidermist’s stitching. We did probe, however, and we came away thinking he was genuine, unlike those Brits who remained skeptical even after seeing a live platypus, but we had no idea how to process his thoughts.

As with the Brits and the platypus, the more we learned more about the platypus person, the more that shock turned to intrigue as we began to think that his funhouse mirror perspective might tweak how we thought of ourselves.

It might be a subjective viewpoint, but I think most of us travel through a wide variety of thoughts on the road to formulating a philosophy. With fighting words, we develop translucent passions. We crave cutting edge, unusual thoughts that formulate weird, strange, or just plain different impressions. At some point, we recognize how contrived most free-thinking, independent spirits are. Some of them are weird for the sake of being weird, some disagree just to disagree, and others follow the edicts of cool overlords to become one. We recognize these contrivances through the premise we share, which is revealed by the others who operate from an entirely different premise. When viewing this through that looking glass we see that if we’re all free-thinking, independent spirits, then none of us are, and the channel their unique perspective opens affects us in a manner motivates us to learn everything we can about their philosophy before we reach whatever final formulation we do. We want to taste every piece of pie available to us before we reach the end of the buffet.

When we hear someone who appeared to go through the same intellectual progressions as we did, only to arrive at an entirely different conclusion, we want to know how they arrived at that. We want to know everything about their philosophy on matters and how it applies to their epistemology, and we want to know the anthropological origins of their thought process. We might not agree with anything they say, and by the time they’re finished, we realize that the specific subjects they discuss don’t matter either. We’re so fascinated with their process that we listen to them with some excitement, as we think their story, or the sedimentary layers of their story, could apply and affect our own.

All of these reactions to the platitudes of platypus people are subjective, but within these subjective reactions are autobiographical attempts to understand ourselves better, and whether we are going to eventually agree with it or attempt to nuke their theories, we want to know how to process what they are saying.

I thought everyone went through the same cyclical reactions to this guy’s provocative statements, until one of my friends said, “Doesn’t he have cable?”

As I laughed, I realized that I was probably overthinking the matter. I also realized that even though this joker and I disagreed on everything two people can disagree on, and we approached him from widely different perspectives, we both came to variations of the same conclusion about this man.

We envy quick wits who can diagnose a situation and summarize in seconds, but when they say something such as, “Doesn’t he have cable?” we aren’t sure if they understand the totality of what was said. After chewing on the line, we realize that we probably didn’t understand the totality of their joke. If the import of the joke was that the platypus person might be operating from the same premise as the rest of us if he wasted as many hours of his life as we had watching cable TV, then their joke was probably spot on.

A great line like this also diverts us from any in-depth processing we might do on the subject, because it allows us to dismiss the platypus person. It’s rare that we consciously dismiss another based on a single joke, but if the joke is so spot on, we will probably have it bouncing around in our head in all of our future interactions with the platypus person.

Some people are just quicker than the rest of us. They can listen to an hours-long discussions and sum them up in one quick line. Some of us are processors who need time to process information, and we enjoy hearing numerous opinions before forming a conclusion. We might obsess over otherwise inconsequential matters far too often, but we can’t understand how someone can come up with a quick, reflexive line like that and consider the matter settled. Do they develop this ability, because they are more comfortable in their own skin that that confidence allows them to swat nuanced, complicated ideas away? Or, do they develop this ability to come up with a quick assessment of a person, because they are so insecure that they seek to thwart all unusual thoughts before they question some fundamentals of their being? Is it a defense mechanism they use to help them avoid dwelling or obsessing on such topics, or do they consider most of the mysteries that plague the rest of us settled?

Being Weird is a Choice 

After meeting a few more platypus people in the years that followed, I realized the matter wasn’t settled for me. Some of them were weird and others were strange, but most of them just didn’t fit in with the rest of us. What’s the difference? One of the best ways I found to define a relative term like weird is to define what it is not. It is not, for the purpose of this discussion, strange. The term strange, by our arbitrary definition, concerns those affected by natural maladies. They had a variance inflicted upon them that they could not control, and they cannot escape. As opposed to a person we might consider strange, a person who chooses to be weird, can easily find their way back to the premise, they simply choose, for various reasons, to step away from it for a moment. The platypus person cannot find their way back for reasons that are less philosophical and more anthropological, as their epistemological makeup has been passed down their genealogical tree.

We don’t define these separations to be nice, though we do deem it mean-spirited to mock, insult, or denigrate people who arrive at their differences in a more natural manner. We don’t create this rhetorical device for our readers to consider us wonderful, more understanding, or compassionate, but we deem those who go out of their way to poke fun at the strange to be lacking in basic human decency. We also don’t want to leave the reader with the impression that we might be more normal, or more intelligent, than any of the subjects we discuss. We design this arbitrary separation for the sole purpose of providing some classifications for those who had no choice in the matter, against a backdrop of those who choose to be weird through the odd decisions they make in life.

We might think that anyone who chooses to be weird must suffer from a strange psychology. In my experience, it’s quite the opposite for our need to be different started out as a form of rebellion in our youth. We wanted to be weird to rebel against the philosophical and spiritual hold our parents had on us. Those of us who chose this path wanted to be perceived as being just as weird, strange, and just plain different as those we were conditioned to dismiss and avoid by our friends and family.

My dad sensed this early on, and he did everything he could to guide me toward a more normal path. Through the decades that followed, he attempted to correct my weird ideas with more sensible, normal lines of thought. “That isn’t the way,” was a phrase he used so often that my refusal to acquiesce to his more structured ways of the world was one of my primary forms of rebellion. There were so many intense arguments, and debates in our household that no observer could escape it without thinking that it was, at least, combustible. Before we explore the ways in which the old man was strange, I would like to take a moment to thank my dad for the effort he put into trying to make me normal. He did his best to provide his children the most normal upbringing he could.

I rebelled to the relatively strong foundation he built without recognizing the luxury I was afforded. The primary reason for my gratitude is that some of the truly weird and strange platypus people I’ve met since I left my dad’s home lead chaotic lives that can be a little scary. They came from very different homes, with a less than adequate foundation, and they ended up expending as much effort trying to prove they were normal as I did to be considered weird.

When we are very young, our parents set the premise from which we will operate. This premise is often generational, as our parents passed on the fundamental knowledge they learned from their parents. As we age, we begin to see the cracks in that foundation. At some point, we assume our parents are so normal that they’re boring. They might have some quirks but who doesn’t? They might even have more quirks than others, but doesn’t that just make them quirky? When we begin to add these quirks up, as we age, and we compare them to others’ parents, an uncomfortable, irrefutable truth emerges in this dichotomy: Our parents are strange people. They aren’t a little weird, or goofy, and we can no longer find comfort in the idea that our parents just have some different ideas about some subjects. They have some bona fide, almost clinical, deficiencies.

If we ever gain enough distance from them to view their idiosyncrasies with some objectivity, this revelation can be earth-shattering. We witnessed, firsthand, some confusing elements of their thought process, and we began adding them up, but it wasn’t until we put all the pieces together that that uncomfortable truth emerged.

After that relatively daunting epiphany clears, a sense of satisfaction takes its place. Our rebellion to their quirky ideas was the right course to follow, and we now see how justified we were. At some point in our various stages of processing this newfound information, we realize that for much of our life, our parents were a beacon of sanity in an otherwise confusing world they were charged with helping us understand. When we couple that information with everything else we’ve realized, it’s no longer as funny as we thought it was. We reach a point where we want/need them to be normal, and we ask them not to express themselves in front of our friends, because if our friends learn how strange our parents truly are, how long will it be before they connect those dots back to us?

My dad was abnormal, at the very least. Some might say he was a kook, and others might suggest he was an odd duck. In the frame we’re creating here though, he was a platypus person who was difficult to classify. Either he was born with certain deficiencies, or they were a result of self-inflicted wounds. One could say that those self-inflicted wounds were choices he made along the way, and if that is true I believe he made them as a result of some of his natural deficiencies.

The point of writing about my dad’s deficiencies is not to denigrate the man, but to point out that which separated him from what one would call a normal man. Those deficiencies plagued him, and he put forth a great deal of effort to convince the world around him that he was as normal as they were. The trials and tribulations he experienced in this regard marked his life, and he didn’t want his children to have to go through what he did, so he tried to establish a normal home without too much chaos. In his subjective approach to life, he thought fitting in with others and being normal were the keys to happiness, and he tried to pass that along to us. I rebelled to those teachings, because I couldn’t see his efforts for what they were at the time.

Even after years of reflecting on this, and recognizing what my dad’s efforts for what they were, I still like to dance in the flames of the weird, but once the lights come up I’m as normal now, and as boring, as everyone else. As hard as my dad tried to force normalcy on me, however, he couldn’t control the impulses I had to indulge in the artistic creations that glorified life outside the norm. I knew weird ideas were out there, and I pursued them with near wanton lust.

When I left the relatively normal home my dad tried to create for us, I ventured out into a world outside the realm of his influence. I lived the life I always wanted to live, and I found weird, oddball philosophies so intoxicating that I had trouble keeping them in the bottle.

My dad’s overwhelming influence on my life was such that I preferred the company of normal people long-term, but I remained eager to invite weird people in for a brief stay to challenge my status quo. Their brief stay would present me with different and weird ideas of thinking, weird platitudes, and oddball mentalities that shook the contents in my bottle a little bit more. I needed to know what made them tock (as opposed to the ticks I knew all too well). I became obsessed with the abnormal to find out what made them different, or if they were, and I had to deal with friends and family telling me that I should be avoiding these people, because they were so strange. I couldn’t, I said, not until I consumed all that they had to offer.

A Piece of Advice to the Young Ones

If there are any young people seeking to disappoint their parents and anyone who has expectations of them in the manner I did, I have one word of caution. Pursue the life of a freak, become that rebel that makes every square in the room uncomfortable. Violate every spoken and unspoken rule of our culture, and become that person everyone in the room regards as an oddball. Before going down these roads, however, an aspiring rebel needs to consider learning everything they can about the conventional rules that they plan to spend the rest of their life violating. Knowing the rules provides a foundation for successful rebellions. All rebels think they know the conventional ways of the conventional, and they might think there’s no point in studying them, but if there’s one thing that I learned as an aspiring rebel, and in the many conversations I had with other rebels since, it’s that a rebel needs to know the rules better than the squares do. A violation of rules comes with its own set of rules, and subsets, for those seeking to violate in a constructive and substantive manner. Failure to learn them, and the proper violation of them, will allow those who set the rules to dismiss a rebel as one who doesn’t know what they’re talking about, and a rebel without a cause.

Most rebels find inspiration for their rebellion from screen stars who violate standards and upset the status quo in their presentations. These stars provide color by number routes to rebellion that are provocative and easy to follow. These rebellions also look great on a screen, but those seeking inspiration often fail to account for the fact that the screenwriters and directors of these productions manipulate all of the extraneous conditions and side characters around the main character to enhance their qualities. We all know this is true, in some respects, but few of us factor it into our presentation. In real life, there are situations and forces that even a rebel with strong convictions cannot control. There are people who will present the rebel with scenarios for which they’re unprepared, and a failure to study the conventional rules from every angle possible, will lead the audience of the rebel’s argument to forget it soon after they make it.

James Dean was A Rebel Without a Cause, though, and James Dean was cooler than cool. For ninety minutes he was, and with all of extraneous conditions and side characters portraying the perfect contradictory behavior that would define the James Dean character’s rebellion, James Dean was cool. Cooler than cool. Again, the real life rebel cannot manipulate his extraneous conditions and side characters to enhance their presentations in the manner all the behind the scene’s players did in that movie. In real life, the extraneous players who topple the uninformed rebel with corrections consider a rebel without a cause, and a rebel without substance. They may regard him as uninteresting, after the initial flash of intrigue with their rebelliousness subsides.

My advice to all aspiring rebels is to listen to those squares who are so normal they make them throw up in their mouth a little, for they may teach a rebel more about what they’re rebelling against than those who feed into their confirmation bias.

My aunt was an absolute bore. She taught me the elements of life that bored the fill in the blank out of me with her preachy presentations on “Good and honest living.” She didn’t know where it was at, as far as I was concerned. I sought entrée into the “Do what you feel” rock and roll persona that left carnage in its wake. I debated her point for point. I knew the elements of rock and roll lifestyle well. My aunt was not much of a debater. She knew her “Good and honest living” principles, but she could not debate me point for point. When compared to the rock and roll figures of our culture, she had poor presentation skills. She was also overweight and unattractive. The entertainers were attractive and thin, they all had strong jaw lines, and they confirmed all of the beliefs I had about life.

Life should be easy, judgment free, and fun, I decided. It shouldn’t involve the moral trappings of what is right and what is wrong. As long as no one gets hurt, a person should be able to do what they feel like doing. Viewing all of this in retrospect, however, I now realize that the boring, pedantic, obese, and unattractive people taught me ten times as much about life as any of the entertainers. The entertainers were just better at packaging their presentations.

The crux of my rebellion was that I wanted to expel whatever my body couldn’t use into the face of the mainstream. I wanted to be so weird that they could taste it. The responsible grownups who played a quality role in my development had a boring sameness about them, and the idea that I might be able to be something different led to some growth in my undercarriage. My dad vied for this sameness, and he wanted the same for me, but no matter how hard he tried to make me normal, I continued to explore the abbie normal side of humanity.

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In my efforts to have someone, somewhere consider me weird, I spotted the now endangered platypus person. The reason we place the platypus person on the endangered list is that with the advent of devices and the internet, the idea of total nonconformity is even rarer than it was when I was younger. It’s no longer as simple as a person not having cable. They must avoid all that is available to them in the information age, including the internet. It’s easier than it’s ever been for them to consciously and subconsciously replicate and mimic our thoughts, rhythms, and patterns, in other words. It also leads to greater assimilation, and it makes them tougher to spot. If, for whatever reason, they are not able to camouflage their duck’s bill on an otter’s body, we should note that it’s rarely by choice. As I suggested earlier, they sincerely want to be normal, but their upbringing was such that it requires some effort on their part to do what it takes for others to perceive someone as normal. They don’t mimic to deceive anyone, unless one considers convincing oneself of a lie so thoroughly that they believe it themselves an act of deception.

In the course of my efforts to find the rare bird, I realized that it can take weeks to months before we see their duck bill, because they only show it to people they trust, and that trust takes time to build. It also takes a level of familiarity for them to be comfortable. To get them to open up, we might have to give them our weaknesses, but we don’t do this for the purpose of getting them open up. We don’t know they’re platypus people when we speak to them. We aren’t reporters digging for their story, a story, or this story. We just do it in the course of establishing a friendship with them, as we would with any other person. As with the egg-laying, semi-aquatic mammal, platypus people require a certain environment, and very specific conditions before they reveal themselves. When they do reveal themselves, there is some insecurity involved in their reveal, but there is also relief. It’s obvious that they have experienced levels of ridicule and abuse for their thoughts and ideas, and they are relieved to find someone who is so curious about the way they think.

The only times I have been able to build this level of trust, through prolonged involvement, have occurred within the confines of shared employment. On one of these jobs, I developed what we could call a cerebral crush on one of my fellow employees. We had numerous, fascinating conversations on a variety of unrelated topics. In one of our last non-work-related conversations, she replied to one of my stories with a, “Wait a second, did you say you want to be weird? You actually want to be weird? People don’t want to be weird. They either are, or they aren’t.”

This response wobbled me a little, because I thought she and I were both playing with peoples’ heads in the same manner. I thought she wanted to be considered weird too. I had no idea the things she did and said were more organically weird, strange, or just plain different. Her response told me that I had no business playing with her toys, in this sense. It also wobbled me a little, because I never heard anyone defend weirdness before. The conversation went on for a couple minutes, but no matter what I said, she kept cycling it back to this two sentence theme: People don’t want to be weird. They either are, or they aren’t

I would try, numerous times, after that conversation to steer her back to what I considered a fascinating topic, but she would have none of it. I wanted to know what it meant to be weird, from her perspective. I wanted her to elucidate on the difference between being weird and trying to be weird, but unbeknownst to me, she considered that conversation over, and she found all of my subsequent questions on the topic insulting.

Therefore, I can only guess that the import of her condemnation of my efforts was based on this idea she had that weirdness should be a birthright. It should be natural and organic. It was a ‘how dare you try to be one of us, if you’re not’ reaction to those who regard the organic nature of their oddities a birthright. She presumably regarded this as equivalent to a person who wears glasses to look sexier when they don’t have to wear them, an act that ticks off those who are required to wear them.

I felt caught while in the moment. I thought of all the attempts I made to have another consider me weird, and I thought of how inorganic they were. I felt like a fraud. As I said, my dad raised me in a manner that forced me to accept the norms, and I’m going to take another moment out of this piece to say something I didn’t say to him when he was alive, God bless you Dad for forcing a foundation of normalcy down my throat. God bless you for creating a base of normalcy from which I rebelled, for without that base I now wonder what I may have become.

My guess was that this woman’s upbringing was probably chaotic, and she spent most of her adult life striving for what others might call normal. She was weird in a more natural and fundamental sense, and she condemned anyone who might dare play around in what she proclaimed her birthright, but there was also an element of sadness and misery about her that was obvious to anyone who knew some details of her struggle.

Those of us who had enough involvement with her to know her beyond the superficial knew that chaos dominated much of her life, and we learned that it led her to desperately seek the refuge of any substance she could find to ease that pain.

I realized through this friend, and all of the other weird characters that have graced my life before and after, that there was weird and there was weird. There is a level of weird that is fun, a little obnoxious, and entertaining in a manner that tingles the area of the brain that enjoys stepping outside the norm. The other level of weird, the one that we could arbitrarily define as strange, is a little scary when one takes a moment to spelunk through the caverns of their mind.

Was this woman a little weird? Was she so weird that we could call her strange by the arbitrary definitions we’ve laid out, or were her sensibilities so different from mine that I sought to classify her in some way to help me feel normal by comparison?

When compared to all of my other experiences with platypus people, she was an anomaly. Was she weirder than I was though? “Who cares?” we might say in unison. She did. It may never have occurred to her –prior to this particular conversation– to use the idea of being weird as a cudgel to carve out some level of superiority. In that particular conversation, it was for her, and she didn’t appear to feel unusual doing so. It appeared, in fact, to be vital to her makeup that I acknowledge that she had me on this topic. She was weird, and I was trying to be weird. Who tries to be weird? Phony people. That’s who. Check, check, check. She wins.

What did she win though? Some odd form of superiority? How long did she search for some point of superiority? How many topics did we cover, in our numerous, unrelated conversations, before she was able to spot one aspect of her personality in which she had some level of superiority? If either of these questions wreaks of ego on my part, let’s flip it around and ask how many battles did she lose trying to appear as normal as her counterpart was? She needed a victory. I had numerous conversations with this woman before we drifted apart, and I never saw this competitive side of her again. She thought she had me on this one weird, strange, or just plain different topic, and I can only assume it gave her some satisfaction to do so.

Are you weird, strange, just plain different, or an unclassifiable platypus person? No one cares, you might say, and quit judging people with labels. Our subjective reactions to define anomalies define us. Some of us try to cut analysis short by accusing anyone who obsesses over differences as lacking in compassion. Others drop a quick, humorous line that allows them to dismiss subjects of curiosity. Those of us who dwell (obsess) over these topics don’t understand how others can turn this part of their brain off, because we think our story lies somewhere in the sedimentary levels of the strange and weird platypus people.

We all know some weird people, and we’ve encountered those who are strange and just plain different. We’ve also learned that some are so different that they’re difficult to classify. The one answer we could provide is that we all have a relative hold on the various truths of life, and those answers help us keep the idea of random chaos at bay. If you have had any prolonged involvement with a platypus person, however, you know that they have their answers too. Those answers might be different from everything we’ve heard our whole life, but does that make them weird, strange or just plain different? The frustration that those of us who search for answers in life know is that some of the times there are no concrete answers to some questions. Some of the times, questions lead to answers and some of the times, answers lead to other questions, intriguing, illuminating questions. Am I weird, strange, or so different from everyone else has trouble classifying me? Do these questions require the level of exhaustive analysis we devote to it, or does it have more to do with the idea that some of us didn’t have cable growing up?

Next up: Meet the Platypus People