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.

 

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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.

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. We can choose our friends. We can even choose those that we decide to be around on a regular basis, even if they are not our friends. We can’t choose our family members, however, and we can’t choose co-workers. Those that have been a part of a large, multi-national corporation, on a long-term basis, have found that the lines between family and co-workers often become blurred. “There are times when we may find ourselves closer to our co-workers than our family, and the simple reason for this is that we’re around them more often,” a boss of mine once said. In the course of our tenure, we will sit next to a wide variety of office workers that reveal their eccentricities to us over time. We will find that the office contains just as many black sheep as our family does, if not more. When a person works in the service industry, on the overnight shift, they will encounter a Star Wars Cantina of black sheep on a nightly basis, and the attempts to overlook eccentricities will become a part-time job. My advice is to attempt to tightrope the line between being as inclusive as possible while maintaining a sense of exclusivity. Hedge too far into your ideas of your own exclusivity, and the hours spent at the company will be excruciating, as you will have no one to talk to, and you may not have any friends.  Become too sympathetic to their plight, to the point that you begin to believe that they’re all a victim a circumstance, may lead you to becoming one of them. The difficulty of maintaining objectivity is made all the more difficult by the players involved, and their apparent desire to top the most extreme eccentricity the normal person believes they’ve ever heard. If the person manages to escape this exercise untainted, they will walk away from the experience mumbling you can’t choose your co-workers.

The Office Party

A Case of Mistaken Identity

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 with 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 one have an extended conversation with another and believe it’s someone else, based on their name?” 

It’s important to note, here, that my relationship with Rhonda went beyond a name basis. The two of us spent 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 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 bit of a ditz, 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 believing her. 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 said to confirm my girlfriend’s characterization. “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 withdraw her rent money for reasons she couldn’t remember. She informed the bank VP that she had nothing 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 show her that it was, indeed, Rhonda withdrawing those funds. Now,” Dan continued. “I’m sure that that bank VP accused Rhonda of all the same ulterior motives that 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 strolled 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 Bill, 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 telephone operators that had been sitting in her chair.

The telephone 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 the scooter 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. I knew that declaring propriety of a joke was a fool’s errand, and as a result I didn’t do it often. This impressed 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 only 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 just copied a run that led her to laughter. I wanted that laughter.

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 particle on the floor that was 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.” At the car, she informed 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 retrieve 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 on, 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 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 Email

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, or even company. Their complaints are with the life fate has dealt them. In the end, be happy that you don’t have to live with them, or in them, and 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, employees are often required to require that some customers send the company a form of identification to prove their identity if they hope to continue to do business with the company. In one of the replies to such a requirement, a customer sent an image of his penis. Next to the picture were the words, “This is me!” and an arrow pointing to the image. 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


Some people are strange, some are different, and some people are just plain weird. What’s the difference? One of the best ways to define a relative term like weird is to define what it is not. It is not, for the purpose of this discussion, strange. The term strange, by our arbitrary definition, concerns those affected by a more natural malady. Through no fault of their own, they have had a variance inflicted upon them that they cannot escape. We don’t define this separation to be nice, though we do deem it mean-spirited to mock, insult, or denigrate those people that arrived at their differences in a natural manner. We don’t create this separation so that our readers might consider us more understanding, wonderful, or compassionate, but we deem those that would go out of their way to poke fun at the strange to be lacking in basic compassion. We also don’t want to leave the reader with the impression that we might be more normal, or more intelligent, than the subjects we will discuss. We design this arbitrary separation to provide a clarification on any confusion that might exists between those that had no choice in the matter, and those that choose to be weird through the odd decisions they make in life.

Being weird is a choice. 

Some say that Psychology 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. It is our belief, however, that no one chooses to be strange.

We will not afford weird people the same lubricated gloves that we will the strange. Weird people have made their choices, and those choices subject them to a degree of illustrative ridicule that a nicer, more wonderful writer –say, from the 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 different, some of us are normal, and some of us are weird, and strange.

My dad did everything he could to guide me to a more normal path. He corrected my weird ideas with sensible, normal lines of thought. “That isn’t the way,” was something he said so many times, and in so many ways, that one could view my refusal to accept his norms 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. Before we explore the ways in which the old man was strange, I would like to take a moment to thank my dad for the effort he put into trying to make me normal. I’ve since met the exaggerated forms of weird, and those that ascribe to the unusual thoughts as their truth. Most of those people lead chaotic lives, and some of them are a little scary.

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. Either he was born with certain deficiencies, or they were a result of self-inflicted wounds. One could say that those self-inflicted wounds were choices he made along the way, and that is true, but those choices derived from some of the deficiencies he had. Whatever the case was, he was different from those around him. He wanted people to perceive him as a normal man, and he put forth a great deal of effort in that regard. As such, he didn’t want his children to have to go through that, so he tried to teach us what he knew about having others consider us normal. I rebelled to those teachings, because I couldn’t see his efforts for what they were.

I still like to dance in the flames of the weird, but once the lights come up I’m as normal now, and as boring, as everyone else. As hard as my dad tried to force normalcy on me, however, he couldn’t control the impulses I had to watch, read, and listened to artistic creations that glorified life outside the norm. Weird things were out there, and I knew it. I pursued these ideas 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 attracted to weird, oddball philosophy. I found the information they presented me so intoxicating that I had trouble keeping it in the bottle.

I have had normal people peppered throughout my life, and I prefer 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 and weird ideas of thinking, weird platitudes, and oddball mentalities that shook the contents in my bottle a little bit more. I needed to know what made them tock (as opposed to the ticks I knew all too well). I became obsessed with the abnormal to find out what made them different, or if they were, and I had to deal with the friends telling me that I should be dismissing these people on the basis that they were weird. I couldn’t, I said, not until I had digested all that they had to offer.

A Piece of Advice to the Young Ones

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 proceed. Pursue the life of a freak, become that rebel that makes every square in the room uncomfortable, violate every spoken and unspoken rule of our culture, and become that person everyone in the room regards as an oddball. Before doing that, however, an aspiring rebel will want to consider learning everything they can about the conventional rules that they plan to spend the rest of their life violating. Learning the rules gives one a proper foundation, from which to violate. Conventional ways of thinking are boring, and the rebel might think they know them so well that there is little point in studying them, but if there’s one thing I learned in my tenure as an aspiring rebel, and from my discussion with other rebels, it’s that a rebel needs to know the rules better than the squares do. The violation of rules comes with its own set of rules, for those that hope 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 the rebel as one that doesn’t know what they’re talking about, and a rebel without a cause.

A Rebel Without a Cause makes for great fodder on whatever screen they appear, in which the moviemakers manipulate the extraneous conditions, and players, to enhance the qualities of the main character, but in real life there are situations and forces that a rebel with conviction cannot control. There are people that will hit the rebel with scenarios for which they’re be unprepared, and a failure to study the conventional rules from every angle possible, will lead the audience of the rebel’s argument to forget it soon after they make it.

James Dean was A Rebel Without a Cause, though, and James Dean was cooler than cool. For ninety minutes, he was, and with all of extraneous conditions and side characters portraying the perfect contradictory behavior that would define the James Dean character’s rebellion, James Dean was cool. Cooler than cool. In real life, however, a rebel cannot manipulate his extraneous conditions and players to enhance their character. In that environment, the extraneous players consider a rebel without a cause, a rebel without substance. They may regard him as uninteresting, after the initial flash of intrigue with his rebelliousness subsides. My advice would be to listen to those squares that are so normal they make you throw up in your mouth a little, for they may teach a rebel more about what they’re rebelling against than those that feed into their confirmation bias.

My aunt was a bore. She told me things about life that bored the ‘fill in the blank’ out of me with her preachy presentations on “Good and honest living.” She didn’t know where it was at, as far as I was concerned. I wanted to step into that “Do what you feel” rock and roll persona 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, a person should 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 that I wanted to be a weird guy that made the mainstream uncomfortable. Those that did something different turned me on, and all the grownups that surrounded me had a boring sameness about them. 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.

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

Weirdness should be natural and organic, was the import of her message. It should be a birthright. The weird intend this to be a condemnation for those of us that aren’t weird in a natural, and fundamental, sense. It was a ‘how dare you try to be one of us, if you’re not’ reaction to those that hold the organic nature of being weird as a birthright. She regarded this as equivalent to a person that wears bifocals to look sexier when they don’t have to wear them, an act that ticks off those that are required to wear glasses.

Therefore, I’m not weird in a natural and organic sense. My dad raised me in a manner that forced me to accept 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 to ease that 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 the borderline strange, weird that is a little scary when one takes a moment to spelunk through their dark caves and caverns of their mind.

***

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 I was? “Who cares?” you and I might say in unison. She did. It may never have occurred to her –prior to our conversation on this topic– that the idea of being weird could be a cudgel she could use to attain some form of superiority, but for that particular conversation, it was for her, and she didn’t appear to feel 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 spot 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, or weird, topic.

When a Kiss is Just a Kiss


“Why do people kiss?” my nephew asked his parents when he was younger.

“Because that’s their way of saying I love you,” answered his mother.

“Why don’t they just say it then?” he asked.  “Why do they have to kiss?”

This question has surely been asked by curious adolescents of their somewhat befuddled and giggling parents, for as long as children and parents have been interacting. The reason that most parents experience immediate confusion, in the wake of such a question, could have something to do with the fact that most adults have taken kissing for granted for so long, and that it’s been such a staple in the process for so long, that they haven’t stepped back to ask “Why?” since they were adolescents.

Puddy and Elaine

Most parents probably dismiss the peck as the source of their child’s inquiry, and focus their search for an answer on the saliva sharing smooch. Most adults probably assume –assigning their own thoughts to the question–that their child has already accepted the “Hello” and “Goodbye” peck as a fundamental part of the process of greeting and dismissing their loved ones, and that the nature of the child’s curiosity regards why a man would want to suck on a woman’s saliva, in a city park, to express love, and why the two of them would enjoy that transfer of fluids so much that they would want to do it more often.

“One hypothesis,” suggested by Noam Shpancer, of Psychology Today, “Is that (the sloppy smooch) might be a mechanism for gathering information about a potential sexual partner. A kiss brings you in close –close enough to smell and taste chemicals that carry immunological information. Our saliva carries hormonal messages: Close contact with a person’s breath, lips, and teeth informs us about his or her health and hygiene– and thus potential as a mate. Research also suggests a range of other functions, such as expressing and reinforcing feelings of trust and intimacy and facilitating sexual intercourse. The meaning of a kiss depends on who’s doing the kissing.”

If my nephew forced his mother to explore this further. She could’ve said something along the lines of, “A woman learns a lot from a kiss.” She would not have needed to go as in depth as Shpancer did. She could’ve simply said that a quality kiss shows a woman that you’re paying attention and that your love for her is defined in a kiss.

“If you’re simply kissing her for ulterior motives,” she could say, “a girl will know.  Some of the times a kiss is just a kiss, but some of the times it means something, and a girl will know the difference.”

My nephew was not, and is not, of the age to understand the term “end game”, but I’m guessing that that was the crux of his follow up question, “Why don’t they just say it then? Why do they have to kiss?” was why doesn’t a guy just walk up to the girl in the park and say, “I love you,” and walk away when he’s determined that she knows he’s being genuine?

I’m sure that his mother would then say something along the lines of, “Because saying ‘I love you’ can be easily faked, and a girl needs to know that you love her, and physically showing her, with a kiss, proves it to her.” This basically goes to the chemistry, and the Chemistry that Shpancer described, in a girl knowing and knowing in her conscious and subconscious determinations, but that would’ve been way over the head of my nephew, of course, and it would’ve only led to more questions about the abstracts need, emotion, and fulfillment that he was/is too young to understand.

My nephew is male, of course, and to read the Psychology Today piece’s listing of the 2007 findings in the Evolutionary Psychology piece, he might never understand when a kiss is not just a kiss on the level that those of the female gender do. For to a male, a kiss is rarely as important to them as it is to a female. If he thinks he’s going to arrive at an answer, he will chase it. He will want to kiss a girl his age, and he will be confused when it’s over and he doesn’t achieve clarity, but he will continue to kiss girls, because he knows it means something to them. When he has ulterior motives, he might try to add bits of information to a kiss, but if his recipient has as much omniscience as Shpancer theorizes the recipient will know when such additions are false. When he genuinely likes a girl, and those additional ingredients he adds are more organic, he will wonder what the difference was. My advice, is my nephew ever asks me for advice, is do not think, just do.

In their findings, the Evolutionary Psychology poll lists that 86% of women polled would not have sex with someone without kissing them first; while only 47% of males say they would not.  Their takeaway was that:

“For women, the smell and taste of their kissing partner weighs heavily in their decision to pursue closer contact. Men routinely expect that kissing will lead to intercourse and tend to characterize “a good kiss” as one leading to sex.”

The next poll probably gets to the heart of my nephew’s follow up question better, as it asks the genders how important kissing is. In this 2013 poll taken by the Archives of Sexual Behavior, there is the suggestion that kissing may never be as important to my nephew as the girls he’s kissing, as men rank the importance of kissing as a 3.8, on a scale of one to five, while women rank it as a 4.2. Their takeaway was that:

“Women rank kissing as more important in all kinds of romantic relationships than men do; men tend to consider it less important as relationships go on.

The perfect depiction of this comes from (where else?) the television sitcom Seinfeld. In an episode of the series, entitled The Face Painter, the side character David Puddy informs the character Elaine Benes, that he will no longer “Support the team” by painting his face for hockey matches, because she is embarrassed by it. She is visibly touched by the idea that Puddy would alter his life in such a manner just for her, and to celebrate this new understanding in their relationship Puddy says:

“Ah, c’mere,” as he nears her for a kiss. “All right,” he says when that celebratory kiss is concluded, and he’s up and moving towards the door, “I gotta go home and get changed before the game. I’ll be back, we’ll make out.”

This scene is brilliant on so many comedic levels, not the least of which is the depiction of the value each gender places on kissing. Puddy acknowledges that some sort of romantic punctuation is needed for the agreement they’ve just made, and he basically says, “All right. Here!” to initiate that kiss. The comedic value of the situation occurs when that kiss, this romantic punctuation, is concluded, and Puddy simply says “All right” as if to say ‘now that that’s over now, I need to get things done.’ The very human element of “Enjoying that transfer of fluids so much that he wants to do more often” is then dispelled by Puddy saying once he’s done with something (changing clothes), they can start doing something else (making out). He thereby places the idea of making a seemingly transformative change of his life (no more face painting) with the act of changing his clothes, and the excessive kissing involved in making out on the same level, which is coupled with the overall theme of the exchange: that he’ll do what she wants, but that he’s only doing it for her.

This all surprises the once visibly touched Elaine for she thought she had a read on the situation. “You’d do that for me?” she asks after Puddy announces that he will no longer be painting his face. She believed in this new understanding so much that before he reached his (after the kiss) conclusion, she was breathlessly holding her hand to her heart, and on the verge of tears with the idea that her unsentimental boyfriend would be making such a life-altering sacrifice for her, and sealing it with a kiss. She appeared to believe that this sacrifice, and that kiss, suggested a brighter future, and a better understanding, between the two of them as a couple. When Puddy stands and says what he says, it dispels all of the conclusions Elaine derived from the situation, and the idea that a “woman always knows”. And her only takeaway, as the scene closes, could be that Puddy, like most stereotypical jarheads, will go through the motions to please a woman, but it actually means little-to-nothing to them.

Most boys spend their adolescence believing that their mother knows all, until they find out she doesn’t, but they continue to do the things necessary to please her, and fortify this illusion, until most boys become better men for it. Some boys put their heart into it, and live their lives, and kiss their girlfriends with the belief that their mothers know all, and how they treat their mother will be an indicator for how they will go on to treat all women. Others, like the fictional character Puddy, go through the motions to make their mother happy, and to them a kiss is just a 3.8 on a scale of one to five.

My sister-in-law asked me if I wanted to take a crack at answering my nephew’s questions, and I informed her that it’s probably better that I don’t. It’s probably better that he run the optimistic and loving course she has set him on. He’ll likely become a better man by trying to prove to all the women around him that he can be meaningful and moving when he wants to be, and when that time comes for him to plant that profoundly spiritual kiss on that one, special woman, he’ll do it with such belief that he can make her believe it too. And, he’ll hopefully get all that done before he falls prey to the cynical notion that some of the times a kiss is just a kiss to get women to shut up about wanting to kiss all the time.

{1}http://www.psychologytoday.com/articles/201404/news-decoding-the-kiss