So, you want to be a Kindergarten, Flag Football Coach


“Coach! Coach! Coach!” is something every kindergarten, flag football coach will hear in a huddle, on just about every play. When the coach responds, they are likely to hear classic gems like these, “I have a new shirt,” “I felt a raindrop,” or “I have a loose (or new) tooth.” Then there are the most common questions that follow every play, “When do I get the ball?” and “When do I get to score a touchdown?” The other comments I’ve heard are, “I don’t have a mouthpiece,” and “how come you’re not wearing sunglasses today?” Some of the kindergarten children repeat the shouts of “coach!” so often, while you’re attempting to tell the players involved in the next play how to run it that by the time we get to their question/comment, they forget what they wanted to ask/say. Once we complete that exercise, and get the kids to the line of scrimmage, ready to run the play in the time allotted by the referee, be prepared for them to forget everything you just said. (Even when we keep it as simple as possible, by telling them to hand the ball off and run left or right, they often run the opposite way about 50% of the time.) 

For those interested in prepping themselves for this adventure, try herding small kittens, not cats, kittens into something. I’ve never tried that before, but I have to imagine it is similar. Then, try to get the kittens to perform a very specific task. I know that the average 6-7-year-old brain is superior to the felines, but I’ve found that the attention and retention levels are about the same.

The easiest part of being a FF coach is putting flags on your team’s players throughout the game, as the other team will pull those flags off on every play, and some flags mysteriously fall off on every other play. (I’ve tried to show the kids how to put those flags on themselves, but it takes a level of dexterity for which most kindergarten-age kids are not quite capable yet.) The coach will be responsible for doing this while telling those involved in the next play, what that play is. The coach must do this while answering all of the questions and comments the other 5-7-year-old children can think up in the middle of a huddle. (Even though I provided some of the highlights above, they are but an example of the questions/comments I’ve heard in the past five weeks.) The volunteer, with no discernible experience in this regard, must be able to juggle these three things while trying to adhere to the referee’s unspoken timetable for getting your players to the line of scrimmage to pull next play off in a timely manner.

In this, my fifth game, I flirted with dropping the whole notion of plays, as they only invite more questions and different levels of chaos, but just handing the ball off on every play doesn’t teach kids the fundamentals of the game very well. On the subject of plays, I don’t think it will shock the potential volunteer to learn that if you plan to have a playbook, the goal should be to keep it as simple as possible. I thought adding a simple reverse would fall under this heading, until I witnessed in real time. (Picture a herd of wet cats attempting to run to the source and away from it at the same time.) I also added a pass play, in which the receiver runs a simple curl route. I thought this was a simple enough play, until I saw it play out live. (If the coach is lucky, they’ll have one player who can throw and one player who can catch.) The coach should also prepare for the idea that most players won’t know what they’re supposed to do on any given play, so you’ll have to provide individual instructions to each player before the snap, and you’ll have to tell them where to stand, and you’ll have to repeat it. Again, the coach will have to accomplish this while trying to keep the referee happy by getting your players to the line and pulling off a play in time.

The coach should also prepare to repeat those very specific instructions at least twice, and answer all questions that follow. The most popular question a coach will have to answer in each huddle is, “When do I get to I score a touchdown?” My pat response is, “That team over there is not going to let you score a touchdown. You have to go get it, when it’s your turn.” The reason we must continually express the idea of taking turns is that once they score a touchdown, they want to do it repeatedly, and as many times as we express the idea, most kindergarten-age children don’t fully comprehend the idea of taking turns.

As stated in the opening paragraph, they will introduce questions in each huddle by shouting the word “Coach” an average of two to three times a play, and this can be overwhelming in a five-man huddle. I’ve instructed them that, “We can only have one voice in the huddle,” so many times that some understand, but most do not. I’ve instructed them to keep all comments and questions related to football, but they’re kindergartners. One important note to add here is the patience and understanding a flag football coach must employ. Remind yourself, throughout the game, that they’re kindergarten kids. They can’t remember what we said five seconds ago.

As kindergarten kids begin running toward one another they will inevitably run into one another, and the volunteer coach with no prior experience handling such matters, will have to address such injuries on about every third play. The coach will also have to deal with the emotional aftermath of a child having their flag pulled. To us, this is part of the play. Person A runs down the field, person B pulls their flag, and the play is over. To the kindergarten mind, this is a humiliating condemnation of their athletic ability. They might regard it as an unfair part of the game, or the coach’s fault. When we experienced such a display, we simply moved on and let his parents handle the matter. As a voice of authority, on the field, the inclination might be to correct that child’s behavior in some way, but we have to remember that these are other people’s kids. It may embarrass us to have one of our team members act this way, but we have to respect our boundaries while trying to keep control of the individual players. The best advice I provide the kids who don’t succeed on their play is to have a short-term memory. “Try your hardest on every play, but if you don’t succeed, employ a ‘next play’ mentality.” I developed this mindset after years of playing recreational sports. It worked well for me, but it’s too complex for the disappointed, kindergarten mind to comprehend. 

My advice to anyone who chooses to volunteer for such a role is to enter into it with a plan. Watch some YouTube videos on kindergarten flag football. Some videos there show some very helpful drills a coach can run, in practice. Have a plan, but ditch the playbook. I whittled our game plan down to my handoff left and handoff right. We mix one, maybe two, reverses a game and a pass play. Conduct a practice that is very active and participatory. Don’t let them stand in line idle. If there is some idle time, you might want to have them do jumping jacks or something else active, until their turn arrives. When you provide any instructions, ask them to repeat the things you said. One question I ask is, “How do we catch the ball?” They raise their hands, and I call on one of them. “Two eyes and two hands,” is their response. In my recreational league, we have 20-minute practices before each game, and the option of having a midweek practice. I tried one midweek practice, and it was so chaotic that it was pointless. I learned that kindergarten-aged children have an increased level of focus on game day that applies in the 20-minute practice, because they want to prepare to score a meaningful touchdown in the game, and they want to tackle the other team, but to a kindergarten-aged kid, a one-hour, midweek practice is all about directionless, unfocused fun. The two most important elements of coaching kindergarten, flag football is to try to teach them some things that stick, and let them have some fun. Let them worry about winning and losing, for you need to focus on what you can control. We should also make sure we take turns giving the ball to each kid. Not only is that what they signed up for, but it maintains their focus. I try to compliment each player on their strength and ignore any weaknesses they might have. This keeps them happy, focused and interested. The most important ingredient is to try to keep it fun for the kids.

After dealing with these kids one hour a day, for six weeks, I now have profound respect for anyone who chooses to have a career dealing with kindergarten children full-time. If, at one time, I considered my son’s teachers unreasonably strict, by instituting a level of structure to try to establish some level of order, I now empathize. I’ve heard kindergarten teachers say things to their assistant teachers, such as, “Could you take care of Johnny today. I can’t deal with Johnny today.” I now have a couple of Johnnies that I only deal with for one hour a week, and if I could have one on-field assistant answer the questions, and tend to, just one of my Johnnies, I probably wouldn’t be writing this piece to release my frustrations.  

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Scat Mask Replica V


Turtle Porn. We’ve all heard the reports from conservation biologists that detail the trials and errors involved in saving a “critically endangered species like the Yangtze Giant Softshell Turtle”. Some of us might view such a chore as thankless and not very rewarding financially, but for these people it’s a passion. Most passionate people have, at least, one or two stories to tell about moments they’ve experienced in their field that define their reason for being, what the French would call their raison d’être. Others spend their careers chasing such moments. For a conservation biologist, zoologist or anyone else involved in the field, the idea that they might one day play some role in saving a species would be that raison d’être. Reading the note in the accompanying photo, even the most casual observer can’t help but feel that passion coming off the plaque.

Courtesy Henry Doorly Zoo

Perhaps no story better illustrates the frustrations of working with animals in this manner better than the tale of Lonesome George. Lonesome George was a “Pinta Island giant tortoise who lived in captivity in the Galápagos for 41 years, as biologists tried to coax him into copulating with a female of a closely related species. His caretakers tried just about everything—they even considered showing him videos of tortoise pornography (though it’s not clear if that ever happened). But the 100-plus-year-old George just wasn’t in the mood. He died in 2012, taking his species with him.”{1}

Numerous testimonials from conservation biologists inform us that as common as these captive breeding programs are, they don’t work near as often as some might think. The frustrations of years of such failures probably lead to feelings of such hopelessness that end when the male Yangtze Giant Softshell Turtle finally violates the sanctity and purity of the female. When that moment happens with a critically endangered species, one can only imagine the euphoria that must occur in those observation rooms. Those involved probably lose all sense of professional decorum, as they begin unleashing all of that frustration by using crass words to describe the moment of truth. We can also imagine that they try to abide by a self-imposed governor placed on any displays of jubilation, as a viral video of such a celebration might cast the entire profession in an awkward light. We can also guess that colleagues in these fields try to hold one other in check by mocking and ridiculing those who get a little too excited. “Did you see Darren when the pandas started going at it? He was out of control. I bet he doesn’t get that excited in his own situations.” 

Baseball is boring. Anyone who has any appreciation of the history of baseball can’t help but feel nostalgic when they enter an old Major League baseball stadium. When we smell the peanuts, the hotdogs, and something we can only guess is the smell of age-old soda drying on the ground, associations between game and country come to mind. When we hear the crack of the bat, as the players take batting practice, we think of all of the great players who stood astride home plate waiting for their pitch. When the warmth of the summer sun hits us, we think of the associations most Americans have with summer and baseball, and it makes me feel a part of something larger. When the players take the field, we take some pride in knowing their names and a little bit about their history. We also know that every team has a scouting report on their tendencies, and that this will dictate how the opposing team pitches to them and plays them in the field. “It’s a chess match,” we tell our friends.  

In that first inning, we watch the best players in the game do battle, and we understand what the sportswriters are talking about when they write about the historic lore of the game. It’s an experience that anyone who hasn’t been to one must experience for themselves. Those of us who have been to a number of the oldest ballparks in the nation know this magical feeling. We see it, we feel it, and we get it. By the time the third inning rolls around, however, these qualities begin to wear thin. We’re not short-attention span types, but the game just isn’t one that can captivate an audience for three hours. It might have something to do with the uncomfortable seats, the pace of the game, or the awful concessions most baseball stadiums provide, but by the fourth inning most of us want to be anywhere else. By the time the sixth inning rolls around, the children around us are so bored that they’re screaming and few adults are still paying attention to the game. I’ve witnessed a grand slam to win a ballgame with two outs in the bottom of the night, and I saw an extra-inning, game winning home run to complete the cycle on another night, and I almost failed to calculate how historic those moments were, because by the time they occurred I was so bored I almost missed them. The baseball purists might not be, but anytime I think of hard-core fans, I remember something a hard-core race car fan said, “We watch the first five laps and the last five. No one I know watches all of them from the edge of their seat.”  

Eating your appetite. When we are younger, we eat anything and everything, all the time. Eating is just something we do when we’re young. Ask a teenager their favorite places to eat, and they will inevitably list off the top five fast food restaurants. They don’t appreciate the quality of food they eat. They just eat. They’re not especially hungry when they grab a sandwich en route to a meal. They just eat it. They eat while they watch TV, when they drive, and so they have something to do with their hands. When we’re young, we eat because we’re bored, because it’s there, and because everyone else is doing it, but we offset all of this eating with rigorous physical activity.

As we age, and our rigorous physical activity begins to slow as much as our digestive system does, we limit our eating. Some of us start by eliminating snacks, or we change our snacks to healthier fare. Some of us even go so far as to eliminate entire meals, so that we’re only eating once, or twice a day. By doing so, we make mealtime an eventful moment of our day, and for some it becomes the most memorable moment in a given day. Then we talk about past events, and labor over future ones. “What are we going to eat?” “Where are going to go?” and “When are we going to eat?” We don’t know what we want to eat yet, but we want it to be tastier than the meal we had yesterday. We want something that might help make today even more special. Once we finish that meal, we are often disappointed, because it wasn’t as great as the other meals we’ve had.

It wasn’t as great as the French Dip we had the other day at the corner deli. We still talk about that meal, and we use all of our creative skills to describe it, “I was literally and actively walking down the sidewalk, and I just happened to literally look up and see the sign Corner Deli. I didn’t think too much of it at the time, but then I literally ordered the French Dip sandwich. You haven’t tried it? Oh, you simply must,” we say to the uninitiated. “The meat is so tender, and the au jus is to die for there.” Some of the young people at the table might listen to such observations, if they have nothing else to distract them. Some of them might even begin to mimic them, but no matter how they might react, they don’t care as much as we do. They just want this whole dining experience over, so they can do whatever it is they do to make their day eventful. For us, the meal is the event. “You don’t know how to eat,” we say to them to try to establish some level of appreciation in them. They might want steak, but it’s only because we place so much value on it.

If we grill the most beautiful, tasty filet mignon, a cow has ever produced for their nourishment, they might say, “It’s good,” after they search for a suitable response between shrugs, but they say it with the same emotions they say things like, “The grass is green, sky is blue, and I love you.” They may not even look at us when they answer, and they might not answer us at all, if we fail to inform them how rude it is if they don’t. To us, this is such a delicious slab of meat that we will remember it for weeks. We also think that, at the very least, people our age treat it the same way, until we witness one of them eat a sandwich on the fly. I can appreciate it when Seinfeld says adults don’t lose appetites, but when one of my peers eats an apple on the way to the restaurant I don’t think that they’re ruining their appetite by doing so, but I can’t help but think they’re diminishing the event status of our meal tonight.

Literally and actively. The next generation has probably been twisting and turning the language to have others take them serious for as long as humans have been alive. The next generation is insecure and they don’t think we’re going to take them seriously, or find their stories funny, because few people do at this point in their lives. I empathize with their plight for when I was a member of the next generation I always thought my stories were missing something. I didn’t know what it was, of course, but I thought I needed to add something extra to generate interest and/or laughter. For my generation, it was all about cussing. We relied on swear words, delivered in a confident rhythm, to give our stories provocative punctuation. I don’t know if the comparative prevalence of swearing in movies and TV shows has made it passé to cuss now, or if young people don’t cuss around me now that I’m old, but the young people I know don’t swear as often as we did.

The problem for them, as I see it, is how does one punctuate a story without swear words if they want to provoke a response from an audience? If they tell us a relatively common story about how they noticed that the stop sign of at the end of their block was upside down the other day, for example, they know that they won’t receive quality reactions if they tell such a story flat. They know they need to spruce it up a little. When my generation told such a story, we said, “I was walking down the street the other day, when I noticed the [swear word] stop sign was upside down.” I don’t know if we felt compelled to add the swear words to acquiesce to the rhythms to which our peers were accustomed, or if we thought adding them would attach some gravitas to our stories, but we added them whenever and wherever we could. The special ingredients this next generation adds to their stories now are the infamous –ly words. Thus, the new way to add provocative import to one’s otherwise banal experiences is to add an adverb. “I was actively walking down the street when I literally noticed that the stop sign at the end of our block is now upside down.” I might pay too much attention to linguistic trends in the popular culture, but I’m curious about how such trends start, and what the user hopes to accomplish with them. The next generation obviously uses the –ly words to affect the rhythm of their stories, but I don’t think the words provide the provocative punctuation they seek. The only rationale I can find for adding these –ly words as often as they do, is that they seek to add gravitas to their stories in a way they might not otherwise achieve. When I listen to them, however, I hear that effort more than the story, and it distracts me so much that I can’t take them seriously.   

{1} https://psmag.com/environment/is-breeding-endangered-species-in-captivity-the-right-way-to-go

Falling Down Manholes


“When you fall down a manhole, that’s funny. When I do, that’s a tragedy.” –Mel Brooks

Is it really funny when a grown man falls down a manhole? It’s supposed to be a tragic moment, but some of us can’t help but laugh. If we find a tragic incident like that funny, is there something wrong with us, or is it funny? What is funny, what’s tragedy, and what’s the difference? Most people who fall down manholes don’t fall straight down, clean, like Yosemite Sam, and most of them aren’t mumbling comedic swear words to themselves as they fall. Most of them will likely damage something precious upon entry, and depending on the depth of their fall, they’re probably going to be screaming. They might not have enough time to fear death, but anyone who has fallen from a decent height knows that it’s such a scary experience that we don’t consider it funny.

If our friend walks away from the fall with some superficial bumps and bruises, that might be funny, but what if he chipped a tooth? What if he took a nasty knock on the head, or broke an ankle? What if his injuries were so severe they required Emergency Medical Technicians to free them? Does the severity of the injury make the incident more humorous? Before we say no, think about how we tell the story of the incident. Any time we tell a story, we want a punctuation point at the end. What better punctuation point would there be to this story than a prolonged hospital stay that involves tubes and machines keeping the victim alive? “They’re saying that the nasty knock on the head could leave him mentally impaired for the rest of his life?” If isn’t hilarious, it’s at least so noteworthy that we’ll be repeating this story to everyone we know.   

The initial sight of Jed lying in the sewer might be funny, unless he’s screaming. What if he’s hurt? How can he not be? We laugh. We don’t mean to laugh. We don’t find this funny, but we can’t stop. Some of us wait to find out if Jed’s okay before we laugh, and some of us wait to laugh until he’s not around before we tell the story of his fall, because we’re afraid we might laugh. Most of us do laugh at some point, it’s our impulsive reaction to something tragic.

Laughing, or otherwise enjoying, another person’s pain is so common, that the Germans, developed a term for it: schadenfreude. Is this impulse based on some sick and twisted instinct that we cannot control, or do we all enjoy others’ pain in one way or another? Is our laughter fueled by the relief that it’s not happening to us, or is it the result of comedies and comedians shaping and reshaping our definition of what’s humorous by twisting dark, tragic themes into something funny? Whatever the case is, incidents such as these reveal the relative nature of humor, and the fuzzy line between tragedy and comedy. The purposeful melding of the two even has its own genre: tragicomedy.

My personal experience with the fuzzy line between comedy and tragedy, didn’t involve falling into a manhole, but licking a pole. I was in the fifth or sixth grade, old enough and smart enough to know better, but young enough and dumb enough to do so anyway on one of the coldest days in February. I didn’t know the philosophical details of the symbiotic relationship between comedy and tragedy, but I knew people would laugh if they saw me stuck there. I knew there wouldn’t be an “At least you’re okay” sentiment among my classmates. I knew this wasn’t one of those types of mistakes. I didn’t know a whole lot about human nature, but I knew that certain people live for such moments of pain and humiliation. We all know those types, and we know they never forget. We could win the Pulitzer Prize, or become a world-renowned adventure seeker, and they will say, “Wasn’t that the kid who got his tongue stuck on a pole in fifth or sixth grade?”

I didn’t think about all those things while stuck in the moment of course. The only things I thought about were how am I going to rip myself free and how much is this going to hurt? When I thought about the pain I would endure, I knew it would be worth it to prevent anyone from finding out about this. The idea that one person might see me stuck on this pole compelled me to pull my tongue off as quickly as possible. I considered the pain a secondary concern to the idea that someone else might find out about this. After tearing several layers of my tongue off, the pain lived up to my greatest fears.

I’ve since read stories of others suffering a similar embarrassment, calling in civil servants to help them get free. The first question I have for these people I’ll never meet is, what were you thinking?

While still stuck on the pole, I knew the chance of someone seeing me in this embarrassing position increased exponentially with each second I remained stuck to the pole, and the prospect of calling someone over to help me, and that person calling another person over, until they all gave up and called in a rescue squad makes me so uncomfortable that I still cringe when I think about how many people would’ve been involved and how much material they would have on me in the aftermath.

I have to imagine that the victim who had someone call in a rescue squad was younger than I was at the time, or that the severity of their incident was worse than mine. For if all of the circumstances were even somewhat similar, then I have to ask them why they didn’t just rip themselves free? My empathy goes out to those who feared how painful it would be, but they had to consider how much unwanted attention they would attract by doing everything but ripping off several layers of their tongue. They had to consider the amount of teasing, ridicule, and bullying they would experience once the severity of the incident was over. We must make exceptions for age, as I say, but even young kids have had some experience with these reactions, and they should do whatever they can to avoid having these elements of human nature rain down upon them.

Even when I was still stuck on that pole, I knew certain people would be waiting for the details on my tragedy with baited breath. I also knew that my bully’s audience wouldn’t be able to restrain themselves from laughing at his cruel and clever displays of creativity. I didn’t know what nicknames or limericks he would develop, but I knew he would develop something. He was our class clown, and he was always developing material on someone. I realized that all of the pain I experienced in the aftermath of the toe curling rip of my tongue was worth it, because at least he wouldn’t have this ammunition to use on me.

We’ve all heard talk show guests say that they were the class clown in school. We all smile knowingly, picturing them as children dancing with a lampshade on their head and coming up with the perfect response to the teacher that even the teacher considered hilarious. Those of us who knew a class clown saw some of that, but we also saw what happened when they ran out of good-natured and fun material. I knew the minute the class clown ran out of material he would begin looking around for victims, and I was often one of his favorite targets.

We all enjoy making people laugh, but some have a psychological need to make people laugh, and they don’t care who has to get hurt in the process. Based on my experiences with class clowns, I can only guess that those who would fashion a career out of it, such that they were so successful that they ended up in a late night talk show chair talking about it, probably learned early on that no matter how you slice it, if someone falls down a manhole, or gets their tongue stuck to a pole, there’s comedy gold there waiting to be excavated. They may be too young to know anything about the complexities inherent in the symbiotic relationship between comedy and tragedy at the time, but at some point they realized that anyone can get a laugh. To separate themselves from that pack, former class clowns-turned-successful standup comedians would have to spend decades learning the intricacies and complexities of their craft, as everyone from the Ancient Greeks to Mel Brooks did. They would also learn for all of the complexities involved in comedy, one simple truth they learned in fifth to sixth grade remains: if one wants to achieve side-splitting laughter from the broadest audience possible, someone has to get hurt.

Stuff Stuck in the Orifice: The 2018 Edition


My guess is that human beings have been jamming foreign objects so deep in various orifices that we require assistance throughout our history, but we didn’t have a Consumer Product Safety Commission’s database catalog them until recently. We also didn’t have writers like Barry Petchesky from Deadspin.com condense that database of emergency room (ER) visits to entertaining bullet points until more recently. For most of human history, we didn’t know the luxury of having skilled professionals trained in removing such things for much of human history, so we can only guess that the cavemen who experimented in this manner paid dearly for their curiosity. We can also guess that these incidents, coupled with the threat of predators and their dietary habits, are all reasons that the cavemen worshiped the elder members of their clan who lived to fifty. I think everyone and their kids listened to this people, because they wanted to know their formula to living to fifty.

1) Petchesky’s select version of an otherwise lengthy database begins with the people who stuck things so far in their ear that they needed to go to an emergency room to have it removed. If the person who “Was cleaning ear with Q-Tip, accidentally walked into wall, [and] pushed Q-tip into ear” was a caveman, I don’t think he would’ve been one of the few to live to fifty. Whatever the Q-Tip of his era was, he would’ve walked around with it in his ear for the rest of his life, and it probably would’ve led to an infection that brought him down. Either that or he and his buddies might have developed some form of surgery to remove it, and he probably would’ve died during that surgery or from its aftereffects. 

2) The best “verbatim” quote in Petchesky’s summary, and he claims they are all quoted verbatim, is from an ER attendant who wrote, “Popcorn kernels in both ears, ‘feeds her ears because her ears are hungry’” in the ER report for the patient. The obvious question here is why would anyone use such a line to explain their situation? The less obvious and more humorous question is why would ER personnel write that into their report? How much grief did they have to deal with after writing it?

Anytime a person involved in the field of medicine writes such a report, their professional reputation is on the line. Attending physicians, insurance company agents, and fellow ER personnel read these reports, and I’m guessing that attempts at humor do not go over well. Years of training have shaped such reports in this manner, and all ER personnel know they could get fired by sprucing them up for entertainment purposes. It’s their job to stick to the facts when they write these reports, and their only defense to the interrogation sure to follow is, “That’s a direct quote.” We can also guess that the ER attendant asked the patient if they want to revise their characterization of the incident. “Are you sure this is what you want going into your final report? A number of people are going to see this, and they’re going ask both of us a lot of questions.”

3) Another thing that struck me throughout this report is how do people fit such things in their ear? I’ve never tested the capacity, or threshold of the orifice leading to my ear canal, but I’ve seen the toy mouse, and I have to imagine that getting it in so deep that they required a medical procedure to get it out required a great deal of time and effort on their part. They might also walk out of the ER saying something along the lines of, “I really need to find a hobby or something to fill up some of my free time.”

4) In the nose section of this report, we encounter some incidents that we can lay at the feet of human error. We don’t know why someone would put a rubber band up their nose, but we can guess it involved doing some kind of parlor trick. As for the butterfly, the cotton ball, and the paint, these are all unusual things to have near the nose, but they’re not freakish. My guess is Petchesky wanted to lay a relatively common foundation to build a rhythm for, “Sneezed and a computer key came out the right nostril, sneezed again and another one almost came out.”

Those of us who have viewed these lists for years now know that some people have a propensity for sticking unusual things up in their body. One thing to keep in mind throughout this list is not only did this person stick a computer key in their nose, but they stuck it so far up there that they needed someone schooled in medical procedures to retrieve it for them. Another thing we can speculate about, based on some of the items on this list, is that a greater percentage, if not all, of them didn’t go to the ER right away. They were probably so embarrassed by their action that they left it in there hoping that they might find a way to get it out themselves, or that it might work its way out in some more natural way. At some point, they realized that wasn’t going to happen, and they couldn’t live with the pain anymore. The way this person addressed their computer key sneezes, it sounds as if they are more accustomed to computer key sneezes than the rest of us are. The next logical question is, “How did they get in there?” Some ER attendants probably ask such questions, but some don’t. Those who don’t probably want to avoid pursuing the matter to avoid further embarrassing the patient.

5) Petchesky includes the “gum, gum wrapper, and gum in wrapper” incidents of things stuck up a nose as if they involved three separate incidents in emergency rooms throughout the country, but what if they weren’t. What if this prospective “America’s Got Talent” nominee managed to put all three in her nasal cavity in an attempt to outdo the friend who could tie a cherry stem in her mouth, but she was unable to extract the fruits of her labor?

6) The final one, listed under things stuck in nose is “piece of steak.” I file this one under simple human error too, because of the errors we all make while eating. We all make such mistakes, and they’re always a little surprising when they happen. How many full-grown adults, with decades of practice chewing on things, still bite their lip or the lining of their mouth when they eat? How many of us still attempt to speak while chewing in a manner that opens our epiglottis in a way that causes us to cough and choke. Most of us are able to hit our mouths with whatever we put on the end of a fork, but with the ratio of eating to incidents, what are the chances that someone could miss so badly that they end up putting a forkful in their nose on accident? They’re remote, perhaps infinitesimal, but they’re not impossible. Perhaps this person was so engaged in conversation, while eating, that they went a couple degrees too far north. I understand that this particular person put it so far up that they required medical assistance to get it out, but we don’t know what their conversation was about either.

7) The first item on the list of things stuck so far down the throat that it required medical assistance is banana. I know what happened here, because I’ve been that guy who was so habitually tardy that my job was on the line. I’ve woken up, while on probation, with so few minutes to spare that I dressed, grabbed my keys and my wallet and rushed out the door. I’ve been so late that I accomplished whatever rudimentary grooming I needed in the car, on the road to work, and I’m sure it showed. Buttoning a shirt eats away precious seconds on these mornings, so I don’t button until I’m halfway to work. I’ve even learned how to button with one hand while driving with the other. I don’t shower on these mornings, of course, so I have to follow the age old ‘spit on the hand and pat down whatever hair is sticking up’ on the road to work. In the midst of such mornings, we grab whatever quick food we can find and stick it in our mouth to shut the stomach up. For those of us who place ourselves in such circumstances, chewing is a luxury for those who have seconds on spare.

8) The next entry in the throat category is, “Throat lozenge still in blister pack.” How many of us have chewed on a lozenge at one point or another? We didn’t just swallow it. We chewed on it. I blame the manufacturer, because they package these lozenges in such pleasing colors that they look tasty. The first time this patient took a lozenge on his own, he chewed on it and consumed the foul liquid inside. When he informed the person next to them how awful the liquid tasted, the other person said, “You’re not supposed to chew on them. You’re supposed to swallow it whole.” This patient mistakenly conflated the word ‘whole’ to mean including the blister pack.

9) I’m guessing the person who swallowed the “mood ring” was depressed. I’m guessing that their lover dumped them, and that they believed in the mood ring’s suggestions to such a degree that when it suggested they should be happy, they internalized it to see if it could change their emotional interiority.

10) As for the items stuck in the male reproductive organ, we can only guess that the guy who stuck a pipe cleaner so far in so far that he required physical assistance to get it out, is a clean freak who never forgets to clean behind the ears. He probably uses a paper towel to open the doors of public restrooms. He probably soaps himself between the toes, and he has spent a lot of time searching for nooks and crannies that could become gross if left unattended, until he ended up in an emergency room.

11) The guy who had a straw reach an inextricable location in his reproductive system doesn’t understand the hoopla surrounding the anticipation portion involved in the act of love-making routine. Some find the moment before punctuation so exhilarating that they try to make it last for hours. This guy is one hundred and eighty degrees different. He and his lover tried to find a way to be more expedient.

12) We’ve all had lovers cheat on us, and we’ve all thought about the perfect way to exact our revenge. The guy who required medical assistance to remove six to seven BB pellets from his reproductive organ, decided that the next time he and his lover were involved, he was going to blow her head off.

13) The person who put a billiard ball in their rectum is a trick shot artist, and in the world of trick shot artists, there’s very little room for originality. Most trick shot artists are simply showing the world that they can duplicate the tricks Minnesota Fats and Willie Mosconi did fifty years ago. There is no room for originality in this world, because there is only so much one can do with ten balls and a pool table. This guy thought he was really onto something, but he failed miserably.

14) The poor patient who “sat down on the sofa and accidentally sat on a ball point pen,” only to have it lodge so far up his rectum that he required medical assistance is now suing the pen manufacturer. He doesn’t want any money. He is suing for one symbolic dollar to direct our attention to his primary goal of forcing the manufacturer to put a very specific warning on their package. His goal is an altruistic one, in that he doesn’t want others to have to suffer his (now very public) humiliation.

15) Amateur astronomer Gil Burkett’s excitement was understandable. He thought he was going to be famous. He thought he just discovered a new planet. He was so emotional that he couldn’t contain himself. He began jumping up and down, all over the place, screaming with joy. In his reckless and irrational exuberance, he landed on the “leg of a telescope”, and after he put some effort into extracting it, he realized it was so far in his rectum that he knew he would need medical assistance to retrieve it. If that wasn’t humiliating enough, Gil consulted four other amateur astronomy society websites, while waiting for the EMTs, and he found that a previous astronomer already named the planet.

16) The first time we introduce some intoxicants to our system, we will receive the greatest high we will ever experience with that particular intoxicant. Every drug effects our system differently, but from what I’ve read on the subject, that first high is almost impossible to reproduce for some of them. Most of us either don’t know that, or we don’t consider that when we attempt to reproduce that first experience. We fall prey to the notion that if we do more, it won’t just reproduce it, it might outdo it. Drug users refer to this pursuit as chasing the dragon.

Firsthand knowledge eventually teaches us that in the interactions between body and intoxicants, more is not always more. After we reach this depressing conclusion, we seek alternative routes to the great high. Some who enjoy intoxicants gain some education in their pursuit of a great high. They learn basic knowledge of nutrition, as they seek to replace what their drug of choice depletes, they learn about chemistry, and they learn a surprising amount about their biology. They learn, for example, that the various ways of taking their drug of choice orally allows the liver to distill some of its impurities. The liver does this to protect the body, of course, but some of those impurities can increase feelings of intoxication. By one way or another, we learn that taking an intoxicant through the rectum is a way to circumvent the liver. In their quest to utilize that alternative route, and achieve their greatest high ever one patient “pushed drugs up rectum using a lighter, was able to retrieve the drugs bag yet believe lighter got stuck.” Another person, “Took a soda bottle with Fireball whiskey via his rectum, stuck bottle in rectum and squeezed.”

17) We can also find some elements of this pursuit in those who use sexual toys. When users upgrade to larger toys or pursue greater depths, they seek to achieve the arousal they probably experienced the first time they experimented, or they try to outdo the last time. This is probably what happened when Neil stuck a “vibrator in rectum and tried to remove it with screwdriver and lacerated rectum; object in colon now.” He probably tried to outdo previous experiences with his toy, when he discovered the painful difference between far, farther, and too far.

18) Neil’s dilemma also brings to mind a nagging question I had reading through this list. I understand that no one would be on this report if they didn’t require medical assistance, but how much effort did they put into removing these items themselves? We’ve all met people who aren’t embarrassed easily, and they seemingly have no problem telling another person “they got a toothbrush stuck in their rectum after jumping on the bed.” If you’re sitting next to such a person in the waiting room, and you ask them why they’re here, these types provide far more information than you care to hear. “Aren’t you embarrassed?” you ask them. “Well, why are you here?” they’ll ask you in reply. No matter what you say in response, they will respond, “Aren’t you embarrassed?” They will tone their response with a whole lot of sarcasm to mock you and your original question. You could tell them that you fear you’re exhibiting early signs of the Ebola virus, and they would still respond in that sarcastic manner, to imply that the reasons the two of you are in there, are more similar than you ever considered.

Readers perusing such a list can’t help but place themselves in the shoes of the victims in such scenarios. It’s difficult to imagine us doing some of these things, of course, but if we did, what would we do? Most of us would be so embarrassed that we would do anything and we could think of to avoid the embarrassment of having to look people in the face, while telling them what we’ve done. We don’t know how much physical pain we would be willing to endure to avoid it, but we would probably test our threshold. We would likely consider that pain secondary to the painful embarrassment of telling another person what we did. We all know that doctors, nurses, and various other ER personnel probably see more in one month than most of us will see in a lifetime, but they’re people too, and in their off hours, they surely think this stuff is funny. They probably say something along the lines of, “Oh yeah, the job is incredibly stressful, long hours, and all that, but there are some moments. There are moments that make it all worth it. Just the other day, there was this one guy who …”

Neil and I probably share the “I don’t ever want to be that one guy who …” mentality. Neil probably said something similar to himself before reaching the point of desperation where a screwdriver appeared to be a reasonable solution. “This thing is coming out!” Neil probably said with visible determination.

How many hours of digging and painful scraping did Neil have to endure before finally realizing he was doing more harm than good, and we have to think of this in terms of hours, because the thought of leaving something as large as a vibrator in there for days is unimaginable and anything longer seems so impossible that its unfathomable. Would Neil be able to find a pain-free way to sit in his office chair, if some of it is sticking out, and we have to imagine that some of it is sticking out. Would he be able to find a way to deflect questions if this dilemma lasted for days? As cringe-worthy as these questions are, we also have to factor in all the scraping Neil did in his efforts to end this dilemma. How early on did the idea of removing it with a screwdriver hit Neil? If it was the first day, we have factor that into the equation. He may not have lacerated the walls of his rectum, for that probably didn’t happen until his embarrassment and the resultant frustrations got the best of him, but we do have to factor this into Neil’s dilemma.  

One other question I have on this subject is, did the ER attendant have to inform Neil that the item in question reached his colon, or did Neil already suspect as much? Neil obviously knew the item was irretrievable, or he wouldn’t have lacerated his rectum, and he wouldn’t be in the ER, but was there a particular sensation he felt when it reached another level? Did it feel like the item reached a shelf beyond his reach?

19) The guy who put a “significant amount of string” so far into his rectum that he couldn’t get it out without assistance is another curiosity for me. Was this just another boring Tuesday for him, was he measuring his depth in Mark Twain fashion, or was he desperately constipated? If I were the ER attendant on staff, I think my curiosity might overwhelm professional discipline. Once we worked our way past the procedural Q&A’s, I would have to ask him why he stuck so much string up his rectum. The two of us could probably chalk “a little string” up to an embarrassing and perverse curiosity, but I would have to know what drove him to continue past those levels to one we both agreed was significant.

I also wonder about the process involved in the word ‘significant’ making it into the final report. If the ER personnel see as much as these reports suggest they do in one year, I’m guessing that superlatives to describe such incidents almost become passé over time. The words, “If you think that was as a lot, you should’ve seen what I saw last night” probably get passed around ER break rooms all the time. ER personnel probably grow so competitive in this unspoken manner, over time, that they become reticent to introduce adjectives like “a lot” when describing the amount of blood they saw, or the word “unusual” when describing a smell coming from some organ, because they know their peers will call them out on those adjectives. That peer pressure likely effects the manner in which they write reports over time. Thus, when they find some string, they simple write “some string” to provide a succinct description of what they’ve found. When they find “a lot” of string, they probably don’t have a personal or professional measurement to distinguish it from “some” string, but they know it when they see it. With that in mind, how much string do seasoned veterans of emergency rooms have to find in a rectum before they allow the words “a significant amount of string?” into the final report? Barry Petchesky’s list of reports the Consumer Product Safety Commission’s database does not provide clarity in this regard, but my guess is that the addition of the word significant is an indicator that we’re no longer talking about inches here but feet, and likely yards. If the ER patient declared that a significant amount string was in his rectum, we can guess that the ER attendant probably checked him. “I’ve witnessed a significant amount of string before, and trust me you likely don’t have that much in there. Why don’t we just write “a lot” for now, and we’ll address the verbiage later.” I don’t know how much editing goes on in the process, or how vital the terminology would be in such a case, but I’m guessing that most emergency rooms undergo a number of unofficial and professional series of checks that occur before a medical report ends up on an insurance agent’s desk. At this point, we can guess that the operating doctors and nurses have their say, based on their own individual experiences, before the description “a significant amount of string” ends up in the final report. If everyone agreed that it was a “significant amount of string”, we can also guess that in post op, some wisenheimer dropped some joke about magicians pulling handkerchiefs out of their pockets.

The Social Contract of Lending: Hairbrushes and Rakes


I felt foolish for almost squealing when Paula placed my first paycheck in my hand. I didn’t squeal or make any sound, but the emotions I internalized and the pride I felt when she handed me the fruits of my labor were memorable for me. It was just another payday for the other employees in line picking up their check. Paula didn’t last long at the restaurant, for reasons endemic to her character, but due to the fact that she was the one who handed me that paycheck, 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 were born the day I received my first paycheck.

Sleep was an inconvenient conclusion of the night for me back then, but a precious commodity in the morning. I didn’t greet mornings with a “healthy, wealthy and wise” attitude. I wasn’t happy to see another sunrise, and I wasn’t happy to be alive. I just wanted more sleep. I took advantage of every opportunity to sleep during the day, because I didn’t want to sleep during the night back then.  

The morning of my first paycheck was different, however. I purposely woke early on this morning, and the moment I awoke, I knew what morning it was. There was no mid-morning delirium, and the first words out of my mouth were not a swear. I didn’t go back to sleep on this morning, as I would any other normal morning when I didn’t have to awake early. I threw warm blankets off ready to greet the day. Even though we were in the crack of dawn hours, I already had a mid-morning smile on my face, and that hadn’t happened since a certain someone ruined Christmas for me. I don’t remember the bus ride over to the restaurant that day, but I remember stepping off the city bus, knowing that my paycheck was waiting for me inside the restaurant.

I knew that the days of asking my father and grandfather for money were officially over that morning. 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 first official purchase, with my money, was a hairbrush, and I considered it an argument against my father and grandfather’s claim 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 better than I ever could. 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 with 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 displayed a level of appreciation for the idea that I was only able to demand quality services from my fellow man by providing quality services to him. 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. 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.

Their lessons also suggested that while I should care for the products I purchased, I should show a level of reverence for the products another might lend me. If a man were generous enough to lend me his rake, in my time of need, 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 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 often led me to just purchase a brand new rake. If I were to encounter a moment of desperate need, without the resources necessary to purchase another one, it’s much less emotionally taxing on me to simply 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 not 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 away 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 the philosophical training seminars on preservation and conservation I did, but when I decided to loan my hard-earned 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, ruin it, and alter the life expectancy it might enjoy if I followed my ingrained standards and practices. I knew where this hairbrush was at all times, and I developed a special 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 a separate occasion, I loaned a Queen’s Greatest Hits cassette tape to another friend. Although this tape endured thousands of plays, over the years, its condition was excellent relative to usage. The friend I loaned it to managed to lose the plastic jewel case and the inner jacket sleeve within a week, and he had to spend another week locating the cassette tape. He never found the jewel case or the jacket, but he did manage to locate the tape. The friend didn’t offer to compensate me for my loss, or display any of the guilt that should’ve followed 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 what I considered the epistemological penalty of violating those standards in regards to his character. 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 all the details of my hairbrush, and the friend to whom I loaned it. He even joined me in condemning my hairbrush friend. So, “It’s just a tape geez,” was what I considered a violation of the values 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 repeated, and he added my name at the beginning of this repetition to strengthen his case that I should rethink my whole line of thought on this matter.

There wasn’t a whole lot of clamor for usage of my hard-earn hairbrush, and that’s the way I preferred it, but anytime one values a possession in the manner I did with this item, some people are going to be seduced by the intangible qualities we assigned them.

After a couple years, a piece of plastic splintered off the mainframe. The splinter started as a simple fracture in the border of that hairbrush, 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 soon became an eyesore, and an embarrassing detail for its owner. I didn’t want to cut that piece off or try to fix it in anyway, however, 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 consider the whole practice of loaning items out rife with unforeseen ramifications. I don’t think either party gains anything in the transaction. If the recipient returns the product as it was, it is a relief to the relationship. The relationship continues as is without any EKG style movements. Anything less than as it was, could cause unforeseen turmoil and/or unseen tension between the two parties involved that might damage the relationship.    

As a responsible lender who didn’t want this transaction to end in any tension, I laid out some of my stipulations for him to consider before using it, and he said, “It’s a brush (he added my name with a hint of condescension). 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 hairbrush in such an inordinate 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 would 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 on other days. He knew I was lying, and he capitalized on it. He enjoyed doing things 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 that 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 wasn’t going to allow him to use my brush, then he wouldn’t permit me to use it either. Whether he knew it or not, this tactic was very effective, because I knew I could never use it in his company again. 

To thwart the effectiveness of this tactic, 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 hairbrush. I wasn’t concerned about such matters, but I considered it an excellent excuse regarding why he shouldn’t want to borrow another person’s hairbrush. When he proceeded to rip that excuse apart, I endured that rant 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 eventually 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 said product. This, it would seem to me, is an ancient rule that compels both parties to recognize the guiding principles of such a transaction, regardless the relative value of the product in question. I realize that I may have been over-schooled in this concept, relative to the rest of the world, but I would think that everyone would have a firm grasp on the elementary aspects of conscientiousness and respect. 

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 from now on.” 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 them and absolve themselves of any guilt by commenting on how inconsequential the item in question is. It’s not your product, I say, and you have no standing in this arena. 

I have tried to understand this matter in an objective manner, and I can report to you that these two friends do not engage in subterfuge. They might attempt to excuse their guilt away, but I do not believe they do so to insult me, or minimize my valuables. I think they genuinely believe that my tape and my brush were disposable items that would eventually be lost, broken, or in some way ruined. 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 ten 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. Expressing such concerns in the hope of changing their mind, or opening it to the possibility that they should reconsider how valuable these products are to me, and that they should value them accordingly, is an exercise in futility.

My friends’ defense was that they did not intend to lose, ruin, and destroy my products, and they did not seek to insult me by placing so little value on my possessions. 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. 

My friend and I came from different sides of the track in this regard, for if I fiddled with a hairbrush in a manner that led to its destruction, and/or lost it, I might have to create a ten point dissertation describing my careless act, and why a young man, my age, might need a hairbrush in this day and age, before my father or grandfather regretfully parted ways with the money I might need to complete such a transaction at Walgreen’s. My friend would just have to say, “Mom, I need a new hairbrush.” Say what you want about the binary constraints my father and grandfather placed on me, but their stubborn, frugal ways led me to learn their lessons on value long before I was able to purchase products on my own.  

If my friend and his mother valued their products in ways I could not see, they had no regard for the products of others. I knew if I loaned one of my products to my friend, and he destroyed it, it would take nothing short of a civil case to get his mother to replace it. 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 to prove to everyone involved that I could. The idea that attempting to win a girlfriend a prize at the fair is a time-honored staple of a relationship was not lost on me, and I knew she wouldn’t hold it against me if I didn’t win one, but my competitive instincts were so powerful that they would override good sense, and I would end up blowing through whatever money I did have to win her a prize of minuscule value.  

At various points in my life, I was the kid with money, making decisions on how to spend it. I was also the kid without money, at various other points in my life, 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 that weekend was my refusal to play the stupid softball game.

In the course of that night at the festival, my hairbrush friend played every stupid game the fair offered, and he won his girlfriend prizes, and he ran out of money. He called his mom to inform her of this, and he chastised her 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 in the incident by 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 also involved my friend accusing his mother of making him look foolish in front of us, his friends and his girlfriend. This exchange 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, in general, 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 relative 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 bankruptcy laws, and all of the other systems that provided him more money.

“So, why were you friends with this guy?” some people have asked. My first inclination is to say, he and I shared a set of values. We talked values all the time, in the various ways friends talk about values. He and I talked on the same page so often that we became brothers. Yet, when I try to come up with a defense for why I decided to befriend him, the words “good friend” come to mind. “For all his faults, he was a good friend,” I want to say, but he wasn’t a good friend. He wasn’t always there for me, loyal, or trustworthy. He wasn’t a good husband. His kid didn’t turn out too well, from my limited experience around the young man, and his parents ended up falling prey to some headline worthy charges. All I can say, in defense of our friendship is that he and I became brothers in the formative years of my life, and we have been brothers ever since. Anyone who has a brother understands that he can be 180 degrees different from us, and that might confound us considering that the two of us were born and raised in the same way, but we’re still brothers. We realize that shortly after we disagree, and after we fight and hate each other in the short term, the two of us can sit down together to strengthen the unbreakable, inexplicable bond between us. 

The search for any lessons my friend may have learned require a deep, philosophical dive on my part, and it has something to do with my friend never learning the basic definition of value. The objects involved in this discussion are of relative minuscule value, but if we do not value the relatively meaningless articles and aspects of life, it ends up forming an underlying layer of definition of our character that surfaces throughout our life. 

Can the desolate feelings of desperation teach us anything about ourselves? What happens to us after we’re backed into a corner? Some may joke that the desperation we experience in such situations are relative, and that the problems listed here are first-world problems, but they still require proactive and reactive solutions that we learn over time to define our character, unless someone steps in and helps us avoid ever having to endure them.

“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 in the moment, and in my experiences 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 the recipient well. 

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.