Innocents Abroad, or Innocence Aboard?


In our travels to the east, we were afforded an amiable, native as a guide. Her demeanor was such that we were never afraid to ask questions, or prod her for more information. She proved to be an eager, energetic font of knowledge that was so happy to share information about her home state that no one could mistake her for being anything less than a proud New Yorker.

If you don’t care for the food that a waiter serves you in New York, our guide informed us, the way to rectify this is through what the indigenous people call complaining. After numerous exercises in this course, she would provide us with a knowing smile that I scoured for some sort of condescension. I couldn’t find a hint of it. She knew that our experience with her state was limited, and that we were unaccustomed to the rich traditions of its indigenous people. Her goal was to try to help us learn how to get along with her people.

NYC-1She informed us of some of the “crazy people” we might encounter in our walk through her beloved city. The best example she could come up with was a man that exited his car screaming at an inflatable female under his arm. He continued this screaming, she said, until he entered his apartment. I wondered if there were any chivalrous males on the scene, and if they felt an innate impulse to step in and prevent this from escalating.

Our tour guide then attempted to expand this characterization she was building, as a world traveler, by correcting a native Mandarin speaker on their pronunciation of a Mandarin word. The native speaker exhibited some grace by avoiding the correction and continued answering my question. I asked our guide about the exchange later, and she informed me of the various dialects of Mandarin, leaving the impression that neither party was correct or incorrect about its pronunciation.

The one thing our guide did not prepare us for, were the number of people walking around New York City. We had both already been to New York City, so she may have figured that the sheer breadth of the population had already daunted us. The second time through, however, this widened snapshot of the world reminded me how many divergent thoughts exist on our little planet, and how many divergent takes there are on humor, sadness, misery, and horror. We have all experienced these emotions, on various levels throughout our lives, and we all consider our different experiences to be individualistic.

Bestselling books took on a different light, as I encountered so many different faces. Some books become bestsellers through the sheer brilliance of the writing, and some of the times we find these books. Some of the times, brilliance finds its own way of bubbling to the surface without critical assistance or an extensive and expensive marketing plan. Some of the times, word-of-mouth has its own way of worming through our culture. Even though the internet has made it possible for us to make the world a little smaller, and easier for word-of-mouth to spread, these books are still the exception to the rule on most bestselling lists. Those written for the sole purpose of becoming a bestseller still dominate. We all know these books when we’re reading them, and for some reason we all enjoy them. I used to consider it a concession to write a bestseller for the sole purpose of writing a bestseller, and I still do to some degree, but my prejudicial disdain for those that do diminished a little when, walking among the divergence, I realized what an accomplishment it is to appeal to this many people.

In my travels throughout the museums and art houses, I discovered a number of guides that were so well-informed and enthusiastic about their subject that they were just dying to talk about it. They described the artistic pieces as if it were one of their own. They viewed each question I provided them as an opportunity to launch into the history of the artist. They did it with such enthusiasm that I couldn’t help but be impressed, even though some of my questions could be perceived as a challenge to the artists’ aesthetics. I could tell that some of my questions wobbled them a bit, not that they were extra-intelligent, but different from the usual questions they were asked. One guy drank from a sports water bottle, like he was dying of thirst. My thought, while watching him, was that he wanted to have something to do with his hands. I made him nervous, but nervous in a good way, almost like he didn’t want to disappoint me and fail to live up to the challenge I was offering him. I did not intend for this to be a psychological experiment, but it turned out that way when I encountered one of the few that wasn’t as sure of herself as most of the guides were throughout my visits.

My questioning of her may have appeared aggressive, but it was not intended that way. The perception may have been borne of my desire to appear confident in the face of my nervousness. This woman answered me in a defensive manner. She attempted to give me a memorized response, and her body language suggested to me that she never wanted me to speak to her again. I didn’t. I allowed her to speak uninterrupted from that point forward, but I couldn’t help but think we were both missing an attempt to reach a greater understanding of this subject. I know what I know, in other words, but my desire to know more can cause me to appear somewhat obnoxious in the face of those that don’t have the same needs.

Our travel to the east concluded in airports, of course, and I encountered an individual that began flatulating. This wasn’t one of those simple three chord structures used in modern mainstream music, this contained some complicated rhythms that the Ancient Greeks would’ve called diatonic, a complication that appears exclusive to the jazz world, with a dominant seventh chord and a sharp ninth in succession. What bothered me about this is that I’ve been hearing my whole life that the indigenous people of the east, New Yorkers in particular, do everything better. They’re smarter, more creative, and more successful. It’s bothered me because I lived with this belief that we’re all people. We’re all from somewhere. We all have different faces, divergent thoughts, and our own individual experiences with horror, comedy, and drama, but we often end up reading the same books, watching the same TV shows and movies, and listening to most of the same music. In other words, for all that a person from the East experiences in relation to what a person from the Midwest might experience, and for all the opportunities they have to experience more by way of artistic exploration, it often comes out the same when we sit down to express ourselves. What I was hearing was different, no doubt, but was it a one off from an individual that must have ingested some inartful material, or was it one of the best arguments I’d ever heard that New Yorkers are, in fact, more creative, and do everything better?  No one would’ve confused this display with a Rachmaninoff structure, but it was beyond anything I’d heard in the Midwest.

 

The Silly and the Sad


 The Sad!

On a scale of one to ten, how bad do you think your situation was?

“A fifteen!” will likely be the answer.  If that’s not the exact number they choose, we can be sure that whatever number they choose will be outside the ‘one to ten’ parameters we set up in our question.

IndianJDentRes_2012_23_5_686_107411_u1We understand the overwhelming need some have to stray from the parameters, to help us understand that the situation they just experienced was of such an unprecedented magnitude that placing it in normal human parameters will not do it justice.  By doing it so often, however, we not only render the parameters meaningless but the unnecessarily extreme answers as well.  We’ve arrived at a point where if someone does remain within the parameters and answers with a ten, we may walk away with the “nothing to see here” mindset that occurs when witnesses of a tragedy realize that the last bloody body was just removed.

Further details may eventually reveal the person’s tragedy to be of an unprecedented magnitude, but a parameter abiding answer just feels so anticlimactic in lieu of the advancements we’ve made in this assessment conversation that we can’t help but think that it does a disservice to their tragedy to remain within parameters.  If these tragedy survivors stubbornly insist on remaining within the parameters, after repeated warnings, we may begin to wonder if they are of foreign descent, and thus unfamiliar with the advancements we’ve made, or if their unusual desire to stay within the parameters suggests that they might on the spectrum.

For those that can’t pound a point home, without straying from the parameters, an acceptable alternative can be found in an excessive use of syllables.  The rules of syllabication are often used to punctuate comedic points, but they can also be used to pound ultra-serious points home in a manner few other answers can.  How bad do you think that situation was?  “A seven-point-seven!”  What?  “I’m telling you, ‘My bone cleaveth to my skin and to my flesh, and I am escaped with the skin of my teeth.’”

One reason those that stray from parameters do so, may have something to do with a subconscious realization that single syllable numbers like eight, nine, and ten don’t have the emotional impact that a multi-syllabic numbers will.  This coupled with the fact that a multi-syllabic seven is less than those numbers, prompts some people to go outside the parameter of the question searching for their illustrative needs.  Yet, most of us have reached a point where these answers have become so common that their intended syllabic resonance has faded.  It’s become a cliché at this point, and if you’re looking for sympathetic impact clichés are to be avoided at all cost.

The decimal point not only allows its user to almost triple their syllabic output, but it may also provide your assessment an illusion of expert exactitude.  Your audience will surely be confused by this answer initially, but that confusion could progress to awe, and it may eventuate into the holy grail of all sympathy seekers: A desire to have you repeat the details of your tragedy.

“Holy Criminy!  What happened again?!”

Those of us that have heard the parameter stretching answers used so often that they’re meaningless now, are sure that their pervasive use is based on the fact we haven’t provided them a suitable alternative.  And while we make no claim to this being the answer to all of your illustrative needs, it might be one to consider the next time you feel the need to extract an exaggerated amount of sympathy from your peers.

The Silly!

PX1Leo-scan_3106899b“I only wish more people could see the side of him that I do,” a friend of a famous person, stereotyped for being ultra-serious, says.  “He’s actually, really very funny.”  This friend will then go on to provide general information that characterizes a playful side of this famous person that most people don’t know.  They may say something like, “Behind closed doors, he just has us in stitches.  He loves children, and there’s nothing he loves more than watching a little kitten play with a ball of yarn.”  This friend usually lays out the evidence of their friend’s silly side at a time when it is most beneficial for that politician, star, and/or actor to have a softer, more playful side added to their profile.  The best case scenario for all involved is to simply float this trial balloon, and allow it to continue to float in the imaginations of the public.  The alternative, of course, is to send that client out to provide the world some evidence, but this is usually fraught with danger, as what is considered funny by the loyalists and acolytes, that form the famous person’s entourage, may not play as well with those that don’t stand to benefit from believing that the person is funny.

We can probably guess that Adolf Hitler, Joseph Stalin, and Mao Zedong had a softer, more playful side that left their entourage in stitches on occasion, and this may have led them to believe they had killer material that they couldn’t wait to display on the worldwide stage, until some bold adviser stepped forth to caution them against using such material on the worldwide stage.  “I just have this feeling that most people will not find it acceptable to joke about the manner in which millions are slaughtered.”  And we can be quite sure that the dictator disagreed with that adviser so vehemently that that adviser lost his life.  The dictator eventually saw the light, however, and discovered the universal truth: Everyone has limitations.  Some are accepted on the worldwide stage for their abilities to make people laugh, some gain fame and riches for their seriousness, and others have a gift for making people cry.  The lesson that those of us that try to be all things to all people can take from murderous dictators is be who you are, learn your limitations, and try to succeed within that bubble.

Fear of a Beaver Perineal Gland


“Do you know what’s in that?” a friend of mine once asked at a restaurant, as I approached our table with a strawberry shake in hand.

Those of us that have heard this line, in reference to what we are about to consume, know where this conversation is headed. When we hear that our hygienic standards are subpar, that our homes are just teeming with pathogens and microbes, that the automobile we’ve chosen has some substandard emission that is harmful to the environment know that we can’t just run away when one of our friends take the proverbial pulpit. We put up with it, all of it, because the alternative means conceding to the idea that there’s too much knowledge out there.

The premise of the idea that there could be too much knowledge makes some of us wince. How can there be too much knowledge? It makes no sense. If we thought this contention was limited to the idea that too many people know too much about too many people, and that too many people focus too much of their energy on trivial matters, we might be able to get behind that. Even when an informed consumer decides that it’s acceptable for him to share his knowledge on the ingredients of the food we’re about to eat, we might still wince at what we hope amounts to nothing more than casual, and humorous observations. We might consider the idea that some kind of Orwellian governor on the information outlays be placed on some of the information available on the net, but we won’t concede to the idea that there’s too much knowledge available to concerned consumers.

Knowing that such an institutional governor on information outlays violates our personal constitution, we might want to ask informed consumers to voluntarily place a cap on the type of information they provide others, insofar as it might be deemed irrelevant to that audience that “simply has to hear about it”. We think the onus should be on the speaker to notice when their audience becomes visibly agitated that so few people recognize the violation of intruding upon the enjoyment of a meal with trivial information that is often vulnerable to contradictory studies.

This friend of mine was on the edge of his seat, as if he couldn’t wait to hear what he was about to say, or that he couldn’t wait to share his knowledge with me.

“Let’s put it this way,” he said. “What would you say if I told you that you couldn’t tell the difference between the strawberry flavoring in your shake and beaver taint?”

I did everything but close my eyes here. This type does not stop. It’s almost as if they have so much trivial knowledge stored in their cerebral hard drive that if they don’t hit a release valve every once in a while, they may experience whatever occurs to one experiencing an excessive buildup. A guy cannot just say that he doesn’t want to hear it, for that would be a violation of the ‘too much knowledge’ idea. Those of us that have been through this numerous times, have learned that if we play ball with them, it will all be over soon.

“I’d say I can tell the difference,” I said without yawning.

“You’d think that,” my the informed consumer friend said. “But people confuse the two every day. Everyone that enjoys eating strawberry, raspberry, and vanilla iced cream is, in essence, a big fan of beaver taint. And if you’re one that is willing to pay a little bit more for a product that contains the words “natural flavorings” tagline on its product face, you’re either eating beaver taint, or a wide array of animal byproducts, that may shock you. The natural assumption is that the opposite of natural flavorings is manmade, or chemical enhancement, but do you know the true extent of the term natural flavorings in the products you purchase? Chances are, if you’re one that prefers natural flavoring in your strawberry shake, you’ve been devouring a yellowish secretion from the dried perineal glands of the beaver, in a gratuitous manner, for years now.”

The Castoreum Connection

OPbeavercastoreum

The exudate from the castor sacs of the mature North American Beaver is called castoreum, and consumers have stated that they prefer this natural flavoring augment to other natural flavorings … in blind, taste tests of course. There are no details on the net regarding whether this market-tested preference has been found to be derived from the scent of the secretion, if the flavor has been determined to be more delicious than the flavor of the product listed on the product’s face, or if the fact that scent is such a driving force in determinations of preferences for flavor that it is a combination of the two.

Whatever the case is, the beaver doesn’t produce this exudate from its castor sacs to tweak our senses. Rather, it is product they produce to mark their territory. As stated in some of the research articles listed here, the beaver doesn’t have to give up his life to provide us this enjoyment, as the castoreum can be milked from the castor sacs located in its anal glands, but those curious enough to pursue too much knowledge on this subject should know that entering the search term “Milking the beaver”, in search of instructional YouTube videos on the subject, may not pull up videos displaying the action described here.

It’s also important to note that research scientists in this field, called flavorists, have developed synthetic substitutes for castoreum, and almost all of the natural additives listed throughout this article. Yet, all of these substitutes fall under the umbrella of artificial flavorings, and artificial flavorings fall under the umbrella of manmade, two terms that have been deemed unacceptable to informed consumers. When informed consumers read the words synthetic substitute, chemical additive, or any other artificial flavorings, they may make the leap to animal testing, or to the unintended consequences of man messing with nature, because there are some anecdotal bits of information that stick in our head regarding chemical synthetics causing cancer and other health-related concerns. As a result, our preference is for those products that have “natural flavorings” listed on their product face.

Natural and Artificial Flavoring

So, what is the difference between artificial and natural flavorings? Gary Reineccus, a professor in the department of food science and nutrition at the University of Minnesota, says that the distinction between natural and artificial flavorings is based on the original source of these often identical chemicals.

“Natural flavorings just means that before the source went through many chemical processes, that it came from an organic, natural source as opposed to an artificial one that has no natural origin.” 

Informed consumers heed the warnings: “Know what you’re consuming,” and “You are what you eat.” “Do you know what’s in hot dogs?” and “Do you know what they do to the animals you eat?”

“I used to be a vegan,” a friend of mine said. “I grew up on a farm. I saw what they did to the chickens, and the ducks, to prepare them for our meal. I determined that I would not be eating them. I felt bad for them. I had no idea I was eating a chicken when I was a little girl. I never associated chicken with chicken. Why did they give my food and the animal the same name? It made no sense to me. When they explained it all to me, and I saw how they prepared my friends (the ducks and chickens) for our consumption. I didn’t eat chickens, or any meat, for years.”

opshellac1

On that note, how much does the average consumer enjoy M&M’s and jelly beans? Or, better yet, do they think that their enjoyment would lessen if those tender, chew-able morsels were less shiny? 

The flavorists at these companies either experienced initial failure with the dull glow of their candy, or they decided not to risk it, and they added an additive called shellac. That’s right, the same stuff we put on our wood furniture to give it that extra shimmer, is the same additive they add to our favorite tasty, little morsels to make them shine. What’s the problem with that, if it has passed the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) rigorous standards?

There is no problem, writes Daisy Luther, for the Organic Prepper, as long as the consumer knows that shellac “is a resinous secretion from bugs during their mating cycles, the female lac beetle in particular. Glazed donuts and glossy candy shells owe their shininess to these secretions.”

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Does the average consumer know that Starbucks once had a difficult time keeping their strawberry Frappuccino drinks a vibrant red? Who would want to drink a drink that didn’t cast a vibrant glow upon us? Starbucks found that most of the red flavorings they tested weren’t able to keep their vibrant color through processing, so they turned to a Natural Red #4 dye, otherwise known as carmine. Carmine proved to be more successful in holding the color, but it was discovered to be a cochineal extract, a color additive derived from the cochina beetle’s shell. These cochina beetles were dried, and ground up, and processed to give the drink a more sustainable red flavoring. Starbucks was forced to end the practice when informed groups caterwauled them into transitioning to lycopene, a pigment found in tomatoes.

As usual, all this caterwauling is much ado about nothing, as research performed over the last sixty years by independent researchers, and the FDA’s research arm, has shown that while most of these additives may be high on our “yuck list”, there are no discernible health concerns, or anything life threatening, about any of the additives from the approved lists. There’s just the “Do you know what you’re consuming?” factor that has informed consumers saying “yuck” regarding the manufacturing process of some of the products they consume.

Fish bladders to fight bitter beer?

Fish bladders to fight bitter beer taste?

Most of the articles cited here took an anti-corporate stance with their findings. Some of these stances were subtle, others were overt in their call for greater corporate social responsibility. Their stances suggested that due to the fact that these companies are not listing beaver taint juice in their ingredients that they are engaging in deceptive business practices, and that the FDA should put a stop to it.

To this charge I would submit that most of these ingredients have been market-tested, FDA approved, and the consumer will receive no harm from these products. I would also submit that in most areas of the food and beverage industry, profits are a lot slimmer than infotainment purveyors would have consumers believe. Those that prefer a clear beer, for instance, may believe that the use of the dried swim bladders of Beluga sturgeon (AKA Isinglass) to filter sediments out, to be inhumane on some level, but the alternative is a yeast-filled beer that would lead to no one buying their beer. It’s such a competitive industry that the need to keep costs down, and pass those savings onto the consumer, are often the difference between being able to deliver said products, and folding up shop. If an informed consumer DEMANDS! more corporate responsibility along industry lines, they should be ready to pay for the alternatives they’re forced to consumer. Informed consumers are also fickle beings that force corporations into changing from natural flavorings to synthetic and back, and they almost undermine their effort with constant barrages from their ‘outrage of the day’ vault. Those of us that pay attention to such matters, long for the “push back” moment from corporations and consumers. We long for the day when the uninformed consumer would step up, en masse, and say something along the lines of:

“I don’t enjoy hearing that a dried fish bladder spends time in my beer, and I might prefer that they find some other way of cleaning my beer, but I’ve been drinking this beer, and its fish bladder remnants, for decades. I eat fish all the time. I see nothing wrong with it, and I think that this idea of bullying corporations to do things another way has reached a tipping point.”

To Get Us in the Mood

Ambergris: The Love Molecule?

Ambergris: The Love Molecule?

The beaver’s castoreum has also been used to cure headaches, fever and hysteria, as it contains large amounts of salicylic acid, the active ingredient in aspirin, and these anal secretions are said to contain around twenty-four different molecules, many of which act as natural pheromones … to get us in the mood.

Castoreum gives off a musky scent that is used in perfumes, much like a solid, waxy, flammable substance of a dull grey or blackish color produced in the whale’s gastrointestinal tract of sperm whales called ambergris. As with the beaver’s castoreum, the whale does not have to die for ambergris extraction, as it is a bile duct secretion the whale produces to ease the passage of hard, sharp objects that the whale may have ingested. As such, the ambergris that is used in perfumes can often be found in whale vomit floating on the surface of the ocean.

Well known lover, and raconteur, Giacomo Casanova, was known to sprinkle a dash of ambergris in his evening hot chocolate, with the hope that by the time his lover approached its musky aroma would be permeating from his skin. If Casanova was feeling a particular bout of insecurity, with a promising damsel, he was known to add an extra coat of it on his collar.

The theory that Casanova, and research scientists in the field of perfumes and colognes, bought into was this theory that our sense of smell once served the dual purpose of warning us of danger as well as attracting a prospective mate, and market research has found that animal “materials” such as civet, castoreum and musk (from a cat, beaver and deer, all located in the same region) give a fragrance sensuality, because they have been found to have a chemical structure similar to our own sexual odors. Musk has almost identical properties to our testosterone, in other words, an enzyme that powers our sex drive.

Most people have at least heard of the martial game, of the middle ages, called jousting. At the end of a joust, some victors of a vital match were rewarded with a damsel’s handkerchief. If you’ve witnessed a proper portrayal of this scene, in the movies or elsewhere, you’ve witnessed the spoils of victory: the knight huffing on that handkerchief with satisfactory joy. Most believe that the greater import of the scene is a symbolic one depicting the sweet smell of success, on par with drinking wine from a gullet, or showering a locker room in champagne. The handkerchief moment has also been depicted as a symbolic one of a damsel giving her hand. Greater understanding of the “huffing on the handkerchief” moment would occur if modern cinema were to reveal that the damsel carried that handkerchief in her armpit throughout the jousting match. According to an article posted by Helen Gabriel, after the handkerchief spent a sufficient amount of time in the damsel’s underarm area, it would be coated with her smegma, and the jouster’s reward for victory was the greater knowledge he attained of the damsel’s true essence.

Having said all that, man wouldn’t have to look to the animal kingdom, or its artificial equivalents developed in research labs, if we didn’t feel the need to bathe so often.  It may seem contradictory, but the required staple of day-to-day bathing deprives us the very human scents that could be used as attractants. Decide not to bathe often and your visual cues may suffer, of course, but if we could manage our bathing ritual in such a manner that our visual cues were still scoring high in the mating world, and our smegma production was permitted to manufacture these scents in a more organic manner, more often, provided that they weren’t produced so often that our smegma became overwhelming to the point of being counterproductive, we might be able to sit atop the dating world without saying so much as a kind word to anyone. As stated in a previous post, we are now required to bathe and wash away this smegma substance –that can be found on and around our reproductive organs, and in our urine– on a day-to-day basis. We are then required, by the same, prospective dating community, to replace those scents we wash away on a day-to-day basis, with the scents that can be found in castoreum, civet, musk, and on the tip of a boar’s sexual organs, or their preputial glands.

Who was the first to discover this?

The first question that arises from any discussion that involves the “yuck factor” properties that the beaver, and the whale, have provided mankind is: Who discovered this, and how did they arrive at the notion that it could be used in the manner it is now used?

Did it have anything to do with the fact that someone noticed that an inordinate amount of women had an inordinate attraction to whalers? Did this first observer set about trying to find out why? Did whalers, after a number of successful conquests of women, begin to realize that there was something more to their success rate than the rugged individualism that women seemed to associate with whaling? Did one whaler begin to put some whale vomit behind his ears before he went to the tavern, and the others followed suit after watching him succeed, until the history of ambergris was written? On that note, who was the first person to mix beaver taint juice and ice cream together and decide that it was such a winning proposition that it could be used in a pitch to corporations, and what was he forced to say in that pitch to make it persuasive? While we’re on this topic, how was the psychedelic and psychoactive properties of the toad discovered?

bufo_alvarius_by_revolutionarypeace-d332cr1

For those that don’t know, the toad produces a venom that can have a psychoactive effect on the human brain. What was the trial and error process that led to this discovery? Did one person eat this toad and find themselves feeling a little loopy in the aftermath? Or, did an individual walk around licking the forest, the trees, the antelope, and the shrubbery trying to find a natural high that would either make them a ton of money, or did they hope to achieve a state of mind where they no longer cared about money?

We know that the idea that natural properties in plants and animals can provide homeopathic remedies, and that those theories date back to the Native Americans, to Aristotle, and beyond. We know that there had be a great deal of trial and error in that research, in environments that were not sterile, that produced less consistent results that would have a difficult time standing up to the kind of peer review such a finding would experience today. With that in mind, the natural questions that arise from that knowledge, is how many people became ill in the trial and error process, how many were paralyzed, and how many died before the 5-methoxy-N, N-dimethyltryptamine (5-MeO-DMT), chemical that is a derivative of bufotenine was found in a toad? This chemical, after all, is not available in all toads. It appears to be the exclusive property of the Bufo alvarins toad (pictured here), so there had to be a person, or a number of people, that began licking a wide variety of toads before they discovered the perfect toad, secreting the perfect venom, for those that wanted to experience the euphoria that can result from killing brain cells?

The 5-methoxy-N, N-dimethyltryptamine (5-MeO-DMT) chemical is a natural venom that the toad produces to kill off its attackers, and recent research has discovered that this whole toad licking phenomenon is a dangerous, old wives tale. Recent research has found that the human being, otherwise viewed as the toad’s attacker, is susceptible to the same consequences of any other attacker if they ran up and licked it. The human attacker could become ill, or even paralyzed as a result of an attempt to milk the toad in a squeezing motion and taking it in an oral manner. This leads to the next question, which researcher watched their fellow researcher, or test subject, fall to the ground in paralytic spasms, or death, and then cross out the words lick it? This researcher, or the researcher after him, must have tried drying it and smoking it, until word “got out” that a researcher had found it, the holy grail of brain cell killing euphoria. Word leaked, of course, and the secretions of the Bufo alvarins toad soon became so pervasive in a society, and then so detrimental, that Queensland, Australia, was forced to list possession of toad slime as illegal under their Drug Misuse act?

My Advice to Informed Consumers

If the reader is anything like my informed consumer friend, from the restaurant, and they are interested in trivial information about consumable products, they already know that there are numerous websites that will feed that hunger with numerous tidbits, and warnings, on just about every product and service available to man, on any given day. If this informed consumer is so interested in this information that they feel an overwhelming need to share, just know that an ever-increasing segment of the population has reached a tipping point, based on the fact that most of this information has proven to be either a trivial concern or contradictory.

My initial fear, in publishing this article, was that the research I unearthed might contribute to the violations of social protocol outlined above, but I decided there might be some unsustainable quality in information overload. If there is no such thing as too much knowledge, in other words, is there a way to explore the too much information (TMI) meme to its fullest extent and beyond? If informed consumers are driven by providing interesting tidbits of information, is there a way to flood their circuitry in such a way that these tidbits of information become so passe that they’re drained of all value, by means of manually pulling the levers on a tipping point so that it is reached by artificial means?  

There will always be some informed consumers, like my informed consumer friend, that are now so overloaded with such information that they don’t believe that sharing such information does any harm, and that moment of sharing will arrive soon after the unsuspecting sits down to enjoy those products that the informed consumer is now afraid to consume based on what they know about said product. To these people, I paraphrase one of Mark Twain’s most famous quotes: “Some of the times it’s better to keep your mouth shut and appear uninformed, than to open it and remove all doubt.”

So, the next time someone approaches your table with a strawberry shake, a bottle of beer, a bag of Skittles, or a fried Bufo alvarins toad that they plan to consume in some manner, let them do it in peace. I know it’s going to provide the informed consumer the biological equivalent of letting a kidney stone calcify in your system, but do it with the knowledge that an ever-increasing segment of the population doesn’t care one-eighth as much about this information as most informed consumers do, and the discretion that informed consumer shows, by allowing the consumption to continue without comment, could go a long way to them making friends and influencing people.

The Psychology of Travel


“The squeaky wheel gets the grease,” is an adage that is repeated almost daily at among service industry workers across America.  Anyone that has worked in a hotel knows this adage well. The squeaky wheels are our rant and ravers, the adults that throw child-like temper tantrums.  They scream and throw things, and they call the employee before them every profane name they can think up to get what they want.  Squeaky wheels know that the standards of the service industry are set up in such a way that no self-respecting manager is going to allow a squeaky wheel to stand at their desk and create a spectacle.  They know that these standards are designed to appease the screaming minority that call corporate offices and write letters.  Squeaky wheels also know that frustrated, low-level employees –those that want to rebel against these standards and treat the screaming minority in the same manner they treat the more deferential majority— are mere stepping stones to a manager that will step in and just give the squeaky wheels all the grease they need applied to make them go away.

8381997708_5b9f70d6de_b“Imagine what it must be like to live like that every day of your life,” the front desk manager informed me after my frustrations reached a boiling point with one particular shrieking wheel, and the favorable treatment he received from the manager after the man acted like a petulant child that wanted a lollipop.  ‘You’re not going to get anything if you continue to act that way young man,’ was my stance, but my manager stepped in and gave away the farm.

The gist of my frustration was that there was no discernible punishment for the man/child that stood before me.  I grew up believing that there was a social, karmic contract that we all enter into where we attempt to treat others the way we want to be treated, and character is defined by how we treat those that can do nothing for us.  Watching the way this man acted, and the way management reacted, led me to believe that those standards are nothing but mottos that we’ve developed to keep the rubes in line, while the shrieking minority walks away with all the spoils.  The gist of my more reasonable manager’s reply was that this shrieking wheel’s punishment for acting the way he did, was having to live the way he presumably lives.

“A person cannot be that obnoxiously miserable,” he stated, “without being obnoxiously miserable.”

No one involved in this obnoxiously miserable man’s spectacle knew what happened to him after his issue was resolved, but we came to the conclusion that the remaining moments of his vacation would be miserable, because he was miserable, and the greatest impediment to him having an enjoyable vacation was the decision he made to take him with him on this trip.

Happy people tend to get lost in the shuffle in the course of a day at a hotel.  They do not have chocolate truffle apologies sent to their room by the manager, they do not have extra-amenities lying in wait for them in their room, and they will not gain the sense of satisfaction that the miserable must gain by conquering an eighteen-year-old service industry employee’s desire to do everything they can to avoid rewarding the obnoxiously miserable.  Happy people are rewarded in all of the intangible ways everyone knows, but some it appears, would rather have a chocolate truffle.

It’s been my experience, working at a hotel in a decidedly non-tourist spot, that happy people can have great, enjoyable vacations no matter where they decide to travel, whom they vacation with, or what their vacation destination has to offer.  Their happiness is so infectious that it bleeds over into their daily life, in much the same manner misery does for the miserable.  To the happy, the very idea of travel is unnecessary.  It’s a luxury that they enjoy to its fullest extent.  The miserable, however, can find something to be miserable about in the most luxurious, five-star destination spots the world has to offer, because they make the unfortunate decision to take them, and all of their baggage, with them on vacation.

No vacation can make a person happier, or any more miserable, than they already are.  The weather will not act according to plan, everything will be more expensive than calculated, some members of the service industry will be miserable jerks in a manner that makes a vacation more miserable, and a vacationer will run into some unreasonable jerks –in the general population of the locale to which you travel– because these people always seem to find the miserable.  It’s been my experience, on both sides of the travel industry, that Murphy’s Law (whatever can go wrong will go wrong) will come into play whenever one decides to go on a vacation.  I’ve also learned that Murphy’s law doesn’t apply to places and things as much as it applies to people, miserable people that seek out misery.

If you are one of these miserable people, and you’ve arrived at the realization that the greatest obstacle to having a great time on vacation is that you have to take you with you, you may want to consider another course of action that will save you, and those you encounter on vacation, a great deal of headache and heartache by finding some way to avoid taking you with you.  If that means staying home and watching TV, stay home and watch TV.  You can complain about the dwindling number of shrimp in your takeout, or the amount of commercials on TV, from the comfort of your own home, and you won’t have to ruin a vacation for all the happy people around you that enjoy all that life has to offer.

Head in the Sand Gains

Traveling will not change a person, their intelligence level, or any personality traits that are endemic to character.  If a person believes that the only way one can know anything about the Vadoma tribe of western Zimbabwe (derogatorily called “The Ostrich People”) is to travel there and shake hands with a tribal leader, they’re mistaken by a matter of degree.  They may be able to use the line: “Oh, you simply must visit the Vadoma people personally.  Gluck Gluck, the tribal chief, is an amiable host” for the rest of your life.  It may enrich a life somewhat to touch the Ectrodactyly-ridden toes of the fraction of this tribe that suffers from the ostrich-like condition, and that may provide a person a conversation piece that lasts the rest of their life that centers around the smell of their refuse, the particular foods that they eat, and the opportunity they had to share that quaint meal with the tribe, or they may even gain a perspective on their life that gives them a renewed appreciation of the extravagances life has afforded them, but they will not become smarter, happier, or more miserable by travel alone.

There are people –and they know who they are— that believe that they are somehow worldlier, smarter, and more experienced than others based on the quantity and quality of their travels.

“How would you know?” a world traveler once asked me in a debate, completely unrelated to travel.  “You haven’t traveled extensively.”

Few people are as bold, or as stark as that, but there does appear to be an element of this mindset in most world travelers.  We should all take a moment out of our lives to inform them that greater intelligence is derived by the manner in which one approaches a subject.  If a person is one that already knows most of what there is to know about everything, and I think we can say that based on our experience with most world travelers that they approach most subjects with this mindset, their prospects for greater intelligence are probably going to be limited.  If their general nature is such that they approach various subjects without ego, and an insatiable curiosity, their intelligence level may reach a “boundless” characterization by those that listen to them, and this can be accomplished without travel.

This person that questioned my level of intelligence, based on comparatively limited travels, appeared to believe that by traveling in tour groups –on the yellow brick roads that the travel industry built to allow them to view the indigenous people of third world countries from behind proverbial velvet ropes that protected them from “icky” involvement with the indigenous, and basically allowed them to view indigenous people in the manner zoo patrons might view a rhinoceros— that she was somehow smarter, or worldlier than me.  She was there, in western Zimbabwe, and no one can ever take that away from her, but she didn’t eat with the people, sleep with them, or spend any significant amount of time with them.  She viewed them in the manner baboons are viewed at the zoo, refraining —we can only assume— from tossing them peanuts.

“I did it for the experience,” is something she might have said.  “I did it to be a well-rounded character that has a greater perspective about the world.” 

No one can deny these possibilities, but listening to her one can’t help but think that she took this particular, third world vacation with an unspoken enthusiasm for the mileage it might gain her in the face of those that haven’t.  What good is taking such a vacation, if a person doesn’t talk about it, feel worldlier in its aftermath, and lord it over those that haven’t taken such an excursion?

If this is not enough for a world traveler, and that world traveler wants to view a world beyond the proverbial velvet ropes that line the chamber of commerce’s yellow brick road, and they want to step into the world of adventurous travel, they may want to check to make sure they have an American, OHBM (outrageously hot, blonde mom) in their tour group.  If there isn’t one, find the closest thing, and ask her husband if they’d like to join you on your adventurous excursion.  The reason for this is that no country –that makes any revenue from tourism— wants to see their country mentioned in the U.S. media, and there’s nothing the U.S. media loves more than a “Something happened to an American OHBM” story.  When something happens to an American overseas, it makes the news.  Depending on the severity of what happened, the story may only make the local news and a few internet outlets, but the ability to tell a heart wrenching “Something happened to an American OHBM” story, coupled with the image of that OHBM, might just land the story Malaysian Airlines flight 370 style coverage.  One has to guess that the minute a member of a country’s chamber of commerce gets one look at this OHBM, they might assign her some armed forces to make sure she isn’t so much as spoken to by the indigenous.

Know Thyself, Know Thy Family

Family reunion vacations offer a far less dangerous adventure, of course, but even they can also yield some life-altering moments that could change our perspective on them if we remain open to the idea that our loved ones might be miserable people too.  This is not a natural inclination for most people know their people better than anyone else.  We may acknowledge the idea that every family has one person that is a little angst-ridden, but when we’re forced to travel with these people that we know and love, we witness a side of them we never saw before.

Those of us that have been in the service industry have been exposed to a side of humanity that is confusing, chaotic, and diametrically opposed to our way of thinking, but we take comfort in the idea that we can always return home to family.  We know our family, and we have a firmer grasp on how those people we were raised with think.  We may reserve some space for individual variance, but we cling to the idea that those that have ventured too far from the path will eventually have a redemptive “come to Jesus” moment that brings them back.  We may believe that that redemptive moment will be laced with regret, but even if it’s not, we continue to hope that that moment will arrive before it’s too late.  They usually don’t for reasons that are completely foreign to us.  They usually don’t, because some people don’t believe that they’re been headed on a wrong course.  It’s their course, and if they knew where they were headed, they would’ve corrected their course long before the need for a redemptive moment arrived.  What usually happens, per my experience in such matters, is that the finger crossers realize they don’t know these people half as well as they thought.  These people are miserable, angry people that have some psychological underpinnings that prevent them from acknowledging what everyone else sees, and they have to live with themselves, but so do we.

We’ve all witnessed redemptive moments arrive for the subjects of our concern, and we’ve waited on half a bun while their “sure to arrive” realization tottered on the cusp.  We’ve witnessed all of the past events that should’ve led them to a realization, and some of us have even had others corroborate our version of those events, in the company of our subjects.  To our utter amazement, these people manage to move away from their vulnerability on the matter, they may offer some sort of excuse regarding their involvement, or they may inform those concerned that they had no involvement in the matter.  They may even accuse those of us that suggest that they have any vulnerability on the matter of either rewriting history, or being limited in our view on the matter.  Long story short, those waiting for an “aha!” moment where the subject comes to the realization that they’ve been doing it wrong in ways large or small, are rarely granted satisfaction.

Bill Murray has stated that if you are considering a wedding proposal, it might be a good idea to take that person on a long, extended trip with them before doing so.  “Travel the world with them,” Murray suggests. The import of this suggestion has less to do with traveling, and more to do with being cooped up with another individual on a plane, in transferring flights, setting up hotel stays, visiting sites together, and in all of the interactions where that can allow a person to view another, outside that person’s element.  Watch how they engage with service industry employees. Examine the trip, in the aftermath, and gauge how they conducted themselves throughout.  Did they make the most out of everyday?  Were some stops viewed as meager compared to the highlights this trip offered?  And finally, how did your prospective mate describe the trip to others after it was completed?  Did they lord it over people that they had been to one particular location that the others had not? Coupled with all the virtues and pleasantries of travel, are the stresses and strains, and how that person deals with them can define them in ways that may not be apparent in those situations where they are able to keep their best foot forward.  The point of the Murray suggestion, given in a prospective groom’s toast, was that people thinking about getting married should place their prospective mate in situations where they don’t know anyone else is looking.  It may give a person some insight into whether their prospective mate is a happy person or a miserable person before they invite that person to join them in their journey through life, and how that journey might end up being a happier one if they decide not to take them with them.

Price Check: Can of Soup


“Whaddya mean $1.37?!” a wiry haired, bespectacled customer asked a sixteen-year-old, unindicted co-conspirator in the price-fixing conspiracy that the old man has dreamed up for a can of Campbell’s Cream of Mushroom soup, “It was $1.22, just last week.”  I know you’re angry sir, I think noting the veins protruding on the man’s nose, and the ruddy complexion, that seem indigenous to those that that have a favorite bar stool.  And I know you’re dying to tell anyone that will listen (or is forced to listen) but this poor, red headed cashier, named Eddie, has a lot less say than you think in Target’s “outrageous” price scheme.  And as much as you’d like to think your eyes are wide open on this issue, Target does not add anything to Eddie’s wage if he is able to add your fifteen cents to their profit margin.  The trouble Eddie has counting back your change should provide enough evidence that Eddie is not involved in the determinations made on shipping and handling costs; the amount of state and federal taxes imposed on this product; or the mushroom-marketing cooperative’s decision on the costs the manufacturing.  It’s also reasonable to suspect that the diatribe that you’ve obviously rehearsed in the mirror about the effect the improving economies in Latin America could have on the price of mushrooms, if their production of mushrooms proves to increase at the rate some project, will be lost on everyone involved once your transaction with Eddie is concluded.

esq-cream-of-mushroom-soup-0312-Zio6xr-lgYou may believe that this face of Target, this sixteen-year-old, named Eddie, knows full well what’s going on, but one look at his blanker-than-usual expression should tell you all that you need to know.  Unfortunately, you are an informed consumer, and you feel the need to give him your what for.

The sixteen-year-old can do nothing about it, however, and you will likely be considered what they call a moron for arguing with the sixteen-year-old in the first place.  The sixteen-year-old will, likely, not care that you have this complaint, and he will likely forget all about your informed complaint the minute you step out of line.  He’s not going to tell his boss, and his boss is not going to tell his boss, and there will be no boardroom discussion focusing on your complaint regarding the rising cost of a can of cream of mushroom soup.

Strange Officefellows


“You can’t choose your family,” they say.  You can choose your friends.  You can even choose those that you decide to be around on a regular basis, even if they are not your friends.  You can’t choose your family, however, and you can’t choose co-workers.  Being employed with a large number of people, on a long-term basis, I have found that the lines between family and co-workers blur.  As one of my fellow co-workers once said, “There are times when you may find yourself closer to your co-workers than your family, and the simple reason for this is that you’re around them more often.”   That having been said, there are black sheep in every place you work, just as there are black sheep in every family. When you work in the service industry, and on an overnight shift, you will encounter a Star Wars Cantina of black sheep on parade every night, it becomes clear that you can’t choose your co-workers.

A Case of Mistaken Identity

The office party

The office party

Rhonda told my girlfriend, at the time, that she saw me at a bar that was well-known in our city for being a low-rent meat market.  When my girlfriend confronted me about this, I informed her that I had never been to that particular bar.  The next day, my girlfriend informed me that Rhonda stated that it wasn’t just that saw me there, she stated that the two of us had engaged in an extended conversation.  I reiterated the fact that I’d never been to that particular bar.  When Rhonda later found out that there was another person working at our company that had the same name as me, she conceded that it may have been a case of mistaken identity.  I accepted this at face value, at first, until I chewed on it for a second.

“Didn’t she say she had something of an extended conversation with me that night?” I asked.  “How can you have an extended conversation with someone and believe it’s someone else, based on their name?” 

Before we continue, it’s important to note that my relationship with Rhonda went beyond a name basis.  The two of us had spent about three months working across the aisle from one another in the company.  And … and those three months were her first three months with the company, and she had tons of questions, and I was the senior agent on that team whose primary duty it was to answer those questions.  In these two respective roles, the two of us had had over 100 exchanges in those three months. 

“It’s not a case of mistaken identity,” I said.  “She’s out to get me.  She wants to break us up, or something.”

“She doesn’t think that way,” my girlfriend at the time stated.  “It’s just Rhonda.  She’s kind of a ditz.  I’m embarrassed that I ever believed her over you.  Forgive me?”

Of course I forgave her.  How could I hold her responsible for another person’s fables?  I didn’t forgive Rhonda however.  I knew Rhonda was a little dingy, but I wasn’t buying the “It’s just Rhonda,” line regarding the accusation she leveled against me, and I thought less of my girlfriend for doing so.  I thought Rhonda was out to get me, and I carried that particular grudge against her for months, until I ran into Dan.

“It is just Rhonda,” Dan confirmed. “I can tell you all you need to know about Rhonda in one brief, little story.  Rhonda found out that $600.00 was missing from her checking account, and that she could not explain that missing money.  She knew that she didn’t do it, and her daughter said that she didn’t withdraw the money either.  Rhonda was so convinced that something nefarious was going on that she took her complaint up the corporate chain to the bank’s vice-president (VP).  Once in that seat of power, Rhonda proceeded to berate this woman for her bank’s apparent lack of security. ‘You just let anyone walk into your bank and withdraw money from other people’s accounts?’ Rhonda stated that she told the VP.  Rhonda then stated that she informed the VP that the bank would be pulling all of the bank’s security tapes, and that it had become her mission in life to get her $600.00 back if it killed her, because she knew knew that she didn’t do it.  She stated that she would’ve remembered withdrawing $600.00, because $600.00 was all she had in that account, and her $500.00 rent was coming due, and she wouldn’t just spend her rent money on nothing, and nothing was what she had to show for that $600.00 withdrawal, and if she had been the one to withdraw the money she “sure as hell” would have had something to show for it.

“Well, the bank VP, being a good VP, responded to Rhonda’s complaints, and she called Rhonda in a couple days later to watch the tape and she her that it was, indeed, Rhonda withdrawing those funds.  Now,” said Dan.  “I’m sure that that bank VP accused Rhonda of all the same ulterior motives you just did two minutes ago, but the one thing neither of you account for is her stupidity, an inexplicable, almost unprecedented, embarrassing amount of utter stupidity that is just Rhonda.”

A Reaction

I came into work one day to find Bill and Jim playing on a scooter in the back office of the front desk of a hotel.  This scooter was motorized and very similar to that which can now be found at a neighborhood Wal-Mart.  Jim rode around on this motorized scooter, like a little kid with a new toy: laughing, beeping the little horn, and hooting, and hollering, and waving his pretend hat around like a cowboy in a rodeo.

“That’s hilarious,” I said watching Jim go crazy.

“Yeah,” Bill said.  “Too bad there’s a limit to the fun … It’s an old lady’s cart, and it’s limited in how fast it can go.”

“Whaddya mean?” I asked, as Jim began his dismount.  “These things are universal.  There isn’t an old lady’s model.” 

I then proceeded to mount the motorized scooter and turn the accelerator switch from turtle to rabbit.  Just before I went on my first ride, I saw Bill and Jim’s imagination light up.  I took one run through the back office to gain a little comfort with the scooter, and its new speed, and in my second run, I began yelling, “How do you stop this thing?  I’m out of control.”  I then crashed into one of the operator’s chairs.

The operator’s initial alarm could not be faked, but as she read my face, her alarm softened.  “Jack ass!” she said with the remnants of a smile lifting the corner of her mouth.

Bill and Jim were out of control with laughter.  I thought of making a couple more runs.  It was, indeed, a blast.  The performer in me couldn’t see how I could top that first run, however, so I dismounted.

Bill replicated my run by screaming the exact same words, and he ended up crashing into the exact same operator’s chair in the exact same manner.

“Look,” someone that just entered the back office area said when Bill was in the midst of his run. “Bill figured out how to make that thing go faster.” The person that said this just happened to be the most attractive female in the hotel, and I had spent weeks trying to impress her. When Bill crashed into the very same operator’s chair as I had, she laughed hard and said, “Bill, you are hilarious!”

“I did that,” I told Bill in a manner that I hoped would affect this girl’s impression of me.  Bill stopped right in front of me, looked up and grinned.  “I figured out that switch,” I said.  “I made it go faster.  I — you even ran into ran into the same operator’s chair in the exact same manner I did.”  Bill just sat there and grinned at me.  Being proprietary about a joke was not something I had a habit of doing.  I knew it was a fool’s errand, but this girl was so good looking, and she laughed so hard that I couldn’t help but ask Bill for my proprietary interest back.  He just sat there and smiled at me.

I got credit from the schlubs at the front desk, but when the best looking girl at the hotel stepped in the back office, she saw Bill doing it.  “You know I did that first,” I said like a five-year-old trying to reclaim a good boy deed.  I hoped that this girl would hear this and know that I was the funny one here, and that Bill had copied a run that led her to laughter. I wanted that laughter back.  

Bill’s smile increased, until he was beaming at me.  At one point, his beam increased to the point that he was starting to turn red.  My competitive urges began to grow, until I began disliking this man, this Bill.  I didn’t enjoy his company him before, but this display was just beyond the pale.  He was the beneficiary of excellent timing though, and he knew it.  When he continued to smile at me, and beam, and go red with glory, I considered the fact that I had underestimated how loathsome a creature I had on my hands, soaking up more than his share of glory.  I was getting fired up, trying my hardest to look away.  I was fighting the urge to call him a dirty name, at this point, and I was imagining that this altercation might progress into the physical, when a third party stepped in to interrupt us:

“Okay Bill, settle down.”  The third party then said in a very soothing voice, “You know you need to refrain from getting too excited.”

“What?” I asked the third party person.  “What’s going on?”

“He’s having a seizure.”

The Mess

“Jenny I think it’s poop,” Jack said leaning down to look at a small spot at the bottom of the ballroom announcement board.

“It’s not poop Jack,” Jenny replied.  “Just clean it up.”

Minutes later, the front desk housekeeper began bending down to make quick dabs and wipes with a washcloth on the floor in front of the front desk area, and she proceeded to do this down the hall.  “What are you doing?” I asked her.

“Someone spilled coffee on their way down the hall,” she said cleaning a trail of brown dots.  “Happens all the time.”

Minutes later, a gift shop employee approached me saying, “I need you to accompany me out to a car.”  What?  “Just come on!” she said.  “I’ll tell you out there.”  She proceeded to tell me that a guest had knocked on the stall of the bathroom, asking the gift shop employee if she worked for the hotel.   When the gift shop employee told her that she did, the guest informed her that she had had an accident.  The guest asked the gift shop employee to go to her car and get a coat for her.  Fearing a lawsuit, or that this was some kind of ruse, the gift shop employee asked me to witness her going into the guest’s car for the guest’s coat.

Once the guest had her London Fog, knee-length coat, sans underwear and pants, the gift shop employee informed me, the guest decided to stop, en route to the exit, and shop in the gift shop for about fifteen minutes, “Like nothing happened,” the gift shop employee informed me.  She was wearing a London Fog length coat that stretched to her knees, but she had nothing else on below the waist, due to the mess she was purported to have made in her undergarments and on her pants.

“She must be used to it,” the gift shop employee surmised.

The Obnoxious Emailer

One of my fellow email employees quit the job that required her to answer emails from customers, because she couldn’t handle the swearing she encountered via the confrontational emails that she received.

“It’s an email,” I told her on numerous occasions.  “Prior to this job,” I informed her, “I’ve experienced face to face confrontations with angry, swearing customers, and I’ve even had some of them throw things at me.”  I informed her of some of the abusive phone calls I’ve taken over the years in which I’ve had my life threatened.  “And these are just emails.”  I told her that some customers will do everything they can to get under your skin and rattle you.  “It’s the nature of the customer service industry,” I said.  “Compared to a person trying to dress you down, face-to-face, and an irate customer that won’t let you get a word in with their less personal phone calls, an abusive emailer is nothing.  It’s impersonal, and they know it.  The anonymity allows them to think they can write anything, and it has no reflection on them.  Just ignore it, and don’t take it personal.”  I said the latter in a dismissive manner that suggested that once you get over this hump, you’ll be looking back on all of this with laughter.

“I can’t ignore it,” she said.  “And to be quite honest, I don’t know how you all can?”

“Just laugh at their feeble attempts to prove that they’re mad,” I said the latter in a mocking tone that mocked their attempts to appear emotional via email.  In my attempts to lead her into dismissing these silly people that get emotional in emails, I was informed that I was acting in a manner that she considered dismissive of her complaint.  “It’s a mindset that you have to have in the customer service industry.  Always remember that they don’t know who you are.  They’re angry people that want to have something to be mad about.  You’re just the unlucky person that happens to be on the other end of their rage.  You’re an anonymous worker for the company.  Their grievances aren’t with you, they’re with the company.  But in the end, be happy that it’s just an email.  Most of us have experienced a lot worse.”

“I couldn’t do it,” she said greeting me months later, after numerous counseling sessions.  She was quitting the company.  “I couldn’t ignore it,” she added.  I couldn’t help but think less of her, as she told me how much my efforts to console her meant to her, and she said all that with tears in her eyes.  To say that I was shocked does not do it justice.

From that point forward I took what I considered inconsequential complaints from fellow employees more serious, and I realized that we’re all different, and we all have different thresholds, and some of us define Darwin’s theories on natural selection and survival of the fittest better than others.

The Identifiable Characteristics inherent in the Penis

Working in the intangible world, you are often required to require that some customers send you a form of identification to prove their identity if they hope to continue to do business with your company.  In one of the replies to such a requirement, a customer sent an image of his penis.  I’m not sure if this customer was sending a rebellious statement in regards to our company’s policies and procedures, or if he believed that this would fulfill our company’s requirement for identification.

Putting Down the Dog

Working next to a person for forty hours a week, can lead one to the conceit that they know their co-workers.  Some are tempted to believe that they may know that person better than their family and friends, but most of us know that this is a silly conceit, as it is impossible to know a person that one works near.  Day-to-day interactions with these people, that describe their day-to-day lives in intimate detail, details they may not tell their family and friends, can lead to the temptation.

The friend that led me to the realization that my powers of observation were not what I thought, and that my ability to read people can be just as flawed as anyone else’s, informed me that she had to put the family dog put down over the course of the prior weekend.  In the midst of my sympathetic response, she said:

“It’s just a dog.  You men get so attached to your dogs.  You’re all so ridiculous.” 

I laughed.  I agreed.  I made some joke about the inherent loyalty men have for a dog versus what they may have for a woman.

“My husband’s so upset,” she said.  “He thinks I did it, because the dog was messing all over the place.” 

“Well,” I said.  “That’s grief.  Maybe that’s how he’s dealing with it, by blaming you.” 

“No, he’s right,” she said.  “But it wasn’t just a mess here and there.  The dog was going all over the place.  Every time I came home and opened my door, I smelled pee.  Our whole house smelled like pee, and I just got tired of it.”  The look on my face affected hers.  “I told him and told him to take care of it.  I told him to train the dog better.  I told him that maybe he should race home, during his lunch hour, to let the dog out one more time, but he didn’t do it.”

“Who are you?”  I asked.  When I asked this question, it was framed in a comedic manner that many sitcoms use to condemn another in a soft fashion that allows the target of the accusation an easy exit.  She flinched in a manner that informed me that she might have never heard that joke before.

“What did you say to your husband’s accusations?” I asked her. 

“I told him that the vet stated the dog suffered from some debilitating disease,” she said.  “I can’t even remember what I said that disease was.  I made something up.” 

Right here, I am sure the reader is asking why I did not call her out, or condemn her actions in some manner.  All I can say is that I thought I was the product of the ‘awful guy’ joke.  I am quite sure that everyone has fallen for this joke.  I know I have, so many times that my guard was up here.  My guard was up against the ‘I didn’t really put my dog down.  I was joking.  I cannot believe you would think that I would … You can be so naïve’ response. 

That response, nor any response based on that theme, would arrive.  I would bring this issue up again, several times, down the line, and it would affect our relationship, because I “Couldn’t get past the stupid dog issue.”

The Weird and the Strange


What is weird really? Who is weird? What is the difference between an individual that is weird, a person that is strange, and all of the variances that exist between those two exaggerated poles? One of the best ways to define a general and relative term like weird, is to define what it is not. It is not, for the purpose of this study, strange. The term strange, by our arbitrary definition, concerns those that were affected by a more natural malady. Through no fault of their own, they have had something inflicted upon them that they cannot undo, and nothing they do, in the future, will repair their separation from the norm. We don’t define this separation to be nice, though we do deem it mean-spirited to mock, insult, or denigrate those that arrived at their differences in a more natural manner. We don’t create this separation so that our readers may consider us more empathetic, wonderful, or compassionate, but we do deem those that would go out of their way to poke fun at the strange to be lacking in basic human compassion. This also is not an attempt, on our part, to leave the reader with the impression that we are more intelligent, more normal, or better than those that believe the strange should be mocked, ridiculed, and ostracized. This arbitrary separation is designed to provide a clarification against any confusion that might exist between those that had no choice in the matter, and those that choose to be weird through the decisions they have made in life.

George Grosz, Ghosts, 1934

George Grosz, Ghosts, 1934

Being weird is a choice. 

Psychology, it could be said, is a comprehensive study of the choices we make. In that vein, it is our assumption that most weird people choose to be weird, follow weird paths, or believe in weird things, and we give ourselves license to mock those decisions. A person does not, again by the arbitrary definition of the terms lined out here, choose to be strange.

Weird people will not be afforded the same lubricated gloves that the strange are in the pieces that follow this one, for the weird have made their choices, and those choices subject them to a degree of illustrative ridicule that a nicer, more wonderful writer –say, from a squishy and indecisive school of thought– would qualify to soften their conclusions. Some of us are as weird as those we mock, some of us are just a little different, and some of us are normal and strange.

My dad did everything he could to lead me to a more normal path. He corrected my weird ideas with sensible, normal lines of thought. “That isn’t the way,” was a phrase used so many times in our household that my refusal to abide by his norms could be viewed as rebellion. There were so many fights, arguments, and debates in our household that no observer could escape it without thinking that it was, at least, a combustible atmosphere. As the reader will see later, I am grateful for the effort he put into trying to make me as normal as possible, because I’ve met the exaggerated forms of weird, and those that ascribe to the unusual thoughts, that I play around with, and most of those people lead scary and chaotic lives.

My dad was, at the very least, abnormal. Some would say kooky, and others might say he was an odd duck. In the frame we’re creating here though, he was strange. He was either born with certain deficiencies, or they were a result of self-inflicted wounds. Whatever the case was, he was so different from those around him that he would have to fall into one of our two classifications. Being perceived as a normal man was a struggle for him, and he didn’t want his children to have to endure the outsider status he had to endure for much of his life. I rebelled to all that, because I didn’t view his efforts as a noble cause.

I still like to dance in the flames of the weird, but once the lights come up I’m as normal, and as boring, as everyone else. As hard as my dad tried to force me to be somewhat normal, however, he couldn’t control what I watched, what I read, and listened to, and all of the artistic creations I enjoyed that were outside the norm. Weird things were out there, and I knew it, and I pursued them with near wanton lust.

When I left my dad’s normal home and ventured out into a world outside the realm of his influence, I became more attracted to the weird, oddball philosophy. I found the information they presented me so intoxicating that I had trouble keeping it in the bottle.

I had normal people littered throughout my life, and I preferred their company in the long-term, but I found myself eager to invite challenging, weird ideas into my life for a brief stay. Their brief stay would present me with different ways of thinking, weird ideas, outlandish 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 in my normal world). I became obsessed with the abnormal to find out what made them different, or if they were, and I had a number of friends that inform me that I should be dismissing these people. I couldn’t, I said, until I had digested all that they had to offer.

A Rebel Without a Cause

If there are any young minds reading this, engaged in a similar, passionate pursuit of all that falls under the abnormal umbrella, I want to stress one thing before we go any further. There’s nothing wrong with being an outsider. An outsider can violate every rule of our culture, both spoken and unspoken, and become that greaser, with tattoos and spikes in your leather jacket, and an ever present snarl on your face. An outsider might want to consider breaking so many conventions that they become so unconventional as to attained freak status. Before doing so, I would suggest to those planning such an attack, spend some time learning the conventional rules that you plan to spend the rest of your life violating. Learning the rules provides a rule breaker a proper foundation, from which to violate. Every rebel thinks they know these rules –and they bore them– but most rebels don’t know them as well as they think. Violation of the rules comes with its own set of rules, if a rebel hopes to violate in a constructive and substantive manner. Failure to learn the rules, and the proper violation of them, will allow those that set the rules to dismiss a rebel as someone that doesn’t know what they’re talking about, and their goal of undermining those rules will also be dismissed with ease. A rebel that fails to abide by these tenets of proper violation might even be deemed a rebel without a cause.

A Rebel Without a Cause makes for great fodder in a movie where all of the extraneous conditions, and players, can be manipulated to enhance the qualities of the main character, but in real life there are situations and forces that a real life rebel cannot control. There are people that will hit a rebel with scenarios for which they’ll be unprepared, and if they don’t study the rules from every angle possible, their whole argument will be forgotten soon after they make it.

But James Dean was A Rebel Without a Cause, the rebel that worships Hollywood, archetype rebels will say, and James Dean was cooler than cool. For ninety minutes he was, and with all of extraneous conditions and side characters being controlled to exhibit the perfect contradictory behavior that would define the James Dean character’s rebellion, James Dean was cool. Cooler than cool. In real life, however, where all of the extraneous conditions and players cannot be manipulated to enhance a rebel’s idealized characteristics, a rebel without a cause is often considered a rebel without substance, and he is disregarded as uninteresting after the initial flash of intrigue with their rebelliousness subsides. My advice would be to listen to those squares that are so normal they make a person throw up in their mouth a little, for they may teach a real-life rebel more about what they’re rebelling against than those that feed into their confirmation bias.

My aunt was a bore, and she told me things about life that bored the ‘you know what’ 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 wanted to step into that “Do what you feel” rock and roll lifestyle that left carnage in its wake. I debated her point for point. I knew my 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. She had poor presentation skills, by comparison, and she was overweight and unattractive. Those in the entertainment fields had excellent presentation skills. They were attractive and thin, and they all had excellent jaw lines. They confirmed all of the beliefs I had about life. Life should be easy, judgment free, and fun. It shouldn’t involve the moral trappings of what is right and what is wrong, and as long as no one gets hurt, we should all be able to “do what you 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 based on the idea that I wanted to be a weird guy that made the mainstream uncomfortable. I was turned on by those that did something different, and all the grownups that surrounded me were the same. 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 wanted to explore the abbie normal side of humanity.

A Weird Friend

“You actually want to be weird?” a friend asked me. “People don’t want to be weird. They either are, or they aren’t.” 

The weirdness a person displays should be natural, was the import of her message. It should be a birthright. This was intended to be a condemnation for those of us that aren’t weird in a natural, and fundamental, sense that portray weird characteristics. My mistake may have been to discuss the idea of being openly. It isn’t customary to discuss being weird openly. It’s a private, often painful, state of being that has forced them to endure mockery and ridicule so often that even objective analysis of it can throw people off. It can lead those that may fear that they’re fundamentally weird to become so defensive that they have a ‘how dare you try to be one of us, if you’re not’ defensive reaction to those that they believe want to wear a weird mask in a manner somewhat equivalent to a person wearing eyeglasses just to look sexy when they don’t otherwise need to wear them.

So, I’m not weird in a natural and fundamental sense. My dad raised me in a manner that forced me to abide by the norms, and I’m going to take a 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.”

This person that condemned me for being audacious in my attempts to play around in what she claimed her birthright, was weird in a natural, and fundamental, sense, but she was also sad in a natural and fundamental sense, and miserable, and angry about the manner in which life had trampled upon her. Anyone that knew her, or even held a simple conversation with her, would walk away knowing that chaos had dominated much of her life, and as a result she was well-known for being so desperate as to seek refuge in the controlled substances she found that could artificially ease her pain.

I realized through this friend, and all of the other weird characters that have graced my life, that there was weird and there was weird. There was the 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, and there is a borderline strange for of weird that is a little scary when one takes the time to spelunk through their dark caves and caverns of their mind.

Being Weird as a Form of Superiority

As evidenced by my weird friend professing a sense of superiority over those not weird, in a more organic manner, some of us will attempt to gain whatever edge we can find against those around us.  Was she weirder than me? “Who cares?” the reader and I might say in unison.  She did.  It may never have occurred to her –prior to our conversation on this topic– that being weird could be used as a cudgel for the purpose of attaining some form of superiority, but for that particular conversation it was for her, and she didn’t appear to feel the slight bit unusual for doing so. It appeared, in fact, to be vital to her 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.

The interesting aspect of this conversation, as it pertains to the subject of superiority and inferiority, is how long did she search for that point of superiority? How many topics did we cover in our numerous conversations before she was able to find one aspect of her personality in which she had some superiority? If either of these questions wreaks of ego on my part, let’s flip it around and ask what drove this impulse to use organic weirdness as a form of superiority? I had many conversations with this woman, and I never saw this competitive side of her before. She thought she had me on this one strange, weird, topic.